Globalisation and Global Justice

In the article “The Problems of Global Justice” Thomas Nagel looks at two theories of global justice and assess their feasibility. The two theories he looks at are cosmopolitanism and the second which he dubs political conception and which is exemplified by Rawls’ theory presented in the book “The Law of Peoples”. Nagel briefly brings up cosmopolitanism and goes into greater depth with political conception in defending it as a theory of global justice. He favours the political conception theory of justice because among several things he thinks that it is “probably correct.”[1] He recognizes however that there may be a problem with Rawls’ unwillingness to extend his difference principle beyond the borders of the nation-state. This difference principle states the following: Social and economic inequalities are to be arranged so that they are to the greatest benefit of the least advantaged, consistent with the just savings principles.[2] Nagel mentions “The accident of being born in a poor rather than a rich country is as arbitrary a determinant of one’s fate as the accident of being born into a poor rather than a rich family in the same country.”[3] The natural question that arises is, why not extend the difference principle to include all countries? Nagel’s defense of the position not to extend the difference principle globally seems to be based on the idea that we owe stricter obligations to our fellow citizens than we do to strangers. According to Nagel, we should be partial to those closer to us than to strangers or those living outside our borders. Citizens of a nation, he would suggest, are bound together in a way that they are not with people in other countries. Justice, in this sense, is therefore not a cosmopolitan virtue but rather it is a political one that is owed to everyone within a common sovereignty.[4] In many ways, Nagel’s article is an attempt to defend John Rawls’ restrictive scope of global justice. This paper is thus a collection of possible responses to Nagel’s article “The Problem of Global Justice”. Provided are responses from the possible perspectives of Peter Singer, Kok-Chor Tan, and John Rawls.


After reading “One World: The Ethics of Globalization” by Peter Singer, and knowing a little about his moral viewpoint on several issues, I think it is safe to say that his response to the Nagel article would be rooted in a utilitarian philosophy. Singer, in his book, extends the idea that everyone should count as one and only one a core tenant of utilitarian thought and that this idea should hold true for everyone in the world. One can infer from his writing that he not only strongly believes that distance is irrelevant when considering ethics but also, he seems to argue, that national borders are not necessary or relevant when discussing ethics. We find this idea in the title of his book, with the emphasis on “One”. I believe that Singer’s response would consist of favouring impartiality over partiality and in extending our concept of nationalism to consider the entire world as one nation. Both of these aspects of the response are closely related.

In presenting Singer’s response on the issue of whether we should be impartial or partial when determining the scope of justice, it is important to look at what he says on the matter. The main focus of the debate over whether we should be impartial or partial to strangers revolves around the ideas that such thinking has a self-evident and intuitive appeal which we should take to mean that they are correct. Singer rejects this jump from being self-evident and intuitive to being a correct belief.

In Singer’s response to the “self-evident” view that we have special obligations, based on partiality, to those nearer to us including our compatriots, he uses two quotes. One of the quotes is by Henry Sidgwick, the other by Heinrich Himmler, and they show that the self-evident nature of the claim that we have partial and special obligations to those nearest to us, is not the type of claim that would lead us to accept such a view as right.[5] Singer would reject the notion that someone’s being nearer holds any special obligation in that, as already briefly mentioned, distance is irrelevant when it comes to morality. Singer arrives at this through the analogy of a small child drowning in a shallow pond. He suggests that if a person sees a small child drowning in a pond and can save the child at little cost to himself/herself, there is a moral obligation to do so. He extends this it to children in developing nations, believing that if we can save them with little personal cost, we are morally obliged to do so. Distance is irrelevant and we should be impartial towards it. “Geographical proximity is not in itself of any moral significance…”[6]

What has been disputed over time is not that the distance is of moral significance but rather thatwhat is of moral significance is the fact that those children in other countries are strangers, and we should not have equally strong obligations to them as we do our own children. Instead it is argued that we should have stronger obligations to our own children.[7] A look into this idea of partiality towards one’s own family and friends is best summed up in the following passage:

“Modern critics of impartialism argue that an advocate of an impartial ethic would make a poor parent, lover, spouse, or friend because the very idea of such personal relationships involves being partial toward the other person with whom one is in the relationship. This means giving more consideration to the interests of your child, lover, spouse, or friend than you give a stranger, and from the standpoint of an impartial ethic this seems wrong.” [8]

