The Instigator
Bnesiba
Con (against)
Losing
14 Points
The Contender
TheSkeptic
Pro (for)
Winning
19 Points

kant's categorical imperetive is superior to utilitarianism as a ethical framework

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Voting Style: Open Point System: 7 Point
Started: 8/23/2009 Category: Miscellaneous
Updated: 7 years ago Status: Voting Period
Viewed: 5,609 times Debate No: 9321
Debate Rounds (4)
Comments (25)
Votes (5)

 

Bnesiba

Con

I would like only someone familiar with both of these frameworks to accept this debate.

I will allow the pro to make the opening argument.
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for creating this open debate.

To clarify a little, I assume by "superior" my opponent means one is a coherent and valid ethical framework/system while the other is not. So in other words, he's arguing for utilitarianism while I am arguing for Kantian ethics. Also, since I don't know what type of utilitarianism my opponent will argue for (act vs. type), I will simply argue against the foundations of utilitarianism then argue for the foundations of Kantian ethics.

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Attacks against utilitarianism - Has yet to explain why general happiness is the "good to the aggregate of all persons.�"
====================

J.S. Mill, a pivotal figure among classical utilitarians, famously failed to explain why the happiness of others should be of concern to me. In other words, I ask of my opponent as to why I should even care about the happiness of others - instead of being a utilitarian who cares about the good of all, why can't I resort to a form of ethical egoism?

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Attacks against utilitarianism - Practically impossible
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Even if the idea behind utilitarianism were somehow justified, I'd argue that we'd be stuck at a permanent standstill for EVERY action we attempt to assess. Since we are primarily looking at the consequences of an action to determine whether it's moral or not, an interesting problem of how the heck we do this arises. Dennett mentions the example of the Three Mile Island accident; is it too early or not to assess the moral value of incident?

Many utilitarians would say we don't need a perfect knowledge of how consequences unfold, but a good rough look. I'd argue that we can't even come close to getting a rough look because the consequences of our actions are inconceivably complex. For example, chaos theory states that some simply actions can lead to a vast array of complex results, like the weather or turbulence. In the same view, we can expect that seemingly trivial actions can have gigantic impact on world affairs - I mean, who can tell? For example, what if I help an old lady cross a road. From that experience, she tells her grandson the story of me helping her on her deathbed. Moved by this simple story, her grandson strives hard and eventually becomes President of the United States due to hard work and motivation. As President, he employs many policies that undoubted are motivated by his idea that people should help others - in fact, he makes America much more socialist than it is. So for every libertarian and conservative out there, would helping that old lady been a vastly immoral thing of me to do? It would seem, deemed by utilitarianism, that this is so.

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Attacks against utilitarianism - Claim to psychological egoism
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Utilitarianism is based on the idea that we all desire happiness in what we do - which mirrors psychological egoism. I ask my opponent to back up this claim, since I will argue as of now we can only remain on the fence about this issue.

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Defense of Kantian ethics - Stable foundation
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Kantian ethics is based on the autonomous use of our reason. Since reason is universal and can make universal demands or obligations on our behavior, it easily sets a foundation or guideline for our moral actions. What makes an action truly moral is that it is motivated by a rational acceptance of duty: the categorical imperative.

To be honest, I'm not suer what criticism my opponent has in mind for me, so I'll simply leave it at this for now. When he gives me the arguments against Kant, I will refute accordingly.

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Conclusion
====================

Well...there you go. Even though I have to defend Kantian ethics as well, my opponent's focus should lay with utilitarianism as well (we have an equal burden of proof).
Debate Round No. 1
Bnesiba

Con

I would first like to thank my opponent for accepting this debate.

I will begin with clarifications, follow with refutation and finish with my case.

Clarification:
The resolution is specifically Kant's Categorical Imperative (outlined in the groundwork for the metaphysics of morals").
Personally, I do not know whether the type of utilitarianism is act or type, but I will be arguing for utilitarianism as outlined by Mill and Bentham.

Aff Case:
>"Has yet to explain why general happiness is the "good to the aggregate of all persons."
In this point my opponent asks the question "why should I care about others?"
to answer this I offer the following points:

1.) Individual Happiness is dependent to an extent on the happiness of others.
When everyone around one is unhappy (friends, family, etc) one tends to also be less happy then they otherwise would be. This simple fact alone is reason enough for one to put some effort into the welfare of others.

2.) Acting Morally is in one's self interest.
If everyone on earth was to follow the same code of ethics, and to honor it at all times, we would all live better. But, as humans, we realize this will never be the case, someone will always have an opposing view, or will believe they achieve more through other, "immoral" means. Why then, should we act morally?
because hypocrisy is bad. By taking advantage of such a situation, you make the statement that everyone should help you, but you do not have to help them. Acting in such a way destroys trust.
A.) Trust is the most important, and only thing we truly can have.
Trust is the only think we can actually have, and is therefore the only real thing of value in our lives. Trust is the pre-requisite to having anything. For example:

Possessions: Unless you can trust others not to take them, you cannot truly have possessions. You are simply the current geographical position where they are located. Without trust, the idea of possessions is destroyed. Without trust, we would be in Hobbes theoretical State of Nature, where one cannot produce, one cannot sleep and one cannot truly live.

