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Hi there, I'm 17 years old and currently reading the Critique of Pure Reason in the German language (which happens to be my first language so that's no problem). While reading, one question has arised: How does Kant actually prove the existence of the thing in itself? He argues that the thing in itself stimulates the senses and thereby effects perception. This is an appliance of causality, which is -according to Kant himself- appropiate only in the realm of phenomena. Is this a mistake of Kant? Does he disprove idealism in another part of that book? Is it enough that the existence of the thing in itself is possible to think? Does this have something to do with existence being no predicate? I'm looking forward to an answer.

Kant's transcendental idealism explains the fact that experience presents us objects in a certain spatio-temporal order about which we can have some a priori knowledge by reference to a human capacity, our sensibility, through which alone we can become aware of objects. According to this explanation, space and time are then features only of objects as they appear to us. Confronted with this explanation, we are prone to ask what these objects are like apart from our sensibility, apart from how they appear to us (as spatio-temporal). Within Kant's own account, the concept of a thing in itself answers to this reflection: a thing in itself is any ordinary object (including event) considered apart from the spatio-temporal features it has by virtue of being an object for us (i.e. for beings with our human sensibility). Things in themselves are then the familiar objects of our experience, but considered in abstraction from their spatio-temporal features. And their existence is then no more problematic (if we...

In one famous trolley case, it seems clear that the driver should divert the trolley to the spur, killing one while saving five. In another, it seems clear that a bystnader should not push the fat man off the bridge, again killing one to save five in the trolley's path. But what is the justification for my intuition? Do you see any relevant, principled difference between the two cases that would explain why I should divert the trolley yet refrain from pushing the fat man?

The difference many find morally significant lies in the agent's state of mind. Both bystanders -- B1 and B2 -- intend to save the five; but B2 intends to accomplish this by having the trolley hit the fat man so as to stop it. The fat man getting hit is part of B2's intention: if the fat man somehow lands off-track or hits the track only after the trolley has passed, then B2's plan has failed. By contrast, the intention of B1 does not include anyone being harmed: if B1 diverts the trolley and the single person on the side track is nonetheless saved somehow, B1's plan has still been successfully executed. Another way of putting the point is this. Harm that an agent intends as a means toward achieving the aim of her action counts more strongly against the permissibility of this action than harm that this agent merely foresees as a side-effect of achieving the aim of her action.

In "The Little Prince" by Antoine de saint Exupery, there's a quotation like this: "You should be responsible for something you've tamed." I think it could be interpreted that, you have to be responsible towards someone you've already made fall in love (with you). But in what extend should we care so much towards people who love us? Especially if we do not feel the love for them.

A person in love with you is likely to be vulnerable to you, easy prey for your abuse and exploitation. Your first responsibility toward the person you have made fall in love with you is the responsibility not to take advantage of this person's special vulnerability to you. This responsibility is all the harder to deny because it does not require much effort on your part. You can just be -- gently -- honest about your feelings and then keep your distance. If you were rather active and deliberate in making the other fall in love with you, then you may in a sense be and/or feel responsible for her unhappiness. And this may seem to be a reason to show care and concern for the other, even at some cost to your own life and ambitions. But then you must also ask yourself whether you can be confident that you (of all people!) can make a real contribution toward helping the other get over the unhappy situation. Without such confidence, it may be best just to make do with the above simpler responsibilities:...

If I see somebody getting robbed on the street and, in order to help them, I confront the attacker, should I be worried ethically (and legally I suppose) about the result of my actions toward the perpetrator? For example, what if simply telling them off isn't enough and, in order to stop the robbery, I have to use force and that force causes the death of the criminal? (I guess, for example I could push the robber away from the victim and the robber might hit his/her head too hard on the ground, etc.) Should I stop and think about the best way to stop the robbery that would avoid potentially killing the criminal (and thus risk being too late to help or try something ineffective) or should I rush in to help but risk excessive harm to the assailant? Would I be morally responsible for the well-being of the perpetrator? Thanks so much!

Yes, you do have a moral responsibility toward the apparent perpetrator. This responsibility results from two factors. First, what appears to you to be a criminal act in progress may not be one: perhaps these guys a filming a movie, practicing for a play, or just horsing around. Secondly, your response should be proportional to the threat to the crime victim as modified, perhaps, by the culpability of the offender. When you surprise a large man who is vigorously assaulting another with a knife, you have strong reason to believe that the danger to the victim is imminent and substantial; so a forceful response seems appropriate to reduce this danger, even if it risks harm to the assailant. On the other hand, when you surprise a teenager snatching a $10 bill from a shopper and turning for a quick get-away, you should not risk serious physical harm to the thief when the only danger you thereby reduce is the danger that the shopper will lose the $10. You should be especially reluctant to risk harm to the...

Are there rules we ought to follow (in the absence of coercive institutions, such as the state or an employer) that are *not* ethical rules?

Yes, we ought to follow rules of logic, rules of scientific method, rules of rational choice, and rules of prudence, for example. Sure, we are often not doing anything unethical by violating such rules, so we may not have a moral reason to obey. But not all good reasons are moral reasons. And we typically have good non-moral reasons to follow rules like the ones mentioned above.

