Saturday, October 30, 2010


What Should We Do? Deontology


“Peter Abelard (1079-1142) argued that an act is right if done with good intentions and wrong if done with evil intentions. … [However], clearly, bad intentions will make an act wrong, but good intentions will not necessarily make an act right. Intention is only one aspect of an ethical action. Another
 essential aspect is whether the intentions are in accord with what is intrinsically right (namely, a law or divine command),” (1; 402). While it is true that, unlike with hypocrisy, the external behavior must be in line with the internal intention (the how must be in line with the why, L1.1) (63, post 363), the only way anything can be essentially moral is if it is in line with essential Golden Rule love (see Objection 16 in Appendix E), which is necessarily willful, which is God. Some people think they are acting with good intentions, but they are basing their definition of ‘good’ off of a human invention of what good means, or off of a corrupted version of what God says is good. All behaviors outside God's will are also intentional behaviors, though the intention may not have been to act outside his will. ‘Ought not’ implies ‘can avoid’—and one cannot avoid doing what one does not know one is doing, so even if someone is intentionally doing something, if they don’t know it is a sin, they are not intentionally sinning—but it is still sin, because it is not in line with God’s essential Golden Rule love (which forgives all that). Because intentionalism is incorrect, even if a person feels no remorse for what they have done, a wrong act is still wrong. And sometimes remorse is felt when we never intended to do wrong: Some memories come from the brain without intentionally recalling them and sensation comes from the body without intention (in cases where one hasn’t sought the cause of the sensation). We are responsible and should feel remorseful only for the wrong thoughts we intend (and should hold every thought captive), but just because we value our intentions as good doesn’t mean they are God’s essential Golden Rule love. Abelard’s intentionalism, beyond requiring that our intentions are ‘good’, does not tell us how or why (the fuel and destination) we should be or behave with the Other and self (failing L1.3, 70), because it does not define ‘good’ (double-check).

Deontology: “Don’t hate me ‘cause I’m dutiful.”

Whereas the Greeks thought they discovered (71) moral value in developing one’s character (review L1.2) according to a built-in purpose, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), though valuing a virtuous disposition, a good will, thought he discovered the answer to “How and why should we be or behave with the Other and self?” in the categorical imperative: "Always act so that you can will that your maxim can become a universal law,” (5e) with the consequence of everyone’s moral sense being respected. In deontology (“deon” meaning “duty”), the categorical imperative is “a moral obligation or command that is unconditionally and universally binding” (, as opposed to any number of hypothetical (conditional) imperatives, like “I won’t jump off cliffs with my friends, because I don’t want to die,” which depend on the situation and desires of the actor. Kant reasoned that it is not the actual consequences, nor the anticipated consequences, but the good will behind the intention, which makes an action morally good. Having good will means having respect, despite any opposing inclination, for our duty to the universal maxim (categorical imperative), the rule that applies to everyone (passing L3). When considering the morality of an act, you must ask, 1) what is the maxim (rule) of the act you are contemplating, and 2) would that act (regardless who commits it) still be possible, or would it undermine your original intention, if everyone (universal) followed that maxim? On the surface, the words “will” and “become” (and Kant’s autonomous “lawmaker”—though we haven’t used it here) sound like voluntarism (70), like we will moral truth into becoming, but underneath, Kant’s categorical imperative is a method of discovery (71) (passing L2), of making our behavior conform to what we already intuitively know. Same deal when God is referred to as a lawmaker—he wills in accordance with his good nature, rather than ‘creating’ some new goodness (see Appendix G). Perhaps it would have been better to word it this way: “Always and only act if your maxim qualifies as a universal law.”

