Framework for Judgments of Right and Wrong (I. Kant)

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Khethil
 
Reply Mon 25 May, 2009 02:29 pm
Good Afternoon,

As part of a reading program, I've had a second run at Mr Kant's Metaphysic of Morals Part One: Science of Right. It contains much of what we've come to expect from I.K. but I found several sections rather provocative; so much so, I thought I'd share one here. *

"Right", as we can rationally discuss it within Ethics, only really applies to actions (as they regard one another - person to person), not thoughts or motives, and only have any meaning within the context of their effects on others.[INDENT]Reference: Paragraph B, I: "The conception of right - as referring to a corresponding obligation which is the moral aspect of it - int he first place, has regard only to the external and practical relation of one person to another, in so far as they can have influence upon each other... In the second place, the conception of right does not indicate the relation of the action of an individual to the wish or the mere desire of another, as in acts of benevolence or of unkindness, but only the relation of his free action to the freedom of action of another... And, in the third place, in this reciprocal relation of voluntary actions, the conception of right does not take into consideration the matter of the act of will in so far as the end which any one may have in view in willing it..."

Implications:

  1. All this talk of what's "right" or "wrong" that hasn't any effect one upon another of us (e.g., what I do that doesn't immediately or adversely effect you) isn't really "right" or "wrong". It's likely something else. In this context: What I think is neither right nor wrong, nor is what I do by my self (or with others where a 3rd party's 'rights' are considered). Thus, we can only, justifiably, speak of Right and Wrong within the context of a community of people (or within the interaction between peoples).
  2. What I meant to do (my motives) can't be taken much into account, or not nearly as much, as the effect of what I've done when judging my action to be right or wrong. Was I meaning to be "benevolent" isn't nearly as relevant as the effects of what I've actually done.

[/INDENT]It provides a framework for the discussion of what's right and what's wrong; a necessary distinction for ethical discussions. Otherwise, we flail about without a framework. Can any action be judged right or wrong that has no effect upon another? If not, then thoughts, feelings and motives - too - would follow since they, by themselves, contain no impugnment upon a fellow human.

