Discussion Summary: Kant

Discussion Summary

Q1: Kant believes in universal rule, (a maxim) so if you act a certain way, you’re action show that you therefore believe everyone should act in a certain way. Let’s say someone who’s homeless and starving steals fruit everyday from a rich persons backyard. What would Kant say the maxim is? And can it be universalized?

Kant explains this idea of maxim in Early Modern Texts, page 3 section four. He gives an example of this by writing about a man who wishes for death but stays alive because he believes his actions should be based in duty. Kant explains that for this man his maxim is to preserve oneself. I asked a question in my discussion section about a poor man who steals from the rich. We discussed if this man is just a thief and some people thought his maxim was just stealing. Some people believe it’s fine that he stole because his maxim is actually stealing out of desperation not stealing period, we discussed the difference between the two, some people believing Kant would think this would be okay while others wildly opposed. I personally thought Kant wouldn’t agree because you cannot universalize this maxim therefore making it unfair.

Q2: This idea of a universal law means that all people should act the same way (ethically good) but do you think that social factors, economic factors, religious factors, etc play into people ethics, and if so is that okay? Do you think it’s okay to a person who grew up without parents or leaders to help guide their ethics to be less “morally good” then someone who did, or do you think all people should strive to be at the same level of morality?

This was a difficult one for us, as we believed that our opinions differ from what Kant might think. We talked about how Kant believes in having a universal good, and doesn’t come from a religious basis with his philosophy so we assume he wouldn’t believe in looking at morality through a religious lens. This made us feel conflicted because without religion and just generally people’s circumstances in life being different we lose what’s special about the world individuality, but on the other hand we really like Kant’s idea of a universal good. Kant says “…I ought never to act in such a way that I couldn’t also will that the maxim on which I act should be a universal law.” (Early Modern Texts, Kant, 4) which is ideally a nice idea to most of us talking about it but just seemed to us to be unrealistic way to live and act.

Philosophy of the World – “Darkest Hour”

At the beginning of the course I defined philosophy as a subject that concerns it self with answering difficult questions that are not answerable. After taking the course I still have the same view but I now know why they are not answerable. My view still remains because Philosophy does attempt to answer questions that are difficult to answer and part of this reason they are not answerable is because it is hard for us to take one side. You either kill one person or kill three. Many of the topics we faced in class like wether it is alright to kill one person or 4 people, and wether it is morally okay to kill an animal; These are all heavy topics, and coming up with one standard answer is what makes philosophy… philosophy. To me Philosophy raises awareness about the questions we do not want to answer but it also allows us to be more aware of the implications of our decisions. 

For instance, I will use the example of a trolley problem and Kant’s theory of using people as mere means. You are in control of peoples lives. Either you kill one man or you kill 4. Either way you are killing someone. Now most of us will hopefully never have to be in this situation but if we were, we most likely will not choose to push the fat man over the bridge. However, this is the best thing to do. In the eyes of a utilitarian you try and bring the best to the most amount of people. Unfortunately, if we did choose to push the fat man, killing him we would look like terrible people. So philosophy allows us to realize that life is not straight forward and we ca not make decisions based solely off of one method, wether that be Kantianism or Utilitarianism, most of the time life includes various methods. 

However I chose my philosophical example because it challenges my definition. The “Darkest Hour” is a film about Winston Churchill and his time as Prime Minister during the Second World War. One of the most interesting aspects of the film is the various decisions Winston faced and made, which were questioned by many. One of the main focal points of the movie is how Winston planned the rescue of Britain’s troops from the shores of France, using thousands of civilian boats. Through out the movie the decisions churchill makes are rather utilitarian – focusing on the greater good. In one particular instance Churchill has to choose between sending 4000 troops (meaning they will all most likely die) distracting the Nazi troops away from Dunkirk giving the remaining British troops a chance to retreat saving over 300,000 members, or the troops from Dunkirk retreat while the Nazi troops get closer and closer threatening the island of Britain, but saving the lives of those 4000 men. In this case, Churchill chooses to use the 4000 men as mere means to save the other men. At first many of his colleagues can not believe the decision he is making yet at the same time he is doing the right thing. He does understand though the implication of what he has done and struggles personally with it. Through out the movie each decision that is made is done to consider the greater good, and is always a controversial decision. I used this example to demonstrate that in extreme cases using one philosophical method/theory can work, but what remains is that we still have a difficult time taking one side- Churchill shows this in the film when he is split between his personal struggles and what is best for the country. 

