Kant & Categorical Imperatives: Crash Course Philosophy #35

Kant & Categorical Imperatives: Crash Course Philosophy #35


Crash Course Philosophy is brought to you
by Squarespace. Squarespace: share your passion with the world. I don’t know if you’ve noticed this, but all of our discussions about ethics so far have had one thing in common: God. Divine Command Theory, for example, argues that what’s good, and what’s not, are determined by a deity, whether that’s the God of Abraham, or a panoply of gods who come up with ethical rules by committee. And the Theory of Natural Law, as advanced by Thomas Aquinas, says that morality comes from us but only because we were made by God, who preloaded us with moral sensibilities. But many other thinkers have argued that humanity’s moral code doesn’t come from some supernatural force. 18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant, for one, thought religion and morality were a terrible pairing, and if anything, the two should be kept apart. Instead, Kant argued, in order to determine
what’s right, you have to use reason. And a sense of consideration for other people. And – at least the way I’m teaching it
today – chom-choms. [Theme Music] Kant took morality pretty seriously, and he thought we should, too – all of us – regardless of our religious beliefs, or lack thereof. Because, he knew that if we look to religion for our morality, we’re not all going to get the same answer. But he thought morality was a constant, in
an almost mathematical sense. Two plus two equals four, whether you’re
a Christian, Buddhist, or atheist. And for Kant, the same went for moral truths. But he made a distinction between the things we ought to do morally, and the things we ought to do for other, non-moral reasons. He pointed out that, most of the time, whether or not we ought to do something isn’t really a moral choice – instead, it’s just contingent on our desires. Like, if your desire is to get money, then
you ought to get a job. If your desire is get an A in class, then
you ought to study. Kant called these if-then statements hypothetical
imperatives. They’re commands that you should follow
if you want something. But hypothetical imperatives are about prudence,
rather than morality. So, if you don’t want money, you can always
choose not to work. And if you don’t care about getting a good
grade, studying becomes totally optional! It’d be a terrible option, in my opinion
as an educator, but still: optional. But Kant viewed morality not in terms of hypothetical imperatives, but through what he called categorical imperatives. These are commands you must follow, regardless
of your desires. Categorical imperatives are our moral obligations, and Kant believed that they’re derived from pure reason. He said it didn’t matter whether you want to be moral or not – the moral law is binding on all of us. And he said you don’t need religion to determine what that law is, because what’s right and wrong is totally knowable just by using your intellect. OK, so how do you figure out what’s moral? Kant said the categorical imperative can be
understood in terms of various formulations. Basically, different ways of phrasing or looking
at the same essential idea. And he came up with four formulations of the
categorical imperative. Let me tell you about the two most popular
ones. The first formulation of the categorical imperative
is often known as the universalizability principle. And Kant phrased it this way: “Act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.” OK, Kant. Pretty wordy guy.
So let’s unpack what he was saying. A maxim is just a rule or principle of action. And a universal law is something that must
always be done in similar situations. So, as a Kantian, before I act, I would ask
myself, what’s the maxim of my action? In other words, what’s the general rule that stands behind the particular action I’m considering? Let’s say you forgot your wallet in your
dorm this morning. You don’t have time to go get it between
classes, and you’re really hungry. You notice that the student working the snack kiosk in the union is engrossed in a conversation, and you could easily snag a banana and be on your way. Sorry. Chom-chom.
I mean: chom-chom. You could easily swipe that chom-chom and
be on your way. Is it ok, morally, for you to do this? Well, the particular action you’re considering – taking a chom-chom from a merchant without paying for it – is stealing. And if you approve the maxim of stealing – which you’re doing, whether you admit it or not – then what you’re actually doing is universalizing that action. You’re saying that everyone should always
steal. If you should be able to do it, then – everyone
should be able to do it. The thing is, this leads to a contradiction
– and remember: Kant’s wording specifically says that moral
actions cannot bring about contradictions. The contradiction here is: no one would say
that everyone should steal all the time. Because, if everyone should always steal,
then you should steal the chom-chom. And then I should steal it back from you, and then you should steal it back from me, and it would never end and no one would ever get to eat any chom choms. Therefore, stealing isn’t universalizable. So what Kant’s really saying is that it’s
not fair to make exceptions for yourself. You don’t really think stealing is ok, and by imagining what it would be like to universalize it, that becomes clear. Now, Kant’s view that moral rules apply
to everyone equally sounds nice and fair. But it can sometimes lead to some pretty counterintuitive results. To see how this formulation can go awry, let’s
visit the Thought Bubble for some Flash Philosophy. Let’s say, one morning, Elvira and Tony
are having breakfast. Then a stranger comes to the door and asks
