After Kant: Autonomy

The Importance of Dignity & Choice

Lesson Objectives

Appreciate the problem of Moral Monism endemic to Kantian Deontology

Appreciate the benefits of seeing moral duties through a pluralist lens

Understand how the Philosophy of Autonomy changed after Kant

Appreciate how we define Autonomy in a Contemporary Framework

Understand the various preconditions for Acting with Autonomy

Understand the moral values of Respect and Consent in a Modern Context

Key Terms

Monism & Pluralism

Prima Facie Duties

Moral Autonomy

Moral Competence


Monism: Kant's Problem

Kantian Deotology: Clear & Objective

• Kantian Deontology more clear than Aristotle (virtue) & Aquinas (natural law)

     • Duty-based ethics applies to everyone, regardless of circumstance

     • Objective and easier to apply to a wider range of issues

     • Moral laws are universal and unchanging

• Kantian Deontology emphasizes our moral obligations

     • Actions have moral worth when done from a sense of duty

     • People are obligated to act in ways that respect the moral law

• Kantian Deontology shows massive respect for human autonomy

     • People are rational beings with inherent worth and dignity

     • They should be treated as ends in themselves, not as means to an end

     • People have the freedom to choose and act on their own moral beliefs

     • Moral autonomy requires people to take responsibility for their actions

What about Conflicting Moral Duties?

• Kant's emphasis on duty and universalizable maxims leads to conflicts

• Examples of Conflicting Moral Duties in Deontology

     • Lying to save a life vs. telling the truth to authorities

     • Respecting patient confidentiality vs. warning others of danger

     • Keeping a promise vs. revealing a friend's infidelity

     • Following orders vs. upholding civil rights

How to Resolve conflicting Moral Duties in Deontology?

     • Kantian Deontology provides no clear resolution

     • Alternative ethical frameworks like Moral Pluralism may offer solutions

Monism & Pluralism

Moral Monism: there is one overriding rule about morality (eg. Cat. Imperative)

     • Monism claims our absolute moral rules are fundamental

          • So: Do I tell the truth, or lie to the authorities to save a life?     

     • Monism is unable to deal with moral contradictions

     • We need more nuance than just "a duty to be honest" no matter what

Moral Pluralism: there are multiple moral goods, so a plurality of moral values should be simultaneously considered when making moral decisions

     • Pluralism simultaneously considers multiple moral values

     • Pluralism is flexible, offering a context-specific approach to ethics

     • No single ethical solution will satisfy every moral obligation