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Support for Kantian Deontology

Support for Kantian Deontology

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Identify common arguments in support of Kantian deontology

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Hello. I'm Glen. And this is the ethics tutorial on support for Kantian deontology. A couple of things to keep in mind as we go through the tutorial are the definition of Kantian deontology and how Kant's version of the categorical imperative is binding on all people at all times, independent of circumstances.

In this tutorial, we are going to focus on seeing how there is support for Kantian deontology. We are going to pay special attention to intent, go through a couple of examples, and follow them through in our reasoning to show how Kant's moral insight is of value. And then it'll also show how it reinforces Kant's formulations as making intuitive sense and fitting into our-- well, let's say general understanding of what is appropriate ethical behavior.

In order to show the importance of intent, as far as Kant's reasoning regarding ethical propriety goes, we'll follow two cases where all the circumstances are identical, including the action and the results. However, in the two cases, the intent will be different. And we ask ourselves, is there a moral difference in these two cases? So let's begin. The two examples.

In the first one, I become a skilled surgeon. OK. Now in one case, I become a skilled surgeon in order to save lives-- motivation for that one. In the second one, I become a skilled surgeon because I like cutting up bodies and seeing blood. Rough.

In the second example, let's say I clean the kitchen because it simply needs to be done. And another version is that I clean the kitchen out of a passive-aggressive need to make my roommate feel guilty about slacking off on household duties. OK. So we've got two examples, two versions of each example where the circumstances and outcomes are identical, however the intent is different.

So let's consider this. In both of these examples, the results are the same. The surgery gets done, it gets done well, the kitchen gets cleaned-- same circumstances, same actions, same result. However, clearly the motives, the intent is different. Now for both of these, utilitarianism would say that they are all equally good, right?

Cleaning the kitchen, no matter what your intent is, is good, as long as the kitchen gets cleaned. And the surgery, as long as it goes well, is a good surgery. However, Kant's suspicion is that there's a difference here. And if your suspicion is the same, then you will probably be agreeing with Kant. Kant says that not all of these examples are morally equal, because the intent is different and our intent matters.

This is significant because it's taking ethics into an area that cannot be empirically verified. So there's going to be positives and negatives here. However, it does point to something that does seem rather intuitive. Because whether you clean the kitchen because you want to, because you feel it's necessary, or if you want to get at someone, to anger them, there seems to be a significant difference here.

And now in stage three, we can see that the significant difference points to something specific. And that is, Kant had an intuition that anything done purely out of self-interest is probably going to be morally wrong. In both of our examples, becoming a skilled surgeon because I like to cut up the bodies and see blood and cleaning the kitchen because I want my roommate to feel bad-- both of those show an intent motivated by self-interest. This goes back to egoism.

Kant says that chances are, whenever we do anything based upon this sort of self-interest-focused motive, chances are what we're going to be doing is going to be morally bad, or at least morally questionable. When we do it out of a sense of duty for duty's sake, when we do it because it needs to be done, when we do it in order to help others and respect them and so forth, then chances are, we're going to be in a much better moral stance.

So we can see further then how, in the formulations that we've addressed, the formulation of humanity and the formulation of universal law, are indeed supported by this intuitive understanding of the importance of motive.

The formulation of humanity is reinforced because it tells us to never use someone as a mere means where doing so would normally be out of a motivation of pure self-interest. If I clean the kitchen in order to make my roommate feel bad, I'm using my roommate's feelings as a mere means to my ends.

And the formulation of universal law is also supported. Because when I take self-interest out of the equation, it also tells me that the idea of morality should lead to a set of universal moral laws that everyone should follow, and simply be followed because they are the laws. Cleaning the kitchen is a good thing to do because it's a good thing to do. Helping save lives by becoming a surgeon is simply a good thing to do. And the motive of helping others is a universalizable ideal.

In this tutorial, we have seen that there is support for Kantian deontology. When we focus on the intent, we can see that examples, that even though they may have identical circumstances and outcomes, can be viewed differently in terms of their moral worth or moral value because of the intent. Kant feels that this has an intuitive basis because the intent does, in fact, matter.

If you agree with how this goes through the examples that we've covered, then chances are, you're going to be leaning towards Kant. If not, if it's just about the results, then perhaps you might want to go back and look at the tutorial on utilitarianism. The choice is always yours.

Notes on “Support for Kantian Deontology”

(00:00 – 00:28) Introduction and Things to Remember

(00:29 – 01:06) Content of Tutorial

(01:07 – 02:22) Intent Through Examples

(02:23 – 03:56) Initial Reaction to Examples

(03:57 – 06:22) Kant’s Intuition

(06:23 – 07:13) Summary