I am thankful in my life that I do not have to make decision about choosing between the lives of people. Instead I am faced with the decision on what to do in the future. This is something I find extremely difficult. There are various things one can do in life but they do not always bring happiness to you. Focusing on what brings you happiness and on what will bring you what you want in life do not always add up. The choices I have to make are hard and I’m never quite sure which one to make. It’s almost more difficult to make decisions about your self than it is about others. This comes back to choosing one philosophical theory, or choosing a balance between several, I don’t think you can be happy going only one direction.

The Philosophy of Owning a Dog

The philosophical activity that I have chosen for this assignment is being a dog owner. This is a very consistent part of my life which I have never analyzed in a philosophical way, but with some deeper thought, it is something that contributes to my definition of philosophy. I am the owner of a beautiful golden retriever who I love more than most things in this world. Despite this being a pleasurable “activity,” it comes with a lot of responsibility and at times is not very enjoyable. It requires a lot of patience, time, and energy. I have to walk my dog twice daily, I have to feed her special food because of her allergies, and I have to spend time giving her adequate affection. Along with this, my dog does not always behave and does not reciprocate the effort I put into taking care of her, as most well functioning human relationships do. Regardless of this, I love her and take pride in caring for her and treating her well. 

Being a dog owner is philosophical to me in the sense that it requires one to be selfless and care for a different species. It has taught me a lot about myself and what it means to truly devote yourself to another being, which to me is quite a philosophical lesson. In my opinion, the act of caring for a dog resonates with the Kantian perspective of ethics, because I believe the maxim behind taking care of a dog should be a good one. The Categorical Imperative of universalizability approves this action as being morally ethical, because not all animals can be treated poorly. Along with this, whether someone is acting according to duty or not in taking care of a dog, their action is still considered morally right according to Kant. Therefore one may take of care of their dog because they love it and are intrinsically motivated to, or they could be taking care of it because, for example, their grandmother is ill and needs someone to care for her dog that you do not really want to. 

Many people view animals lives as not being as significant as human lives. It is scientifically proven that animals have smaller brains and do not have the same understanding of the world, but this should not give humans the right to exploit or neglect them. This resonates with the opinion of Peter Singer who believes that animals should not be disregarded because of their smaller brains (Singer, 49). Singer believes that it should not “depend on what they are like or what abilities they possess,” and that every animal should be seen as equal (49). In the same sense just as different “races” should be considered equal in every way, so should animals (49). I very much agree with Singers opinion, because I have a deep love of animals and believe that my dog is of equal status, although a lot of people in the world do not share the same views. 

My definition of philosophy is evident in my example of being a dog owner. I identify my view of philosophy with Kant’s idea of having good will behind my maxim for caring for a dog, as well as Singers perspective on animal ethics. By owning a dog I have further understood what it means to live philosophically according to my opinions, and I have embraced selflessness and caring in my daily life. Being a dog owner is only an example of this definition of philosophy in my life, as it is also prevalent in my family life, my relationships with friends, and my passion for volunteering.

Works Cited

Shafer-Landau, Russ. “The Kantian Perspective: Fairness and Justice.” The Fundamentals of Ethics. Oxford University Press, 2012. pp. 154-167.

Singer, Peter. “Equality For Animals?” Practical Ethics. Cambridge University Press, 2011. pp. 49.

Discussion Summary – Kant

Discussion Questions

  1. Do you agree with Kant’s anti-paternalistic views? Or do you think that, when helping others, a paternalistic approach would ultimately be more beneficial and, therefore, justifiably moral?
  2. Do you find the Categorical Imperative (particularly the first one) to be a good method when determining the morality of actions, or are there obvious exceptions?

