Never as means but always as ends

 

 

The Formula of Humanity can be seen to narrow and refine what is a morally acceptable action. For example, the maxim that ‘I am allowed to kill anyone (i. e. not a murderer, in this instance)’, not that individuals must kill but that they are allowed to do so, can be universalised as a right of all rational beings. However, when the Formula of Humanity is applied, killing anyone is proscribed by virtue of the fact that killing someone does not respect their own ends equivalently to the ends of the person who kills them, whatever those ends are.

These anomalies will be discussed further. Although killing innocent people can be seen as something which is not acceptable, even when it may ultimately result in the saving of large numbers of others, capital punishment for murder is deemed appropriate by Kant’s theories on retributivism and supported by his thoughts on treating people as ends and not means. Assuming the murderer was a rational being and therefore possessed ‘humanity’ and ‘dignity’, it could be interpreted that their existence should be continued.

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The incomparable value of humanity in every person must be preserved, regardless of any crime committed. However, Kant argues that an individual within such a society who commits murder knowing that the punishment for such a crime is death, can be said to have ‘willed’ the punishment for the crime they committed. Their execution would be treating them ‘as an end’ as execution is the way in which they have ‘willed’ that they be treated, by committing the murder in the first place.

Execution may also treat the murderer as a means in that by sentencing him or her to death, it ensures at least that the perpetrator cannot repeat the crime, which is the ‘end’ of society or the justice system. However, the murderer is not being ‘treated merely as a means but also as an end’. The rules against lying discussed earlier and similar rules prohibiting suicide on the basis that they are acts which treat rational beings as means and not ends have been re-interpreted by contemporary philosophers. Korsgaard states that in the case of evil, as depicted by the ‘inquiring murderer’, lying could be permissible.

(10) Kant is traditionally seen as arguing that on the basis of the Formula of Universalisation, individuals cannot lie regardless of what may happen as a result of telling the truth. They are responsible for their actions only. Korsgaard counters that the murderer who is at the door is being deceptive by not telling of his or her true intentions so that the individual opening the door will not know the intentions (if that were not the case and s/he assumed that the individual did know, then he would probably not simply ask at the door about his intended victim).

Therefore, s/he has already broken the rule by treating the person at the door as a means to his or her own evil ends (which presumably are not shared) and so s/he is placed in a position outside of moral protection by the deception s/he instigated and so ‘has created a situation which universalisation cannot reach’. (11) Therefore, lying to him or her would not be prohibited. Similarly, should force be to get an answer, then lying is permissible for the same reasons.

However, the application of the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative prohibits the act of lying even in these extreme circumstances, as lying would mean not treating him or her as a rational being and using him/her as a means to your end regardless of the fact that the end s/he has in mind is evil. One the same basis, the criminal facing execution was treated as a rational being whose ends should be respected (in that case to be executed). Therefore under the first formulation, there is an argument which supports lying in these extreme circumstances.

However, in treating all rational beings (and the inquiring murderer is such a being, despite his ‘badness’) as ends and not just as means, the truth would have to be told or nothing said at all, regardless of the consequences. Again, in traditional Kantian terms, suicide is unacceptable to morality. Committing suicide denies one’s own humanity and this goes against the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative, which concerns ‘humanity, whether in your own person or that of any other’.

Regardless of the pain an individual may be suffering, the fact is that the human life is intrinsically valuable and an end in itself. The relief of pain by means of self-inflicted death is not sufficient reason to commit suicide and therefore is not legitimate. Such an individual is using himself as a means to an end – that of the relief of pain (even though it is that same individual which is carrying out the self-killing). As Hill states, it ‘places the cessation of pain which is mere “relative” and “conditioned” value, above rationality and autonomy which have worth that “admits no equivalent”‘.

(12) Some counter arguments to this conclusion are also provided by Hill, on the basis that this view is too absolutist to be acceptable to many, that it places too absolute a value on the rational side of humanity without encompassing it’s ‘feeling’ side(13); this is a argument used to counter many Kantian principles. Suicide is sometimes justified in that it is an act not always a compulsive act based on feelings of a lack of self-worth; it is often the case that life in question has fallen below a certain minimum level of existence due to pain and disease.

Additionally in some sense, it is impossible for an individual to ‘violate his own rights'(14) which Kantian arguments about suicide seem to imply. In fact, suicide itself could be seen as the ultimate autonomous action. (15) Korsgaard indicates that suicide by people suffering acute pain and misery could be universalised; such individuals could commit suicide, without the act becoming self-defeating in the same way as lying when it is universalised to individuals in similar circumstances.

(16) However, on the basis of applying the Formula of Humanity, suicide denies human value and ‘dignity’ and therefore cannot be justified from ‘an ideal point of view’. (17) The strict principles of treating ‘humanity as an end in itself’, and not just a means do indeed seem to be a slightly different principle from the first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, that of universalisability. It would appear from the preceding arguments that some contemporary re-readings of Kant’s theories do appear to give different solutions to certain vexing problems, depending on which of the formulations are deemed most important.

The Formula of Humanity provides, according to Korsgaard, a stricter set of rules than the Formula of Universal Laws and she seems to suggest that the former is an ideal which rational beings should try to live up to. (18) However, she does go on the say that if in doing so they are put in situations which uses them as a tool for doing wrong, such as that depicted by the inquiring murderer, then they should not live up to it but move towards the universalisation principle of what a rational being would do in the same situation (which is likely to be to lie to the murderer).

The second formulation provides Kant’s views on morality from the point of view of ‘others’, the fact that all rational beings are deserving of respect because they are rational beings, with all that this entails. The treatment of their humanity as an end in itself is central to Kant’s views on autonomy and for respect for persons. Individuals have to be allowed the opportunity to choose their own actions, their own ends. Without this freedom, they are unable to choose to act morally.

The slave whose ends are not respected by his master cannot be an autonomous agent because he is not free to choose to act in the same way as the carpenter is free to choose to build the opera house. The application of universalitsation does not necessarily respect the person, it merely indicates in an abstract form what is or is not allowed in moral terms. The new interpretations of these areas of Kant’s moral philosophy add rather than detract from it and prove that although in its purest form it is ‘over-absolutest’ it does possess strength in depth.

References ; Bibliography 1. Korsgaard C. M ‘The Right to Lie: Kant on Dealing with Evil. Philosophy & Public Affairs ( ); 235 – 349. pp 336. 2 ibid. 3 O’Neill O ‘Kantian Ethics’ pp 178 from Singer P (ed) A Companion to Ethics 1994; Blackwell 4 Hill T E ‘Humanity as an end in itself’. Ethics 1980; October 84-99. pp 86) 5 Rachels J. The Elements of Moral Philosophy Chapter 10. 1995. McGraw – Hill International. 6 Hill op. cit. pp. 87 7 Hill op.

cit. pp. 89 8 Hill op. cit. pp. 89 9 Hill op. cit. pp. 89 10 Korsgaard op. cit. 11 Korsgaard op. cit. pp. 330. 12 Hill op. cit. pp. 93 13 Hill op. cit. pp. 94 14 Hill op. cit. pp. 95 15 Hill op. cit. pp. 95 16 Korsgaard op. cit. pp 347. 17 Korsgaard op. cit. pp 347 – 8. 18 Korsgaard op. cit. Additional bibliography: Campbell A V ‘Moral Dilemmas in Medicine’ 3rd ed. 1984. Churchill Livingstone. Hill T E ‘Autonomy & Self Respect. 1991. CUP.

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