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


Writing Prompt 3- Deontology

Deontology states that one’s will is morally relevant, and that is the only thing that is “good” in and of itself. In short, this means that an individual’s good intentions, as opposed to the outcomes of one’s actions, is a more accurate measurement in regards to morality.  One’s will must adhere to a universal standard, as opposed to situational applications, and morality is independent of one’s fortune, i.e social standing, and one’s physical and mental capabilities (i.e. strength and intelligence).  Kant also emphasizes the importance of reason as a means of conjuring good will, as opposed to providing means for an end.  One’s will is measured by how well it conforms to one’s duty. For one to truly have a good will, one’s duty must conform to the categorical imperative, mentioned previously as a “universal standard”. Kant’s categorical imperative states that one must act in a way so that they believe their actions should be established as a universal law. If one’s duty adheres to the categorical imperitive, it is possible for one to think rationally, in which an individual can think independently of circumstances and experiences. This rational thought stands in contrast to empirical thinking, in which courses of action are determined based on knowledge one has gained from experience. By thinking empirically, one’s duty conforms not to the categorical imperitive, but to hypothetical imperitives, which determine courses of action for particular circumstances.

Euthanasia is at ends with Deontology on a variety of topics. For one, Deontology’s emphasis on the importance of rational thought, and the way in which one’s duty must conform to the categorical imperitive, leaves no room for circumstance. Circumstance, in this case, can include the extent to which one is disabled, as well as the extent to which one is autonomous. In addition, one’s circumstances may encompass how one has been treated by others, as social barriers can arise in the case of extreme disabilities. I believe that in the moral evaluation of euthanasia, these circumstances are important, despite the fact that they are empirical in nature. In regards to euthanasia, I believe good will is important, but that the right hypothetical imperatives can be justified. If the disabled individual is subject to extreme disabilities to which the majority of the population will never be subjected, then a hypothetical imperative in which an individual seeks to help a disabled individual solely because it may alleviate the pain of a disabled individual may be justified.

The elimination of hypothetical imperatives in Deontology proves problematic in the evaluation of euthanasia. In the reading, “Rational Suicide and the Disabled Individual: Self-Determination versus Social Protection” much is said about the social interactions between disabled individuals and the general public. In short, the author denounces the grouping of disabled individuals when making the case against euthanasia, stating that “I submit that the denial of individual differences among people with disabilities is an equal or greater form of discrimination.” (Paragraph 15, “Rational Suicide and the Disabled Individual: Self-Determination versus Social Protection”).  In this way, the author makes a case for the use of hypothetical imperatives, in which, generalizations aside, one uses an individual’s characteristics to make a decision on the use of euthanasia. This statement is indicative of the importance of empirical thought in this situation, as disabled individuals who have considered euthanasia have been subjected to experiences to which the general public will never be exposed.

In essence, the application of the categorical imperative with regards to euthanasia undermines one’s right to self determination. Though the choice to commit suicide violates the principles of deontology, namely the treatment of life as an end as opposed to a means, to deny one’s right to self determination is to “lose an essential quality of what defines us as human” (Paragraph 17, “Rational Suicide and the Disabled Individual: Self-Determination versus Social Protection”).  For the sake of conserving one’s right to self determination, I believe hypothetical imperatives can be justified morally, though this perspective opposed Deontology as a whole, and is more similar to views presented from the utilitarian perspective, in which ends, in this case the well being of a disabled individual, are considered to be relevant morally.

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  1. I agree with you on this one. Situations and different experiences are something that shouldn’t be discounted. Our different experiences make us unique individuals and shape our moral behavior. If we base all of morality on our rationality and avoid drawing on our experiences, we are discounting half of ourselves. Although it makes sense that reason is universal and this is a way that we can have a moral standard across cultural differences and circumstances. Our circumstantial experiences should not be discounted. Rational decisions are good in practice but empiricism helps us decide about certain circumstances in which the categorical imperative may not apply.

  2. Experience, is what makes an individual. It allows for knowledge and space to grow in order to have a moral behavior. I agree I feel experience is key, it helps create a foundation for when life brings you harder and harder things people have to face in their life as time progresses. Especially, when one decides to have a family or make big life decisions.

