Virginia Held, in her article Feminist Transformations of Moral Theory, claims that the historical groundings of the precepts of philosophy, including the sets of ethical theories and positions, and philosophy in general have been erected from the viewpoints of men and that the ideas involved are not entirely “gender-neutral” as they appear to claim themselves (Held). One can observe that throughout the stretch of the time that encompassed the early stages of philosophy up to the time of the industrial revolution and the onset of the age of globalization, men have dominated the field of philosophy.
Women in the past societies in particular were given very minimal role in social activities and endeavors inasmuch as most of these women were simply confined to their homes and their tasks were greatly deprived of social participation (Claassen and Joyce). This observation leads us to the assumption that, because of these deterring factors on the very presence of women in the society, women have also played very little part in the development of philosophy in general and the number of philosophical discussions all-over the world. The rise of feminism alongside and the shift in the patriarchal patterns that loomed over societies, however, have appeared to dissolve one by one the barriers that isolate women from having a part in the philosophical plane.
One can further analyze that Virginia appears to argue that what the philosophy we know of today is the product of the past philosophizing done in large part by men. Richard Brandt, for this matter, has principally endorsed in some of his works the idea of overcoming bias and prejudice in the very precepts of morality (Stevenson). This observation appears to relieve Brandt of the accusations hurled by Virginia towards the evolution of philosophy throughout the decades that humanity has dwelled on its rough, intricate, and oftentimes bewildering edges.
Brandt argues that passion should not be allowed to intervene whenever we are to delve into matters that concern morality for it blurs the capacity of our reason and thinking on equally significant moral issues (Brandt). If this is the case, indeed Brandt may have already swung himself off the reaches of Virginia’s accusations with regards to traditional philosophy for the reason that traditional philosophy has been seen to be relished with all sorts of manly traces. The suggestion being offered by Brandt is one that relieves philosophy of any bias towards a specific gender in any working context, one that seeks to salvage the philosophy we know today from the dregs of traditional philosophy.
However, there remains the contention that even if Brandt is arguing for an objective quest, at least in terms of the moral precepts and moral traditions that humanity has strongly held through time, the very fact that Brandt sees his world from a man’s point of view can be a point of contention. This taunts one to pose questions of uncertainty and credibility with regards to his claim of a rationalizing empty of passion and bias. If Virginia Held is aptly precise and right with her argument, it appears, then, that Brandt’s perception on philosophy and that of morality is not thoroughly empty of bias for the reason that the latter sees the world from the understanding and vision of man whereas women might have a differing view with regards to what they know of about the world they both live in.
This leads us to the assumption that, granted Virginia’s arguments are strongly founded, Brandt’s ideas and the rest of his arguments cannot entirely be empty of bias given the fact that he is a man and that a woman thinks rather differently to those of males. And there has indeed been numerous interpretations that separates from traditional philosophy, especially from a feminist approach where women are treated as individuals who also share roles in the society in general.
Capital punishment and killings in war
Capital punishment is typically utilized in order to put unlawful people before the justice system of societies and put an end to their unlawful means—and to their lives—thereby removing further instances of committing heinous crimes by the same criminal. War killings, on the other hand, are primarily taken to be understood as killings in the battlefield, especially in times of war wherein combatants or armies from the opposing sides are granted by their authorities to obtain their mission through every possible means—such as gunning down the enemy—in order to not only deter the enemy from advancing further but also to finally put an end to the enemy’s existence.
From a Kantian perspective, both capital punishment and killings in war are immoral acts in the sense that both of these essentially take away the lives of men which is, on the other hand, strictly against the moral imperatives. Basically, Kant suggests that taking away the life of another individual cannot be justified because it is not the right thing to do at whatever given situation.
Utilitarianism, on the other hand, provides us with another view that implies that both capital punishment and war killings can be morally justified given that both of these promote the general good or the greatest happiness for the greatest number of people. That is, taking away the life of another individual can be justified in the ethical issues given that the basis for the action is justifiable. And this moral theory asserts that actions can indeed be justified, specifically in the context of the measurement of happiness and its consequent effects on the welfare and happiness of the greatest number of individuals.