where Tony is, so he can kill him. Obviously, Elvira’s impulse is to lie, and say that Tony isn’t around right now in order to protect him from this would-be murderer. But Kant says that she can’t lie – not
ever, not even to save Tony’s life. Here’s his reasoning: Suppose she’s at the front door, talking
to the stranger. At the time, she thinks Tony’s in the kitchen,
where she left him. But it turns out he was curious about the caller, so he followed her into the living room, and heard the stranger make his threats. Fearing for his life, Tony slipped out the
back door. Meanwhile Elvira, in her desire to save him, tells the stranger that Tony isn’t there, even though she thinks he is. Based on her lie, the stranger leaves, and runs into Tony as he rounds the corner heading away from the house, and kills him. Had she told the truth, the stranger might have headed into the kitchen looking for Tony, which would have given Tony time to escape. But she didn’t. Now, by Kant’s reasoning, Elvira is responsible
for Tony’s death, because her lie caused it. Had she told the truth, only the murderer would have been responsible for any deaths that might have occurred. Now, she could have refused to answer the
stranger altogether, or tried to talk him out of it. But the one thing she is never permitted to do is violate the moral law, even if others are doing so, even for a really good cause. Poor Tony. Very sad.
But thanks, Thought Bubble! So, the first formulation of the categorical imperative is about the universality of our actions. But the second formulation focuses on how
we should treat other people. And it goes this way: “Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end, and never as a mere means.” Again, we have to define some terms here to
figure out what this is all about. To use something as a “mere means” is to use it only for your own benefit, with no thought to the interests or benefit of the thing you’re using. Now, we use things as mere means all the time. I use this mug to hold my coffee, and if it would stop benefiting me – like if it got a crack in it and started leaking, I wouldn’t use it anymore. It’s perfectly fine to use things as mere
means – but not humans. This is because we are what Kant called ends-in-ourselves. We are not mere objects that exist to be used
by others. We’re our own ends.
We’re rational and autonomous. We have the ability to set our own goals,
and work toward them. Coffee mugs exist for coffee drinkers. Humans exist for themselves. So, to treat someone as an end-in-herself means to recognize the humanity of the person you’re encountering, to realize that she has goals, values, and interests of her own, and you must, morally, keep that in mind in your encounters with her. Now, Kant pointed out that we do use people,
all the time, and that’s ok. Because, most of time time, we use other people
as a means for something, but not as a mere means. We still recognize their humanity when we
use them, and they agree to being used. So, for example, you are using me right now
to get information about Kantian ethics. I am using Nick and Nicole to help me get
that information to you. Kant said that you and I, and Nick and Nicole – we all we deserve to not be used as mere means, because of our autonomy. Unlike other things in the world, we’re
self-governed. We’re able to set our own ends, to make our own free decisions based on our rational wills. We can set goals for ourselves, and take steps
to realize those goals. This imbues us with an absolute moral worth, Kant said, which means that we shouldn’t be manipulated, or manipulate other autonomous agents for our own benefit. And this means that things like lying and
deception are never OK. Because if I’m being deceived, I can’t make an autonomous decision about how to act, because my decision is based on false information. For instance, I might agree to loan you money so you can buy books for school, but I wouldn’t agree to loan you money so that you can get a new Xbox. I’m sorry, but no. So when you lie to me about what you’re gonna be doing with the money you’re asking for, you rob me of my ability to autonomously decide to help you. You’ve treated me as a mere means to accomplish your goals, with no thought to my own goals and interests. And that’s a violation of Kant’s second
categorical imperative. So! Kant argued that proper, rational application of the categorical imperative will lead us to moral truth that is fixed and applicable to all moral agents. No God required. Of course, not everyone agreed with him. So next time we’re going to check out a theory that is in many ways the antithesis of Kantianism: utilitarianism. Today we learned about Kant’s ethics. We talked about hypothetical and categorical imperatives, the universalizability principle, autonomy, and what it means to treat people as ends-in-themselves, rather than as mere means. This episode of Crash Course Philosophy is
made possible by Squarespace. Squarespace is a way to create a website,
blog or online store for you and your ideas. Squarespace features a user-friendly interface,
custom templates and 24/7 customer support. Try Squarespace at squarespace.com/crashcourse
for a special offer. Squarespace: share your passion with the world. Crash Course Philosophy is produced in association
with PBS Digital Studios. You can head over to their channel and check out a playlist of the latest episodes from shows like: Deep Look, First Person, and PBS Game Show. This episode of Crash Course was filmed in
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100 thoughts on “Kant & Categorical Imperatives: Crash Course Philosophy #35

  1. This was so helpful! I wish my business ethics textbook could be replaced with your videos. I get way more out of the videos than I do from reading my book. Thank you for breaking down Kant's confusing words into something I could understand.