The intuitive appeal to favouring family and friends over strangers is very strong. It is the same intuitive appeal that we found in the Sidgwick and Himmler quotes. The appeal of something is not in itself strong enough to adopt it as practice. Rather, Singer writes, “Taking an impartial perspective shows that partialism along racial lines is something that we can and should oppose because our opposition can be effective in preventing great harm to innocent people.”[9] Through all of this Singer sticks to impartialism over partialism as the one to favour when looking at global justice. Even though there may be some instances when we feel an intuitive appeal to the idea of favouring one’s own family and friends over strangers, Singer ultimately believes that at a critical level impartialism is sound.[10]

I think Singer’s response to the Nagel article with respect to whether we should be impartial or partial when dealing with global justice would be summed up in the following statement:

Although there are seemingly self-evident arguments and an intuitive appeal to believing that we have greater obligations to those we know than to those we do not, such arguments and appeal have in the past lead to great travesties. As we see with Sidgwick and Himmler, favouring one’s “own” over others can open up a dangerous pathway which may lead to racism or worse, genocide. Thus, we do not have stricter obligations to our family and friends than we do to strangers when we think critically on the matter. This goes against Nagel’s position, but with regard to the issue of global justice, we must take a stance of impartiality towards people.

This response of Singer’s, however, is not entirely complete. It would seem that this impartiality should extend to the relations between patriots and foreigners and would lead us to question, if not reject, the whole idea of nationality. We find evidence of impartiality between patriots and foreigners when Singer mentions, “When subjected to the test of impartial assessment, there are few strong grounds for giving preference to the interests of one’s fellow citizens…”[11]

Furthermore, Singer would like us to think of the world as one nation. He refers to Benedict Anderson and his idea that a nation is an “imagined political community”.[12] We are, in a sense, a part of the community in which we imagine ourselves to be a part of, not necessarily the one which we are really a part of. From this he asks the question, “Should we not consider ourselves perhaps as part of an “Imagined community of the world?”[13] There are two quotes which make it clear that in response to Nagel, Singer would not be interested in national boundaries and would rather take the position that in regards to global justice, ethics must transcend borders. The two quotes are following:

“Imagining ourselves to be part of a national community seems fine when we think of it as broadening our concerns beyond more limited tribal loyalties, but it is less appealing when we think of it as erecting fences against the rest of the world.”[14]

“That, as much as anything, tells us how far we still are from having an ethic that is based not on national boundaries, but on the idea of one world.”[15]

I think at this point I have made it clear what a response from Singer to Nagel’s article would look like and consist of. He would be in favour of impartiality rather than partiality and furthermore, would try to extend our conception of nationalism over the entire world.

In Thomas Nagel’s article favours the Rawlsian political conception over cosmopolitism.[16] I would like to take Kok-Chor Tan’s response to the article as a defense of the cosmopolitan conception over the political conception and focus on two aspects of it. Under the political conception, there is a value attached to borders, whereas under the cosmopolitan conception borders are seen as something which should be transcended if possible. The second aspect I would like to highlight for the purpose of discussion is the focus under the political conception of the state rather than the individual. As a part of Tan’s response, I shall give reasons which I believe Tan would give, as to why we should focus on the individual rather than the state.

Cosmopolitanism views the individual as the ultimate unit of moral concern and this concern is to be equal among individuals, irrespective of nationality or citizenship.[17] Tan’s book “Justice Without Borders” is aptly named, reflecting his view that cosmopolitan justice is a normative idea that “cosmopolitan justice is justice without borders.”[18]

Where Nagel, going along with the political conception, views national borders as something which may be barriers to global justice, Tan would argue that they are not obstruction and should rather be transcended.

“…principles of distributive justice ought to apply equally and impartially to all persons and ought not to be constrained by the borders of countries.”[19]

“The cosmopolitan idea of justice, as I am defending it, holds that distributive principles are not to be constrained or limited by state or national boundaries.”[20]

As we can see from Tan’s writings, his response to a position where national borders are taking into consideration as a restricting factor would be to dismiss such claims and to reiterate that with global justice, borders should not be restrictive.

