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Applying Kantian Deontology

Applying Kantian Deontology

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Given a situation, apply Kantian deontology

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Hi, I'm Glen. And this is the ethics tutorial on applying Kantian Deontology. A couple of things to keep in mind as we go through this tutorial is the definition of Kantian Deontology, Kant's understanding of the categorical imperative, and how, since permissibility and impermissibility is determined by whether our intent aligns with the categorical imperative, Kant provided formulations as methods to help us go through this procedure.

In this tutorial, we will review the formulations of the categorical imperative, the formulation for universal law, and the formulation of humanity. We'll show how applying Kantian Deontology works and how it provides intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous results. And then we will look at how a Kantian verdict will come down on three contemporary ethical issues.

First, a brief review of the two formulations we have for assessing the categorical imperative. First, the formulation for universal law. This determines whether a maxim, the motive of our action, is in accordance with the categorical imperative by seeing if it can be upheld by everyone, everywhere, at all times.

Can it be considered a universal moral law? If, in this consideration, we arise with no contradiction, then it is permissible. If we do arise with a contradiction, then it is impermissible.

Now the formulation of humanity is related to the formulation of universal law. And this time, we determine whether or not the Maxim of our action is in accordance with the categorical imperative by seeing if it supports and preserves the goodwill and humanity of us independent of circumstances.

In other words, are individuals or people as a whole being treated as an end and not as a mere means? If humanity then is being respected, the action is permissible. If humanity is not being respected, then the action is impermissible.

So let's look at some results of applying Kantian Deontology. First, two intuitive results-- one would be, lying and manipulation are wrong according to Kant. Both of these would violate the formulation of humanity, because we would be using people as a means to an end.

Second, stopping at all stop signs is right. This is supported by the formulation of universal law. We can agree that everyone should abide by traffic laws all the time.

Two counterintuitive results could be the following. Lying and manipulation are wrong. Also, in this case, even if you would be lying to a serial killer because you are hiding a witness. This seems strange, and that's why it's counterintuitive. But for Kant, lying still, in principle, is wrong, because it violates the formulation of humanity.

Keeping promises is right. However, it is still even right even if it means returning a firearm to your friend so your friend can go kill their professor because their professor gave him a bad grade. Remember, for Kant, consequences are irrelevant. Intent is everything.

In both of these cases, we're following the intent, which is good, right? Keeping promises is right-- not lying and manipulating, right? We should avoid that one. However, even though they lead to bad circumstances, we still need to abide by them. So the result is somewhat counter-intuitive.

And then two ambiguous results-- one of these can be seen in those who support life-- say that they support life. Often times, people who do this publicly in a political sense are against abortion, but for the death penalty. This achieves more than one result, and we're not sure which way to go on it.

Another one is how you treat employees. Is compensation-- is monetary compensation-- enough for not treating someone as a mere means? For example, is paying someone minimum wage to stand on a corner wearing a costume dressed up like a piece of pizza to wave at cars and advertise a pizza place-- is that adequately compensated by being paid minimum wage?

Or are you being used as a mere means? Because it kind of seems demeaning. And is that in violation of the foundation of humanity? Not sure. The result is ambiguous. So the results of using Kantian Deontology are not always clear.

And now let's look at how Kantian Deontology would come down and give a general ethical verdict on three issues. Two are contemporary. One's a little bit historical.

Environmental concerns-- preservation of the environment-- should we do it, or should we not? Is it a morally good thing or morally bad? Kant says we have no clear duty to non-humans, right? There there's no violation of the foundation of humanity when we deal with the environment. And there is no clear sense of universal laws when we deal with the environment.

So generally speaking, Kantian morality says we have no obligation to the environment, and we can pretty much treat it any way we want. In other words, it makes no rational sense to try and respect a rock.

What about animal rights? Well, kind of similar to environmentalism with a little bit of a tweak-- animals, Kant would clearly say, should not have rights. We can't go that far, because animals are not rational beings.

However, Kant does say we have an indirect duty to them to be kind to them as much as possible. So he kind of comes down with a little bit of ambiguity on this one. Clearly, animals should not have rights, because we can't respect them as moral agents, right?

I can't hold my cat accountable for throwing up on the carpet when I really wanted my cat to go run over to the linoleum, right? I can't say bad cat, you know? You shouldn't have done that. It doesn't work.

However, Kant does say that the way in which we treat animals is indicative of how we are most likely to treat other human beings. So we have an indirect duty to be good to them, because it helps us be good to each other.

Now one that's a little bit more historical is let's go back to the fire bombing of Dresden again. Kant would say this was wrong, because we used humanity in a disrespectful way. While we used the destruction of lives, and the art, of the culture of that city in order as a means to winning the war. This clearly would violate the formulation of humanity.

In summary, in this tutorial, we have looked at a brief review of the formulations of the categorical imperative. We have seen how applying the Kantian Deontology works in providing intuitive, counterintuitive, and ambiguous results, and then how Kantian Deontology would come down on a general verdict of three ethical issues.