Is it ethical to kill someone in self-defense? My instinct was yes at first, but upon further reflection, in a situation where it's "you or them", I can't seem to think of a reason to kill someone in self-defense, other than the fact that you simply want to live. After all, you're still taking a human life. (Also if you could explain why it is or isn't ethical would help me out a lot thanks!)

Your puzzlement seems to arise from the symmetry of the situation. One of you will die, each prefers his/her own survival to that of the other, and so on. Looking at it from an impartial standpoint, you see no good reason why either one of you should be preferred. But there is a good reason: the other one -- not you -- is the cause of the problem, the cause of the need for one of you to die. You have a plausible reason for using force against the other, a reason that she lacks. While you cannot survive without using force against her, she can survive (could have survived) without using force against you. To be sure, there are exceptional cases where the other must attack you to survive. She may be coerced by a third party aiming a gun at her, for example, or she may be unable to keep herself afloat without the only available life preserver which you are wearing and need just as urgently. And there are other exceptional cases where the other firmly believes -- falsely but on good grounds -- that...

Kant's contradiction of the will seems to suggest that it is inconsistent for us to allow abortion; that it is inconsistent to simultaneously will that we live and that allow that our mother could have had an abortion (meaning we wouldn't live...) However, I find this a little unconvincing but can't quite get it down. Is it not consistent to argue that the rights of me as a foetus are overridden by my mother's rights as an adult and that I will everybody to be treated according to the rights the can claim despite the consequences? Thanks a lot in advance!

Kant's contradiction in the will test suggests what you say it suggests only on the assumption that, as a rational agent, one necessarily wills one's own existence. Most human beings are happy to be alive, but it does not follow from this that any human (let alone any rational) being must will its own existence. Indeed, some philosophers have argued that, by giving birth to them, their parents violated their rights. So I think the best way to reject the Kantian argument you are suspicious about is to reject its premise that a rational being necessarily wills its own existence. Something Kant did think rational beings necessarily will is the continued existence of rational life. Using this premise instead, we might get a moral rule against abortion when the survival of the human race hangs in the balance. Suppose rational beings found themselves in a world where, if they all took themselves to be permitted to act on the maxim to have an abortion whenever doing so promises a more pleasant life,...

Are spousal hires unethical? Do companies have an obligation to consider job candidates on their merit as individuals alone? I would have thought that spousal hires were obviously unfair, and therefore objectionable. But I've talked to many people who think that they are often legitimate.

This is an interesting and difficult question. One might start with the presumption that a company's hiring may be conducted in whatever way its top officers deem most advantageous. Thus imagine a company that has two positions to fill and is considering four candidates. The hiring officers rank these candidates in the following order: Alice, Ben, Celia, David. So they would like to hire Alice and Ben. But unfortunately Alice is married to David, and she will decline unless David is also made an offer. So the hiring officers discuss whether the firm is better off with Alice and David or with Ben and Celia. They determine that the Alice-David combination is more advantageous, and so they promise Alice that, if she accepts, David will also be hired. Does Ben have a complaint in this case? I don't think so. It is true that, other things equal, he would add more value to the firm than David would. But other things are not equal: if Ben is hired over David, then Alice will decline; whereas if David is...

Should law enforcement be allowed to lie to suspects during interrogation?

This is an important and difficult question. If we answer in the affirmative, then suspects are likely to know that they may be lied to by law enforcement agents. Still, they may nonetheless often be fooled or tripped up (they don't know when an officer is lying and when she is being truthful), and this in turn could lead to more convictions of guilty people which in turn would reduce recidivism and increase deterrence, thereby reducing the victimization of citizens by criminals. I would think that a practice of telling lies that may be helpful for finding the truth (e.g., by eliciting a full confession) is justifiable if the reduction in crime it engenders is sufficiently large -- and this is quite large. Such a practice should be carefully circumscribed and supervised to minimize harm and to suppress abuse. And the lies should be revealed to those who end up not being charged -- and revealed also to those who will be charged, and before their trial. Circumscription is important. Lies should...

A few people are born with a rare disorder that prevents these people from feeling pain. Is "hurting" these people - i.e. doing to them things that would cause others to feel pain but don't have much of an effect on these people - just as morally significant as hurting people who do feel pain? (Let's assume there are no long-lasting injuries involved.) I ask not because I want permission to hit people, but because I wonder how closely related pain as a neurological phenomenon is to suffering as a moral phenomenon.

Part of what makes it wrong to hit or torture people is surely that such behavior causes pain. It follows naturally that, when such conduct is wrong, it is more wrong when it inflicts more pain. An unprovoked slap on your thigh by a stranger is a lesser wrong than a full strength blow to your nose. By the same logic, it would seem to be less wrong to hit a stranger if you ensure (perhaps by first inviting him to a good glass of Scotch or through prior local anaesthesia) that he feels little or no pain. And it would then also seem less wrong if you hit his "bad" leg (where he has lost feeling after a botched appendicitis) rather than his "good" leg (which has normal pain sensitivity). This is easily extended to saying that it is less wrong to hit one stranger's "bad" leg than another stranger's "good" leg. And this in turn pretty much is the proposition you query: other things equal, a behavior is less wrong if it causes less pain. Of course, it does not follow that a behavior is not wrong if it...

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