  3. Extra Credit Response #1 (personal assignment Due Sunday)

    As you say deontology expresses the idea that “an individual’s good intentions, as opposed to the outcomes of one’s actions, is a more accurate measurement in regards to morality” which yes I do agree with, you continue to say “one’s will must adhere to a universal standard, as opposed to situational applications, and morality is independent of one’s fortune, i.e social standing, and one’s physical and mental capabilities” (i.e. strength and intelligence). You then go into detail about how Kant “emphasizes the importance of reason as a means of conjuring good will, as opposed to providing means for an end” which is all true but I feel as if your argument on euthanasia does not really fit the profile of what Kant expresses about happiness, and life.

    Kant’s point is also knowing that morality does not have to do with survival because if it did, then it would be focused on the hypothetical imperatives and not categorical imperatives. This you do make sure you emphasis which I agree with but does it make sense to believe this with euthanasia? Euthanasia, is about death and about an individual wanting to end their suffering which can only be met with death, which is the outcome of euthanasia and not the process.

    Now here is something else I want to argue on, you go into detail about the those who are disabled and how they get help. From a previous reading (Cognitive Disability, Misfortune, and Justice) on the disabled, the argument then was that Kant would view these individuals as “nonhuman” or people or rather people who are not individuals and can not make reasoned choices, why wouldn’t Kant argue the same for those who consider euthanasia? They are sick, they probably have feelings and are going through something much more than any one who is not going through can not understand, so why is it okay for them to make a decision based on what they know as reasoning when one who is disabled can not?

  4. I agree with you that people should have the right to self-determination and life is situational. People have different life experiences and shouldn’t be looked down upon for their choices just because they violate a supposed universal law. However I’d like to take issue with your opinion that hypothetical imperatives can always be justified morally.

    As an example I’d like to bring up the issue of the severely depressed individuals. Such people may not necessarily be disabled or impaired in any other manner except that they are mentally ill and do not have a will to continue living. Should their right to self-determination be preserved in this case? Should society not consider their desire to be against the universal imperative? Should we not collectively try to help such individuals? Sometimes people go through periods of serious depression only to later recover. These people would be thankful if they were prevented from killing themselves.

    I agree then that the universal standard shouldn’t be considered the framework to follow and that everything is situational, but I disagree that exercising self-determination is moral in all situations. There should still be some sort of standard that society adheres to. If anyone was allowed to do whatever they wanted as long as it didn’t harm others directly, society would fall apart. Perhaps then instead of abandoning the categorical imperative we should embrace a more flexible system.

  5. I agree with the argument you make here. Even if an individual is incapable of rational thought they can feel feelings, even if they can not process the reason or quality. That experience of feeling should have merit when evaluating Euthanasia. If someone feels that the burden of a disabled life is too overwhelming they should be able to relieve the pain in whatever way they feel necessary.

  6. While I am in complete agreement of everything you have said in regards to opinion of euthanasia, I feel that it is in disagreement with Deontology and Kant. From my understanding, Deontology and Kant would consider suicide morally wrong, in every situation, under any circumstance. The reason for this was if we were to start allowing some rational suicides, then soon enough everyone may feel a need to do this. If we allow one person to do something, we must allow everyone. And if this were to happen, a way of order would be lost. The reason I say this is because then on what basis do we have the right to grant some people the right to do something, but not another person. If we get into the argument that people’s circumstances are different, I still don’t think that it would be enough for Kant to deem suicide a rational action. According to what I believe personally, I would agree with what you say about hypothetical imperatives. Yet I would disagree that Kant considers them acceptable. As mentioned earlier, we need to have a level playing field for every individual, and circumstantial cases per scenario, while ideal, is not what Kant is after. I think Kant places too high a value on society as a whole, and doesn’t really consider the impact that an impaired individual can have on family and society. As ideal as it would be for Kant to focus more on hypothetical imperatives rather than categorical imperatives, it is not the case with his ethical theory, and does not follow suit with the characteristics of it.

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