If you base your actions dutifully on respect for the universal maxims they uphold, regardless what your inclinations might be, even if the consequences turn out bad (and you may be held responsible to repair the damages), then your actions are moral. If you base your actions on how it might make you feel, or whether the consequences/outcome will be favorable for you or the Other, then your actions have no moral worth (though they might be immoral), because you were not trying to do "the right thing" (4) (you had other motives on your mind) according to Kant. But C.S. Lewis (1898-1963) wrote, “If there lurks in most modern minds the notion that to desire our own good and to earnestly hope for the enjoyment of it is a bad thing, I suggest that this notion has crept in from Kant and the Stoics and is no part of the Christian faith. Indeed, if we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased,” (16). In other words, though Golden Rule love is often difficult, we should feel free to love loving, rather than shouldering the burden of considering it more noble to, and feeling guilty when we don’t, suffer through it. “My yoke is easy, my burden is light,” (Matthew 11:30); “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” (John 10:10). What Lewis and Jesus are saying here is not to be confused with egoism (discussed later), which gives moral priority to that which results in the best outcome in favor of the group (Bentham and Mill’s utilitarianism) or the individual (Rand’s Objectivism) [see below, and (52)]. God’s Golden Rule love transcends both good and bad circumstances and is what truly satisfies. This can be summarized in this dialectic (58, 66)…

The Love and Logic, “Law was Made for Man” Dialectic

Thesis: Logic or ethical rationalism if all by itself. Kant’s “man was made for law” thinking.
Antithesis: Love or emotivism if all by itself. Egoism’s “whatever results in my/our definition of happiness” thinking.
Synthesis: Logic and love (“law was made for man” thinking), reason and intuition (L1.1, L1.3). All legislation should conform to the Golden Rule.

The law was made to guide humans back to essential Golden Rule love, rather than man being made for the purpose of being under that guide. Kant lost sight of this, falling into the same trap of the Pharisees, and Sartre, whom we will discuss in the section on Existentialism, rightly objected to it.

Notice that to determine whether or not our intentions are to do the right thing, we do not have to wait and see how the consequences pan out, we simply "determine whether we could imagine others doing to us what we intend to do to them. In other words, Kant proposes a variant of the Golden Rule. … (It) draws on the same fundamental realization that I called a spark of moral genius in the Golden Rule: It sees self and others as fundamentally similar,” (4; 222, 225)—we share the same rationality and the same moral sense by virtue of being human beings, and so the rules are the same for all of us. A common, though not universal, interpretation of Kant is that he “had harsh words for the old Golden Rule. He thought it was just a simplistic version of his own categorical imperative and that it could even be turned into a travesty. If you don’t want to help others, just claim you don’t want or need help from them!” (4; 225) At any rate—instead of viewing the GR as “more simplistic” one could view it as “more basic” or “more essential” (see Appendix G and Objection 12 in Appendix E). Kant’s criticism (if it is a correct interpretation) is answered this way: The Golden Rule (treat the Other how you would want to be treated; love Other as self) includes the Platinum Rule (treat the Other how they would want to be treated), considering we would want the Other to put themselves in our shoes in their interactions with us (see The Platinum-Golden Dialectic in appendices A and G). So you should put yourself in the shoes of a person who genuinely needs help and help them even if, in the same situation, you would not ask for it (see Objection 7 in Appendix E)—and seriously reconsider asking for help.

Mill, whom we will soon discuss, would say the categorical imperative does actually imply concern for consequences, since in effect it is asking, "What are the consequences of everyone doing what you want to do?" In addition, “…the act of killing is inseparable from the result of someone being killed. Likewise, the act of stealing is inseparable from the result that something is stolen. Hence, even deontological ethics is concerned about results of actions—immediate ones,” (1; 392). However, the focus is on the logical implications, on not undermining your original intention, on consistently respecting everyone’s shared moral sense, rather than on the “actual” consequences. Another criticism of the categorical imperative is that it has a loophole: Making the maxim so specific that, after universalizing it, it can only apply to you. Observe that consequences are exceptions that are foundations for a maxim; even a universal has a situational context: The consequence of killing is ending a person’s life, resulting in the maxim "Do not (intend to) kill IF it will end the person's life.” You can prevent the loophole by restricting everything that comes after the IF to only the direct, natural, common consequences of the action. This would prevent maxims like “Do not kill if your name is not George.”

