Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Do I Have to Do What I Know Is Right? (Part 2)
Lets do a quick and dirty summary of where we are so far in Kant's argument regarding obligations to act morally when we know what the correct moral action is. When we left off Kant had made the case that some things are ends in themselves; in ordinary language we say that some things have intrinsic value. An example might be "love". We don't seek love as a means to some other end, but we seek love because it has a value in itself. In Kant-speak, it is an end in itself. Another thing that is an end in itself is a human. Because a human has intrinsic value they are an end in themselves and thus ought not to be treated as a means to another's end. In other words, every person has their own private ends and it is morally wrong for another to interfere with their ends by using them as a means to some end that is not their own. If we want to oversimplify we can simply say, it is wrong to use people as a means to your ends.
Argument from Badassery?
But why should we accept that I cannot use other people as means to my ends? What if I'm just that much more of a badass? Or maybe I'm really sneaky and am good at tricking people into doing my bidding (at an auction)? Here comes the tricky part! Who needs the rational part! (Kant) I doooooooooooooo! The reason why we ought to respect others as ends in themselves is because this is exactly what every rational person would want for themselves. Suppose I decide that since I'm such a badass that I'm going to treat all the gehly men as means to my end of being king of the wooooooooooooooooorld! If I am acting rationally then I must admit that my actions should be a law: whoever is the baddest badass can treat others as means. The problem is if another badass comes along who is an even bigger badass than me..I now become a means to his ends. This makes me saaaaad. "But I don't want to pursue your means", I might lament, "I want to pursue mine!"
Argument from Mutually Assured Freedom
So you see, a rational creature can only guarantee his/her long-term ability to freely pursue their own ends if they advocate that others have the freedom (USA! USA! USA!) to pursue their own. In fact, I might even want to ensure that the freedom (USA! USA! USA!) of others is protected to ensure my own is also protected. Because every rational creature will want to ensure their ability to be treated as ends in themselves, it becomes a universal maxim, on practical grounds, that persons should be treated as ends in themselves and never as means to an end. It is interesting that we not only derive our freedom from this idea but it is also the "supreme limiting condition of every [person's] freedom of action". Kant formulates the law this way:
Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
2nd Formulation of the CI
Its important to note that this law of ends, when we apply it to determining a moral action (should) yield exactly the same law as the Categorical Imperative (Principle of Universalization); thus this "ends" law is referred to as "the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative". Lets apply it to the now familiar money lending situation and see what results.
Recall that for this situation you are in need of a loan and the only way you know you can secure the loan is to promise that you'll pay it back in x amount of time. The thing is you know that you'll never be able to pay the loan back. If we employ the 2nd formulation of CI, is it moral for you to make a "lying promise"? Your ends are to obtain the money for whatever reason. But the lender has ends too and he is an end in himself (he's got his own plans/hopes/dreams). If you make a lying promise you are using him as a means to your ends which the lender does not share. The man whom you are using for your own means certainly would not agree to lending you money if he had full information of your intentions. Again, you are using him as a means to an end which he does not share and to which he does not consent. So in this simple example we see that the second formulation of the CI produces the same conclusions that we'd find if we'd used the 1st formulation.