Immanuel Kant and the Ethics of Duty

University of San Diego
2/21/2013

Lawrence M. Hinman, Ph.D.
Director, The Values Institute

©Lawrence M. Hinman

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Overview: The Ethics of Respect
One of Kant’s most lasting contributions to moral philosophy was his emphasis on the notion of respect (Achtung)

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Introduction

Respect has become a fundamental moral concept in contemporary America
– Rodney Dangerfield – “Don’t dis’ me.” – There are rituals of respect in almost all cultures.

Two central questions:
– What is respect? – Who or what is the proper object of respect?

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Kant on Respect

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

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Kant on Respecting Persons

Kant brought the notion of respect (Achtung) to the center of moral philosophy for the first time. To respect people is to treat them as ends in themselves. He sees people as autonomous, i.e., as giving the moral law to themselves. The opposite of respecting people is treating them as mere means to an end.
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Using People as Mere Means

The Tuskegee Syphilis Experiments
– More than four hundred African American men infected with syphilis went untreated for four decades in a project the government called the Tuskegee Study of Untreated Syphilis in the Negro Male. – Continued until 1972

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Treating People as Ends in Themselves
What are the characteristics of treating people as ends in themselves?  Not denying them relevant information  Allowing them freedom of choice

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Additional Cases


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Plant Closing Firing Long-Time Employees Medical Experimentation on Prisoners Medical Donations by Prisoners Medical Consent Forms

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What Is the Proper Object of Respect?

For Kant, the proper object of respect is the will. Hence, respecting a person involves issues related to the will-knowledge and freedom. Other possible objects of respect:
– – – – Feelings and emotions The dead Animals The natural world
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Self-Respect
Is lack of proper self-respect a moral failing?  The Deferential Wife
– See article by Tom Hill, “Servility and Self-Respect”

Servants
– See movie of Kazuo Ishiguro's Remains of the Day
• Stevens the servant: "I don't believe a man can consider himself fully content until he has done all he can to be of service to his employer."

Aristotle and Self-Love
– What is the difference between selfrespect and self-love? Clearly, there is at least a difference in the affective element.

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Respect in the Classroom

What does it mean to respect students?
– Are there any common classroom practices that you see as disrespectful of students?

What does it mean to respect teachers?
– Are there any common school practices that you find are disrespectful to teachers?

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Conclusion

Respect for other people (including not using other people as a means) remains a key concept in contemporary moral philosophy.

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