If we make the rules different for ourselves than for the Other, we are not respecting what is similar in all of us and are offending our shared moral sense, turning our fellow human beings into means to our own ends, similar to the way harming an animal offends our moral sense: "It dulls (our) shared feeling of their pain and so weakens and gradually uproots a natural predisposition that is very serviceable to morality in one's relations with other men," (Kant, 4; 237). Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative personalizes this respect for our common humanity: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means,” (Kant, 4; 234). Notice that this rule applies not only to how we treat the Other, but to how we treat ourselves. It is also the basis for an argument in favor of natural rights. Indeed, Kant envisioned a Kingdom of Ends wherein everyone would treat each Other as an end and not merely as means.

However, Kant did not go far enough. The problem with his categorical imperative is that he started from recognizing (65; Objection 19 in Appendix E) our sameness, but, as with Greek virtue theory, logic became divorced from love. Recall the earlier discussion on the rolls reason and emotion play in discovering (71) the moral standard. Kant emphasized pure logic (not committing a double-standard, but not undermining one’s original intention) so that our moral predisposition had to be warped in order for our will to be considered ‘good,’ because our shared moral sense apprehends more than just undermined intentions and double-standards, it senses “the” standard (Golden Rule love, the fuel and destination). For example, even if lying will prevent someone’s murder, Kant would have said to tell the truth out of respect for the fact that no one should lie as a rule. One could argue this is a form of legalism, of Phariseism. This grates against our moral sense—the law is for man, not man for the law. As mentioned earlier, the apostle Paul would say the principle is lacking in love and comes off sounding like a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal—it does not resonate. Some criticize the categorical imperative because it does not allow for exceptions, but, as Kant correctly pointed out, “once an exception to a rule is made, there ceases to be a rule,” (17). Instead, he needed to allow for some universal maxims (like “never murder”) to be greater goods than others (like “never lie”), which would’ve helped solve conflicts between them. The murder victim is a means to the honest person’s immoral end (if Kant had seen this, he would not have agreed with it), considering preventing murder is a greater good than being honest with a murderer. This Greater Good View will be discussed later.

Kant’s over-emphasis of reason has led some critics to point out that "The real world provides examples of people who most of us believe acted irrationally while in their own minds following a sure rational path toward a goal. [. . .] So, if the rationality of one's decisions depends on one's personal interpretation of the situation, how can the categorical imperative be a guarantee that we will all reach the same conclusion if only we use logic? [. . .] Kant seems to assume that we all have the same general goals, which serve as a guarantee of the rationality of our actions. Change the goals, though, and the ideal of a reasonable course of action takes on a new meaning," (4; 228). For example, if your goal is to cause mayhem, then categorical mayhem will not undermine your original intention. This further illustrates that rationality alone is not the basis of moral behavior. The problem of conflicting goals and legalism is solved if you see that there is only one goal, one purpose, one source of the meaning of life, one way to answer how and why we should be or behave with the Other and self, and we either use our reason to move towards him, towards Golden Rule love, or away from him, away from love. We will talk more about goals when we get to pragmatism.

Kant passes all three parts of the litmus test, except that he should have allowed for the uncreated (71), eternal, ultimate end (consequences) of both being (character) and doing (conduct), to be, not following rules for the sake of following rules, but Golden Rule love that endures all circumstances: love the Other as self (L1.1, L1.3). This goes back to the synthesis between the importance of logic and love, reason and intuition. Maybe then Kant would have allowed for a universal maxim to be a Greater Good (as opposed to a “lesser evil” or “third alternative,” discussed below), allowing us to save a potential victim’s life, rather than requiring we be truthful to a would-be murderer about the possible victim’s whereabouts, taking all the love and joy out of the Golden Rule he considered too simplistic, but which he should have left in its essential form (see Appendix G).

Since natural rights are mentioned in this section, we are going to take a break and discuss them in more detail before we consider utilitarianism.

No comments:

Post a Comment