Saturday, August 13, 2005

Kant and Armstrong

That is Immanuel Kant and Lance Armstrong. I think that Kant would not be pleased seeing all these people walking around with "Live Strong" bracelets. I assume Kant would say that all these people's charity would have no moral worth as it was given to get a bracelet, and not really for giving charity. After all, how many people would have given charity if it were not for getting the bracelet? For Kant, you see, your motive is very important.

And it should be obvious why motives are important. If you think you are giving money to the KKK, and by accident you addressed your check to the Starving Children in Nebraska Fund, you are still a prick, even though your money went for a good purpose. That is because you intended you money to go to a bad place. So what you intend really does matter.

Of course in our case the money still seems to go to charity, and there is nothing wrong with wanting to be trendy and wear a bright bracelet, but Kant would have a problem looking at it as a good moral act.

Of course, on a deeper level, one might want to say that the bracelets are not worn to be trendy, but rather as an attempt to psychologyically coerce others to give to charity. After all, everyone knows that people aren't very bright, and they tend to just want to do what other people do, so if everyone openly claims (by wearing the bracelet) that they gave money to a charitable organization, and thus gets others to do it, then perhaps some moral worth can be salvaged from this after all. But not for most people.

Mill, I assume, would ask if the money could have been spent elsewhere in a better way. He would also ask if the money going to the Chinese who make the bracelets is actually helping or hurting the people of China. He would ask if the bracelets are good or bad for the environment. He would want to know if the money is going to somehwere that has any hope of helping people who have cancer. He would ask what value we put on the coolness factor of having the bracelets. He would also ask how much better people feel when they make fun of people who wear the bracelet. He would ask how good it feels to condescend to people who don't. Then he would try to add up all of that in terms of how much it helps and hurts humanity. If it helps more than it hurts, then he would look at it as a good thing. If it is discovered that in the long run humanity is actually harmed by them, then he would find it bad.

2 comments:

Eli7 said...

Well, I think you're right in your analysis of Kant; I certainly don't think he would care for the bracelets.

But I think you put a lil too much on to Mill. Utilitarianism is about utility which may or may not be what is best for humanity. And it would probably depend on what type of Utilitarian you were, but I doubt all those questions would be covered by any one type.

But all the same, interesting thought; I never really thought to think of the bracelets in moral terms.

Shosh said...

The bracelets are ugly, don't ask me how they became popular. :)
Not that there could ever be a consensus jewishly but I think there is a stong stream of thought that would disagree with Kant--It doesn't matter why you give, but that you give. And if you just keep giving, eventually it will be for the "right" reasons. So just do it and figure out the why later. I'm not saying I agree, I'm much more into informed and meaningful doing, but some people a lot smarter than myself are of the other opinion. Mill sounds dry, is he?