Unit 3 Study Guide: Morality, Markets, and Immanuel Kant

3a: Explain the connection between moral behavior and economic pressures of the market, as in situations connected to parental rights and the sale of human organs.

While American law is based on the ideal that everyone has equal rights, wealthier individuals frequently have privileges less wealthy people cannot access. For example, everyone in the United States has the right to a fair trial, and those who cannot afford competent representation can obtain free access to a public defender. But many public defenders are overworked, underpaid, and have limited availability to research all aspects of a case due to an overwhelming caseload. Those who can afford to hire a more experienced and less time-constrained lawyer have a distinct advantage during a court trial.

In his lecture, Hired Guns (until timestamp 27:06), Michael Sandel explores the difficulty of deciding what to do from a public policy standpoint when money influences matters that should, in principle, promote equal standing before the law. He studies two examples: conscription, when wealthy people hire others to serve for them in military conflict, and a couple that hires a woman to carry a baby for them.

These two examples point to a difficulty with free market philosophies and libertarianism. What if I freely choose to relinquish some of my rights in exchange for money? What if you can afford to buy my legal rights? Does the market and the freedom of choice answer these questions?

Review the lecture, Hired Guns (until timestamp 27:06), and read the article Michael Sandel on Markets and Morals.

    • Name some examples of situations where money causes people to do things that may be ethically questionable.
    • Which of these examples involve relinquishing individual rights?
    • Which examples involve taking away the rights of others?
    • Which examples involve giving up individual rights for money?
    • Which examples are morally acceptable, and which are unacceptable?

Review the article Ethical Controversies in Organ Transplantation by Ehtuish Ehtuish. Pay attention to section 4.1 (pages 44–45) which describes living organ donation.

Define the four categories of organ donations by living people:

  1. Living related organ donation (blood or emotional);
  2. Altruistic organ donation;
  3. Living non-related organ donation;
  4. Cross donation.

Review the description of organ trafficking in section 9 Ethical Controversies in Organ Transplantation (pages 62–68) by Ehtuish Ehtuish.

    • Define organ trafficking, organ trading, commercialization, and transplant tourism.

3b: Discuss the implication of Kantian ethics for decisions involving lying and buying and selling of goods and property.

Immanuel Kant believed that issues of morality are completely separate from questions about the consequences of our actions. In other words, he opposed Bentham and utilitarianism. Utilitarians argue that we judge whether an action is moral or immoral, based on its consequences. But Kant says the consequences have nothing to do with morality. Our moral intention is more important.

    • How important are the consequences of our actions when determining morality? Or do you agree with Kant, that morality is about principles, not consequences.
    • How does utility and utilitarianism relate to what Kant said about a good will?

Review Kant's thoughts on the importance of the good will in the first paragraph of the First Section of the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals (the Groundwork).

Review the lecture on the good will in The Supreme Principle of Morality (after timestamp 28:26) by Michael Sandel.

    • Define consequences, utilitarianism, duty and deontology.

We derive the term, deontology from the Greek word for duty, deos. Deontological ethics is based on duty. Since Kant based his ethics solely in the concept of duty, or "doing the right thing," rather than consequences, his ethical theory provides the primary foundation for deontological ethics.

    • How do Immanuel Kant’s ideas about morality affect the cases we discussed above – organ transplants and trafficking, military service, and surrogate birthing?
    • What do these cases suggest regarding consequences and duty, in terms of our ethical ideas?
    • Does your argument change if you remove all consideration of the consequences from these scenarios?

Michael Sandel notes that Kant claimed it is never morally right to lie. But what if someone who is trying to kill your friend asks you to tell them where they are? Are you morally obligated to tell a murderer the truth? If you believe you should not reveal your friend's location, does that mean you believe consequentialism is correct and that Kant and deontology are wrong? Explain the relationship between lying and consequences.

Review the lecture, A Lesson in Lying (up to timestamp 22:29) by Michael Sandel; and Immanuel Kant: The Duties of the Categorical Imperative from The Business Ethics Workshop.

3c: Define the categorical imperative.

    • Define categorical imperative and hypothetical imperative.
    • How did Kant differentiate between categorical imperatives and hypothetical imperatives?
    • Define Kant's concept of the Formula of Universal Law, and Formula of Humanity as an End.
    • What claims about these categorical imperatives make sense and what claims do you think are correct from the standpoint of ethical reasoning?
    • Do you agree with Kant’s formulas? Why or why not?

Kant claimed that morality is grounded on a single principle he called the categorical imperative. Understanding this principle and its foundation is fundamental to Kant’s ethics. Kant offered a complicated argument for this principle, and philosophers continue to debate whether they find his argument conclusive.

