ethics, categorical imperative

Description

Read  lecture 7 first. Let’s get some practice applying the categorical imperative (CI), contrasting it with applications of rule utilitarianism (RU).
Today we have laws requiring that drivers and passengers wear seatbelts. Which of these two ethical theories might justify such laws, and why? Which might oppose them, and why?
Be certain to use the definitions of the CI and RU as presented in the lectures in your justifications. Don’t go to the internet for these, as you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the various different ways in which the CI and RU can be presented.
(LECTURE 7) Recall from Lecture 3 that, broadly speaking,  ethical theories come to two types: teleological (also known as ‘consequentialist’) theories, on the one hand, and deontological theories, on the other. Teleological theories look to the consequences of an action to determine whether the action ought or ought not to be performed, whereas deontological theories look to something other than the consequences of the action to make such determinations. We’ve had a look at three teleological theories (Bentham’s act utilitarianism, Mill’s act utilitarianism, and rule utilitarianism) and now it’s time to have a look at a famous deontological theory, one due to the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Deontological theories look to something other than the consequences of actions to determine whether they ought to be performed. What might that ‘something other’ be, and how does it exemplify the application of reason that is at the core of the Enlightenment approach to ethics?
The answer, for Kant, is that this ‘something other’ involves an application of the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is, well, categorical and imperative. To say that it’s categorical is to say that it emerges from reason and applies at all times and in all places (this as opposed to something hypothetical, which emerges from something other than reason, a desire, typically, and therefore that applies only conditionally on having that desire). To say that it is an imperative is to say that it is a command to act in a certain way.  Bringing these together we can say that the categorical imperative is a command to act in a certain way that applies at all times and places.

So what’s the command?  Well, Kant offered two versions of it, which he claimed are equivalent, although many of us doubt that they are, in fact, equivalent. Rather than get involved in this debate, we’ll focus on the version that has the most direct and immediate application to issues in biomedical ethics. That formulation, as it appears in Kant’s famous book, “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals,” is this:

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”

Kant’s writing is notoriously difficult, and for that reason I’ve not assigned reading of his texts in this course. I include the link above in case you’re curious and want to have a look at it, but doing so is not required. Furthermore, given the complexity (and obscurity) of Kant’s writing, there’s a great deal of disagreement with regard to how exactly he should be interpreted. In acknowledgment of this, in what follows I will label the interpretation we use in this course “Kantian” to indicate that it’s one way of interpreting Kant, a way that has, I think, the most direct application to biomedical ethics.

Let’s reformulate the categorical imperative in slightly different language:

Always treat persons as ends, never as means.

In order to understand this simplified formulation we need to understand what a person is, what an end is, and what a means is. Let’s start with person, which will turn out to be one of the most important ideas in this course.

When we say of a living this that it is a person, do we mean that it has certain biological properties, or do we mean that it has certain psychological properties?

The most likely candidates for the relevant biological properties might be membership in the species homo sapiens, which involves certain chromosomal characteristics (23 pair of chromosomes, I believe). By way of contrast, the most likely candidates for the relevant psychological properties would be a list such as this:

1) has awareness of itself as existing in the past (memories)
2) has awareness of itself as existing in the present
3) has plans for the future
4) has the ability to make decisions about how to realize those plans for the future (autonomy)

Take me as an example, and ask whether I am a person according to either or both of these ways of understanding what it is to be a person. Am I a member of the species homo sapiens?  I imagine that there are ways in which we could find out, using a blood sample, perhaps. Do I have the psychological properties listed? Well, I remember my 5th birthday, I’m aware that I’m now a college professor, I plan to buy a new car someday, and I can make decisions about how to realize that plan, perhaps by saving money each week.

