Date of Award
Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)
This dissertation deals with the tension between two seemingly divergent approaches to morality. On the one hand, there are those who take the view that morality concerns itself with the promotion of certain ends. This is a teleological or consequentialist view of ethics. On the other hand, we see thinkers who take the view that rationality or some other criteria provide us certain moral imperatives that may not be violated, regardless of our desire to bring about a particular end. Kant is usually depicted not only as a member of the latter camp, but indeed as the father of this approach. Occasionally these approaches to morality seem to be put into direct conflict with one another by cases in which one seems to face a choice between the promotion of ends and the adherence to certain moral rules.
One example of the supposed conflict between teleological concerns and formal requirements is famously depicted in the case of the murderer at the door. Many see Kant's approach to this case as one that causes us to act in a way that jars against our deep moral intuitions, and they take this to be a sign of a weakness in Kant's approach. As a result, thinkers such as Christine Korsgaard have attempted to read Kant in a way that sidesteps this conflict between teleology and form, arguing that the categorical imperative can be read in a way that allows us to lie to the murderer at the door. A view such as Korsgaard's is intriguing because it indicates a belief that we go wrong when we value a formal requirement such as the adherence to the dictates of rationality above the desire to prevent a great injustice from occurring. This view is powerful, and it seems correct to me that, if our only reason to adhere to a conception of the moral law was to cling to a view of rationality, that this goal seems to pale in comparison to the desire to prevent great harms from occurring or to promote moral ends. Ultimately though, I think Korsgaard's approach fails.
I argue instead that Kant's ethical thought shows a deep concern for both teleological and formal considerations, and that a consideration of the relationship between these two aspects of his thought will help us make sense of his approach to cases such as the murderer at the door. It is the goal of my dissertation to present such an analysis. In my proposed dissertation I take the view that, far from interfering with the promotion of moral ends, Kant sees the formal requirements of morality as providing the only possible path to the highest end, a moral world. On my view, Kant's formal ethics and his teleology do not then represent stages in his thinking, or pieces of his thinking that stand at odds with one another; they are instead to be seen as two inseparable pieces of the same puzzle. A full understanding of each of these pieces of Kant's thought will show us that neither piece can make sense without the other.
Human beings have two sorts of ends: moral ends, which we set for ourselves, and natural ends, which aim at our happiness. Kant realized that obedience to the moral law was not important simply because it allowed us to be rationally consistent. He also saw such adherence to the moral law as the only sure path to the full realization of our humanity. It is important to remember that for Kant the realization of our humanity involves a realization of the natural ends and rational ends for all human beings. So, Kant's project is much more `cosmopolitan' than we often understand it to be.
Garcia, John J., "Humanity in the Balance: The Relationship Between the Moral Law and the Promotion of the Moral World in Kant's Ethics" (2010). Dissertations. 213.
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Copyright © 2010 John J. Garcia