The second part of Tan’s response would be centered on the idea that we should focus on individuals and not on the state as Nagel would have us do under the political conception. This idea that global justice should be centered on the individual rather than groups of individuals, or the state, is clearly as cosmopolitan a notion as we find in cosmopolitanism. Under Cosmopolitanism, there is the held idea that the individual is the “ultimate unit of moral concern”.[21] Tan would argue that of the two theories, cosmopolitanism and the political conception, it is cosmopolitanism that is “More plausible and consistant with our modern sensibilities about the moral relationship between individuals and collectivities.”[22] Furthermore, it is the pain and suffering of individuals which move us to correct global injustices.[23] Therefore, a morality of the individual is better than one of the states because a morality of the states has considerable metaphysical burdens of proof attached to it,[24] and because a “morality of states” approach does not go far enough if we are interested in improving individual lives.”[25]

In summary, Tan’s response would be that instead of taking the political conception as the one which is “probably correct”, he would take the cosmopolitan approach as the one which is “probably correct”. This is because if we are serious about alleviating the problems faced by individuals, we must remember that it is their pain and suffering which has led us to discuss global justice in the first place, then we must base our ethic on the individual and not on the state. Furthermore, each individual in the world should count and the justice we endorse should be one which transcends borders.

I have left the response from Rawls to the last as it is one of the three responses about which I have the least to say. I believe Rawls would, for the most part, agree with what Nagel has said regarding the issue of global justice.

Whereas both Singer and Tan would like to see a push for the difference principle being used globally, Nagel sides with Rawls in stating that it should not be extended. Nagel seems to think that the reason behind not extending the difference principle is because we form a special bond with our own members which we do not do with foreigners. “Justice is something we owe through our shared institutions only to those with whom we stand in a strong political relation.”[26] Rawls would state that there are three main reasons why the difference principle should not be extended. First is the idea that each society has the potential to realize justice. Secondly, the difference principle is based on individual a notion which is liberal to human nature. Thirdly, global inequality is based on people’s own decisions.[27]

Another aspect of Nagel’s political conception which I think Rawls would very much agree with is the fact that it is not centered around the individual as the unit of moral concern as it is with both Singer and Tan. Nagel notes that as members of liberal societies, our obligations to members of other societies is not direct but is rather “filtered” from our relation to them between the two societies.[28] This is very much in line with Rawls’ notion that our obligations stem from our separate societies and that these, not individual members, are the relevant units of moral concern for international morality.[29] Because Nagel’s political conception is so closely in line with Rawls’ own thinking, I am left to think that Rawls would not have a great deal to respond to except in agreement. As Singer notes on the issue, “Rawls believes that well off societies have significant obligations toward struggling societies, but there is a lack of focus on obligations toward individuals who are currently destitute in other countries.”[30]

To summarize Rawls’ likely response to Nagel, I think he would add a few reasons why the difference principle should not be extended to the one Nagel provided, and he would agree that it should be societies and not individuals which are the moral units with which to work.

To conclude I would like to briefly summarize the three responses. Singer’s response would favour impartiality over partiality and would seek to extend our concept of nationalism to include the entire world. Tan would state that it is the individual and not the state which is of concern to us and that each individual should considered with justice transcending borders. Rawls, I believe, would very much agree with Nagel but would add several reasons as to why the difference principle should not be extended beyond the state. He would also agree that it should be societies, not individuals, which are the moral units of concern.

[1] Nagel, Thomas, “The Problem of Global Justice”, Philosophy and Public Affairs 33:2 (2005) pg.126

[2] Tan, Kok-Chor, “Justice Without Borders, Cosmopolitanism, nationalism and Patriotism”, Cambridge University Press, (2004) pg.62