Most of us are like me in that we have both the biological and the psychological characteristics associated with being a person. But, as we’ll see in the next lecture, these two categories sometimes come apart, so that there are members of the species homo sapiens that lack the psychological properties on the list, and so that there are living things that have the psychological properties on the list but that aren’t members of the species homo sapiens. When this happens, we have to ask, which of these two ways of understanding what it is to be a person should we accept? It turns out that, for reasons we’ll investigate, many philosophers opt of the psychological way of under standing what it is to be a person.Recall from Lecture 3 that, broadly speaking,  ethical theories come to two types: teleological (also known as ‘consequentialist’) theories, on the one hand, and deontological theories, on the other. Teleological theories look to the consequences of an action to determine whether the action ought or ought not to be performed, whereas deontological theories look to something other than the consequences of the action to make such determinations. We’ve had a look at three teleological theories (Bentham’s act utilitarianism, Mill’s act utilitarianism, and rule utilitarianism) and now it’s time to have a look at a famous deontological theory, one due to the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant.

Deontological theories look to something other than the consequences of actions to determine whether they ought to be performed. What might that ‘something other’ be, and how does it exemplify the application of reason that is at the core of the Enlightenment approach to ethics?

The answer, for Kant, is that this ‘something other’ involves an application of the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is, well, categorical and imperative. To say that it’s categorical is to say that it emerges from reason and applies at all times and in all places (this as opposed to something hypothetical, which emerges from something other than reason, a desire, typically, and therefore that applies only conditionally on having that desire). To say that it is an imperative is to say that it is a command to act in a certain way.  Bringing these together we can say that the categorical imperative is a command to act in a certain way that applies at all times and places.

So what’s the command?  Well, Kant offered two versions of it, which he claimed are equivalent, although many of us doubt that they are, in fact, equivalent. Rather than get involved in this debate, we’ll focus on the version that has the most direct and immediate application to issues in biomedical ethics. That formulation, as it appears in Kant’s famous book, “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals,” is this:

“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”

Kant’s writing is notoriously difficult, and for that reason I’ve not assigned reading of his texts in this course. I include the link above in case you’re curious and want to have a look at it, but doing so is not required. Furthermore, given the complexity (and obscurity) of Kant’s writing, there’s a great deal of disagreement with regard to how exactly he should be interpreted. In acknowledgment of this, in what follows I will label the interpretation we use in this course “Kantian” to indicate that it’s one way of interpreting Kant, a way that has, I think, the most direct application to biomedical ethics.

Let’s reformulate the categorical imperative in slightly different language:

Always treat persons as ends, never as means.

In order to understand this simplified formulation we need to understand what a person is, what an end is, and what a means is. Let’s start with person, which will turn out to be one of the most important ideas in this course.

When we say of a living this that it is a person, do we mean that it has certain biological properties, or do we mean that it has certain psychological properties?

The most likely candidates for the relevant biological properties might be membership in the species homo sapiens, which involves certain chromosomal characteristics (23 pair of chromosomes, I believe). By way of contrast, the most likely candidates for the relevant psychological properties would be a list such as this:

1) has awareness of itself as existing in the past (memories)
2) has awareness of itself as existing in the present
3) has plans for the future
4) has the ability to make decisions about how to realize those plans for the future (autonomy)

Take me as an example, and ask whether I am a person according to either or both of these ways of understanding what it is to be a person. Am I a member of the species homo sapiens?  I imagine that there are ways in which we could find out, using a blood sample, perhaps. Do I have the psychological properties listed? Well, I remember my 5th birthday, I’m aware that I’m now a college professor, I plan to buy a new car someday, and I can make decisions about how to realize that plan, perhaps by saving money each week.

Most of us are like me in that we have both the biological and the psychological characteristics associated with being a person. But, as we’ll see in the next lecture, these two categories sometimes come apart, so that there are members of the species homo sapiens that lack the psychological properties on the list, and so that there are living things that have the psychological properties on the list but that aren’t members of the species homo sapiens. When this happens, we have to ask, which of these two ways of understanding what it is to be a person should we accept? It turns out that, for reasons we’ll investigate, many philosophers opt of the psychological way of under standing what it is to be a person.

