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


Prompt #3 – Group 1 by jkwak

Deontology is the ethical perspective that focuses on morality as it pertains to moral duty.  Meaning that the measure of the morality behind one’s said moral act is determined by the intention to conform to moral duty.  Moral duty not as it pertains to society’s laws and regulations, but an ethical law that is the standard.

In Kantian deontology the focus of a moral act is its intention and its conformity to that moral duty/standard.  What determines the quality of a moral action is the intention or inspiration behind the said moral act.  In the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant expresses his theory which explains morality as a rational concept.  What is meant by this is that moral truths are not some noumenal concepts that are received via some divine inspiration or some cultural byproduct, but are founded on principles based on reason.  What this implies is that all rational beings should be able to understand and achieve a universal concept of morality/ethics.

By approaching morals with a logical outlook, Kant arrives at the conclusion that moral principles are absolute and universal.  This standard of universal moral principles is called universal law and it is from this concept that Kant believes that all moral duties and obligations are derived from it.  What is central to this moral philosophy is something he calls the Categorical Imperatives.  The formulation of these imperatives necessitates from a need for a method to evaluate the motivations behind moral acts in any given situation.

The Categorical Imperatives is a syllogism and they go as follows: (Ground Works - Kant)

  1. “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
  2. “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”
  3. “Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.”

And the main purpose of these imperatives is to allow for an absolute moral ethics that can be universally and unconditionally be applied to all circumstances.

Despite the strengths behind this ethics, it is flawed in that it cannot be applied to all situations.  Despite that Kant wishes for a universal application of his ethics, they do come aground when applied to complex and specific situations.  Specific circumstance may arise that may force a breaking away from the universal law because circumstance may dictate to find it moral to compromise Kant’s ethical guidelines.

Concerning the topic of Women and Beauty these deontological ethics are relevant to explain the immorality of the situation.  Firstly for this deontological perspective to work, one must first ignore Kant's work Observations on the Feelings of the Beautiful and the Sublime.  The reason why this aspect of Kant’s philosophy must be ignored is that this work devalues women and should be understood as Kant’s own personal views on the subject matter of viewing woman as rational equals to men (forgive him for it was part of his culture during his time to view women in this manner and he was peculiarly partial to his man-servant Lampe).

In the article Gynocide: Chinese Foot Binding by Andrea Dworkin sought to explain the flaw behind the established notions of proper female physical beauty.  Although in the 21st century women are no longer subjected to extreme physical procedures such as Chinese foot binding, the main goals are still prevalent.  The transition has gone from a mutilating process to an evolution backed by an industry of cosmetics and clothing that still objectify women as sexual objects of pleasure.

Kant’s deontology would not disregard the manipulation of the female form as immoral because it utilizes a person as a means to an end.  However, the issue that persists is that given a specific set of circumstances Kantian deontology fails to justify its ethical perspectives. Dworkin does not wish for an extreme case where the female form is completely naked (unadorned with labels that society has determined as markers of beauty), but seeks to find a balance between a physical female beauty that is not motived by male perspectives and geared towards male sensual gratification.  Take for example a woman who decides to mask her status and wealth by dressing in a manner that is appropriate for lets say to have come from the middle-class.  She has adorned herself to some degree, but not in manner to bring about sexual arousal, but a proper appearance that is attractive nonetheless.  Her intention is to seek a man that will not be blinded by her wealth (greed), but appreciate and cherish her for who she is as an individual.

Kantian deontology would say that this is immoral because of the deception and does not conform to moral duties.  The action is immoral not only because of the deceit, but also because she fails to take pride for the status allotted to her in life (Kant place emphasis on a sense of pride if one belonged to the upper echelons of society).  However, this deception has a somewhat virtuous and moral goal.  The goal being to find a man that will not be blinded by greed.  Here she is using herself and physical pretenses as means to an end, but that end is moral justifiable as it brings about a secure and stable coupling between two persons.

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  1. Wow sorry once again my post got cutoff again, but as an added bonus a small section from the middle is missing as well…

    • For those copying and pasting their work from microsoft word processor – be aware of missing sections…

      • if they are still missing you can edit published posts!

        • Yea, I had to do that last time too… And because of the length of my essay I had to do a side by side reading to see what was missing in the middle; sorry for the wait.

  2. “However, the issue that persists is that given a specific set of circumstances Kantian deontology fails to justify its ethical perspectives.”

    I think I understand what you are saying here, but perhaps you could be more clear? Are you saying that the categorical imperative only commands very general things that we cannot use concretely?

    • I don’t know if my “complete” post clears this up, but to answer your question. What I was criticizing about the categorical imperatives is that the need for an act to be moral based on the intention is what is flawed. Kant does explain that bad actions bring about good ends, but in my example the deceit comes from a desire to seek a truthful individual that is not blinded by circumstance. And also the individual doing the deceitful act (immoral in Kant’s eyes) does so out of a desire to erase suspicion that would otherwise compromise a relationship on her part.

      • I think I understand what are you saying. Are you talking about white lies here? I’d agree with that, certainly I do not find white lies immoral even though the categorical imperative commands we not lie in all circumstances.

        • Yes, in general I am talking about white lies. In certain situations it is seemingly logical that we lie to prevent harm not because of a potential outcome, but the ramifications it can have for that person being lied to (categorical imperative are forced to compromise to the situation). In that sense a person is being used as a means to an end, which is counter to the categorical imperatives; however, this protects/preserves the moral rational of both parties.

  3. I really liked the end of this. I like how you pointed out how tricky it can be when something is considered “immoral” but it was done with good intentions. I ran into this problem a lot when applying the different theories we read to the situations in the readings. Morality sounds far less complicated when reading about it’s basis and theory, but when actually applied in difficult situations I found it so much more confusing and hard to apply.

    • Thanks, glad you liked my post.

    • I agree, and this brings up the discussion of whether it is the means, or the end that takes precedence when discussing morality. I find it interesting that this issue was the basis of the scenarios in the very beginning of the course, and it remains to be the problematic issue at the end.

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