The Categorical Imperative is generally stated with two axioms:
- Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law
- Any person who is a means to your end should also be a part of the end.
I find both of these slightly vague, but from some mild interaction with philosophers, I managed to figure that what they really mean is:
- If you adopt a certain moral rule, you must adopt it as a reasonable generalisation as the same.
- Anyone who contributes something (voluntarily or involuntarily) to your cause must get something out of it that they want.
I get the second axiom (but consider it impractical for reasons outside the scope of this question), but my problem is with the first axiom and the definition of "reasonable".
For instance, if I choose to lie to a tyrannical government on whether I'm hiding fugitives in my house, I can write down the specific moral rule as:
If the Nazis asks you if you're hiding Jews in your house and you are, lie.
When most philosophers say "reasonable generalisation", I think they mean e.g.
If a tyrannical government asks you if you're hiding victims of their oppression in your house and you are, lie.
Always lie to the government.
Always lie/Never say the truth.
Always commit a given action/Never commit a given action.
Obviously, the last one is self-contradictory, and I doubt most Kantians would support it.
My question is: how much of a reasonable generalisation is a reasonable generalisation? Or am I completely misinterpreting Kant's CI (another possible interpretation that's occured to me is "Do what you wish anyone else did if they were in your situation and you in theirs", which makes much more sense to me)?