“…simply make things better for someone else, as if I were to be born again, and that someone else, and it doesn't have to be me, but it could be someone like me, that they would have a better life than I had, that everyone was better. There is something seriously wrong with everyone, and that is something I observed when I was very young. We are the problem, and we need to become better, because we are fucking everything up.”
“So this is who I am. There is something seriously wrong with everyone and we need to fix it, if not for us, then for the future generations."
"Everything I have done in this life, and everything I will do, is for this purpose.”

Friday, October 24, 2014

Are people just means to an End? A look into Kant's Categorical Imperative (day 184)



 
I attended Reed College. In my freshman year I took the introduction to ethics course. In the course we covered Mill's Utilitarianism, Kant's Categorical Imperative, and Aristotle's Nicomachean ethics. I would like to share what I saw as important for human beings to be aware, which I received from reading the works done by these men. These important things are still relevant today in my life, and how I live. I copied and pasted a section from wikipedia on Kant's Moral Philosophy. I suggest for the reader to read through it, even if you may not understand everything completely, so to at least have an idea. I will then explain how I understood Kant's philosophy in my own words, and by examples.  

 
Section from Wikipedia http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant#Moral_philosophy


Kant is known for his theory that there is a single moral obligation, which he called the "Categorical Imperative", and is derived from the concept of duty. Kant defines the demands of the moral law as "categorical imperatives". Categorical imperatives are principles that are intrinsically valid; they are good in and of themselves; they must be obeyed by all, in all situations and circumstances, if our behavior is to observe the moral law. It is from the Categorical Imperative that all other moral obligations are generated, and by which all moral obligations can be tested. Kant also stated that the moral means and ends can be applied to the categorical imperative, that rational beings can pursue certain "ends" using the appropriate "means". Ends that are based on physical needs or wants always give merely hypothetical imperatives. The categorical imperative, however, may be based only on something that is an "end in itself". That is, an end that is a means only to itself and not to some other need, desire, or purpose.[51] He believed that the moral law is a principle of reason itself, and is not based on contingent facts about the world, such as what would make us happy, but to act upon the moral law which has no other motive than "worthiness of being happy".[52] Accordingly, he believed that moral obligation applies only to rational agents.[53]



So one thing that the above wikipedia section fails to capture is something very important in how Kant determined what was a Categorical Imperative. So Kant used an example to demonstrate how we would determine a Categorical Imperative. It is essentially that something that you do, that you have to consider what would occur if every other person did the same thing you did. The example he wrote was on lying. If everyone lied on the planet, he said, then all businesses would be untrustworthy, and customers wouldn't be able to purchase anything in confidence. In essence, it would be disastrous. Because of this, it is a Categorical Imperative, to not lie, but to tell the truth. What famous individual said the same thing as Kant? Jesus. Jesus said to do onto another what you would have them do onto you. So in essence, you need to live and act in a way that everyone were to act that way. So basically, placing yourself in the shoes of every single person, and how would the world be if everyone acted exactly like you. If you can't say it would be best, then you need to change how you act so that it would be best. The details of this is found on wikipedia, see below. 

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant#The_first_formulation

The first formulation

The first formulation (Formula of Universal Law) of the moral imperative "requires that the maxims be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature" .[55] This formulation in principle has as its supreme law the creed "Always act according to that maxim whose universality as a law you can at the same time will" and is the "only condition under which a will can never come into conflict with itself [....]"[60]
One interpretation of the first formulation is called the "universalizability test".[61] An agent's maxim, according to Kant, is his "subjective principle of human actions": that is, what the agent believes is his reason to act.[62] The universalisability test has five steps:
  1. Find the agent's maxim (i.e., an action paired with its motivation). Take for example the declaration "I will lie for personal benefit". Lying is the action; the motivation is to fulfill some sort of desire. Paired together, they form the maxim.
  2. Imagine a possible world in which everyone in a similar position to the real-world agent followed that maxim. With no exception of one's self. This is in order for you to hold people to the same principle required of yourself.
  3. Decide whether any contradictions or irrationalities arise in the possible world as a result of following the maxim.
  4. If a contradiction or irrationality arises, acting on that maxim is not allowed in the real world.
  5. If there is no contradiction, then acting on that maxim is permissible, and is sometimes required.

