Monday, November 17, 2008

Kant, Reason, and Morality

If Kant is right, it is illogical to be immoral. But suppose you are very good at benefitting yourselves in ways that are immoral. You are a high-up in a crime family, for example, enjoying a life of luxury financed by murder, drugs and prostitution. If you started being moral, you would have to confess your crimes and spend the rest of your life in prison, maybe even face execution, since you have ordered numerous hits on your enemies. According to Kant, the rational thing to do is the right thing to do, which is to go straight and face the law. But, many of us would think that it is an illogical thing to do.

Is Kant right that it is irrational to be unethical?


Bert Power said...

Presumably the answer is that he should confess because he will feel disgraced enough that it will not be worth it. Since our physical sensations would be in against it, it seems that this must be so.

Kant can make this work because he is a supernaturalist. All these Ayn Rand Objectivists however, try to pull the same trick in a naturalist framework and it has all kinds of fallacies.

Steve said...

I think that for Kant the irrationality of being immoral is at a much deeper level. It isn't merely that it is in a persons best interest to be moral. Kant doesn't think morality is rational because it's a form of enlightened self-interest. Rather he thinks there is a latent logical commitment to the value of agency in itself which arises from our own (use of) agency.

Though I don't agree with their defence of it, I think Alan Gewirth and (his disciple) Derek Beyleveld have the best reconstruction of this line of reasoning.


Joe said...

Being illogical and irrational are two different things. Illogical, to me, implies some sort of contradiction in ones thinking. If one is illogical they are irrational, I agree. But one can be irrational without being illogical.

I think it’s tricky to get the ought out of what is rational. If we say some act is rational, then it is in some way something we ought to do. But if it is something we ought to do, then it is the moral thing right?

Not exactly. I think the description "rational" is somewhat a-moral. It’s more of a description of the thought process. You can pursue moral actions or immoral actions in a rational manner.

However if we have perfect knowledge of the relevant circumstances, and we can see that what we are doing is wrong, it is arguably irrational to do it. Because to say something is wrong, is at least arguably, to simply say we ought not to do it.

In conclusion I would say it’s a tricky question.

New media said...

The story doesn't stop here because according to Kant reason leads to freedom, whereas freedom is always moral. The evil thus cannot be reasonable, the reason is always the vermin, which is victim to its inclinations - The Untermensch. On the other hand, because reason always produces the good will, we can never be immoral if we use reason. Reason is thus beyond any doubt, so let's go ahead and colonize the world!

Bringing reason to the world becomes the enterprise of morality rather than metaphysics, and the work as well as the hope of humanity [sic!]

Sam Hewitt said...

To Kant the criminal is irrational because he would not wish to will everyone else to act criminally as he does because of many reasons e.g. 1) there would not be enough money, drugs, prostitutes to go around
2) presumably he would have many competing enemies that may wish to kill him

Whether everyone acts the way he does or not is of no moral relevance. Yes it may be rational to say that not everyone will act as the criminal does and that this situation is purely hypothetical.
But if the criminal accepts the Formula of Universal Law (The Golden Rule) - act how you'd wish others to act, then and only then it is irrational to be immoral.

But that conclusion depends on the acceptance of the Formula of Universal Law. To Kant it is rational to accept this because it is logically possible that everyone could act as the criminal does, which he would not want. Therefore in a sort of hypothetical sense, it is illogical for a rational agent not to accept the principle.