For the first question, I chose to discuss Kant’s idea that, when helping others, we must focus on acting in such a way as to preserve the autonomy of those in the vulnerable state of needing to be assisted. Kant is assertive is pointing out that “happiness secured by purely paternalistic means, or at the cost (for example) of manipulating others’ desires, will not count as beneficent in the Kantian picture” (Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems, p.264-265). However, this particularly stood out to me as a concept to be discussed because, in a case where there is great struggle and desperate need for help, would it truly matter to those in need whether their autonomy in the situation is being preserved or not? Wouldn’t solving the problem, even if by imposing the means to on them, be of more importance in this case rather than making sure their autonomy is preserved? In this sense, then, we could even come to justify a paternalistic approach – if solving the problem is the concept of utmost importance, then in several cases it would come to be the most objective, solution-yielding approach to helping those in need.

When discussing with my group in class, we came to the conclusion that, despite agreeing with Kant’s anti-paternalistic views on a moral level – it is indeed desirable to preserve the autonomy and ways of those in need -, it is simply far too unrealistic when applied into a real-life context. When we take cases such as the genocide in Rwanda, where the civil war was generating unimaginable violence and hundreds of children and innocent civilians were being brutally murdered on a daily basis, the interference of the UN peacekeeping troops was certainly pivotal in helping cease the attacks – the population of Rwanda did not have the means to do so. They certainly, however, took a paternalistic (and, therefore, anti-Kantian) approach to the situation – but sparing the lives of thousands of future victims of brutality certainly outweighs Kant’s morality principles in this case. Approaching the problem from a paternalistic perspective was, in this sense, the right thing to be done – the moral thing. Ultimately, we came to argue that, considering the vulnerable state of many groups in need in today’s society, making sure that the problem is dealt with is far more important than ensuring that the autonomy of those involved is preserved, particularly if they do not have the means to deal with it alone.

Moving on to the second question, I chose to discuss the idea behind the first Categorical Imperative – the concept that one must be able to universalize a maxim. Kant is quick to point out that we must “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” (The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems, p.94), when determining whether an act is moral or not (something highly esteemed by Kant), but are there clear exceptions to this rule? Are there situations in which a person is indeed acting out of purely good will, and yet their action could not be universalized?

When discussing this question, my group and I came across a series of mundane situations in which a subject was doing something we did not find to be immoral, and yet they could not be universalized. We began to discuss the issue of abortion – if every single person chose to have one, mankind would certainly fail to evolve; at some point, there would be no human beings left. However, if the person who is choosing to have an abortion is doing so because they know they would not be able to have the resources or capability to raise a child under reasonable conditions, then they are most definitely acting out of good will – something that Kant believes is the root of all morality. We came to the conclusion that, despite working in most cases, Kant’s Categorical Imperative can be easily contradicted, particularly when looking at more complex situations such as that of abortion. We noted that there are far too many nuances and issues to be taken into consideration when looking at what is to be considered moral or not – it cannot simply come down to “is it universalizable or not?”. Of course, there are cases where this is greatly applicable – we cannot, for instance, all deceive each other, so we can see why lying is considered immoral. However, when looking at the overall scenario of issues, there are clear cases in which Kant’s ideas are, in essence, far too simplistic and cannot be generalized.

Discussion Summary on Kant

Question: When making categorical imperatives or any universal laws that many philosophers like to make, there will always be exceptions.  How small does this exception have to be to become irrelevant?

-Kant’s CI’s assume some things, for example the suicide maxim assumes that most people want to avoid pain, which is reasonable. So, there will be some people who don’t think avoiding pain is good, but that is so unusual it is not worth using as a contradiction to his CI. What is?

Group: People who stray from the norm can’t be considered as an exception, because them deriving pleasure from contradictory means is still pleasure, so it can be considered the same thing. There also isn’t a reasonable way to measure this “exception” so you can’t really find a number value that can be defined as irrelevant. In cases when the good of the people is in mind and there are contradictory views to it they are the exception but should not be considered because they are not the goal.

Question: Should you do the morally right thing because it is morally right if you know negative results will ensure?

-Kant says yes.

Group: Answers varied on this one. Some people said yes, because it is better for society to uphold this idea. Because find exceptions is a slippery slope and will lead to worse consequences. Others said no. They believed absolutes are too powerful for this reason. There will always be exceptions and ignoring them can be more immoral than abiding by the rule.