So hopefully the reader has been able to understand things so far, because I would like to share another important point. The second formulation (below) is about how each person, each 'rational agent,' is an end, never merely a means to an end. That means that LIFE, is the basis and root of all moral decision makings. You cannot abuse people, or LIFE, as a means to your own end, and you must consider people as an end in themselves. So the basis of your decisions will always be people or LIFE.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant#The_second_formulation

The second formulation

The second formulation (or Formula of the End in Itself) holds that "the rational being, as by its nature an end and thus as an end in itself, must serve in every maxim as the condition restricting all merely relative and arbitrary ends".[55] The principle dictates that you "[a]ct with reference to every rational being (whether yourself or another) so that it is an end in itself in your maxim", meaning that the rational being is "the basis of all maxims of action" and "must be treated never as a mere means but as the supreme limiting condition in the use of all means, i.e., as an end at the same time".[63]


The second formulation is simply about how we have an duty to people, which requires we follow universal maxims, or rules, or statements, that were constructed by placing ourselves in all the people's shoes, and considering each one as an end, or EQUALLY valuable to YOU, and EACH OTHER. So you always act in a way that produces the best result. Because each person is an end, they are the same, and so have an equal value. And because you are living universally, you are placing yourself in everyone's positions, and seeing the results/outcomes of living a certain way. If living a certain way, leads to a horrendous outcome, if everyone were to do it, then don't do that, its not permitted.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant#The_third_formulation

The third formulation

The third formulation (Formula of Autonomy) is a synthesis of the first two and is the basis for the "complete determination of all maxims". It says "that all maxims which stem from autonomous legislation ought to harmonize with a possible realm of ends as with a realm of nature".[55] In principle, "So act as if your maxims should serve at the same time as the universal law (of all rational beings)", meaning that we should so act that we may think of ourselves as "a member in the universal realm of ends", legislating universal laws through our maxims (that is, a code of conduct), in a "possible realm of ends".[64] None may elevate themselves above the universal law, therefore it is one's duty to follow the maxim(s).


So this the basis, and heart of Kant's Moral Philosophy, which is developing and living by Categorical Imperative. To define Categorical Imperative: Imperative means something that ought to be done, or should be done. Imperative, is something important that is not up to question, but absolutely necessary. Categorical, is a category, essentially, in this context, a rule. So essentially it is making rules about how we out to live, and Kant explains what he sees and understand what makes, defines and determines the rules that make sense to him. I agree with all of the basic principles and rules shared by Kant. Because I can see where he is coming from, and what he is trying to create or say. And as the reader may have notice, it is not something new per se, because we have many references and saying which speak to the same point, such as placing yourself in the shoes of another, and Jesus's golden rule of do onto others as you would have them do onto you, or Love thy neighbor as thyself. I appreciate Kant's use of the word duty, because I see that when you realize that living a certain way would harm others, that you do have a duty or obligation to act/change differently, and to at least start investigating whether there is another way. This reminds me of Mill's Utilitarianism. I could write on Mill's next....


I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to when I see that living/acting a certain way could lead to a harmful outcome, to not immediately investigate alternative ways of acting/living that would create a better outcome, and ideally, the one outcome that would be best or ideal.

I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to not use my ability to place myself in the shoes of another person, to see how living and acting in a certain way, would not be permissible because of the large scale harm it would cause if everyone were to live/act that way, and that there really is no difference between ONE person living/acting that harmful way, and MANY people living/acting that harmful way, except that when it is MANY it is more obvious because there are MANY, yet each individually are participating in the same harm as ONE person would, and thus I would have an imperative to act to change how I live/act, and to at least start with investigating alternative ways of acting and living, if I do not see any alternatives right now, because there is an ideal outcome where EVERYONE wins and benefits, and so it would be best to figure out and learn how to create the ideal outcome.


I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself to consider people or LIFE, as a means to my own personal ends, instead of considering each person and each form of life as equals, or ends, and they must be considered with the same consideration as I consider myself as a form of life, or as an end, that way my personal ends, do not supersede or come before other people, or forms of life, because they are just as much a form of life, or an end, as I am. Thus the statement the MEANS justify the end is not valid, because people are ends in themselves, and if we consider them as only means to our own ends, then we create a dysfunctional and destructive world of pure and free reign Abuse.


I forgive myself for accepting and allowing myself  to not see that I have a duty to live in a way that considers everyone universally, as one, and equally as life, and that to live otherwise would be a failing of my duty, and would be less than what I am capable of, and the nature of life, and the nature of my being and the fabric of my existence.


I commit myself to be dutiful, to fulfill my duty to myself, to life, to consider all as equals and one, as an end, as a form of life, equally as I am a form of life or an end myself.

I commit myself to use my ability to place myself in the shoes of others, to see universally, how a single action or way of being would impact existence/universe/world as a whole, and thus use that as a guide on how I should act, and to also use that as a tool to create a world that is truly best for all, where each one has the same level of understanding that I have attained, and live in the same way that I wish to live of considering all as one and equal, and living equally as one.




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