Thursday, November 13, 2014

Moral Philosophy and the Metaphysics of Ethics

Moral Philosophy

Aim: to establish the supreme principle of morality


Kant begins by systematizing knowledge (Kant is very fond of systematizing).
He makes the observation that Ancient Greek thinkers divided philosophy into three sciences:
  1. Physics
  2. Ethics
  3. Logic

Kant agrees with this division but seeks to explain the reasoning behind this division by introducing new division.
  •  Formal: concerned solely with the form of the understanding and form of reason itself;
    universal rules of thinking as such: this is logic
    • Universal and necessary laws of thinking
    • Can have no empirical (based on experience) component
      •  So is “pure philosophy” – based on a priori principles
  •  Material: concerned with specific objects and their laws (as opposed to the forms of the understanding and reason); consists of two parts
    • Laws of nature: physics/natural philosophy
    • Laws according to which everything happens
    • Laws of freedom/moral philosophy
      • Laws according to which everything ought to happen
      • Does his description of ethics strike anyone as odd (laws of freedom)?
        • The point: we see the importance of freedom and laws in ethics.
      • Ethics differs from physics in that its laws, laws of freedom, are not descriptive but instead prescriptive.
      • Both have an empirical component
      • Empirical component of ethics is practical anthropology
      • “Moral philosophy has to define the laws of the human will, to the extent that the will is affected by nature.”
    • However, ethics can also be pure (based on a priori principles).
      • When pure philosophy is limited to specific objects, it is called metaphysics. (Thus the name metaphysics of morals)
      • Metaphysics of morals, and only the metaphysics, is moral philosophy.
      • This part is also called the rational part.
The empirical and rational parts should not mix.
Metaphysics must precede the empirical part and must “be scrupulously cleansed of everything empirical” to know “how much pure reason can accomplish”
  • He later states that anything which mixes pure and empirical principles “does not even deserve to be called philosophy…still less…moral philosophy”
  • Practical judgment, sharpened by experience, is needed to discern the cases to which the moral law applies. However, the laws themselves do not draw upon experience. 
Why? Moral law, to be law, must carry absolute necessity to be morally valid – “valid, that is, as a basis of obligation.” It must also not hold only for humans but for any rational being. So, the law cannot be grounded in human nature or facts about us or our world, for these things which are contingent. Nothing empirical but pure reason only can be used in determining moral law

This “pure” moral philosophy is concerned with a “pure will” and not human volition generally.
The pure is not concerned with humans tend to do or what we often do but instead with what a rational will, free from inclinations (likes, dislikes, wants, desires, aversions, etc) can do. This will is motivated only by a priori principles.
It acts out of duty in accordance with the Moral Law; its actions are done for the sake of the moral law instead of merely conforming to it.
  • There is a difference between done for sake of and conforming. If the actions is not done out of duty, then the coincidence of the action with the moral merely happens chance; it is a coincidence.
  • Actions for the sake of duty are the only actions that are morally good. 

Ch. 1: Passage from the Common Rational Knowledge of Morality to the Philosophical

Good Will

Will: the ability to determine action according to principles.
  • We have a will. My cat does not. 
Good will: the only thing good without qualification
  • Constitutes an indispensable condition of our worthiness to be happy.
  • It is the only thing with “intrinsic moral worth.”
    • It is the only thing with intrinsic worth because a good will is the only thing that always has morally good ends.
      • Though helpful, gifts of nature and of fortune do not; Villains can have wit, intelligence, and bravery.
      • This is why it is the only thing good without qualification
    • It has “intrinsic moral worth” because it “has full worth in itself” regardless of consequences.
      • A good will is good even if it achieves nothing; utility adds nothing to its worth.