Question: Is this a good framework for discussion what's Right and Wrong? Do you buy it?




~~~~~~~~~~~~
* There are actually quite a few more that might be good fodder for discussions on Kantian ethics; he was a proponent of capital punishment and fleshed out issues of ownership (property and people), why we need collections of individuals to administer the rights of others and more. If there's interest, I'll happily post up straw-men on these to flesh them out more.
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Mon 25 May, 2009 03:40 pm
@Khethil,
Good question for me, as I have a particular moral standpoint contrary to Kant's and just about everyone on this philosophy forum.

I don't reject the moral quality of someone's intent. If someone intends cruelty irrespective of whether they achieve it, I see no use in defining the language such that we have no means of describing the character of such a person. I find the best language of judgements of a person as per their volition to be the language of good and evil. This is not the language Kant uses and not the subject he addresses, so there's no problem with terminology, but I disagree that this moral judgement is a non-issue, perhaps just a separate issue. People are capable of good and bad intent and are capable of judging and speaking of the good and bad intent and character of others. It seems as ripe an arena for moral philosophy as anything else.

I'm not sure to what extent Kant is championing utilitarian moral philosophy. He speaks of both actions and consequences, but rejects the possibility of any moral quality of actions that have no consequences for others. I agree fully with this - statements of the moral character of actions are abstractions, generalisations and absolute statements. A moral Christian need necessarily espouse such absolutes, but I see no use for it elsewhere. An abstract thing is not a real thing, so the moral judgement of an abstract thing is of little direct use. Further, if one generalises on the moral quality of an action, then by definition that action always has that moral character: it is always immoral because it is always immoral - the moral says so.

However... we have ethical codes that are different to moral absolutes. We agree that in situation X we will do Y rather than Z. Having agreed, to do Z is unethical - it is wrong with respect to the agreed to system of ethics, for instance codes of practise and ethics of medicine. Whether the actor doing Z did so out of goodness or evil, or whether or not there were any negative or positive consequences, seems by the by.

Finally (yes, finally) determining a moral judgement (whatever the language) based on consequences seems overly harsh to me, and I've had this debate here before. If I try to do right and in doing so accidentally do wrong, while I admit it was the wrong action, wherein lies the moral culpability? There seems none. This is why I think it is as useful to have a morality of consequences as it is to have a morality of chairs. I can say "this chair is morally wrong" but what exactly does this tell us? Likewise I can say "it was wrong to reflexively grab that woman's dress, pulling it off in the process, after slipping on an icecube because it caused her shame". That's not a useful moral statement. No-one would care about it... it's just a sentence.

Perhaps Kant excludes such accidents from his moral philosophy, but if the consequences weren't accidental then they were intended, and so, again, intention would become key.
 
amrhima
 
Reply Tue 26 May, 2009 05:45 pm
@Khethil,
I totally disagree with Kant, I side with Nietzsche here, the action should not be judged by its consequences "premorality" or by the intention behind it "morality" but perhaps by what the intention hides itself, that is, the instinct behind it. A thought can be of a great quality and would make it's thinker great, or it can be cowardly and thus would refer to the weakness of the thinker. It is the root of the action that matters not the consequences.
 
kennethamy
 
Reply Tue 26 May, 2009 06:16 pm
@Bones-O,
Bones-O! wrote:
Good question for me, as I have a particular moral standpoint contrary to Kant's and just about everyone on this philosophy forum.

I don't reject the moral quality of someone's intent. If someone intends cruelty irrespective of whether they achieve it, I see no use in defining the language such that we have no means of describing the character of such a person..


I think you may be confusing the idea of intention with that of motive. Kant leaves intent to the utilitarians. Intent has to do with the intended consequences of an action. Kant does not morally judge actions in terms of it consequences, actual, probable, or even intended. Rather, Kant judges actions in terms of the motive of the agent performing the action. My motive for keeping my promise (for instance) is to do my duty. My intentions may be to be helpful to the person to whom I made the promise. And that is fine. There is nothing wrong with that. But it does not confer what Kant called, "moral worth" on my action. Whatever my intentions (whatever the consequences), my action of keeping my promise is morally judged by whether I did that action for the sake of keeping my promise, and not because of good intentions "The path to hell is paved with good intentions".
 
Bones-O
 
Reply Tue 26 May, 2009 06:31 pm
@kennethamy,
kennethamy wrote:
I think you may be confusing the idea of intention with that of motive. Kant leaves intent to the utilitarians. Intent has to do with the intended consequences of an action. Kant does not morally judge actions in terms of it consequences, actual, probable, or even intended. Rather, Kant judges actions in terms of the motive of the agent performing the action. My motive for keeping my promise (for instance) is to do my duty. My intentions may be to be helpful to the person to whom I made the promise. And that is fine. There is nothing wrong with that. But it does not confer what Kant called, "moral worth" on my action. Whatever my intentions (whatever the consequences), my action of keeping my promise is morally judged by whether I did that action for the sake of keeping my promise, and not because of good intentions "The path to hell is paved with good intentions".



Thanks Ken. I'm rather confused though. The boldened statement above apparently contradicts Kant's statement below. I'm just basing this on Khethil's extract and nothing more.


Kant wrote:
What I meant to do (my motives) can't be taken much into account, or not nearly as much, as the effect of what I've done when judging my action to be right or wrong. Was I meaning to be "benevolent" isn't nearly as relevant as the effects of what I've actually done.


But your point makes much sense to me. We have in all:
  • the motive (why I aim to achieve this);
  • the intended consequences (what I meant to achieve);
  • the intended means (the desired action);
  • the actual means (what I did);
  • the actual consequences (what I achieved).
I'd say all of these have probably been considered as per their morality be it by philosophers or every person on a day-to-day basis. For me, only the first three make sense as moral subjects.
 
 

 
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