However, the strand of rule utilitarianism splits from this claim because it argues that rules should not be bent just for the attainment of general happiness which, in this case, is taken to mean that moral precepts and legal rules concerning life should never be flexed in order to fit the situation. Quite on the contrary, the very situations of capital punishment and killings in war should be critically analyzed based on these precepts and rules in order to arrive at the greatest happiness for the greatest number.
William Godwin is not inclined towards prejudice and thought it as the source of much that is wrong in the world as he also stressed the significant role of impartiality. The value of human life should be taken as a central part of the analysis of Godwin’s claim primarily because in order for the individual to be able to arrive at a sound judgment the individual should nevertheless take a look into the course of the years that have molded the life that he or she possesses (Monro).
Prejudice, on the contrary, creates the notion of selectivity wherein the individual may be inclined to prefer this from that or, in another context, this person from another person for a number of reasons pegged on the selective attitude of the person. Without a concern for the value of human life, it would be difficult, if not impossible, to arrive at an impartial attitude towards others primarily because without having a universal sense of benevolence towards mankind in general impartiality can hardly be attained. Hence, in order for one to be able to embrace the idea that prejudice is the source of much that is wrong in the world, one ought to be impartial both in deeds and in thoughts.
With a firm consideration on the value of human life among all of humanity, one cannot easily stray away from the holds of an impartial treatment towards other people and that one cannot straightforwardly resort to prejudice. Without having a sense of attachment towards the primacy and value of human life, it would be quite difficult as well, if not more, to act truthfully as a benevolent individual empty of prejudice in thought and deed or to at least pretend to be like an impartial individual.
Kant and Singer’s animal rights
Kant says that duty is the inevitability or necessity of functioning out of a strict observation for laws that are universal. Consequently, the worth or value of the action done by the individual in terms of moral contexts is essentially drawn from the intention of the action. Moreover, Kant’s treatment of a maxim can be briefly summarized as a given principle upon which one acts such that its nature is based on the manner in the expression of the intention.
Thus, the content of the actions in terms of intent have an important role in Kantian ethics. This content can be further expressed in two manners. The first states that there are maxims or imperatives which stipulate that there are acts based on the desires of the individual. This is what Kant calls the hypothetical imperative. On the other hand, those which are based on reason and not merely dependent on one’s desires belong to the categorical imperative. The latter type deals with what ought to be done.
All these can be roughly transposed and summarized into Kant’s conception of the practical imperative which claims that one ought to act to treat human beings as ends in themselves and never merely as a means to any given end, whether the individual is the self or another person.
Peter Singer argues that ethical precepts should be extended so that it will encompass animals as well. If this is the case, and if we are to place this in the context of Kant’s proposition, then we are to arrive at the idea that, after ethical precepts have been made to be understood to encompass animals, no one is to treat any animal as means in order to arrive at certain ends but rather as the very ends themselves. Kant would disagree with Singer in the sense that the former’s theory is anchored on the rationality of human beings whereas animals are empty of rational capacity. Singer, on the other hand, would disagree with Kant in this notion primarily because animals also have rights and that these rights should be also recognized within the ethical sphere.
Arthur, John. Morality and Moral Controversies: Readings in Moral, Social and Political Philosophy. 7th ed: Prentice Hall, 2004.
Brandt, Richard B. “A Motivational Theory of Excuses in the Criminal Law.” Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1992. 252.
Claassen, Cheryl, and Rosemary A. Joyce. “Women in Prehistory.” American Antiquity 63.1 (1998): 175.
Held, Virginia. “Feminist Transformations of Moral Theory.” Philosophy and Phenomenological Research 50.Supplement (1990): 321.
Monro, D. H. “Godwin’s Moral Philosophy: An Interpretation of William Godwin.” Ethics 64.2 (1954): 134.
Stevenson, Charles L. “Brandt’s Questions About Emotive Ethics.” The Philosophical Review 59.4 (1950): 529.