[3] Nagel (2005) pg.119

[4] Nagel (2005) pg.121

[5] Singer, Peter, “One World”, Yale NB, (2002) pg. 154

[6] Singer (2002) pg.166

[7] Singer (2002) pg.158

[8] Singer (2002) pg.158

[9] Singer (2002) pg.163

[10] Singer (2002) pg.192

[11] Singer (2002) pg.180

[12] Singer (2002) pg.170

[13] Singer (2002) pg.171

[14] Singer (2002) pg.171

[15] Singer (2002) pg.195

[16] Nagel (2005) pg.126

[17] Tan (2004) pg.1

[18] Tan (2004) pg.1

[19] Tan (2004) pg.4

[20] Tan (2004) pg.19

[21] Tan (2004) pg.1

[22] Tan (2004) pg.36

[23] Tan (2004) pg.36

[24] Tan (2004) pg.36

[25] Tan (2004) pg.37

[26] Nagel (2005) pg.121

[27] Collste, Goran, Lecture “A Theory of Global Justice”, (2007) Slide 3

[28] Nagel (2005) pg.134

[29] Nagel (2005) pg.134

[30] Singer (2002) pg.176

Quaker Oats and U.S. Atomic Energy Commission

Hello Ethics Nutters,

I’ve only recently become aware of the Quaker Oats U.S. Atomic Energy Commission study on disabled children. Very strange that I have not heard about it earlier. It’s less about the radiation and more about the history of using children in research that were in care homes for the disabled (e.g. Willowbrook).

A history of exploiting vulnerable populations for scientific research.

You can read an article about it here:

All the best,


Mandating Elective Single Embryo Transfer: Should Ontario and the rest of Canada follow Québec’s lead?

Rather than include this short brief in my Writing Samples, I thought I would just post it here as a blog post. It was written in 2012 while I was working under the direction of Dr. Kerry Bowman (Bioethicist at Mount Sinai Hospital).

Mandating Elective Single Embryo Transfer: Should Ontario and the rest of Canada follow Québec’s lead?


This brief addresses the following question:

Can we nationally or provincially say we are going with single embryo transfer, is it justifiable?


Before In-vitro fertilization (IVF) couples who were infertile were left with few options, typically only that of adoption. With the introduction of IVF those same couples now have a chance at conceiving a child of “their own”. As such, IVF has been heralded as a major breakthrough in the health sciences. Despite its popularity there are major concerns associated with IVF derived from the practice of implanting multiple embryos at a time to increase the chances of conception. With multiple implantations the odds of having twins and triplets are greatly increased. However, unlike what has been often covered in day-time talk shows, these pregnancies are not always the blessing of a large family which they are shown to be. Typically, multiple births including that of twins are fraught with a higher risk of premature birth, cerebral palsy, respiratory diseases, blindness, deafness and death.

With the costly complications of multiple births, many countries have developed state funded policies of IVF which incorporate in them that IVF coverage is to be done with elective single embryo transfer (eSET). With eSET the chances of a multiple pregnancy are drastically reduced. These policies ensure that IVF is available to all in need while at the same time take into consideration, unlike the private sector, the costs both economic and emotional of multiple births.

Despite a positive outlook in countries such as Sweden, Canada (with the exception of Québec which has been publicly funding IVF treatments since August of 2010) is one of the few developed countries not to fund IVF. The program in Québec includes an eSET policy and is said to result in savings for Québec tax payers due to an 83% reduction in multiple birth pregnancies (27.2% to 5.2%): 77% fewer twins (twin gestation rates have dropped from 30% to 3.8%) and 95% fewer triplets. Additionally, there are approximately 1,368 fewer low-birth-weight babies. With Québec being seen as a success by many in the healthcare community through published articles supporting its implementation, the question raised is whether other provinces such as Ontario should follow Québec’s lead.

A new survey has shown that regardless of political affiliation, Ontarians support OHIP coverage of IVF. Three-quarters of Ontarians polled 25 years and older support a policy of funding IVF similar to Québec’s. With Ontario having one of the highest rates in the country of multiple births through IVF, and a need to control healthcare costs, Ontario should realize that what has worked in Québec can work in Ontario. Through OHIP funding for IVF the rate of multiples and their high cost to the healthcare system can be reduced. An expert panel came to the conclusion that the province could save $400-$550 million in healthcare costs over the next 10 years by a policy of eSET, largely through the reduced number of multiple births.

One concern with the policy in Québec is that eSET is seen as decreasing the chances of a couple having any child at all. At the moment the high cost of the procedure encourages implantation of two or more embryos in an attempt to maximize the chances of conceiving. This is in spite of the substantial medical risks for their babies and themselves. The largest trouble with an eSET policy is the parallel 40% drop in pregnancy rates. An eSET policy translates into not only fewer multiple births but fewer births altogether. For those who want to get pregnant as quickly and cheaply as possible, there seems to be good reason still for allowing the old method to continue. This would avoid an apparent penalization of many couples not being able to have children and who can afford IVF treatment as it is now offered.

