Ryan Sheely and Matthew Wrather return from hiatus to overthink Glee and Gossip Girl, with detours into the narratology of farce, middlebrow thinking, irrationality and behavorial economics, consequentialism, and intertextuality.
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Hey Stokes, I hate to sound nitpicky or anal, but I have a different memory of Kant. I haven’t read him closely for a few years, but this is what I recall: The Categorical Imperative in _Metaphysics of Morals_ is all about how intent does NOT matter, how there is no relativism in actions- every act must be judged by its own self, basically in a vacuum. His example is: you have person A hiding in your house from B, B having an intent to kill A. B comes to your door and asks if A is there. You are not allowed to lie to B, even if you want to keep A alive because that would still be lying and lying is wrong.
So yes, I agree that it’s not the same as consequentialism, but I think for different reasons than you laid out, Stokes. Call me out and show me how I’m wrong, though, by all means- I’ll admit fully that I haven’t read all of Kant, so I’d like to be corrected in my understanding of Kant if it’s INcorrect.
Oh God, do you remember the “Dear Sister” parody meme? I have wondered if the popularity of “Hide and Seek” was bolstered because enough people making their spoofs liked the song or bought it so they could have the clip to use in their own videos.
Whoa, and by Stokes I meant Sheely… Oh my GOD… It’s not even 8:00 am yet, throw me a bone…
I’ll respond anyway. The example that people usually use to explain the categorical imperative is picking up seashells on the beach. If you take a seashell because you want a souvenir, it seems harmless. But if EVERYONE takes a seashell, there will be no seashells left, and you will get no souvenir. You can’t want everyone to pick up a seashell… you just want for you to be able to pick up a seashell. And therefore the categorical imperative says taking seashells off the beach for souvenirs is immoral.
But let’s say that your motivation changes: now you want to take a seashell because you hate seashells, and want to get them off of your damn beach. Now if everyone takes a seashell, you’ll get exactly what you wanted: a beautiful, seashell-less beach. And therefore the categorical imperative says taking seashells off the beach because you hate seashells is moral.
Hm, I think I’m getting what you’re saying, but that still feels like relativism to me because the morality or immorality is dependent on the motivations in that example. Where does he say a different motivation means a different and thus acceptable imperative?
I’m nerdy enough to bust out my copy of _Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals_ now, and I realize my example comes not directly from there but from the supplement in the back of my edition called “On a Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns.” But when he explains it, he still basically says motivation doesn’t matter and a person is responsible for whatever happens when they lie and thus implicitly when they do *anything*. But, given how adamant he is about lying in general, how he thinks lying in and of itself, no matter what, is an offense to humanity, maybe focusing on an example using lying is a bad idea if one is trying to fully understand Kant (hahahahahahahahaha!!!!!). So perhaps this is why I have a different interpretation of the Categorical Imperative- I have been basing mine on this example since I first read _Grounding_, and _Grounding_ is all I have read by him as of yet. Any recommendations on what to read in order to get a better picture?
Well, Kant says at one point is that actions cannot be moral unless you can universalize your maxim. I don’t think he ever says that different motivations yield different maxims… it’s a weakness inherent in his system. (Or at least, a standard PHIL 101 critique of his system. I don’t pretend to a very profound understanding of Kant.)
To put it another way: the problem with the categorical imperative is that it requires you to have an internal moral compass to begin with. I think Kant would say that this is a feature, not a bug: he was all about using reason (and occasional, carefully restricted appeals to the irrational) to make decisions about stuff. But it does rather lesson its usefulness as a rule to live by.
Sorry, my Kant got a little sloppy. I didn’t clearly distinguish between “intention” and “motive/motivation”, and was using both interchangeably (even though I meant the latter). I think you’re right that intention (in so far as it is outcome driven) is not part of Kant’s moral philosophy.
However, I do think that motive and motivation are quite important-I think my understanding of this comes most specifically from his second proposition about duty (and some of the related exposition) in the first chapter of the Groundwork (page 15 in the edition I am looking at). To quote:
“An action from duty has its moral worth not in the aim that is supposed to be attained by it, but rather in the maxim in accordance with which it is resolved upon; thus that worth depends not on the actuality of the object of the action, but merely on the principle of the volition, in accordance with which the action is done, without regard to any object of the faculty of desire.”
