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I'm told Kantians believe something like the following: that it would be inconsistent to respect our own preferences and not the preferences of others. If so, while pro-vegetarian arguments are often couched in terms of suffering and consequences, aren't there strong Kantian arguments for vegetarianism also? After all, many non-human animals do have preferences and desires, and generally prefer not to be eaten or killed.

Kantian ethics does appeal to notions of consistency, but the consistency that Kantian morality requires is not consistency in respecting "preferences" (as you expressed it.) Rather, Kantian morality requires consistency in respect for practically rational agency, i.e, the capacity to set one's ends and choose the means to one's ends. Kant believed (not incorrectly, for the most part) that non-human animals lack this capacity and hence are not owed respect in this sense. Indeed, Kant held that, strictly speaking, we have no moral obligations to animals at all; animals lack the property (practical rational agency) that lends something moral standing. Many moral philosophers, including many Kantians, find Kant's conclusions troubling, inasmuch as it certainly seems intuitively plausible that we can wrong animals. Kantians have tried a number of solutions to rescue Kantian ethics from this position. Here are some articles in that vein: https://philpapers.org/rec/CHOADK https://philpapers.org/rec/DENKCO-2...

According to Kant, prostitution is morally wrong. The second formulation of the categorical imperative states that one should never use themselves, or another as a mere means. 1. I can see how prostitution would fail to respect self, as it is using one's body as a "mere means" to earn money. But how is that different from a farmer, who use his body to work in the fields to harvest crops for food and money? 2. Prostitution also fails to respect another, by using the person to satisfy his sexual urges. However, by paying the prostitute, isn't it also respecting her by recognizing her dignity and worth and paying her for her "work"? On the basis of these 2 points, can you please explain why prostitution is morally wrong?

I'm not sure that most contemporary Kantian moral philosophers agree with Kant on the morality of prostitution. As you note, prostitution does not seem to make use of one's own humanity in a way that's fundamentally different from other forms of work or labor which are clearly morally permissible. Why think that prostitution, unlike farming, involves the wrongful use of ourselves merely as a means? Much of the reason is that Kant was deeply skeptical about the compatibility of sexual desire with the moral requirement to treat rational agents as ends in themselves rather than merely as a means. He writes: “Sexual union is the reciprocal use that one human beings makes of the sexual organs and capacities of another” for the purpose of enjoyment. As Kant saw it, sexual desire is not a desire for a person's good but for the use of their body for one's own physical pleasure. Hence, sexual desire is fundamentally at odds with respect for others' rational natures. Sex is animalistic in that we treat ourselves ...

If you had a child to make yourself happy, as most people do, would that violate the Kantian imperative to avoid treating people as means?

Unfortunately, this is a tricky question for Kantian ethics to address. On its face, it might appear that procreation (bringing a child into existence) in order to advance one’s own happiness treats the child merely as a means: One ‘uses’ the child to promote one’s own happiness. But things get more complicated once we attend to exactly what this Kantian imperative says. The Kantian moral requirement you mention states that we are not to treat “humanity” merely as a means. There are debates as to exactly what Kant had in mind by “humanity” but the standard view is that “humanity” means the capacity for rational agency — the ability to choose our ‘ends’ (our goals or objectives) and the best means to those ends. But a newborn lacks “humanity” in this sense; it cannot choose ends for itself, etc. Nor can a fetus. All the more, a child who does not yet exist does not have humanity! Hence, it would appear that the apparent answer to your question is ‘no’: You cannot treat someone’s capacity for...

It is a common moral conviction that it is better to let many guilty people go free than to wrongly imprison a single innocent person. My understanding is that this principle underlies the presumption of innocence in criminal trials. I can see that this strikes us as profoundly right, but I'm not sure why. I mean, off the top of my head it seems fairly easy to refute it along a crudely utilitarian line: all we need is to suppose that the guilty parties are liable to do harm enough to outweigh the suffering of the wrongly imprisoned innocent party.

Setting aside the question of whether the principle 'better to let many guilty go free than to wrongly imprison a single innocent person' is the rationale for the presumption of innocence, that utilitarians would reject the principle is not as clearcut as you appear to assume. We seem to be considering two possibilities: (a) letting some number of guilty persons (you say 'many') go free but thereby ensuring that an innocent person is not punished (b) punishing an innocent person but ensuring that 'many' guilty persons are also punished For utilitarians, the question of whether (a) or (b) is morally preferable will turn on empirical facts or tendencies. You suggest that utilitarians will opt for punishing the guilty even at the cost of punishing the innocent "if the guilty parties are liable to do harm enough to outweigh the suffering of the wrongly imprisoned innocent party." I suspect this move overlooks two factors that might tilt the balance of costs and benefits (happiness and unhappiness) in...

Do people have the right to rebel in a democracy? Is it just?

What makes this issue tricky is that the question seems to equivocate on the notions of "right" and "just." Suppose (as seems likely) that rebelling against a democratic government involves conduct that the government in question has declared illegal. It seems clear that such rebellious conduct can't be "right" or "just" in the sense of of being legally permissible . It would, after all, threaten incoherence if a code of law has an 'out clause' permitting rebellion, akin to "here are the laws, but you can rebel against them without penalty." That would render that system of law toothless with respect to its authority. So if there is right to rebel, the right can't be a legal or political one. It would have to be a moral or "natural" right. Indeed, this seems to be what political theorists such as Locke (and the framers of the U.S. Constitution he inspired) had in mind when they referenced a right to rebel against unjust governments. I won't take on the big project of defending the existence of such...

People often take pride in things that they don't have control over, or events and accomplishments in which they were not involved. For example, an American might be proud of the United State's role in World War 2 even though it occurred long before he was even born. Much the same could be said of pride of one's race, university, local sports team, extended family or ancestry, and so on. How can this kind of pride be justified?