Since the notion that utility doesn’t matter to value at all is a bit strange, Kant presents an argument against utilitarianism (or at least a version of it).
  • P1: “no instrument for any purpose will be found in that being unless it is also the most appropriate and best adapted for that purpose.”
  • P2: reason is an instrument nature gave to us
  • P3: Assume nature’s purpose for beings with reason and wills are their own individual preservation, welfare, or happiness. 
  • P4: Reason is not the most appropriate tool for preservation, welfare, or happiness.
    • Support: Instinct would be a better way of meeting these ends.
    • Support: Reason is a poorly suited to achieve these ends.
      • Casts reason in rather negative light here
        • Reason provides “feeble and defective guidance”
        • “Nature would have prevented reason from…presuming, with its feeble insights, to think out for itself a plan for happiness and for the means of attaining it.”
        • Furthermore, those who devote their cultivated reason to the enjoyment of life and happiness end up far away from content.

C: So…Reason is an instrument not for happiness but for some “worthier” end; and rejection of P3.
Points to push back on:
  • P1
  • P4 – specifically if the focus of utilitarianism is not just on one’s own happiness but maximizing happiness.
    {as a side note, Mill wasn’t born until 2 years after Kant died} 
Kant moves from the above conclusion to the broader conclusion that since nature gave us reason, and reason controls the will, the purpose of reason must be to produce a will which is good in itself.
  • Not the sole good, but the highest good and the condition on all the rest (goods of fortune and of nature)
  • The will has its own kind of satisfaction – not happiness but “satisfaction from fulfilling a purpose which reason alone determines”
    • Acting out of duty in accordance with the Moral Law (Note: moral law, not laws).

The Three Propositions Regarding Moral Duty

Proposition 1: To have genuine moral merit an action must be done from, not just according to, duty.
  • The action cannot be opposed to duty
  • The action must have a direct inclination, meaning that the actions is not done because the agent is compelled by another inclination
    • Ex: hypnosis; involuntary spasms; being nice to look good in front of your boss; Kant’s example of a shopkeeper giving correct change.
      • This also means that the action cannot be done out of self-interest
    • Difficulty arises when direct inclination and something else is at play.  For something to be done out of duty, Kant implies that it must be done solely out of duty, out a direct inclination. So some actions can be in conformity with duty but not out of duty [so, acting out of sympathy, happiness, self-interest or self-preservation generally doesn’t count]

Proposition 2: “The moral worth of an action done out of duty has its moral worth not in the objective to be reached…but in the maxim in accordance with which the action is decided upon.”
  • This proposition eliminates at least one type of moral luck. Under a consequentialist view, one can try to do the right thing and be competent in doing the right thing but, through no fault of one’s own, one brings about a worse outcome. In this case, one has acted wrongly because of bad moral luck. Under Kant’s view, the focus is only on things fully within one’s control, assuming, of course, that we have free will.
Proposition 3: “Duty is the necessity of an act done out of respect for the law.”
  • Respect is an activity of the will; “it is self-generated by a rational concept.” As such we can only respect what is “conjoined with [our] purely as a ground and never as a consequence”
    • Kant claims we can never respect an inclination because an inclination – and so every object of volition – is an effect of the will.
    • So we are left with the law itself. (law determined solely on basis of rationality and so free from and independent of inclinations)
    • Worth, then, doesn’t have anything to do with results or possible results. 
    • Kant also claims in footnote 2 that respect is the consciousness of my will’s submission to the law; the respect is thus the effect of the law on a person.
  • Inclinations and their objections are excluded for another reason: their result could have been brought about by other causes.
    • Recall that Kant is focused on the will, and the will has a “worthier end” than pleasure or self-preservation.

The will is important because Kant holds that only in rational beings is the highest and unconditional good to be found. In other words, only in rational creatures is morality to be had, and rationality requires a will. The idea of the law must determine the will for the will to act out of duty.
  • Kant claims that to act with moral merit we need no insight into the ground for this respect. We must only have the appreciation of the moral law. 
  • Since inclinations and the consequences of our actions are excluded, the duty gains a univerasalizability – a necessity. What is left is reason, and that is shared among and is the same in all rational beings.
    • The moral law is universal and necessary. From these descriptions we can establish a form of the moral law: I ought to never act in such a way that I could not also will that my maxim should become a universal law.
    • This doesn’t proscribe any specific action – it only establishes a template of sorts – a form – to which maxims must comply.

