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Critique of Kantian Ethics

dylancatlow
Posts: 12,241
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3/29/2016 6:24:07 PM
Posted: 8 months ago
According to Kant, in order for an action to be moral the principle behind the action would still have to be sensible if it were followed by everyone at all times. So for instance, Kant regards all forms of lying as immoral because society wouldn't function if no one could be believed i.e., if lying were the norm. Thus, every instance of lying is immoral because lying can't be made into a general moral principle without wrecking society. This is what's known as Kant's Categorical Imperative.

I happen to agree with his essential insight, but I think the way he applies it to the real world is laughably stupid. Kant's fundamental error is to define actions purely by the general categories they fit into, and to ignore all the details which allow us to distinguish between actions that fit into the same (largely arbitrary) categories. To think, for example, that nothing else can be said about someone's decision to lie to the Nazis in order to protect Jews hiding in their house other than simply "they lied," is insane. Sure, it's an instance of lying, but it's more than that by definition. It's lying in the service of a noble goal (you could get even more precise than that if you wanted to). Thus, if one were to generalize it -- to turn it into a universal moral law -- one would include that qualification if one were being careful and precise, and there's no reason to think that a universal moral law stipulating that lying in the service of a noble goal would wreck society if it were followed by everyone. At this point, Kant would probably argue something to the effect that "If everyone lied when they thought they were doing the right thing, we'd still have a problem, because people often think they're doing good even when they're committing evil." Maybe, but the bad effects would still have to be shown to outweigh the good effects, something which Kant doesn't even attempt to demonstrate. Same goes for all the other moral issues Kant severely mishandles.
ViceRegent
Posts: 604
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3/29/2016 8:52:26 PM
Posted: 8 months ago
The problem is that he is presuming a moral order to find a moral order. Should a society function? Anarchists would say no. His ethics breaks down when you deny his presuppositions.

In addition, he cannot know all of the possible effects of a given ethical choice, which means his ethics is based on speculation, not reality. Not good.