Introduction to Ethics Phil 140 @ Binghamton University, Win '11


prompt 3


Deontology states that one’s will is morally relevant, and that is the only thing that is “good” in and of it self.  Which means, in order to reach morality, one needs to do things for the good intentions and not for the outcome.  In following this one must be able to have the capacity to follow through on what is understood as a universal standing.  Kant with in his reading makes sure he discusses his idea on what the definition of reason is and its tie to Deontology. The idea Kant shares about reasoning helps defend his categorical imperative, which expresses the idea that an individual must do things and act in ways that allow them to think what they are doing is understood as a universal law.  Reason being when one is able to have the knowledge, capacity and experience to reason it allows for the duty of that person to change the standard considering the circumstances.  Yet, Kant then continues to prove instinct is therefore better than reason to achieving happiness.  Yet, Kant does make it clear he finds that happiness is not a moral concern.


Although, during the time of Kants writing his ideas could seem somewhat rational it is clear that as time passes things change and this whole statement could be argued against in today’s world.  An example, the reading by Eva Kittay, On the Margins of Moral Personhood, according to Kant in his theory the idea of moral personhood is the contribution to those whom are known as rational and independent.  As this reading is based on the mentally challenged individual whom have been pushed into being considered a minority of some sort, and not being capable of rationality and independence Kittay makes it clear she feels these individuals are people too, and does not agree with Kant.  Unlike Kant she argues that they deserve to be treated as equals, and so they should be able to get the help necessary in order to live a normal, and moral lifestyle, which could help allow these individuals to be considered under the moral personhood definition coined by Kant.

In having read these two readings it is sensible to understand how the moral standard given by Kant, can be understood as inadequate.  One can look at Kant’s moral standard of personhood to be an issue, because it views the mentally retarded as animals and not as individuals who are capable of feeling some kind of emotional attachment, or have an understanding on how to reason.   By belittling the mentally challenged one comparing them to animals, many could argue animals have no good will to them, which would mean that these individuals too have no good will to them concluding to no good intentions because they are not capable of reaching a good will.

To leave personhood as only a description that consists of rationality and autonomy could end in many harmful results. It allows to separate people in a way that helps to prove they are better than the other is simply because they are capable of reasoning with something which could direct them into a good will.   Whereas, the mentally challenged does not know and is not capable of doing the same thing, even though they still feel they still have emotions and they still deal with people against them.

Although many would agree that mentally challenged people are able to receive respect and can be treated the same, with Kant’s argument it is hard to treat someone the same when they are under personhood not considered to be treated the same as other humans, therefore expressing the idea that they are not human.  The standards for moral, personhood should be based on is the emotional content an individual is capable of reaching.  People hurt, and those who do not, can still be considered people because of the effect they have on those around them.  In this case, no one looses and all are treated equal, except for how they act towards one another.  The idea is, people who are able to have a role in something and for those who do know their duty and those who don’t should both have a place in society for themselves to feel happiness in.

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  1. “The standards for moral, personhood should be based on is the emotional content an individual is capable of reaching.”

    Without further qualifiers this means that a lot of other non-human animals are to be considered as persons. Do you think that species membership is a relevant criterion?

  2. I mean humans are considered animals why cant animals be somewhat considered people. And yes I do think that it could be a relevant criterion because animals like a mentally challenged person could have feelings and thoughts and what ever else it is “regular” people have the difference is that because they are different from us we can not understand their way of emotions and other things.

  3. So, according to your logic, animals should be “somewhat considered people”. I have to take issue with this. You write that we “can not understand their way of emotions and other things”. If we can’t understand the thought processes of animals, how can we qualify them as people, or relate them to severely mentally challenged individuals? You say what it takes to consider someone a person is that they have an effect on those around them? Pets have an effect on those around them, does that mean they should be afforded the same protections and qualifications as people? While I don’t agree with Kant, your justification for what makes someone a person is flawed. Maybe instead of basing personhood on “emotional content” and effect on those around them you can say that personhood is achieved when a human has emotional content or a human can form relationships with other people. Your qualifications are dangerous because they blur the line between people and animals. Some animals can arguably feel the same range of emotions and have the same relationships with people as some severely mentally challenged people. This does not mean that these animals should be considered people.

  4. You mentioned that Kant writes that good will, or doing things for good intentions instead of for the outcome is what makes actions moral. What makes you think that even severely mentally challenged people are not capable of having good will or acting with good intentions? Even those without the ability to “reason” can have good intentions by instinct. The same can apply for some animals. Therefore I believe there needs to be a more serious qualification for personhood. I think that qualifying personhood is a very sensitive and difficult subject, especially when it comes to the severely mentally handicapped. I think a biological aspect needs to be considered because of the dangers of excluding people based on the perceived lack of “reason” or including animals for the reasons you’ve provided.

    • So since the same can apply to animals why cant they be considered people? Dont animals react and sometimes get killed for acting instinctually? And what do you mean when you say “biological aspect”?

  5. Well because animals aren’t people. Why would animals be considered people and don’t you think any rule under which animals are considered people is flawed? By biological aspect I mean that biologically humans should get preference to any other type of animal for the personhood qualification.

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