13
Jul
10

Unconditionality

For the third seminar in the Summer Series, I presented a paper on “Unconditionality”. (The paper can be downloaded here: Paper2010SummerSeminars.) We had about 40 minutes for discussion, and then we continued to debate various issues in Le Cafe. To illustrate the idea of unconditionality, I used Kant’s famous example in “On a supposed right to lie from philanthropy”: in Kant’s account, “it would be a crime to lie to a murderer who asked us whether a friend of ours whom he is pursuing has taken refuge in our house”. (8: 425)

Among the many interesting and useful questions I received, I paste below a set of issues raised by Dr Giuseppina (Josie) D’Oro, who emailed it to me after the seminar:

Suppose that somebody opened the window by raising their arm. Then we ask them: what did you do? I think the correct answer would be “I was opening the window” rather than  “was raising my arm” because, after all they could have opened the window in other ways, e.g. pressing an electric switch”. And if they said “I was raising my arm” they would not really provide an answer to the question.  If actions cannot be picked by specific bodily movement, nor by the series of bodily movements leading up to them then perhaps there is a parallel in Kant’s case. There are lots of different ways in which one can act on a maxim and if the agent’s motive was to act on the maxim of saving lives then perhaps the informative answer here would be that he/she was saving somebody, not lying. After all, suppose I am hiding my friend’s lover in my house and her husband comes along to knock at my door with an axe. And suppose that I let him in and he nearly manages to kill my friend’s lover. Somebody could reasonably ask me: “why the hell did you tell him her lover was here? Did you want to get him killed?” Somebody in other words, could legitimately ask me whether it was my motive to have the lover killed (rather than simply telling the truth!) and my action counted as facilitating murder!


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