Is the Kantian CI universalization conceived of as everyone doing the act at the same time?

Is suicide prohibited if you cannot will everyone killing themselves at the same time, or is a progressive mass suicide enough?

The example I'm thinking of is tormenting people out of boredom. I believe Sade says we can't get bored of pain: does that we have a perfect duty not to torment people when bored? Does it mean it's incoherent to will everyone acting on the maxim torment people out of boredom?

  • CI does not specify such minutiae. The "willing" is supposed to be done by a rational agent as such, and is not what individuals can bring themselves to wish, and the practical reason is supposed to be used to decide what application is appropriate in specific situations. Rule of thumb: if you have to ask yourself whether the result turns on a detail, you are probably not applying CI sincerely.
    – Conifold
    Aug 17 '19 at 7:43
  • 1
    This is a half-step toward 'no one should have a house to live in because not everyone in the world can live in my house'. Specifics like labels, space and time are not supposed to be seen as absolutes, they are just aspects of how we interpret things. If you absolutely need the specifics to make your argument, instead of just employing them as a removable crutch, the argument is probably flawed.
    – user9166
    Aug 20 '19 at 2:52
  • yeah it does sound a bit weird hey ho @jobermark
    – user38026
    Aug 20 '19 at 3:14

This is not how the Categorical Imperative is conceived. The CI is a legalistic statement of this type: "I will do (or allow) X if and only if I can reasonably will that that anyone can do (or allow) X". The intention is to force the person contemplating an act to consider the wills of others: might persons A, B, and C also will this to be the case? The question isn't whether everyone should take their own life; the question is whether anyone — you, your parents or children, the person you hate most, a random stranger on a bus — should be allowed to take their own lives. If we say to ourselves "it's ok for us or someone we hate to do it, but it is not ok for our children to" then we cannot will it as a universal law, and thus we should not do it.

The main weakness of the CI as moral theory is that it tends to collapse into solipsism. To use your example, yes: The Marquis de Sade enjoys both giving and receiving pain, and so he could certainly hold it as a universal principle that everyone should have the right to inflict torment. But what Kant wants to avoid is allowing the MdS to impose his will on others against their will. MdS would have to craft his universal law as something like "anyone may do it to anyone if they both will it to be so" to have any hope of satisfying the CI. One cannot torment someone out of boredom unless the other wills that torment to be so.

  • i think you've misunderstood. i thought that in the CI perfect duties were those that we couldn't will without incoherence: e.g. if no-one obeyed their financial obligations there would be no opportunity to break your word to get money, because no-one would believe you in the first place. see here
    – user38026
    Aug 17 '19 at 19:16
  • Well, that's true enough, but not everything is a perfect duty. The difference between a perfect and imperfect duty is that violating perfect duties would create a contradiction in the concept itself, while violating an imperfect duty on creates a contradiction in will. Lying is a perfect duty, because once we lie no one will ever accept that we tell the truth (the concept "we speak truth" is contradicted). Being kind is an imperfect duty, because no one expects us to kind to everyone, all the time. Are you suggesting that killing oneself cannot be done unless it's a perfect duty? Aug 17 '19 at 19:33
  • i'm not saying anything about suicide, it was meant to be illustrative. i'm asking about bored malice
    – user38026
    Aug 17 '19 at 19:34
  • Are you suggesting that bored malice is a perfect duty, then? I doubt it could be conceived of as a duty at all, since 'duty' is generally construed as something that must rationally be done to preserve desirable social constructs. Aug 17 '19 at 19:45
  • perfect duty against it!
    – user38026
    Aug 17 '19 at 20:00

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