As far as I understand it, what you hope to accomplish with an act is not the basis for the moral judgement, it is the principle that motivates the act. This is the distinction that I was pushing Matt on when we were parsing Emma’s refusal to condemn Terri’s fake pregnancy. Although she makes an appeal to motive, which seems more deontological, if you read it closely, she is also talking more about intention, making it a more consequentialist judgement.
Thanks for humoring me, guys.
That universality requirement is one of the reasons I have “issues” with Kant, if you get what I mean. My translation is a little different, but I’m not *that* nit-picky, and I think I caught up with you. It isn’t like I ever thought Emma was condoning the fake pregnancy, but I can see how Kant fits in with her interpretation now. Problem is, now I’m not sure how I should interpret Kant any more, since I still see an internal contradiction there. Rats.
Well, keep in mind, this stuff is all just the “Groundwork” on the Metaphysics of Morals. If you’re hurting for more specifics on Kant and what he thinks are right and wrong, he left a whole mess of other writing.
One thing I like about the “basic” Kant system, however, is that it gives you a way to make moral judgements that doesn’t depend upon your understanding of the world around you to be correct – because it isn’t.
It’s not like, “Well, I thought this was the right thing to do, but whoops, I didn’t know a bunch of people lived downriver and have no fish, so I guess I’m the worst person ever.” Sure, such mistakes are regrettable, but if you’re required to know every possible consequence of everything you do in order to determine whether an action is right or wrong, I don’t see how you can ever make any moral decisions at all in your life. Moral luck is such a huge factor in consequentialist systems that I have a real problem with them.
And when you’re talking about intention, that’s not the same thing as saying things are always relative. Yes, my intention might be different than your intention, but then again, even if we have the same intentions, we may end up doing different things. So, you’re not just moving the consequential judgement back from result to intention — did your intention have good consequences vs. did your action have good consequences. It isn’t about consequences at all, but it’s still a system where you can talk about what people do in a fairly consistent, universalizeable way. Just because it ends up with human actions going all over the place and doing all sorts of stuff, that doesn’t mean that the distinctions don’t matter. It just means that what we care about is something else than what you’re choosing to look at — which is the will behind the categorial imperative. If you want values that are pretty solid and not relative, just look at the formulations.
I find the timing of all of this highly coincidental because I’m in the middle of reading something by one of my favorites; and I have yet to read something (here and elsewhere) in which he says you must know everything about everyone and everything else in order to make moral, rational judgments, either, nor to commit moral, rational actions. And yeah, Fenzel, you’re totally right- expecting that is kind of nuts. But “kind of nuts” is what I thought of Kant before (“Kant is Krayzay” was the title of a paper) because the way I interpreted him and how I was taught to interpret him was that every action you do must be in accordance to how you would want every single person on the planet to act at all times, too. So if I steal an apple once, even if it’s because I’m starving, it’s okay for everybody else to steal all the time, no matter their own circumstances.
And I also think I sometimes misuse the word “relative,” which doesn’t help. I’m not necessarily speaking of a particular political or moral philosophy, but instead of how different criteria, situations, etc., necessitate different thoughts, actions, etc. How decisions and actions etc. should be/can be/are based on what is going on and cannot (realistically, anyway, in my opinion) exist within a vacuum. So the morality or immorality of anything- be it a cause or an effect, an intention or an outcome- is “relative” to all kinds of stuff (including moral luck, btw). Rar.
By the time I was listening to this I was shoveling snow and dealing with sub-zero temps, a fact that I found highly amusing!
I actually enjoyed the discussion about teachers and their students and how in TV world it always seems to end up a lot less messy then in real life. As a soon to be teacher I’ve given the subject a lot of thought and came to a completly different conclusion that the one you guys came up with but both seem to makes sense. It is in effect a power-subversive relationship coupled with the fact that high school boy are still trying to wade through their hormones and that the teachers seem to be a little on the deviant side of things.
But that’s just my take on things.
Also, both of you need to watch ‘Big Bang Theory’. The show is about four guys who work at CalTech and deal with the hottie blonde next door. It follows the normal half-hour comedy format but I enjoy it and plus it has lots of nerd/comic book humor.