Kantian Reasons To Lie To The Murderer At The Door?

Michael Cholbi thinks he has some:

First, the lie is not meant to advance the happiness either of the liar or of the potential murder victim, but to thwart the abuse of the victim’s autonomy that her murder would represent. Hence, if lying to the murderer is manipulation at all, it is manipulation in the service of the would-be victim’s autonomy, a central Kantian value. Second, while Kantian ethics prioritizes the value of autonomous rational agency over happiness, it does not follow from this that we are obligated to honor another agent’s autonomous choices no matter the ends that a given exercise of autonomy is meant to serve.

See his whole argument at PEA Soup.

Here’s one interesting sidebar on the way to his overall conclusions:

Kantian Symmetry Thesis: Any morally permissible act performed by agent A in which A is also the act’s beneficiary is also permissible if another agent B (relevantly similar to A) is the beneficiary of A’s act instead.

We see throughout Kant’s casuistry implicit appeals to this thesis: Suicide, Kant thought, is wrong for just the same reasons (and in just the same circumstances) that homicide is wrong. Similarly, in Kant’s sexual ethics (not that we should accept much of it of course!) acts that treat another’s sexuality as a mere tool of one’s happiness (rape) are wrong in the same way that acts that treat one’s own sexuality as a tool of one’s own happiness (masturbation) are wrong. In other words, Kant did not think that there exists a special moral relationship to oneself such that the obligations one bears vis-a-vis oneself are importantly distinct from those one bears toward other agents. (This is a way in which Kant was not a ‘liberal,’ since one important feature of liberalism has been the idea of a domain of self-regarding behavior that is governed by different norms from the domain of other-regarding behavior).

Your Thoughts?

About Daniel Fincke

Dr. Daniel Fincke  has his PhD in philosophy from Fordham University and spent 11 years teaching in college classrooms. He wrote his dissertation on Ethics and the philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche. On Camels With Hammers, the careful philosophy blog he writes for a popular audience, Dan argues for atheism and develops a humanistic ethical theory he calls “Empowerment Ethics”. Dan also teaches affordable, non-matriculated, video-conferencing philosophy classes on ethics, Nietzsche, historical philosophy, and philosophy for atheists that anyone around the world can sign up for. (You can learn more about Dan’s online classes here.) Dan is an APPA  (American Philosophical Practitioners Association) certified philosophical counselor who offers philosophical advice services to help people work through the philosophical aspects of their practical problems or to work out their views on philosophical issues. (You can read examples of Dan’s advice here.) Through his blogging, his online teaching, and his philosophical advice services each, Dan specializes in helping people who have recently left a religious tradition work out their constructive answers to questions of ethics, metaphysics, the meaning of life, etc. as part of their process of radical worldview change.


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