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The Ethics of Duty and Rights

The Ethics of Duty and Rights

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The Ethics of Duty and Rights

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  1. The Ethics of Duty and Rights

  2. The Ethics of Duty More than any other philosopher, Kant emphasized the way in which the moral life was centered on duty.

  3. Two Conceptions of Duty • 1. Duty as following orders • The Adolph Eichmann model • “I had known the Categorical Imperative, but it was in a nutshell, in a summarized form. I suppose it could be summarized as, ‘Be loyal to the laws, be a disciplined person, live an orderly life, do not come into conflict with laws’—that more or less was the whole essence of that law for the use of the little man.” • Duty is external • Duty is imposed by others • 2. Duty as freely imposing obligation on one’s own self • The Kantian model • Duty is internal • We impose duty on ourselves • This second conception of duty is much more morally advanced than the first.

  4. Duty and Self-Interest • The example of Edmund G. Ross • He voted against Jackson’s impeachment as a matter of duty Junior Senator, Kansas

  5. Universalizability and the Categorical Imperative Central insight: • What is fair for one is fair for all

  6. Living by Rules • Most of us live by rules much of the time. Some of these are what Kant called Categorical Imperatives—unconditional commands that are binding on everyone at all times.

  7. Types of Imperatives • Hypothetical Imperative: • “If you want to drive to UCLA from San Diego, take the 405 freeway.” • Structure: if…then… • Categorical Imperative • “Always tell the truth” • Unconditional/absolute, applicable at all times

  8. Maxims • Maxims, according to Kant, are subjective rules that guide action. • Relevant Act Description • Sufficient Generality • All actions have maxims, such as, • Never lie to your friends. • Never act in a way that would make your parents ashamed of you. • Always watch out for number one.

  9. Categorical Imperatives:Universality • “Always act in such a way that the maxim of your action can be willed as a universal law of humanity.” --Immanuel Kant

  10. Categorical Imperative:Publicity • Always act in such a way that you would not be embarrassed to have your actions described on the front page of The New York Times. --Probably not Bill Clinton

  11. Exceptions • Are exceptions possible for Kant? • Yes, as long as they can be consistently universalized • Examples • The Gestapo example • Can we universalize a maxim to deceive in order to save innocent lives?

  12. Categorical Perspective of 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.”

  13. Kant on Respecting Persons • Kant brought the notion of respect to the center of moral philosophy for the first time. • To respect people is to treat them as ends in themselves.He sees people asautonomous,i.e., as giving the moral law to themselves. • The opposite of respecting people is treating them as mere means to an end.

  14. Using People as Mere Means • Kant on suicide?

  15. 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

  16. From Kant’s “Duty” to “Rights” • From perspective of “rights-holder” a “right” is permission to exist, to act • e.g., Absolute right to life • From perspective of “rights-observer” a “right” is a claim – a duty or obligation • e.g., Absolute obligation to protect life

  17. Justifications of Rights • Declaration of Independence (1776) We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness [DIVINE/SELF-EVIDENT] • Declaration of the Rights of Man and the Citizen (1789) 1. Men are born and remain free and equal in rights. Social distinctions may be founded only on the general good. 2. The aim of all political association is the preservation of the natural and imprescriptable rights of man. These are liberty, property, security, and resistance to oppression. [NATURAL] • UN Univeral Declaraiton of Hman Rigths (1948) Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice, and peace in the world, … [NATURAL]

  18. What Rights Do We Possess? • Absolute rights • Matter of degree Weaker Stronger Right to Smoke Right to live Right to Breathe Unpolluted Air Right to private property Right not to be tortured

  19. Treating People as Ends in Themselves • Recognizing right to life • Not denying them relevant information • Allowing them freedom of choice • Permitting them resources to exercise freedom of choice Rights?

  20. Who has Rights? • Living humans? • Future generations? • Animals? • The Natural World (Trees)?

  21. A Summing Up • Kant saw that morality must be fair and evenhanded – does not play favorites. • Respecting other persons • The notion of treating persons as ends in themselves is central to much of modern ethics.