Metaphysics of Ethics

Acting from Duty

The chapter starts by addressing the claim that one cannot in fact point to an example of someone acting solely out of duty.
  • Kant agrees. He claims that, even with the most searching and rigorous self-examination, we cannot know for sure that our motivation is based solely in duty, for there is always what Kant calls the dear self (hidden selfish-motivation). 
    • As side note, it is interesting to juxtapose his stance here with a later comment made which states: “for the pure thought of duty and of the moral law generally…has an influence on the human heart much more powerful than all other motivations that may arise from the field of experience.” Apparently it is the fault of professors that the appeal of duty is lost. (I sincerely hope that Kant is wrong on this last point!)
    • He claims that this observation is not a mark against the moral theory. Even if there were never any actions which sprang from pure motives, his theory would be fine because the question is “whether reason, by itself and independently of all appearances, commands what ought to be done.” Whether this or that actually occurs, Kant claims, is irrelevant.
  • A phrase often repeated in moral discourse is “ought implies can.” Loosely, the phrase means that if we are morally required to X, we must be able to do X. Morality cannot require us to do the impossible. 
    • If we assume that Kant is right that we can never know for certain that we are acting purely out of duty, can we know that it is possible for beings like us to act purely out of duty? 

Rant about How an Empirical Approach to Ethics is Bad

Long story short: 
  • a priori and rational = good methodology is ethics
  • empirical, “popular practical philosophy,” and reasoning from cases = bad methodology in ethics
According to Kant, moral reasoning from examples is the worst advice one could give in morality. Before drawing any conclusions from the example, we must first apply some moral standard or principle to it to see if it is fitting to be used as an example.

Introduction to the Will, Reason, and Laws

Kant claims that everything in nature “works in accordance with laws” but that only rational beings have the power to act in accordance with the idea of laws. Rational beings thus have wills. Reason works on the will to influence the principles of volition and to derive actions from laws.
  • There are two types of relationships between reason and the will. 
    • If reason is the only thing acting on the will, then objective principles will always be subjective. 
    • However, other things can determine the will. If reason is not the sole determining factor of the will – if the will “is exposed to subjective conditions”, in other words, if the agent has inclinations – then the will is not in complete accord with reason, and objective principles will not necessarily be subjective ones. 
      • Objective principles, when acting as constraints, are called commandments. The will can still be determined by such objective principles. However, the will, by its own nature, is not necessarily obedient to such principles. 
    • The formulation of a commandment is called an imperative. 