Description
Read  lecture 7 first. Let’s get some practice applying the categorical imperative (CI), contrasting it with applications of rule utilitarianism (RU).
Today we have laws requiring that drivers and passengers wear seatbelts. Which of these two ethical theories might justify such laws, and why? Which might oppose them, and why?
Be certain to use the definitions of the CI and RU as presented in the lectures in your justifications. Don’t go to the internet for these, as you’ll quickly be overwhelmed by the various different ways in which the CI and RU can be presented.
(LECTURE 7) Recall from Lecture 3 that, broadly speaking,  ethical theories come to two types: teleological (also known as ‘consequentialist’) theories, on the one hand, and deontological theories, on the other. Teleological theories look to the consequences of an action to determine whether the action ought or ought not to be performed, whereas deontological theories look to something other than the consequences of the action to make such determinations. We’ve had a look at three teleological theories (Bentham’s act utilitarianism, Mill’s act utilitarianism, and rule utilitarianism) and now it’s time to have a look at a famous deontological theory, one due to the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Deontological theories look to something other than the consequences of actions to determine whether they ought to be performed. What might that ‘something other’ be, and how does it exemplify the application of reason that is at the core of the Enlightenment approach to ethics?
The answer, for Kant, is that this ‘something other’ involves an application of the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is, well, categorical and imperative. To say that it’s categorical is to say that it emerges from reason and applies at all times and in all places (this as opposed to something hypothetical, which emerges from something other than reason, a desire, typically, and therefore that applies only conditionally on having that desire). To say that it is an imperative is to say that it is a command to act in a certain way.  Bringing these together we can say that the categorical imperative is a command to act in a certain way that applies at all times and places.
So what’s the command?  Well, Kant offered two versions of it, which he claimed are equivalent, although many of us doubt that they are, in fact, equivalent. Rather than get involved in this debate, we’ll focus on the version that has the most direct and immediate application to issues in biomedical ethics. That formulation, as it appears in Kant’s famous book, “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals,” is this:
“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
Kant’s writing is notoriously difficult, and for that reason I’ve not assigned reading of his texts in this course. I include the link above in case you’re curious and want to have a look at it, but doing so is not required. Furthermore, given the complexity (and obscurity) of Kant’s writing, there’s a great deal of disagreement with regard to how exactly he should be interpreted. In acknowledgment of this, in what follows I will label the interpretation we use in this course “Kantian” to indicate that it’s one way of interpreting Kant, a way that has, I think, the most direct application to biomedical ethics.
Let’s reformulate the categorical imperative in slightly different language:
Always treat persons as ends, never as means.
In order to understand this simplified formulation we need to understand what a person is, what an end is, and what a means is. Let’s start with person, which will turn out to be one of the most important ideas in this course.
When we say of a living this that it is a person, do we mean that it has certain biological properties, or do we mean that it has certain psychological properties?
The most likely candidates for the relevant biological properties might be membership in the species homo sapiens, which involves certain chromosomal characteristics (23 pair of chromosomes, I believe). By way of contrast, the most likely candidates for the relevant psychological properties would be a list such as this:
1) has awareness of itself as existing in the past (memories)
2) has awareness of itself as existing in the present
3) has plans for the future
4) has the ability to make decisions about how to realize those plans for the future (autonomy)
Take me as an example, and ask whether I am a person according to either or both of these ways of understanding what it is to be a person. Am I a member of the species homo sapiens?  I imagine that there are ways in which we could find out, using a blood sample, perhaps. Do I have the psychological properties listed? Well, I remember my 5th birthday, I’m aware that I’m now a college professor, I plan to buy a new car someday, and I can make decisions about how to realize that plan, perhaps by saving money each week.
