Kantian ethics
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18-03-2015, 06:05 AM (This post was last modified: 18-03-2015 06:09 AM by SunnyD1.)
Kantian ethics
I was in a seminar group at uni the other day and we were all discussion classical philosophers' views on ethics, the usual Socratic and Platonic ideals etc. My tutor mentioned as an example that he is a believer of Kantian ethics, that it is his duty to only speak truth.

To be honest, I haven't looked into Kant's work and I take the word of my peers on what he is all about. The problem I have, however, is that instantly the reaction of the rest of the class (I predicted as much, sat in silence watching their faces turn to disgust) was to say that this is immoral because you might offend someone. I knew exactly what everyone was thinking, yet the person who stuttered out an example used a weak one, "If a girl asked me if she looked nice and I said no because she didn't, then that would be immoral because I've hurt her feelings". This is a proposition that I have extreme discomfort trying to entertain.

There were issues here because we already established something immoral as an act or none act that causes any magnitude of suffering onto another person (I'd go as far as to put animals in this bracket). From this you could say he is right. However, it is not as black and white as it was perceived by the class.

My argument is that if we hold our tongues in order not to offend somebody so that we are not being immoral, then we must establish something that designates something being offensive or not. However this is a subjective and personal thing, I could find offense at how easily people are offended (and I do). Would this make them immoral? I don't think so.

My conclusion was not wholly Kantian, as I don't think speaking the truth or not essentially holds any moral connotations, it is dependent of circumstance. I do however believe that freedom of expression should always remain a no-holds-barred area where people can express themselves in any way they want, as long as it is not physically damaging. Emotions should be controlled by the person who is offended. It is THEIR duty to allow free speech, not my duty to be quiet in case they are offendedl.

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18-03-2015, 09:30 AM
RE: Kantian ethics
Unless I misunderstand "speaking only what is true", Kantian ethics would forbid novels and other forms of fiction. I wouldn't want to live in that world.

Deceit is a tricky varmint. Most of the time it rears its head someone gets hurt, such as using it for selfish gain at another's expense. But it can prevent harm, too. The white lie clears the day's path of nettles and I can't imagine anyone preferring the thorns left unshorn. Also, would it have been more ethical for those sheltering Jews during the Holocaust to have NOT deceived the Nazis?

There's another aspect of "lying" that gets ignored: being mistaken, speaking an untruth unintentionally. Mistakes cause injuries just as severe as deceit. Should we keep our mouths shut if we're liable to be mistaken? That world would be silent as a tomb, its only speakers the ones who know everything about everything.

I think the better analogy for deceit isn't some demonic monster but a spice. Too much spice and the meal is ruined. No spice at all leaves the meal tasteless. But the right spice in the right quantity makes the meal perfect.
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18-03-2015, 09:39 AM
RE: Kantian ethics
I have to agree with Airportkid, that is exactly what I was thinking while reading this (minus the spice analogy). Not very familiar with Kant either, but there is a time and place for truth. There are also times when the truth is not known, because one cannot know everything...

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18-03-2015, 11:57 AM
RE: Kantian ethics
(18-03-2015 09:30 AM)Airportkid Wrote:  Unless I misunderstand "speaking only what is true", Kantian ethics would forbid novels and other forms of fiction. I wouldn't want to live in that world.

Deceit is a tricky varmint. Most of the time it rears its head someone gets hurt, such as using it for selfish gain at another's expense. But it can prevent harm, too. The white lie clears the day's path of nettles and I can't imagine anyone preferring the thorns left unshorn. Also, would it have been more ethical for those sheltering Jews during the Holocaust to have NOT deceived the Nazis?

There's another aspect of "lying" that gets ignored: being mistaken, speaking an untruth unintentionally. Mistakes cause injuries just as severe as deceit. Should we keep our mouths shut if we're liable to be mistaken? That world would be silent as a tomb, its only speakers the ones who know everything about everything.

I think the better analogy for deceit isn't some demonic monster but a spice. Too much spice and the meal is ruined. No spice at all leaves the meal tasteless. But the right spice in the right quantity makes the meal perfect.

No I don't speak he means speak the truth as in forbidding novels and such... but that's just me giving him the benefit of the doubt haha. The issue is addressed in Bernhard Schlink's "The Reader".

*Spoiler alert*





A lawyer is on the side of the court prosecuting a woman he knew as a young man and she is being tried for sending letters of command to nazis to lock people in a church and set it on fire. There is no other surviving witnesses and the only evidence they have are papers of her rank and where she commanded, so they knew it must have been her in charge. However, the boy knows from experience that the woman can not read or write, so he knows the evidence is falsifiable. (whether she's guilty or not is still not known because she could have told somebody what to write in the letter). The dilemna the boy is faced with is whether he should tell the court that he knows she can not read or write. She is too stubborn to admit it herself by the way.

The story goes something like that anyway.

Overall I think that whether or not speaking truth is immoral is relative. Offense is a non-issue in my opinion.

