Home Others Categorical Imperatives and the Case for Deception: Part I.

Categorical Imperatives and the Case for Deception: Part I.

The history of the categorical imperatives

The idea of ​​categorical imperatives was first introduced by Immanuel Kant, an 18th century philosopher. He is best known for his philosophical works, Critique of Pure Reason and The metaphysics of morality, among other. As outlined in the video above, Kant is best known for his ideas about the unconditional moral obligation of a person, known as the Categorical imperative . Kant defines categorical imperatives as commandments or moral laws, all persons must obey,regardless of their wishes or extenuating circumstances. As morals, these imperatives are binding on everyone. One of Kant's categorical imperatives is that Universalisierbarkeitsprinzip , in which one “should only act according to that maxim through which one can at the same time want it to become a general law. In layman's terms, this simply means that if you take an action, then everyone else should also be able to do it.

In Kantian philosophy, a truly good deed is one that can become a universal law; a purely selfish act cannot by nature be generalized and therefore does not exist in a Kantian universe. This principle has merits from an ethical point of view, and IRB assessors constantly weigh proposed activities in research studies and their risk to human participants against precedents from previous studies. In addition, the IRB strives to keep its researchers to the same standards, which leads to the creation of institutional and federal guidelines. However, there are cases in which the universalizability principle does not always apply.

Review of the principle of universalizability

In theory, the universalisability principle sounds like a good idea. But what if you want to break a moral law for a good cause?

First, imagine a world where every action is generalizable; any action can be replicated by anyone. For example, if a person stole an item and got away with it, all items can steal the same way with no effect. Follow this logic to the end and you would have a world of constant theft and some serious trust issues! In this case study, Kant's universal law as the basis of morality is logically founded; the universalisability principle would eliminate petty theft, which society recognizes as morally wrong.

Now imagine that you are under a principle of universalizability, about which no one could lie. Sounds great at first. Sellers would need to speak openly about their products, even if they were secondary, and people would not be able to lie about crimes they have committed. But what about white lies? ? For example, you might not surprise a friend with a party; Instead, you'd have to be upfront and tell the truth to ruin the surprise! If you take it a step further, you might know that a friend was keeping a new relationship a secret from an angry ex-partner. The ex-partner confronts you and asks if the boyfriend started dating anyone. You know that if you tell him the truth, the ex could try to sabotage your boyfriend's new relationship.

Kant would argue that according to the principle of universalizability, you cannot lie to your friend's ex because this act is inherently selfish and therefore not generalizable. Instead, Kant suggests two options: refusing to answer the question or telling the truth. According to Kantian law, you would not be responsible if the ex-partner wanted to ruin your friend's relationship because the ex acted outside the principle of universalisability (attempted sabotage). Ouch!

This is a pretty grim situation and provides evidence of how Kantian logic falls outside social norms. However, this example works well for a discussion of research regulations regarding deception in research studies and case studies. This ends part one of the categorical imperatives and the case for deception for the time being; Next week we will examine how deception plays out in research settings and how IRB assessors and ethics researchers can justify cases where they deliberately deceive participants.


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