PHL275H1 Lecture Notes - Lecture 5: Universalizability, Kantianism, James Rachels

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24 Jul 2016
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PHL275-Week 3
Monday, July 11
Part One: Russ Shafer-Landau, “The Kantian Perspective: Autonomy and Respect.
Kantianism: Fairness
Three Step Program
oFirst, I formulate my maxim: What am I about to do and Why?
oSecond, I imagine a world in which everyone acts according to this maxim.
oThird, I ask, does it make sense for me to act on this maxim in this hypothetical world?
Yes: Go for it. It’s a universalizable maxim.
No: Hold up. It’s not a universalizable maxim.
Example: Should Angie cheat on her taxes
oMaxim (what + why): Cheat on taxes your taxes when it benefits your family.
oImagine a world in which everyone cheats on their taxes to benefit their families.
oDoes it make sense to act on this maxim in this hypothetical world?
No: The tax system would break down. The practice of cheating on your taxes would be
ineffective. Angie would be acting unfairly because she’d be relying on everyone else
not acting on the maxim. She’d be exempting herself from the rule.
Example: Should the home owner shoot the mail carrier?
oMaxim: Take whatever steps are necessary (including killing) in order to protect one’s
immaculate lawn
oImagine a world in which everyone takes whatever steps are necessary (including killing) to
protect their immaculate lawns
oDoes it make sense to act on this maxim in that world?
Yes: People would steer clear of immaculate lawns. The practice wouldn’t break down.
The home owner is not acting unfairly because they don’t rely on everyone else not
acting on the same maxim
Problems with Kantianism
Problem One: There are cases in which one’s maxim is universalizable, but in which they clearly
perform a morally wrong action
Problem Two: There are cases in which one’s maxim is not universalizable, but in which they
clearly do not act wrongly
oIt seems okay to make yourself an exception
oExample
oMaxim: Selling my stocks because I prefer liquid cash
oImagine a world in which everyone sells their stocks because they prefer liquid cash
oDoes it make sense for me to sell my stocks because I prefer liquid cash in this
hypothetical world?
No: The system would break down
Maybe Kantianism isn’t the right way to deal with such cases, but this means
Kantianism isn’t a general moral theory
Kantianism: Irrationality
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