Another concern is that an eSET policy similar to that of Québec’s interferes with the patient’s right to self-determination or “to choose”. This is equally true to the real risks of multiple births borne by the patient and child. The decision it is said rests with the patient not the government through an intrusion into healthcare decisions. As implemented in Québec there may be room for exemptions to eSET, where doctor-patient decision making has deemed a deviation appropriate. This would seemingly address the self-determination objection to a reasonable point by offering “wiggle room”.


The objections raised are solely for those who can afford the treatment. By disallowing an Ontario policy similar to that of Québec’s however, the objections raised by those who cannot afford IVF as things now stand but would be given access under a change, are not given precedence. In 2008, Ontario formed an 11-member expert panel on infertility and adoption with the objective to report on fertility treatments and to find ways to make it more accessible and affordable. A year later the panel reported that OHIP should pay for three IVF cycles for Ontarians under 42 seeking treatment.


When one weighs the economic and emotional costs of IVF as it is now practiced in Ontario with the costs of eSET and accompanying reduction of multiple births, we come to the conclusion that as fertility experts are saying, eSET is the way of the future. Consideration is to be given to the fact that some may in the end not conceive. At the same time equal consideration must be given to those who cannot currently afford IVF treatment. An even greater consideration absolutely must be given to the reduction of multiple births and the associated emotional and economic costs they bare. Looking at emotional suffering alone and forgetting about economic costs, it is important to note that the emotional suffering of those who have tried eSET and remain unsuccessful does not outweigh the equally real suffering of infertile people who cannot afford IVF treatments along with the emotional trauma which can be accompanied by multiple births.


If all of Canada implemented a policy similar to Québec, there would be as many as 840 fewer babies admitted to the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit, 40 deaths would be avoided, there would be 46 fewer brain injuries, and a total of 42,400 fewer days of NICU hospitalization. Such a policy saves lives and money wherever it is implemented.


Due to the tremendous reduction in multiple births and the economic and emotional costs associated with them, in addition to the emotional costs associated with being unable to afford IVF treatment, we can justifiably say that Ontario should implement an IVF policy similar to that of the one Québec did in August of 2010.

Eliminating Illness

Hello Ethic Nutters,

As some may be aware as covered in the news ( scientists are taking increasingly important steps towards eradicating inheritable diseases.

Should we be worried though that one day traits like baldness, shortness, albinism etc. will also be eradicated as what is defined as a healthy human becomes increasingly sculptured?

Although it may, there is ample time between now and when that stage would be reached to implement clear regulations on what we can allow and what we cannot.

While this news article may cause a knee jerk reaction in some…we are going to fast yank on the breaks…I see it as another opportunity to highlight the fact that this technology is real, and the discussions on how it will be used need to happen and happen right now.


Andrew the Ethics Nut.

Lecture by Bertrand Russell on Individual and Social Ethics

Following up from my last blog, I’ve stumbled upon a lecture by Bertrand Russell (part of a series of lectures) first broadcast by the BBC in 1948.

It’s interesting to hear his teachings directly from him.

At only a little less then 30 min, it’s interesting and definitely time well spent.

To view the video, posted by TruthTube1111 on YouTube CLICK HERE

Russell’s Ruminations

Some cynical words of wisdom from Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970), a philosopher, mathematician, and Nobel Prize-winning author.

“I would never die for my beliefs because I might be wrong.”

“It has been said that man is a rational animal. All my life I have been searching for evidence to support this.”

“We still tend to think that a stupid man is more likely to be honest than a clever man.”

“Science may set limits to knowledge, but should not set limits to imagination.”

“The universe may have a purpose, but nothing we know suggests that, if so, this purpose has any similarity to ours.”

“A life without adventure is likely to be unsatisfying, but a life in which adventure is allowed to take whatever form it will is sure to be short.”

“Every man is encompassed by a cloud of comforting convictions, which move with him like flies on a summer day.”

“Anything you’re good at contributes to happiness.”

“Fear is the main source of superstition, and one of the main sources of cruelty. To conquer fear is the beginning of wisdom.”

“To fear love is to fear life, and those who fear life are already three parts dead.”

“Freedom is the absence of obstacles to the realization of desires.”

“If all our happiness is bound up entirely in our personal circumstances, it is difficult not to demand of life more than it has to give.”

“It is preoccupation with possessions, more than anything else, that prevents men from living freely and nobly.”