In the second section of the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals (the Groundwork), Kant argued that everything in nature works according to laws. This is also true for ethics, which have laws similar to the laws of nature. But human beings are free, so they are free to choose whether they want to act according to the laws of ethics or act according to their inclinations. The categorical imperative claims that ethics is about conformity to this objective moral law. Note that this is a long and difficult text, but see if you can find the locations of some of the themes discussed here.

Review Kant's categorical imperative, hypothetical imperative, Formula of Universal Law, and Formula of Humanity as an End in the lectures Mind your Motive (up to timestamp 28:15) and The Supreme Principle of Morality (after timestamp 28:26) by Michael Sandel and in the The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals (the Groundwork).

    • Define the good will according to Kant.
    • Define inclination.
    • Compare a duty with an inclination. What kinds of duties do we have?
    • How do we weigh the differences between our duties and our inclinations?
    • Explain what Kant meant by a maxim.
    • Explain what Kant meant by autonomy and heteronomy.
    • What does autonomy have to do with human dignity?

To understand Kant's Formula of Universal Law, pay attention to his description of what makes an action moral. Kant argued that an action's consequences do not make it moral. Even if we are completely ineffective in our efforts to do good, the good will is praiseworthy in itself.

In other words, our intention is more important than the outcome. Kant uses the word, maxim, to identify the intention we use to guide our action. A maxim is the principle we use to help us make decisions or direct our actions. For example, “I always put others first” or “Do whatever it takes to get ahead.” People follow maxims to help them choose an appropriate action or response.

Kant’s categorical imperative is about acting according to the right maxims. The morally-correct maxims are those which accord with our duty, rather than our inclinations. Kant ultimately claimed that an action is morally correct, not only if it aligns with our duty, but if we do it for the sake of duty.

The maxim to do our duty, or do what is right, is the morally-correct action. We not only have to act in the right way, we need to do so for the right reason. Kant's second formula is the Formula of Humanity as an End, which is sometimes referred to as the formula of human dignity.

Kant believed human beings are distinct and are important in a way that things are not. The reason human beings are so important is that we are rational beings and we are free to make choices. Plants have life, but they do not make choices or reason the way human beings do.

Philosophers frequently debate whether animals have the ability to think rationally, and if the way they reason is similar to that of human beings. Kant believed that any being that has reason is a person and deserves a certain dignity. This dignity means a person is an end-in-themselves, and not merely a useful tool for some other purpose, or as Kant would describe it, "not merely a means to an end."

Review this material in the lectures Mind your Motive (up to timestamp 28:15) and The Supreme Principle of Morality (after timestamp 28:26) by Michael Sandel; and in the text The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals (the Groundwork).

3d: Apply the categorical imperative to specific decisions and situations.

In the second section of the Groundwork, Kant discussed four specific examples of duties. His first example considers a despondent man who no longer wishes to live.

    • What duties might pertain to a person in this circumstance?
    • Kant categorized our duties as duties to oneself and duties to others. How would this belief illuminate this question? What did Kant say about this situation?
    • Kant also said we have a duty to develop our talents and reach our potential. Is this similar to the duties Kant points out regarding suicide?

Hint: Kant gives the four examples and comes back to analyze them after some discussion. Note what he says about suicide in that analysis. What does he mean by the idea of humanity as an end in itself? What does this imply for one’s duty in that situation?

Review the Second Section of the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals (the Groundwork).

3e: Compare and contrast Kant's ethical theory with libertarian political theory and utilitarian theory.

Would deontology in Kant’s view affect the way we think about economic markets and specific examples of the way the market affects an investor's moral choices? We discussed this above as well.

    • How do you think Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick would respond to Kant’s ethics?
    • Did they understand freedom in a different way than Kant?
    • How do libertarians and Kant conceive of freedom differently? Which do you think is a better description of freedom?

Review libertarian political theory and the views of Milton Friedman and Robert Nozick in learning outcome 2b in Unit 2 above.

    • Why does Kant disagree with Jeremy Bentham’s claim that pain and pleasure are our sovereign masters? Why is that important? Does it matter what master we follow?

Review Jeremy Bentham’s claim in Mind your Motive (up to timestamp 28:15) by Michael Sandel.

Unit 3 Vocabulary

      • Altruistic
      • Categorical imperative
      • Commercialization
      • Consequences
      • Conscription
      • Deontology
      • Deontological ethics
      • Dignity
      • Directed donation
      • Duty
      • End in itself
      • Formula of Humanity as an End
      • Formula of Universal Law
      • Good will
      • Heteronomy
      • Hypothetical imperative
      • Inclination
      • Maxim
      • Means (to an end)
      • Organ trafficking
      • Person
      • Rational being
      • Surrogacy
      • Transplant tourism
      • Utilitarianism

Last modified: Wednesday, July 17, 2019, 6:57 PM