Life: Unless you can trust others not to kill you on sight, you cannot truly live. Everything we have is because we trust that other people are not trying to kill us. Imagine, if everything you purchased could be deadly, if every time you stepped outside you knew you could die. Also, imagine if you would have no way of producing anything yourself (back to State of nature, if no guarantee you could keep what you produce, no production). Very simply, you would die.

Education: Without being able to trust your teachers to teach the truth (or mostly the truth) you cannot possibly be educated.'

Because trust is the only thing you can have, it is NEVER in your self interest to destroy it.
This follows for any framework, utilitarianism included, it is for this reason, that you should care about other people's "utility"

>Practically impossible
As my opponent states, one does not need to be precognitive to be able to judge an action. In fact, because the purpose of ethics is to tell you what you ought to do in any given situation, all one needs to do is to weigh as much as they can in the time allowed. For example:
A terrorist plans to blow up a building with hundreds of people in it. When given the chance, I kill the terrorist, and prevent the deaths of those hundreds of people. In this situation, I weighed the death of the terrorist, and the lives of the hundreds of people. Because I cannot know if any one of those people will become a next Hitler or something like this, I must assume that they won't.

::response to example::
Similarly to the situation above, because you could not know that the old lady would end up as the cause of a bad president (in your opinion). Because you could not have possibly known, you have to assume that such a thing is unlikely (as it obviously is…)

>Defense of Kantian ethics - Stable foundation
I don't know what my opponent expects me to provide in support of utilitarianism, but as far as I know, nearly all ethical frameworks are based in our autonomous use of reason. I certainly know that when I'm judging the amount of intended utility from an action I am undertaking I am not reading anyone else's mind, or using their logic… I am using mine, autonomously…

NEG CASE

Why Kant was Wrong:

1.) Proper Maxim, Improper Action
Kant's Categorical Imperative only cares about what maxim is being acted upon, with no regard for how. For example: the maxim "one ought to work toward the betterment of humanity" is a good maxim. However, if I decided that I could better humanity by eliminated a people I deemed "genetically inferior" this action would be immoral. However, Kant's framework would have no issue with this action, and would deem it moral due to the maxim being acted upon.

2.) the Categorical Imperative requires utilitarian ideals to function.
When judging a maxim, you must see if it ought to apply as a universal law. In order to do this, you weigh the pain caused by everyone acting on this maxim v.s. the happiness gained. In other words, Kant uses utilitarianism to weigh maxims.
Because Kant is forced to use utilitarianism to make his framework function, it is clear that as long as this is true, utilitarianism is the clearly superior framework.

3.) Most act on multiple maxims.
When any given person does something, in almost every circumstance they have more than one reason to do it. For example, when I do community service, I do it to help the people, and I do it to fulfill my community service requirement at my college, as well as a host of other reasons I haven't even considered. It is ridiculous to think that one can act on only one maxim, or even act on a number of maxims that is judgable. Because of the nearly infinite number of reasons we do things, it is impossible for Kant's framework to provide a useable measure of morality.

In Support of Utility
1.) Happiness as ideal
Utilitarianism is based on the idea that happiness is the highest goal in life. this idea certainly did not begin with mill or Bentham. In fact, Aristotle put forth this exact idea in the Nicomachean Ethics. Very simply, all things must have an end, and the only true end we can move toward is happiness, because of this, the only most valuable thing we can give or take away from people is also happiness.

In Conclusion, because Kant's framework is unviable as an ethical measuring stick, and because Utilitarianism is not only a viable framework, but a complete one, with both reasons to act and a emphasis toward the "Highest good" as Aristotle put it, It is superior to Kant's framework.
TheSkeptic

Pro

I thank my opponent for his response.

Unfortunately, many of his rebuttals are misguided. He either misunderstands Kant's categorical imperative, or he misunderstands my argument. Let me explain:

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Attacks against utilitarianism - Has yet to explain why general happiness is the "good to the aggregate of all persons."
====================

My opponent offers two different reasons for why we should be concerned with the happiness of others. Unfortunately for him, both reasons fall very short of their target.

A.) Individual happiness is dependent to an extent on the happiness of others

This is absolutely false. While many times our own happiness can be affected by the state of others (this is given), there are many instances when I can be happy WITHOUT the happiness of others. For example, playing a computer game by myself would entertain me but no one else. Masturbating, though a lewd example, is a very common activity and is a clear instance of private happiness (given no one else is there).

B.) Acting morally is in one's self interest

This claim, even if it was true, does not follow for why our happiness is in part the happiness of others. My opponent's lengthy explication of this point is basically summarized with the Golden Rule - do to others what you would have done to yourself. The reason for this is so we won't be in a state of chaos, and with this I agree. However, this is merely a pragmatic outlook on morality and isn't even CLOSE or RELEVANT for why we should be concerned with the happiness of others.

