1

For Kant, we are prohibited from using people as purely means. Unfortunately things like physically stopping someone from doing violence onto you just because you don't want to be wounded seems to very much be using them as a means and not an end.

If we are unable to literally escape* being submitted to unethical treatment, do we simply have to grin and bear it?

*In the "what if an ax murderer asks me where my friend is, shouldn't I lie then" the obvious solution is to just remain silent. I'm thinking of cases where there is no similar way out, e.g., you are trapped.

  • 1
    How is this treating someone merely as means? I seriously don't get it. Even when not wanting to be wounded you can treat the person as an end in itself, e.g. by not excessing violence and stopping at the point that can reasonably be seen as defence. Fichte later put it nicely: The punishment is the respect for the autonomously chosen action that already included its punishment in its very conception. – Philip Klöcking Dec 10 '16 at 12:41
  • Suppose I have to shove someone aside to escape. How is that treating them as an end? It's not being as bad as it could be, e.g., beating them up, but it doesn't seem to take their rationality in account. – Canyon Dec 10 '16 at 12:44
  • 1
    Kant treats self defense directly in Metaphysics of Morals "Doctrine of Virtue" in the section on murder under quodlibetal questions. I can get the reference after the weekend but short version is that Kant doesn't see this as a problem or a case of something that cannot be universal. Can you better explain why you think Kant maintains we are unable to escape being submitted to unethical treatment. This seems like a difficult to sustain interpretation of Kant (even building on the formula of humanity). – virmaior Dec 10 '16 at 12:56
  • 1
    I mean literally escape, as in we can't run away. But I'm glad to see that I was wrong on this one. What is SE protocol for this situation---leave the question open until someone has time to write up a more-detailed answer? – Canyon Dec 10 '16 at 13:00
  • 1
    Actually, I think it's still a pretty good question, and it highlights a confusion that is pretty easy to run into regarding Kant's view on lying to murderers. – virmaior Dec 10 '16 at 13:40
1

This is the scenario. As I was happily enjoying a meal at a downtown restaurant, I suddenly noticed that a person is falling onto me from the forth floor of the building. The restaurant is so crowded that I cannot get away from my seat (= I am trapped). Incidentally, I had a pulverizer and could use it to render the falling person into particles, thus saving my life. I am a Kantian, and avowed that I would never treat others as mere means. But using the pulverizer onto the person is treating him like a rock, i.e., as a mere means. On what moral ground, can I, a Kantian, use the pulverizer?

While Kant himself does not discuss this type of scenario (called self-defense under an innocent aggressor), a moral theory informed by the Kantian maxim (Never treat others as mere means) has been developed in the name of the doctrine of double effect (DDE). DDE states that it is morally permissible to cause a foreseen harm as a side effect of bringing about a good result, but it is morally impermissible to cause such a harm as a means to bringing about the same good end.

Applying DDE, my goal is to save my life from a falling object, which many believe is morally permissible. Pulverizing the object is the only means to achieve the goal. When I pulverize the object that is falling onto me. I can foresee that the action has the side effect of killing a person. But clearly, I did not intend to kill the person, His death is a mere foreseen side effect. I never used the person as a mere means for my survival. Thus, I am morally permitted to use the pulverizer.

  • 1
    Kant does discuss it. In his article that is a response to "a French philosopher". Benjamin Constant. "On a supposed right to lie because of philanthropic concerns" – user26700 Jun 12 '17 at 21:27
  • Returning violence for violence is not lying, it is telling the truth in the same terms it is being delivered to you. So the doctrine on lying does not apply here. Someone doing violence to you is communicating either that worse damage would be done to someone else if you were not injured, or that you just do not matter. Kant does not go so far as to suggest soldiers should not kill, so he surely would not have a problem with honorable self-defense. There is not always another option, in the face of violence. In the case of lying, there always is another option. – jobermark Jun 12 '17 at 21:36
  • In allowing for soldiering as a profession at all, Kant has dealt with the case of the deluded, manipulated, or otherwise mistaken aggressor. And for the correct choice to do violence when more would be lost, and others are acting on their own decision to honorably risk their lives to prove a point. But not the one who has made no choices. So the answerer is right. – jobermark Jun 12 '17 at 21:41
  • 1
    I only know about DDE through Aquinas and, in a weakened form, Anscombe. Aquinas is of course pre-Kantian, and Anscombe is not a Kantian. Where do you see a case for DDE in Kant? – Canyon Jun 12 '17 at 22:07
  • 1
    I see what you're saying. Didn't read your reply carefully. Apologies. Of course, though, lying would never be "morally permissible" for Kant, under any circumstance, but, rather, it would be excusable in a court of law. – user26700 Jun 12 '17 at 23:03
0

"*In the "what if an ax murderer asks me where my friend is, shouldn't I lie then" the obvious solution is to just remain silent. I'm thinking of cases where there is no similar way out, e.g., you are trapped."

This is wrong. There's no "obvious solution", as though it were a logical exercise. Kant's point is you don't know, with certainty, if the guy is going to catch him. He says, maybe the guy will have already slipped away. And then your lie didn't help at all, might even harm the guy. One should read, here, the example Dostoevsky gives in the Idiot, about the injustice of State execution. Saying, the state is far more cruel, since in the case of a knife murderer (likely he thought of Kant), one, till the last, thinks of escape. Whereas, in the execution, the State's iron laws work evil like clockwork.

If you lie, then a judge is supposed to ask, did he really aim at not lying? It's a causuistry. You must faithfully interpret your duty into the situation.

In other words, not lying is a predelineation of the ought, it's what would happen in a perfect world, in the sense of if one ought to one can. If one ought to one can means that the way the world is, practically, in reality, need not always be. One might, through habit, bring about the world where one need never lie. He aims at a Utopia. But, he knows this is not Utopia. Kant's practicality is vastly effaced by the false reception of his thought currently on the market.

Thusly, rethink your question.

Also, be sure to remember "we are prohibited from using people as purely means" does not preclude "doing violence onto you just because you don't want to be wounded" which "seems to very much be using them as a means and not an end."

Since using someone simply as a means, is not the same as partially doing so. Otherwise one couldn't use a hatcheck girl to get one's hat.

  • I really, really don't think the reason we can't lie is because the friend has an independent chance of escape. – Canyon Jun 12 '17 at 22:02
  • Of course not. But the point is if he was surely to be killed, and one knew the lie would save him, that would be permitted for practical reasons. Though it would still be against duty. Just as if when one were starving in extremis, one would steal. Read the article on the "Supposed Right to Lie", and consider the argument about people on a plank. The practicality of that argument. – user26700 Jun 12 '17 at 22:53
  • How can something be permitted for practical purposes if it is a violation of duty? Isn't that just in direct contradiction to the categorical imperative? – Canyon Jun 12 '17 at 22:57
  • One should say "excusable", not "permitted." My mistake. You are right, it is never permitted under the imperative. But one shouldn't think Kant was expecting people to act like simple automatons under the guidance of the imperative. He was really very practical minded. – user26700 Jun 12 '17 at 23:07

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.