Kant, O’Neill Summary

Q1) “Justice is more fluid than absolute” (pg. 259) If stealing medicine to save a life is justified, where do we draw the line? Should the justice system incorporate moral reasoning into the way laws are enforced? (Examples- theft, drug addiction

How this relates to the reading: This weeks reading was very much regarding morals and as O’Neill states on page 260, “Kant’s scope is much broader than human rights.” He is talking about how the obligations humans have and they may not always correspond with laws and freedoms. This question also relates more to an American way of viewing health care as they have to pay extensive amounts of money sometimes to fill a subscription.

A1) My group came up with many great responses including that Kant would suggest the government help the person obtain a good standard of living instead of arresting someone for a non-violent or petty felony. Not that Kant would ever encourage stealing but stealing would be correct only if it was the absolute final resort and you felt the moral value of stealing exceeded the burden of breaking the law. In this case, laws are in place to protect people from being stolen from which violates personal rights. Programs have been set up now a days to save people from needing to steal. Kant would probably suggest stealing from a large corporation with lots of money (Shoppers Drug Mart) compared to a small business (family owned and run) would be morally better due to the fact that the workers of the huge corporation are still obtaining the same pay cheque compared to if that person had not stolen. Where as stealing from a small business is directly taking the money from the owner who probably doesn’t nearly make as much as a large company. The conclusion was stealing is never right but moral values may not always be the legal way to do things but they may outweigh the legal penalty. The enforcers of the laws should judge each case separately and hold the same level of standards for all people in all situations but the best answer isn’t always throwing them in a cell.

Q2) Say you stumble across a money clip with no ID and no cards or any way to know who it may belong too with a $50 dollar bill in it outside of the grocery store – is it morally better to turn it in to the manager of the store and not accept the money somebody may be looking for or use it to buy $50 dollars worth of groceries and donate them to a food bank?

I chose this question because if it was a wallet with an ID you could get it back to them fairly easily but can you trust the other people along the way? If the store manager decides to take the money for them self then its a lose-lose situation. If the possibility of an unmoral action is present then that action should not be followed through. This relates to the reading because on page 260 it states “There is no problem when we are deciding our own action:..” and “..there is no guarantee we can always work out which maxim will be scrutinized for purposes of what others do.”

A1) We discussed that donating it to charity ensures it is going to a good place and we all agreed it would have a slim chance ending up where it is supposed to. Kant would have a problem taking the money and donating to charity because he would be using the person’s money as a mere means to an end. (happiness) Even though the intentions were right, the money belonged to someone else and if the possibility of them getting it back was present then that may help that person fulfill their end goal. We also talked about how we would feel happiness knowing someone would benefit from the $50 dollars worth of food. Mill would have had no problem donating the money for that same reason, if someone was benefitting and you were feeling a sense of happiness as a result then that action should be pursued to the fullest extent.

Discussion Summaries Kant Mill March 9th

  1. Do you agree with Kant’s perspective on the example with the murderer at the door? Why or why not?

At the end of Wednesday’s lectures, Dr. Hendricks briefly brought up an example, illustrating Kant’s stance on legal responsibility. The hypothetical scenario includes a murderer knocking on your door, looking to kill your friend. Your friend, however, is in the other room, hiding. Wanting to save your friend, you lie to the murderer, saying that your friend is absent. The murderer then heads towards the back of the house. Your friend, unable to hear your interaction with his would-be killer, decides to sneak out the back door. Unfortunately, they run into each other, and your friend is slain.

Because of your lie, your friend was murdered; therefore, suggesting that you played a role in the friend’s demise. Kant argues that, in this case, you are responsible for your friend’s death, whereas if the murderer had entered the building and killed your friend, the responsibility lies solely on the killer, not you.

