11: Are There Rules with No Exception?


  • Define and appropriately use important terms such as categorical imperative, hypothetical imperative, maxim, autonomous lawmaker
  • Demonstrate knowledge of major arguments for and problems with deontology
  • Apply ethical concepts and principles to address moral concerns.

I. Are There Absolute Moral Values?


Key Terms

Hypothetical Imperatives
Categorical Imperatives
Autonomous Lawmaker

Kant's Categorical Imperative

Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law

  • Context
    • World War II
    • FDR died and Harry S. Truman assumes the presidency in 1945
    • Roosevelt’s advisors on the war in the Pacific: Ground invasion in Japan or Atomic Bomb
    • Drop the bomb and (hopefully) end the war quicker
    • Go with the ground war and (possibly) lose more soldiers than during D-day
  • Counter-argument
    • Elizabeth Anscombe, 20th century philosopher and devout Catholic
    • “For men to choose to kill the innocent as a means to their ends is always murder”
    • Some things ought never be done
    • Absolutism

II. Kantian Duty

  • Deon - Gr. duty/obligations
  • Immanuel Kant, 18th century
  • Moral rules should always be followed because of reason
  • A. Hypothetical "oughts"
    • You ought to do this, to get that.
    • Hypothetical because you may not want that, in which case you don’t have to do this.
    • Goal oriented conduct
  • B. Categorical "oughts"
    • You ought to do this. Period.
    • Morality - an absolute rule, regardless of desire
  • C. Justifying Categorical “oughts"
    • Categorical oughts are justified by reason, not desire
    • Every rational person must accept the Categorical Imperative
    • Consider the maxim (universal rule) that should be followed
    • The person who follows the Categorical Imperative is the Autonomous Lawmaker, the ideal citizen

III. Kant on Lying

  • Kant says, No, you should not lie.
  • A. Defense 1: The Categorical Imperative
    1. Only do actions that can be adopted universally
    2. Lying in one instance means everyone could lie
    3. A universal law that allows us to lie would be self-defeating
    4. Therefore, lying cannot be allowed universally and you should not lie
  • B. Defense 2: The Case of the Inquiring Murderer
    • From “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives” - Kant
    • You have 3 options.
      • You tell the truth. (“My friend has gone home.”)
      • You say nothing, in which case, the murder will still go to the friend’s house.
      • You lie. (“My friend went in the opposite direction.”)
    • Strategy
      • I lie
        • My friend escapes +
        • But I committed a moral wrong –
        • My friend is killed –
          • And I committed a moral wrong –
      • I tell the truth
        • My friend escapes +
        • And I committed no wrong +
        • My friend is killed –
          • And I committed no wrong because the wrongdoing was committed by the murderer, not me +
    • Consequences are uncertain
    • Better to stick with a known good (that may have a negative effect) than take a chance on a possible good (requiring a negative cause)

IV. Criticisms of Deontology

  • Pessimistic view of foreseeing consequences
  • Presumes doing duty absolves us of consequences that result from our action or inaction
  • Maxims can be taken to extremes
  • Common sense lies

V. Kant’s Legacy

  • Morality - following a system of rules because of one’s duty
  • Being rational is necessary to morality
  • No one is more important than another person
  • There are rational constraints on what we should and should not do