Saints live in flames; wise men, next to them.
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18-03-2015, 12:13 PM
RE: Kantian ethics
Offense is something anyone can take against anything, thus it ultimately means nothing. You're right.
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18-03-2015, 03:48 PM
RE: Kantian ethics
In short, you're saying you don't agree with Kantian ethics because you don't agree with his premises. There really isn't much of a, it's subjective anyone can say this about what they want flexibility in the grand moral view of Kant. He believed there was a moral objectivity that if we strove to look upon us from as far a perfect scope, we would be able to see and make decisions based upon. It comes out a lot when you look at his theories on how Art or morals are evaluated. There are these different building criteria you judge them with.

In reality I don't really either but it's a different view that came from him.

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19-03-2015, 05:02 AM
RE: Kantian ethics
(18-03-2015 03:48 PM)ClydeLee Wrote:  In short, you're saying you don't agree with Kantian ethics because you don't agree with his premises. There really isn't much of a, it's subjective anyone can say this about what they want flexibility in the grand moral view of Kant. He believed there was a moral objectivity that if we strove to look upon us from as far a perfect scope, we would be able to see and make decisions based upon. It comes out a lot when you look at his theories on how Art or morals are evaluated. There are these different building criteria you judge them with.

In reality I don't really either but it's a different view that came from him.

Nono I was explicit that I don't actually know Kantian ethics and was just taking my tutors perspective on it, defending it against the class on one subject but then rejecting it on another. Though I appreciate you explaining Kants view for me. He's one philosopher I've seen many many people discuss with admiration so I really must do some reading on him!

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19-03-2015, 07:34 AM
RE: Kantian ethics
I don't think that offence justifies (self) censorship by itself. I would go to the greater consequence of "harm". Offence may result in harm and that may be a reason to censor based on offence, but it also has the perverse consequence of quelling freedom of speech and rewarding offence. Lying to protect someone from the nazis is a clearer case of it being morally right to censor to prevent harm.

I tend to think that all moral truths can be framed in terms of their consequences, even those whose consequences are not immediate or are not direct. I also tend to think that we can only really compare moral propositions in any objective manner by agreeing on a set of common values and assessing the consequences specific actions will have on those common values.

We can only make progress on moral propositions when we have a set of shared values to form our common ground and when we can reliably predict the consequences of actions on those shared values.

Give me your argument in the form of a published paper, and then we can start to talk.
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21-03-2015, 12:18 AM
RE: Kantian ethics
Kant's theory of knowledge is usually praised for its ingenuity and precision; his ethical theory not so much. He was subject to much ridicule, by Nietzsche for sure, and it seems like I recall at least one other....maybe William James? Don't quote me on that. At any rate, I've only read the Critique of Pure Reason, so it would be unfair of me to characterize his ideas, which are unfortunately often misunderstood, but if his followers have encapsulated his thought correctly, that we have an obligation to speak the truth at all times, then I think we can rule this out as patently absurd and unfounded. To paraphrase one early critic of his, who said in response to Kant's admittance that he would not lie to an ax murderer who was looking to kill his best friend if he asked Kant if the friend were hiding in Kant's house, and he in fact was: If you find yourself in a similar situation, don't run to Kant's house! Why would ethics relate to truth regardless of the consequences that relate to the beings involved, when the entire foundation of moral judgments lie, not solely in abstract ideas about value, but in raw, flesh and blood mortal bodies that feel their way along a spectrum of pleasures and pains, seeking a lily pad of temporary relief in a cesspool where everything that hasn't already drowned is drowning? Is it truth for the sake of truth itself or truth for the sake of freedom? If truth is to be esteemed so much, shan't we first esteem the world that makes such truth possible? And might that sometimes mean setting the truth aside for the preservation of things we find in the world to be---in the context of that moment only---more valuable than any principle?
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21-03-2015, 10:27 AM
RE: Kantian ethics
(21-03-2015 12:18 AM)Pickup_shonuff Wrote:  Kant's theory of knowledge is usually praised for its ingenuity and precision; his ethical theory not so much. He was subject to much ridicule, by Nietzsche for sure, and it seems like I recall at least one other....maybe William James? Don't quote me on that. At any rate, I've only read the Critique of Pure Reason, so it would be unfair of me to characterize his ideas, which are unfortunately often misunderstood, but if his followers have encapsulated his thought correctly, that we have an obligation to speak the truth at all times, then I think we can rule this out as patently absurd and unfounded. To paraphrase one early critic of his, who said in response to Kant's admittance that he would not lie to an ax murderer who was looking to kill his best friend if he asked Kant if the friend were hiding in Kant's house, and he in fact was: If you find yourself in a similar situation, don't run to Kant's house! Why would ethics relate to truth regardless of the consequences that relate to the beings involved, when the entire foundation of moral judgments lie, not solely in abstract ideas about value, but in raw, flesh and blood mortal bodies that feel their way along a spectrum of pleasures and pains, seeking a lily pad of temporary relief in a cesspool where everything that hasn't already drowned is drowning? Is it truth for the sake of truth itself or truth for the sake of freedom? If truth is to be esteemed so much, shan't we first esteem the world that makes such truth possible? And might that sometimes mean setting the truth aside for the preservation of things we find in the world to be---in the context of that moment only---more valuable than any principle?

You write like a philosopher. Am I correct in thinking that you are a relativist then? I agree with you by the way... as far as I think I understand what your point is Tongue

Saints live in flames; wise men, next to them.
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