  • All imperatives are marked by a “must,” which emphasizes the constraining nature of imperatives. 
  • All carry at least a type of necessary and state which actions will be good (in a sense) - either good period or good for something else. Necessary period or necessary for some further end. 
  • All imperatives apply to wills, but no imperatives hold for a divine, or holy, will. 
    • This is because imperatives are formulations of commandments, and commandments apply only when the objective principles are not subjective principles – i.e. when the will is not in complete accord with reason. 
    • A good will would still be subject to objective principles but would simply not be constrained by them because reason would already be in harmony with the will. 
  • Two types of Imperatives: 
    • Hypothetical Imperative (HI): “declare a possible action to be practically necessary as a means to the attainment of something else that one wants” or may want 
      • Ex: If you want to win the lottery you ought to buy a ticket. 
      • Two sub-types: 
        • Problematic practical principle: End is possible 
        • Assertoric practical principle: End is actual 
          • Names come from types of proposition in Aristotelian logic. Assertoric propositions state what is or is not the case; problematic propositions involve the possibility of something being true. 
      • He mentions one type of hypothetical imperative in particular, imperatives of skill. In these imperatives there is not found a question as to whether the end is reasonable but good – only about what one would have to do to attain it.
        • We thus need to be careful of how we read “good” in some passages of Kant
      • Kant claims that there is one end that “we may presuppose as actual in all rational beings.” This end is perfect happiness
        • We can suppose this purpose a priori; call prudence that which leads to it
        • Note: Kant does not claim that this is the ultimate end of human conduct, like Mill does. He only states that it is one end that all humans share. 
    • Categorical Imperative (CI): “represented an action as itself objectively necessary”
      • An apodictic practical principle 
        • Apodictic, like assertoric and problematic, refers to Aristotelian propositions. Apodicitic propositions are statements which assert things that are necessarily true or self-evidently true or false 
      • The CI is not concerned with the material of the action or its result but instead with its form and with the principle from which the actions itself results. 
        • **What is good in the action consists in the agent’s disposition.** 
  • Kant slightly reconfigures the division and gives new names: 
    • Rules of skill: HI 
      • Also technical imperatives 
    • Counsels of Prudence: HI – always assertoric practical principles 
      • Involve necessity but only under a subjective and contingent condition 
      • Also pragmatic imperatives 
    • Commandments (laws) of morality – CI 
      • Also moral imperatives 
    • All recommend actions that are good either as a means to something else or good in itself. 
  • How are these imperatives possible? How can we understand these imperatives to constrain our will? 
    • Technical and pragmatic imperatives: whoever wills the ends also wills the means 
      • He claims that the use of a mean is included in the concept of the end; when willing that an effect be the result of one’s actions, one already conceives of the causality involved. The causality involves the means. 
      • Pragmatic imperatives are trickier because the concept of happiness is vague. Willing the means when one wills the end thus becomes more difficult because we don’t really know what perfect happiness requires. 
        • Kant even says that determining what action will promote the perfect happiness of a rational being is “insoluble” 
          • If he’s right, is this a problem for Mill? 
    • Moral imperatives: 
      • The response here is more difficult because objective necessity can’t rest on a presupposition like the HI can. 
      • We also cannot settle the issue empirically, so…. Investigate a priori! 
        • While we cannot know beforehand what a HI will contain, Kant claims that we know right away what the CI contains: a necessary conformity to it. 
        • Our duties are derived from this one principle. This leads us to… 

The Categorical Imperative: 1 and 2

There are three main formulations of the CI, with a slight variation of the first one mentioned. It is important to keep in mind that Kant views each of the formulations as identical to the others. They are all formulations of the CI and not different categorical imperatives.

CI 1a: “Act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”
CI 1b: “Act as though the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature”
  • What it means: We should act only if we can will that..
    • 1a: everyone acts on the same principle we do without contradiction.
    • 1b: the principle we act on become a law of nature. 
    • While these are generally similar, there is a slight difference between the two – almost more of a slight difference in focus – that is highlighted in Kant’s discussion of the four examples. 
  • Explanation of Examples:
    • Borrowing Money: If we borrow money, state we will pay the loaner back, but have no intention of ever doing so, we act on a maxim that we cannot will to become universal law. Our larger goal is procuring money. If everyone acted on our maxim, then no one would ever lend money. Our maxim then undermines the practice of borrowing (and promising), creating contradiction. 
      • Here, the focus is on “universal law.”
    • Not helping others: If we acted on the maxim that we never help others, Kant claims we are acting on a maxim we cannot will to be universal law. This is because we sometimes seek help from others. 
      • Here, the focus is on the act of what we can will to be universal. 
    • Suicide: “A nature whose law was that the very same feeling meant to promote life should actually destroy life would contradict itself, and hence not endure as nature.” Basically, it would make no sense, and in a way be self-defeating, for nature to have as one of its laws “kill yourself whenever you don’t feel like living.”
      • The focus here is on “law of nature.” 
    • Not developing talents: even though nature could survive if everyone let their talents languish, Kant claims we cannot will that everyone would have such a natural instinct to eschew all development of talent. 
      • As with the not helping others case, here the focus is on what we can will. 
  • Possible Objections: 
    • How do we appropriately describe a maxim? (Anscombe)
      • Every action and goal has numerous descriptions. How we determine which ones are most salient? 
    • Mill: “[Kant fails] to show that there would be any contradiction, and logical impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he show is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.”

