Skip to main content

Borrowing from Singer to Help Out Kant

Here are two standard criticisms of Kant's ethics:

(i) Kant thought that humans have intrinsic value and dignity in virtue of their autonomy, and that this, in turn, requires libertarian freedom. But if so, then to the extent that we have reason to doubt that we have such freedom, then to that extent we have reason to doubt that Kant's ethics can account for the intrinsic value of humans.

(ii) Kant thought that only beings with the kind of autonomy of the sort gestured to above have intrinsic value. But if so, then since infants, the severely mentally disabled, and animals lack such autonomy, they thereby lack intrinsic value. But if this is what his account of ethics implies, then so much the worse for Kant's ethics.

These two criticisms clearly stem from Kant's thesis that

(IVA) Intrinsic value is grounded in the capacity for autonomy (which in turn is grounded in libertarian freedom and rational agency).

 It seems to me that there is a natural way to revise Kantian ethics so as to avoid at least the aforementioned criticisms, viz. by replacing IVA with

(IVI) Intrinsic value is grounded in the capacity for having interests.

On this account, the scope of the moral community can be expanded so as to encompass not just autonomous agents, but also infants, the severely mentally disabled, and non-human animals. For as Peter Singer has put it, all such beings have, at a minimum, the capacity for suffering and enjoyment, which in turn grounds the capacity for the minimal interests of pursuing enjoyment and avoiding suffering.[1]

I'm not claiming that such a revision to Kant's ethics is novel. All I'm saying is that it seems to be a natural revision to Kant's ethics that accounts for a large swath of widespread moral intuitions, and in a way that avoids at least the two powerful criticisms to Kant's ethics sketched above.

------------------------------------------
[1] It's of course ironic to find the seeds of a Kantian theory in the ideas of an arch-consequentialist of the likes of Peter Singer!

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Epicurean Cosmological Arguments for Matter's Necessity

One can find, through the writings of Lucretius, a powerful yet simple Epicurean argument for matter's (factual or metaphysical) necessity. In simplest terms, the argument is that since matter exists, and since nothing can come from nothing, matter is eternal and uncreated, and is therefore at least a factually necessary being. 
A stronger version of Epicurus' core argument can be developed by adding an appeal to something in the neighborhood of origin essentialism. The basic line of reasoning here is that being uncreated is an essential property of matter, and thus that the matter at the actual world is essentially uncreated.
Yet stronger versions of the argument could go on from there by appealing to the principle of sufficient reason to argue that whatever plays the role of being eternal and essentially uncreated does not vary from world to world, and thus that matter is a metaphysically necessary being.
It seems to me that this broadly Epicurean line of reasoning is a co…

Notes on Mackie's "Evil and Omnipotence"

0. Introduction
0.1 Mackie argues that the problem of evil proves that either no god exists, or at least that the god of Orthodox Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, does not exist. His argument is roughly the same version of the problem of evil that we’ve been considering.
0.2 Mackie thinks that one can avoid the conclusion that God does not exist only if one admits that either God is not omnipotent (i.e., not all-powerful), or that God is not perfectly good. 0.3 However, he thinks that hardly anyone will be willing to take this route. For doing so leaves one with a conception of a god that isn’t worthy of worship, and therefore not religiously significant.
0.4 After his brief discussion of his version of the problem of evil, he considers most of the main responses to the problem of evil, and concludes that none of them work.

1. First Response and Mackie's Reply
1.1 Response: Good can’t exist without evil; evil is a necessary counterpart to good.
1.2 Mackie’s reply:
1.2.1 this see…

Notes on Swinburne, "On Why God Allows Evil"

Notes on Swinburne’s “Why God Allows Evil”

1. The kinds of goods a theistic god would provide: deeper goods than just “thrills of pleasure and times of contentment” (p. 90). For example:
1.1 Significant freedom and responsibility
1.1.1 for ourselves
1.1.2 for others
1.1.3 for the world in which they live
1.2 Valuable lives
1.2.1 being of significant use to ourselves
1.2.2 being of significant use to each other

2. Kinds of evil
2.1 Moral evil: all the evil caused or permitted by human beings, whether intentionally or through negligence (e.g., murder, theft, etc.)
2.2 Natural evil: all the rest: evil not caused or permitted by human beings (e.g., suffering caused by hurricanes, forest fires, diseases, animal suffering, etc.)

3. The gist of Swinburne’s answer to the problem of evil: God cannot – logically cannot -- give us the goods of significant freedom, responsibility and usefulness without thereby allowing for the possibility of lots of moral and natural evil. This is why he has al…