  2. Wait but lets say that theres a law that goes against the imparitives and I deem it to be unjust. So do I have to obey that law and let it happen because for me to go against it I also violate the imperative?

  3. For a good explantion on Kant look up the video: The Metaphysics of
    Immanuel Kant Explained Simply | Kant Vs. Hyperianism by MorgueOfficial

  4. Brilliant video …I’ve tried reading kantian ethics and god I struggled…this cleared up a lot. So thanks. I’ve heard someone describe an argument in a “kantian” sense. Could someone decode this for me? In terms of his ethics. Does it mean he views the end more important than the means ?

  5. I’ve got to do a debate for ethics class. And I have to argue that a kantian based society would be best. Anyone got any ideas?

  6. Morality is defined by Physics: Humans are extremely sophisticated organization both physically and psychologically. It took evolution billions of years and untold sequence of events to get us where we are today. If respect is given based on complexity of organization then all morality is defined as such: Always choose the path with least overall entropy.
    This universally applies correctly and effectively in every situation. Would you go back an kill Hitler as a baby? Of Course. Would you crash your car into a tree to avoid killing a pedestrian? Of Course Yes. Would you have sex with your neighbors wife? No.
    Would you steal $100? No because of then others might steal from you and it would do damage to the victim. Try this for yourself, you will instantly see that abortion is bad except when the mothers life is threatened. The death penalty should only be applied if there is a chance a killer can kill again. You quickly see the falsehood of Sharia law. Cutting off the hand of thief will only make him more poor and incapable of making a honest living.
    On and on the law of least entropy works and works.

  7. This really helped me understand Kant in my class where the prof is no help. I feel confident in writing my essay now. Thank you!!

  8. I really appreciate these crash course videos. I watch them before my readings, because Philosophy, in my opinion, is very difficult to read.

  9. I'm much more in line with utilitarian ethics. Kant has always seemed like a fuddy duddy to me. I would speak honestly and use stronger words, but like I said, I am not a kantian, so I will parse the truth with 'fuddy duddy'.

  10. Hank, would you please be kind and lend me some money to buy my textbook for school? I cannot afford it. The cruelty that the world is doing to us curious truth seekers like me is ripping us for money. If true education was free like the internet, then all the philosophers will start making more sense.

    Seriously though, it would be nice if you can give me money to buy textbooks. I am taking 5 classes this term and I need 40 to finish the degree. Each class requires a new edition of the textbook and so no one will even but the used textbook.

  11. So regarding whole universalizing your action thing…. isn't is just a logical fallacy to say that when I steal, I am saying that everyone should steal, especially because everyone has difference circumstances ?? (For example, rich individual stealing food just because he is hungry vs desperately poor individual steal in order to survive, the latter can be arguably justified but the former is far from legit action. ) Ugh I never get categorical imperatives someone enlighten me please.

  12. Tony is responsible for his own death because his ran to the front of the house where the killer was (assuming there was no where else to run)

  13. If humans are just smart apes (which we are not we where created separately with a immortal soul) then the idea of morality is mute and there is no Good or evil just your 70 years and then who cares then there is no truth or morality and nihilism would the closest to truth. Prairie God this is not true and we are spiritual beings with a divine judge.

  14. Thanks for this video. It is wonderfully presented. What about the third formulation on the realm of ends?

  15. this helped so much!! Crash Course is amazing, don't ever quit. you explained it way better than my philosophy professor.

  16. So greatly explained sir..i loved it ..i was in trouble with these Immanuel Kant maxims from a long time ..and now I became very much tensioned because I had my exam after some days..sir I am from India ..and have opted philosophy as my graduation course ..thank you very very much sir ,it really helped..!!!!!😊😊

  17. These are amazing shows! This is why YouTube is 10000 times better than TV. Thank you all for making these. You make it amazingly easy for us to learn outside of the normal ways.

  18. 5:25 … Surely that is not how Kant would reason. He would use a 'cannot make an omelet without breaking eggs' type argument … that whilst adhering to the law thou shalt not lie maxim will produce negative particular outcomes, on the whole it will have greater overall, long run societal utility (yes utility as in utilitarianism … the goal of morality, applying Kant's hypothetical imperative to society as a whole) if everyone to abstain from lying.