Moving from CI 1 to CI 2

Kant returns to the question of how a CI is possible. Can we prove, a priori, that there is an imperative that commands (1) absolutely and (2) without further motivation?
  • Absolutely: 
    • If the law is necessary, then the law must be connected with the concept of the will of a rational being.
    • Will is a power of determining oneself to act in conformity with the idea of certain laws.
    • An end is what serves the will as the objective (as in object) ground of its self-determining. 
      • Basically an end is the effect which the will wills
    • A necessary end is given by reason and so must be equally valid for all rational beings (since there is no inclination involved, and form of rationality same in all).
    • If it is equally valid for all, then it commands absolutely. 
  • Without further motivation
    • You can have either a subjective ground of desiring (called a driving-spring) or an objective ground of willing (called a motivating reason).
    • Practical principles are formal if they abstract from all subjective ends and material if they are based on subjective ends, or driving-springs. 
    • Subjective ends only have value in relation to a subject’s desiring.
    • Since CI is formal and has objective grounds, it does not have value in relation to any further desiring, and so the CI commands without further motivation. 
  • Since it is possible for an imperative to command in this way, something whose existence in itself had absolute worth (as opposed to subjective value) could be a ground of the CI. 
    • Kant claims as rational beings are such things. We, or our rational natures, are ends in themselves.
      • Kant asserts that this is the way in which a rational agent must conceive of her own existence. Since we all must hold this on the same grounds, the subjective principle is also objective. 

CI 2: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in any other person, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.”
  • What does CI 2 mean?
    • We must always treat people as persons instead of things. While we can use others a means, we must never treat them merely as a means but instead must always treat them as beings with worth – a worth that they have independently of subjective desires. 
      • In other words: how we treat a barista must differ from how we treat a coffee machine. One has dignity; the other has a price. 
  • Explanation of Examples
    • Borrowing money: we view the other person merely as means to our own end instead of as an agent desiring of respect. 
    • Suicide: we are viewing our own selves as a means to maintaining a tolerable state of affairs.
    • Cultivating talents: “It is not enough that an action that an action not conflict with humanity in our own person as an end in itself: it must also harmonize with this end.”
    • Helping others: Not helping others will not conflict with humanity, but it will not harmonize with humanity either. 
      • Roughly, we can avoid using ourselves or others as means, but we must be sure to also treat ourselves, others, and humanity in general as an end – as something with dignity or value – and we ought to promote things with intrinsic value. 

How do CI1 and CI2 fit together? Well, slightly different ways of looking at the CI.
  • Objectively, ground lies in universality
  • Subjectively, the ground of legislating lies in the end. So the ground lies in rational beings as end in themselves. 

The Categorical Imperative: 3

From the subjective ground of the CI follows that the supreme condition of the will’s harmony with universal practical reason is the Idea of the will of every rational being as a will that legislates universal law, or…

CI3: “every human will is a will that enacts universal laws in all its maxims”
[This problem is the hardest version of the CI to follow, so just hang in there.]
What it means:
  • We should reject maxims that conflict with the law-giving nature of the will. 
  • A will that is a supreme law-giver cannot depend on any interest. Why? 
    • Such a will would require yet another law in order to restrict the interest of self-love

In this version Kant emphasizes the self-legislating aspect of a will. The will is subject to the law but also gives the law to itself.
  • When we thought of beings as merely subject to laws (without legislating such laws to themselves), “the law had to carry some interest, as stimulus or compulsion to obedience”; their will had to be compelled by something else to act in a certain way. The result was then always a conditional imperative. Do X if you have interest Y. 
  • The notion of self-legislation shows how the law can constrain us in the absence of an interest or inclination: it constrains us because we give it to ourselves.