Standardly, philosophers think of pride as closely related to deservedness. Pride, on this view, amounts to taking pleasure in one's excellence or accomplishments. To have proper pride therefore requires that one have an accurate appraisal of one's excellence or accomplishments. To take more pleasure than one's excellence or accomplishments merit is to exhibit vanity. To take less pleasure than one's excellence or accomplishments merit is to exhibit excessive modesty or a lack of self-respect. (This analysis of pride owes much to Aristotle's discussion of pride in the Nicomachean Ethics .) So what of those who (as you ask) are 'proud of' their nation's past accomplishments, or in the victories of their favorites sports teams, etc.? On its face, pride seems unjustified in these cases. For these are not the person's accomplishments but the accomplishments of others. It would, I agree, be a form of noxious self-flattery for someone born well after the Second World War to take literal pride in the US'...

To know what beauty is, shouldn't one observe examples of it? But if one doesn't know what beauty is in the first place, how can one tell if one is observing examples of it?

Nice question! Here's a quick reconstruction of your reasoning: (1) In order to know what X is, you need to observe instances of X. (2) But one could only know one is observing instances of X if one already knew what X is. (3) Hence, one can neither know what X is nor know whether one is observing instances of X. (3) looks like a pretty powerful skeptical conclusion: It would seem like we can't know whether a certain thing is beautiful unless we know what beauty is, but we can't know what beauty is unless we know which things are beautiful. We certainly seem stuck -- and the same reasoning could be used to generate skeptical conclusions about other important philosophical concepts (such as goodness, virtue, and so on). Is there a way out of this conundrum? There are a lot of complex issues here, so let me just mention some possible ways out and leave it to you to assess their plausibility: Testimony Others might be in a credible position to tell us which things are beautiful or what beauty is....

Ethics of procreation: Consider a scientist that could grow humans knowing that two thirds of them would die after suffering short lives of terror and extreme deprivation, but one third of the lives he could produce in this manner would survive to a productive adult life. We would think that if he were to create extremely bad lives rather than good lives, he would be committing Mengalian atrocities, or at least, that is what I think the general intuition would be. But there are conditions in which people procreate knowing that their children will suffer short and extremely bad lives, in subsistence conditions, where two thirds of the children they produce will suffer in this way. To ensure the two cases are analogous, suppose that the scientist creates these lives only to ensure his genetic continuation, his security in old age, or out of economic necessity, and will stop producing lives only when he has two viable children to support him and work in his lab. Can one context of procreation be plausibly...

Based on your description of the scenarios you're envisioning, I'm not seeing any inherent moral difference between the scientist and those who procreate children in the 'ordinary' or 'natural' way. Whatever moral reasons seem to weigh either for or against procreating children knowing that there is a high probability they will have "short and extremely bad lives" apply equally to the scientist as to anyone else who procreates under the same conditions. Perhaps you're seeking to highlight that the scientist 'grows' humans outside of a "natural context" as a morally significant factor that makes his procreative acts morally worse. There I'd have to say that while his creating the offspring in some sort of artificial or 'unnatural' way adds to the 'ick' factor, but it's hard to see how there's any moral difference there. No doubt many people attach some moral significance to 'naturalness' when it comes to procreation. They might argue that somehow natural procreation isn't subject to the same moral...

Dear philosophers, I had two queries about Kantianism, and was wondering if anyone could assist. There's a letter of Kant's in which he says, essentially, that if a murderer comes to your door asking where your friend is, you may not lie to him, because the principle of allowing lies is not something that can be consistently maximised. I was wondering: (1) is there a problem of how to categorise an action? I mean, is the principle here, "It's OK to lie" or is it "One should not assist murderers"? How do you definitively characterise an action? (2) is there a problem of complexity of maxim? If one agrees that "It's OK to lie" can't be maximised, what about if exceptions are built in? "It's OK to lie to murderers who are likely to believe your lie" -- could something like that be maximised?

Thanks for your question. Before my response, a brief observation: You speak of principles being "maximized". I suspect you're confusing Kant's notion of a maxim with some other idea from moral philosophy (perhaps the utilitarian claim that right actions are those that maximize well-being). A maxim, for Kant, is a justifying principle of action with the form "I will do act A in circumstances C to achieve end E". Kant's Formula of Universal Law requires that we act only on maxims that can be consistently universalized. There's a lot of controversy as to precisely what it means for a maxim to be consistently universalizable. Here's a description, provided by Robert Johnson in his Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on Kant's moral philosophy, of the procedure to be used to evaluate whether a maxim can be consistently universalized: First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents,...

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights makes sweeping pronouncements about rights to housing, education, etc. Who is obliged, however, to see that such rights are positively protected or practiced--the universe? The UN has no institutional standing to require me to house the homeless. Isn't my role not to interfere with people seeking housing, just as I honor another' right to free speech by doing nothing to stifle her expression? The Declaration seems like it should be recast as a desired state document that serves as a guide for government policy and law. Do philosophers find the Declaration sound?

Your question actually seems to be several rolled into one. In general, I think you're asking about what sorts of claims are being made when the UN Declaration states that there are rights to housing, education, etc. Your remark that you yourself only have to not interfere with others seeking housing seems reasonable (though I wonder whether you would agree that you have no obligation to provide housing if (say) your community is struck by a natural disaster that renders large numbers of people homeless). However, I gather that the UN Declaration is asserting that such rights are rights against one's state or society rather than against the members of states or societies. To say that individuals have a right to housing is not to say that particular individuals are obligated to house them. Instead, this right is one held against a collective: society, or the state as its representative. Secondly, the rights to which you refer appear to be positive rather than negative rights. To have a negative right...

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