My first question is relevant to our class because it exemplifies how Kant is not a Consequentialist, also it helps students realize the imperfection of his theory. My peers have a hard time accepting Kant’s perspective as their own. They say that it is impossible to predetermine the murder’s decision to move to the back, as well as your friend’s decision to try to sneak out the back door, hence the events that took place were simply out of your control. Therefore, it should not be your fault. In fact, my peers believe it would be even more morally unacceptable if you did not attempt to help your friend in that situation. According to Kant’s first categorial imperative of universalism, if everyone refused to help those in need of aid, the way of life would prove to be unsustainable. On the other hand, if everyone lied with the maxim of getting out of a difficult situation, it would not be possible either. This dilemma exposes a flaw in Kant’s categorical imperative theory.

  1. What do you think Kant and Mill would say about the topic of assisted suicide? Do you think they would agree or disagree with one another?

In class, we learn that Mill is a consequentialist and an utilitarian, while Kant is known to not be concerned with the consequences, instead he judges intentions, and is considered an universalist. I was curious to see if there was any way the different point of views would be able to come to similar conclusions. In this scenario, my peers and I suggest that both Mill and Kant would be against the controversial topic of assisted suicide. For Kant, he explicitly stated that life itself is good, therefore ending it would be putting an end to something that is intrinsically good. As for the utilitarian Mill, he may consider the death of one would cause many of their loved ones to be upset, ultimately generating more unhappiness than happiness. Though for different reasons, here we can see that it is possible for Mill and Kant to agree on controversial topics.

Kant Discussion Summary


“Kant does not, however, try to generate a set of precise rules defining human obligations in all possible circumstances; instead, he attempts to provide a set of principles of obligation that can be used as the starting points for moral reasoning in actual contexts of action. The primary focus of Kantian ethics is, then, on action rather than either results.” Kantian Approaches to some Famine Problems (2)

From this quote I was interested in the concept of ‘principles of obligation’ compared to rules that define what we, as humans, should and should not do which lead me to pose the questions:

Could the principles of obligations be considered a type of conformity (in some sense) that aims for all to have the same systems of moral reasoning?

 Is it fair for everyone to be set to the same general standards in terms of what is right and what is wrong?

Here are some possible answers we discussed:

  • The principles of obligation set by Kant still seem to be rules since if they are not followed, the action that took place instead can be considered morally wrong. Although the principles may not be as specific as rules may be, they do set limitations on what humans can and cannot do.
  • The principles could be seen as a form of conformity because the ideal outcome would be all humans having a very similar (if not the same) thought process. Since Kant is concerned with the importance of consistency and fairness, the principle of universalizability could lead people to become more alike in their behaviour. (ideas from The Fundamentals of Ethics)
  • It was also mentioned that it is a little strange for Kant to have created the principles of obligation when he himself contradicts his own thoughts and opinions at times.
  • To Kant, the principles of obligation may not be considered unfair because that is his personal way of thinking what the ideal world would be like.
  • The principles may not always be applicable in the real world because everyone is different. We all come from various backgrounds and we all have our own stories about how we got to where we are today. What is completely immoral for one person may be much less immoral for another.
  • We quickly talked about how many things are relative to the specific situation as well.



“When we want to work out whether a proposed act or policy is morally required we should not, on Kant’s view, try to find out whether it would produce more happiness than other available acts. Rather we should see whether the act or policy is required if we are to avoid acting on maxims that use others as mere means and act on maxims that treat others as ends in themselves.” Kantian Approaches (4)

This quote lead me to wonder about the difference between whether we should make decisions based on happiness and the greatest happiness principle from a utilitarian point of view or if we should base our decisions off of how we treat others (either as mere means or as ends in themselves). I was curious as to which ideas from Mill and Kant are applied when making choices.

When deciding if an action is moral, is happiness a prominent factor that comes into play? Does your happiness and the happiness of others matter when making a decision?

  • Happiness does come into play when making bigger decisions.
  • Usually the happiness of others outweighs my happiness when I am trying to make what I believe to be the right choice.
  • It often depends on how well you know the others that will be affected by the decision you make when choosing. If it is a close family member that will be affected you may be more willing to make decisions that are in their favour compared to making a decision that will affect a stranger.