This notion of all rational agents as equal lawmakers (and, he tosses in there, as judgers of their own actions from this standpoint) leads to the concept of a kingdom of ends.
  • Kingdom: systematic union of different rational beings under common laws. 
    • Abstracting from “personal differences” and “private ends”, we can conceive of all ends being so systematically united. 
    • This kingdom’s laws would relate to CI2, to the relation of us to each other as ends and means
    • We are all members as lawgivers, and we must conceive of ourselves as lawgivers if we conceive of ourselves as ends in themselves. 
In other words, because we have dignity we are a rational being and so a member of the kingdom of ends.

  • Dignity versus Price 
    • Price indicates that the thing can be replaced; it has only relative worth (worth because someone values it). These things have a market price or attachment price.
    • Dignity is what those things which are “exalted above all price” and have no equivalents possess. Dignity is the inner worth of ends in themselves have.
    • Since “morality is the only condition under which a rational being can be an end in itself,” morality and humanity are the only things with dignity, though morality can confer dignity to actions though intentions, or maxims of the will.
    • The basis of dignity is autonomy. (Autonomy is the ability of a will to legislate as a member of the kingdom of ends.) 

Categorical Imperative: Recap

All maxims have…
  • A form: universality
  • A matter: an end (rational beings)
  • A complete determination: see CI3b; basically refers to the totality or all-comprehensiveness of its system of ends.

Autonomy and Heteronomy of the Will (almost done with Chapter 2!!!)

This entire discussion was supposedly started by an investigation into a good will, so Kant returns to this idea and tries to tie everything together.

Good will: a will is absolutely good if it cannot be evil, which means its universalized maxims cannot be in conflict with each other.
  • End of a good will is a rational nature/being. 
  • Such end must be self-sufficient. If it had to be brought about, then the goodness of the will would depend on consequences, which is bad. 
  • Since the good will cannot be submitted to anything lower, the end must be itself.
    • This shows the move from CI 2 (humanity as end in itself) to CI 3 (humanity as self-legislating). 
  • Autonomy is the ability of a will to self-legislate as a member of the kingdom of ends.
  • Morality and autonomy are thus linked, and the moral law is the law of freedom.

Another way to look at the relation between morality and autonomy:
  • “Whatever constitutes by itself the absolute worth of human beings is that by which they must be judged”
  • Autonomy is what gives persons dignity and so constitutes the absolute worth of humans. 

Autonomy of the will – some other attributes:
  • An autonomous will is free from inclinations and does not act upon them. 
  • Kant claims that the will is necessarily bound to the principle of autonomy, but to prove this we would have to give a critique of practical reason. 
    • He does think that we can show that the principle of autonomy is the sole principle of ethics. This, plus the claim regarding how we must conceive of ourselves as being ends in themselves, is enough to get at basically the same thing.

Heteronomy of the will
  • A will governed by inclinations; a will which does something because it wants something else.
  • In other words, heteronomy arises when objects have sway over the will. 
  • Two types of principles of morality which are based on heteronomy as their foundation:
    • Empirical: drawn from principles of perfect happiness; built on either moral (think moral intuitions) or physical feeling.
      • Not fit for moral laws because they are based in human constitution and so cannot be universal 
    • Rational: drawn from principle of perfection; built on either the rational concept of perfection as a possible effect of our will or on the concept of perfection (God’s will) as a determining cause of our will
      • Concept of perfection better than theological conception as a basis for morality, but both are also flawed
      • An account based on the concept of perfection is circular; you cannot offer a proof without assuming the consequent at some point.
      • Kant isn’t fond of using God as a basis of morality because we cannot directly apprehend Gods’ perfection and can only derive it from our own concepts, and these concepts generally include things like vengefulness, lust for glory and dominion, etc. 
    • So (surprise surprise) Kant thinks heteronomy is a flawed foundation of morality for the above reasons, but also because of a more general criticism: such a basis can never command categorically. It always wills for some end, which is in turn a means for some other end, the limit being given by nature, and so is contingent. 
  • Morality thus cannot come from a heteronomous will but must instead be bound with an autonomous will. 

The End (of Kant, for now)

— Professor Beth Henzel, Rutgers University

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