Sunday, September 22, 2013

Idle Thoughts -- Lies, Damned Lies, and Immanuel Kant

Explain Kant's position on lying, is it always morally wrong to lie? What are the implications for the question raised in Chapter 5, "Should we lie to Grandma about the truth if the truth will distress her ?" 

As usual, Kant's problem is that he's an absolutist. For him everything is on or off, black or white. He allows no variation for the subtleties of human psychology.

From an article on Kant...   Lying and Ethics - Santa Clara University link:

The philosopher Immanuel Kant said that lying was always morally wrong. He argued that all persons are born with an "intrinsic worth" that he called human dignity. This dignity derives from the fact that humans are uniquely rational agents, capable of freely making their own decisions, setting their own goals, and guiding their conduct by reason. To be human, said Kant, is to have the rational power of free choice; to be ethical, he continued, is to respect that power in oneself and others.
Lies are morally wrong, then, for two reasons. First, lying corrupts the most important quality of my being human: my ability to make free, rational choices. Each lie I tell contradicts the part of me that gives me moral worth. Second, my lies rob others of their freedom to choose rationally. When my lie leads people to decide other than they would had they known the truth, I have harmed their human dignity and autonomy. Kant believed that to value ourselves and others as ends instead of means, we have perfect duties (i.e., no exceptions) to avoid damaging, interfering with, or misusing the ability to make free decisions; in other words - no lying.

End article.

So Kant has decided that human beings are the rational animal. Kant was wrong. As I said many times, man is not a rational animal.  Man is a rationalizing animal.  Kant deluded himself by becoming obsessed with the magnificence of man being so great that our automatic, natural response when facing a new situation is to think about it and come to a logical conclusion.

This is just flat wrong. We are an emotional animal. Our first, default reaction to a situation is emotional. Later we think about it. Usually we think about it only to rationalize the emotional decision we already made.  Sometimes, if we work at it really hard, we actually do think about it clearly and overrule our emotional decision. But let's be honest, that is rare.

Once again, Kant managed to talk himself into a position that sounds very reasonable, as long as you don't pay any attention to reality.

He says that to lie to a person is to take away their ability to clearly think about a situation. Okay, that is often true. But is it true in every case? Any man who has had his wife, fiancé, girlfriend, or daughter ask him, "Does this make my butt look fat?" Knows that there are times when a lie can be a white lie. It can smooth social situations, and doesn't really have a serious impact on anybody's rational ability.  

Consider what would happen if said man replied to his wife, fiancé, girlfriend, or daughter, "No, Sweetheart. The fat on your butt makes it look fat."

Absolutism is not a functionally effective position to take.  Kant is right about a great many lies. But he is not right about every lie.

In almost every war movie ever made, there is a scene in which the dying soldier asks, "Am I gonna make it?"  There are no decisions for him to make. In a few moments he will be dead. Is it really immoral to give him the comfort of, "Yeah, buddy, you're going to be okay."?

Is it such a terrible thing to say, "I'm sorry." When you really aren't? I mean, suppose you bump into somebody in line, so you say it. You're not really sorry. Still, you didn't mean to bump into the guy. So it's immoral to say sorry?

In case you haven't guessed, Kant irritates me. He talks too much. He uses his reason to create highly complex, utterly unrealistic visions. His sentences are absolute masterpieces of confusing people about an idea that really isn't that difficult or confusing when you boil it down. But most of all, he's an absolutist.

I suppose, in Kant's view, Kant was perfect. However, I exercise my right to disagree with him on that point.

There was an author-philosopher in the Victorian era named Thomas Carlyle. He was also sure of himself. Why, he was just wonderful, at least, he always said he was. He also reminds me of Wile E Coyote, super genius! People nicknamed him Jupiter Carlisle, because he seemed to think he was the king of the gods.  He wasn't the only one to think so highly of himself.

After all, there's only one true super genius. Guess who?

No! I am not referring to fictional character Sheldon on the Big Bang theory. Try again!

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