Say you become the primary care giver of a dying family member… You cook meals for them, clean their house and do their chores, read to them etc., except you aren’t doing these things for the sake of your family member. You are caring for them because you wish to preserve a place in their will or want to make a very positive impression on other people that think you are doing this from the kindness in your heart. Your dying family member does not know of this ulterior motive and is so happy to see you everyday, thoroughly enjoying each visit. Although this act may not be considered immoral, is it still something you should continue doing since your family member will die happy? What would Kant or Mill think about this?

  • Since Kant reasoning is based off of the motive he would think that this is act is immoral since you are simply treating another as mere means. If you were to treat your family member as an end in themselves you would be taking care of them because you wish to make them happy before they pass away.
  • This act would be considered wrong because of the maxim. (Everyone would be treating others well because they wish to receive something out of it, not because they believe in kindness.)
  • Mill might consider this act to be okay since both you and your family member benefit from this. You and your family member are happy in the situation (although it is for different reasons). You should continue to act this way because it leads to good consequences.
  • A question that came from my question: If a maxim such as this is universalized, would it be considered moral or immoral? (It could be seen as moral because everyone is taking care of each other and treating each other nicely, the act leads to good consequences and everyone is happy or it could be seen as immoral because everyone is treating each other as mere means, it is deceiving since you have other ulterior motives, and although the consequence is good the motive is not.)

Discussion Summary on Kant & O’Neill

  1. What do you think of the scenario on the famine agencies problem? Is it acceptable like Kant says for them to use each other as long there is no manipulation? Do you agree or disagree?

In the text, there is an example provided where a government agrees to “provide food to famine-relief agencies [where] both uses and is used by the agencies, a peasant who sells food in a local market both uses and is used by those who buy the food.” (pg. 260) Kant says this is acceptable because there is consent in between those transactions because they are not deceiving each other, therefore, it is not considered mere means.

In class discussion:

Since there are no manipulations, there is nothing that makes it lead to it being considered mere means, so it is acceptable. People are economists, and since these transactions are made without any of the members deceiving each other, it is fair. We do agree with Kant’s view on this scenario.

2. If someone were to be dead, and you take something from them for the greater good to help someone else without their consent (since they are dead), is it acceptable?

Since the person is dead, it is universalized, therefore it would be acceptable in this first part of the case. The consent part is the missing act for this to be acceptable because without it, you are using the person as mere means. So, it will not be acceptable, since the person isn’t able to give any opinion on the whole situation nor, provide a answer.

In class discussion:

We do agree that it is acceptable to an extent because the person is already dead, and if the dead person has something, such as an organ that could be used to save someone, it should be done. This makes it universalized, but since the second part of Kant’s perspectives is on mere means, this would reject this. Without having a fully consent from the person, you are considered to be using them as mere ends.

Discussion on Kant – Animals and Everyday Life

In Onara O’Neill’s “Kantian Approaches to Some Famine Problems”, there were mentions of the value of animal lives in human morality, and the lack of regard Kant has shown towards this issue. Should animals ever be used as mere means? What determines the value of an animal’s life?
The answers to these question may vary greatly depending on who is asked. It would seem to most people that the inherent value of a fly’s life is much less than that of a chimpanzee, but there isn’t really a concrete reason behind this. It’s not simply based off of their impact on the world: if an animal’s moral significance was determined by its effect on humanity or the world, then bees, which help sustain our food sources, should be valued very very highly. In most cases, animal lives are based on appeal when it comes to moral decisions, even though this should not be the case. Pets take priority over pests.
Another question has arisen in regards to Kant’s philosophy in general: how can an average person apply Kant’s philosophy in everyday life? Kant moral philosophy features the renowned categorical imperative, but who is really to say that acting while keeping in mind the value of people as an end will really cause your actions to be better? It was mentioned that, perhaps in our everyday lives, we apply this train of thought subconsciously, such that we run through the categorical imperative without even knowing so; it is only in the extreme edge cases where categorical imperative falls apart. Despite this, some of Kant’s core values seem to fail in very common cases; most notably, his positions on lying and suicide.
Although the preachings of Immanuel Kant can be seen working in everyday life, it quickly becomes controversial when edge cases, like animals, or other situations that Kant fails to consider show themselves. A lot of us already follow this philosophy without knowing it, and have our own positions when it comes to difficult cases.