  19. ı spend 40 minutes to understand the article about kant's ethics and ı understood NOTHING, but thanks to you guys in 10 minutes everything made sense about his thoughts :))) sending a virtual hug to all of you 😀

  20. I want you to know sir…that your philosophy videos have equipped me to live a better life, and further my ego. Please please keep making them, and even be more on the offense with them. But be truthful, and exercise your epistemic responsibility.
    Like, as a philosopher, you must know that people are wrong because the powers keep them ignorant. You must know the earth is flat, and Hitler was a freedom fighter.
    So please continue to produce videos, but be truthful. Like, instead of comeing down onHitler, recognize the evil talmudic influence on Stallin. But if you dont know, why I would say such seemingly outrageous claim, small research would bring you to the light.
    Philosophize on the evils of multiculturalism. On globalization. On the evils of Fractional banking. The evils of supporting Israel.
    Also +10 points for the scarface reference!
    But I think you know. Please keep making videos, do one on, Pedagogy of the oppressed, for I love Paulo Paulo freir

  21. Awesome, The Good Place from Netflix brought me here. That Chidi boy got me going with the ethics and the philosophy. Way to go CrashCourse !!

  22. The example of Tony and Elvira is extremely perplexing. How can blame for Tony’s death be placed on Elvira for lying when she did so only with good intent? I thought the intention that drives an action is emphasised and valued more than the consequences of that action in Kantianism.

    Blaming her for the consequences of her actions (as opposed to looking at the intent with which she performed them) sounds more characteristic of utilitarianism, not Kantianism.

    Please could someone enlighten me? or further elucidate this example. Thanks.

  23. If you think that stealing is ok it doesn't mean that u are saying that everyone should steal or even worse everyone should steal all the time no? something is not logical here…

  24. A guy walks into a bar and says to the bartender,
    "Excuse me, bartender, but the man next to me is a known criminal, and if you slip this vial of poison into his drink, you'll kill him and prevent dozens of deaths."
    After listening to the proposition, the bartender says,
    "Sorry. Kant."

  25. We may be using you to get the information but YOU ARE using us to get subscribers. You see that big red button with the number 9.4M written on it? That becoz of us

  26. Kant says "no God required"…. proceeds to build Kants imperative commandments ….🤔 a confused man if you ask me.

  27. Morality is common sense, whether you agree with it or not. Adultary is immoral. You may not agree that is but you should at least understand why. If you dont then you dont have moral common sense. I met a woman that couldnt understand why Catholics consider birth control immoral. You may not agree that it is but its understandable to a anyone with common sense why catholics would consider it immoral. I dont consider eating meat immoral yet I can understand why some people think it is. There's a big difference between believing something is immoral and not understanding why something is immoral. If you start with understanding then maybe you will end up agreeing.

  28. Well.. I guess Tony deserved that. He was kind of dumb, running like that outside the house with a murderer looking for him.

  29. AND…everyone thinks things through like this convoluted word-salad guy suggests. Ted Bundy must have believed in Kant's theories – because essentially, it leaves the "definition" of ought and ought not up to the individual. He – Ted – probably thought it was all good for all people to derive some sort of sexual pleasure from bludgeoning young women to death.

  30. Nazi SS Officer: Where are the Jews?
    Good guy: They are in my basement.
    Nazi finds Jews*
    Jews: wtf bro?
    Good guy: you were suppose to run away.
    Kant: reeeee

  31. "ought to get a job" I've been trying man. It's hard with a Master's degree, should have went into trades.

  32. I just discovered CrashCourse and I'm already in love, absolutely love this channel and can't wait to learn more!

  33. I lov u HanK, i was depressing about this topic and now i m so happy of finding this video, it encourages me to study harder,.

  34. First and foremost KANT was NOT an upholder of reason. His categorical
    Imperatives is telling man that he should be guided by his feelings! And, as we all know, feelings are irrational and not to be given the task of reasoning.

  35. This is how philosophy is taught. By avoiding actual reason and only showing the philosophers with detrimental ideas we all know to be impractical but never stated as such. I don’t blame hank for not knowing because he’s a scientist. However, I blame the philosophers because they are the ones that believe in this horseshit

  36. And no thanks to Hank’s brother, since he’s a hopeless sucker for irrational thoughts, whims, and loves avoiding reason at all costs. Unlike, Hank, who’s career would be detrimental if he even attempts to think like John.

  37. To prove how Kant is NOT an advocate of reason check out his ideas of a neuminal world. A make believe world where this voice comes from to tell you what to do. Absolute madness. No different than mysticism

  38. The contradiction is that if stealing is universalized, then I want people to steal from me. Stealing by definition means I don't want it.

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