Trust can be important, but it isn't a necessary foundation for why we should want happiness for others - it's merely one of the means.

====================
Attacks against utilitarianism - Practically impossible
====================

My opponent's defense of the problem of future consequences is simply that "all one needs to do is to weigh as much as they can in the time allowed." This is absolutely unwarranted - why must the truth of a moral proposition be dependent on the ability of a person to assess a situation?

Furthermore, if the moral truth of an event depends on how much one can "weigh the consequences" in the time allowed, then this would seem to lead to epistemological relativism, which in turn leads to metaphysical relativism (that reality is in flux). For example, if someone saw a person about to hit by a car and saves him, since to him it seems like this would generate the greatest amount of happiness, then this would be a moral act. However, if another bystander with more knowledge see's that the person being saved is actually a Mafia leader, then saving him would be IMMORAL since the Mafia leader is likely to cause more pain/suffering/death as he lives on.

Here we have more than one person assessing the same situation - so who's evaluation should we take? The only way to escape this problem is to believe one can assess all of the future consequences, which is practically impossible.

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Attacks against utilitarianism - Claim to psychological egoism
====================

My opponent has yet to refute this point. Classic utiltiarianism states that everyone desires happiness, but what justification do we have for this claim? Presently, my opponent has none.

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Defense of Kantian ethics - Stable foundation
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"...as far as I know, nearly all ethical frameworks are based in our autonomous use of reason."

Absolutely untrue. Your brand of classic utilitarianism is based on the idea that everyone ultimately desires happiness, and that we should be concerned for the happiness of others. Sure, you come to this conclusion via reason but the conclusion itself is not respect for reason. Kantian ethics, however, IS based on reason.

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Attacks against utilitarianism - List of my opponent's criticisms
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1.) Proper Maxim, Improper Action

This criticism reveals a stark lack of understanding on my opponent's part. Kant clearly stated that a perfect duty is one that can be conceived, meaning it does not result in logical contradictions. Therefore, eliminating people due to arbitrary reasons would result in logical conflicts as almost everyone (if not all) would die. For example, if your maxim was "it's okay to steal" then it would result in a logical contradiction, because stealing implies property but if everyone stole then there would be no property. It should be noted that the maxims are meant to be UNIVERSAL.

2.) The Categorical Imperative requires utilitarian ideals to function.

As stated before, I've shown why this is false. Kantian ethics is founded on respect for reason, not utility or happiness.

3.) Most act on multiple maxims.

When did Kant ever state we can't have multiple maxims? In fact, I find it hard to believe you have a NEARLY infinite number of reasons you do things. If needed, you can group many actions into one maxim. Furthermore, there are many amoral actions in which moral judgments aren't needed.

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Conclusion
====================

My opponent sticks in one last argument at the end, stating that happiness is "ideal". Whatever it may be, he has yet to justify why everyone desires happiness - what evidence does he have for this claim? In fact, I find it amusing that my opponent would refer to Aristotle when his ethical philosophy is quite different from utilitarianism, namely virtue ethics.

As I have shown, my opponent misunderstands Kantian ethics and to an extent my rebuttals.
Debate Round No. 2
Bnesiba

Con

Bnesiba forfeited this round.
TheSkeptic

Pro

Extend my arguments to this round.
Debate Round No. 3
Bnesiba

Con

Bnesiba forfeited this round.
TheSkeptic

Pro

2 forfeits - the winner is clear.
Debate Round No. 4
25 comments have been posted on this debate. Showing 1 through 10 records.
Posted by wjmelements 7 years ago
wjmelements
This kind of philosophy goes under Society, not Misc.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 7 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
Says on his profile, in effect, that his system IS to not have one.
Posted by Rezzealaux 7 years ago
Rezzealaux
Skeptic what is your moral system, if you have one?
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Objectivist ethics isn't so much better :P.
Posted by Ragnar_Rahl 7 years ago
Ragnar_Rahl
Comparing Kant and utilitarianism is like comparing anorexia and bulimia.
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
Oh haha, my bad.
Posted by Bnesiba 7 years ago
Bnesiba
... i don't understand...

as it stands now, i'm in support of util with you in support of kant...

this is how i intended it from the beginning, i just did it wrong a few times and confused a bunch of people. :/
Posted by TheSkeptic 7 years ago
TheSkeptic
So shall we play devil's advocate, wait for me to forfeit, or have me clarify in my opening round?
Posted by Bnesiba 7 years ago
Bnesiba
oh, and for the record, neither framework is actually right, but this debate isnt about which is right, just which is better. :P
Posted by Bnesiba 7 years ago
Bnesiba
.. sorry to confuse you, i actually intended to argue against kant from the beginning, i just messed up the resolution.
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J.Kenyon
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