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What does Immanuel Kant say about using people? 

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dawhit | Student, Undergraduate | (Level 2) Honors

Posted June 28, 2013 at 4:43 PM via web

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What does Immanuel Kant say about using people? 

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pohnpei397 | College Teacher | (Level 3) Distinguished Educator

Posted June 28, 2013 at 4:59 PM (Answer #1)

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The answer to this can be found in Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (this work’s title is translated in a number of other ways as well).  It is found in the second formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative.  In this formulation, Kant tells us that we must

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.

What this means is that we must never simply use people.

To treat a person as an “end” means to treat them as if they were important for their own sake.  To treat a person as a “means to an end” is to treat them only as a tool.  When we treat people in this way, we are essentially saying that they are only valuable as a tool that we can use to achieve something that we want. 

For example, let us say that I tell my wife that I love her.  If I tell her that because I care about her and want her to be happy, I am treating her as an end.  I am thinking of what is good for her.  Now imagine that I tell her I love her simply because I want to placate her so that she will be willing to let me spend the weekend hanging out with my friends.  Now, I am no longer treating her as an end.  I am using her feelings as a tool to gain my own happiness. 

Kant says that treating people in this way is immoral.

 

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