Most of us are like me in that we have both the biological and the psychological characteristics associated with being a person. But, as we’ll see in the next lecture, these two categories sometimes come apart, so that there are members of the species homo sapiens that lack the psychological properties on the list, and so that there are living things that have the psychological properties on the list but that aren’t members of the species homo sapiens. When this happens, we have to ask, which of these two ways of understanding what it is to be a person should we accept? It turns out that, for reasons we’ll investigate, many philosophers opt of the psychological way of under standing what it is to be a person.Recall from Lecture 3 that, broadly speaking,  ethical theories come to two types: teleological (also known as ‘consequentialist’) theories, on the one hand, and deontological theories, on the other. Teleological theories look to the consequences of an action to determine whether the action ought or ought not to be performed, whereas deontological theories look to something other than the consequences of the action to make such determinations. We’ve had a look at three teleological theories (Bentham’s act utilitarianism, Mill’s act utilitarianism, and rule utilitarianism) and now it’s time to have a look at a famous deontological theory, one due to the 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant.
Deontological theories look to something other than the consequences of actions to determine whether they ought to be performed. What might that ‘something other’ be, and how does it exemplify the application of reason that is at the core of the Enlightenment approach to ethics?
The answer, for Kant, is that this ‘something other’ involves an application of the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is, well, categorical and imperative. To say that it’s categorical is to say that it emerges from reason and applies at all times and in all places (this as opposed to something hypothetical, which emerges from something other than reason, a desire, typically, and therefore that applies only conditionally on having that desire). To say that it is an imperative is to say that it is a command to act in a certain way.  Bringing these together we can say that the categorical imperative is a command to act in a certain way that applies at all times and places.
So what’s the command?  Well, Kant offered two versions of it, which he claimed are equivalent, although many of us doubt that they are, in fact, equivalent. Rather than get involved in this debate, we’ll focus on the version that has the most direct and immediate application to issues in biomedical ethics. That formulation, as it appears in Kant’s famous book, “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals,” is this:
“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
Kant’s writing is notoriously difficult, and for that reason I’ve not assigned reading of his texts in this course. I include the link above in case you’re curious and want to have a look at it, but doing so is not required. Furthermore, given the complexity (and obscurity) of Kant’s writing, there’s a great deal of disagreement with regard to how exactly he should be interpreted. In acknowledgment of this, in what follows I will label the interpretation we use in this course “Kantian” to indicate that it’s one way of interpreting Kant, a way that has, I think, the most direct application to biomedical ethics.
Let’s reformulate the categorical imperative in slightly different language:
Always treat persons as ends, never as means.
In order to understand this simplified formulation we need to understand what a person is, what an end is, and what a means is. Let’s start with person, which will turn out to be one of the most important ideas in this course.
When we say of a living this that it is a person, do we mean that it has certain biological properties, or do we mean that it has certain psychological properties?
The most likely candidates for the relevant biological properties might be membership in the species homo sapiens, which involves certain chromosomal characteristics (23 pair of chromosomes, I believe). By way of contrast, the most likely candidates for the relevant psychological properties would be a list such as this:
1) has awareness of itself as existing in the past (memories)
2) has awareness of itself as existing in the present
3) has plans for the future
4) has the ability to make decisions about how to realize those plans for the future (autonomy)
Take me as an example, and ask whether I am a person according to either or both of these ways of understanding what it is to be a person. Am I a member of the species homo sapiens?  I imagine that there are ways in which we could find out, using a blood sample, perhaps. Do I have the psychological properties listed? Well, I remember my 5th birthday, I’m aware that I’m now a college professor, I plan to buy a new car someday, and I can make decisions about how to realize that plan, perhaps by saving money each week.
Most of us are like me in that we have both the biological and the psychological characteristics associated with being a person. But, as we’ll see in the next lecture, these two categories sometimes come apart, so that there are members of the species homo sapiens that lack the psychological properties on the list, and so that there are living things that have the psychological properties on the list but that aren’t members of the species homo sapiens. When this happens, we have to ask, which of these two ways of understanding what it is to be a person should we accept? It turns out that, for reasons we’ll investigate, many philosophers opt of the psychological way of under standing what it is to be a person.

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