“I think we ought always to entertain our opinions with some measure of doubt. I shouldn’t wish people dogmatically to believe any philosophy, not even mine.”

Citation: “Russell’s Ruminations.” Uncle John’s Endlessly Engrossing Bathroom Reader. Ashland, OR: Bathroom Readers’, 2009. 334. Print.

Defining Good in Abstraction

What good actually is might best be described as that which within oneself generates positive externalities outside oneself which has a greater tendency to promote the same form of positive externalities amongst those experiencing the initial externality than it would to promote negative externalities amongst the same individuals, as the initial externality ripples through both time and space. One draw back of this description is that it implies that good is dependent upon an intangible relation to and existence of others. A being thus cannot be good in and of it self but rather must be contrasted with that of another being in determinations of good. This unfortunately does not seem to be avoidable. The level of abstraction here is such that it may be easier to merely consider it, indefinable for brevity as G.E. Moore puts it, and it is certainly in and of itself, un-analyzable.

Doktor Kuckenmeister’s Gruesome Experiment

Herr Doktor Friedrich Kuckenmeister conducted a pioneering medical experiment on a prisoner awaiting execution. He persuaded the prison authorities to allow him to feed the unfortunate man a soup made from meat laced with cysts. Six weeks later the man was hanged, and when he was cut down, Kuckenmeister performed an autopsy. He found the man’s digestive tract riddled with tapeworms, confirming his suspicions that cysts in animal carcases formed part of the lifecycle of these parasites. Had the condemned man been allowed to live, the tapeworms would have grown and grown, feeding on his digested food, and might have reached a length of 30 m (100 ft).

Source: The Totally Useless History of the World by Ian Crofton pg. 229.

Research Bias

I’ve come across a TED Talk when searching for interesting video’s to watch on research ethics. I found this interesting talk by Garry Gray.

The talk is about the ethical dilemmas that professors face and whether they face an increased risk of bias for those who fund their research.

It’s an interesting short video for the weekend.

Here’s the link:

Have a great weekend,


Comments on ‘Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason’

In Religion Within The Boundaries of Mere Reason Kant puts forth the idea that for someone to be moral they must come to this decision on their own as totally free individuals and be moral for moralities sake alone. They cannot decide to be moral because they want to make other people happy, rather they must be moral because they understand it is the right thing to do and only for this reason. There is a problem that arises from this line of thought however which is if what Kant is arguing is true, it would seem that there is no need for the church, he even states that morality has no need for the church. Despite this, Kant involves himself throughout the book with the church. In this paper I will look at what role the church and other individuals could possibly have in relation to another person being moral, under Kantian thinking, and whether or not this is reasonable and consistent.

For Kant people are not innately evil, rather people are evil because they are not reasoning properly. People do not reason properly when they are among other people in a society. Kant believes community life encourages people to be immoral. “Envy, the lust for power, greed, and the malignant inclinations bound up with these, besiege his nature, contend within itself, as soon as he is among men.” (Kant pg. 85) Kant is saying that society attacks people in such a manner through, envy, greed, and the like, that people are pushed into immoral activity. For Kant, as I see it, for someone to be held morally accountable they must be able to act against their desires to be considered free and thus morally culpable. (Kant pg. 16) Someone whose nature is being besieged does not sound like someone who is free to me. Not only this but since it is in human nature to live in a society how can humans be expected to act in a moral manner if their natural instincts are taking them in the opposite direction. Not only do people have their own instincts pushing them to act immoral but also while in a society they have social factors pushing them to act immoral according to Kant. There are several problems I believe that arise from this. First of all if we are not acting in a free state then we should not be held morally accountable and secondly if society is causing people to be immoral how can we become moral while still living in a society and not resort to living solitary lives in the wild.

In response to the first problem Kant would say that we are in the end making these choices with our own free will, although through faulty reasoning, and as a result of being free while doing immoral acts people should be held morally responsible. Although it is true that in the end we are the ones to make the choice, immoral ones at times, it is an unreasonable burden. I take it to be equivalent to saying that if someone chooses to commit a robbery because they were being threatened, they are acting immoral. This is not right. The person acting immoral would be the one pushing the other into the act of robbery. If someone is unable to act against their desires and thus cannot be moral, as Kant asserts early in the book, it should follow that someone cannot be immoral under pressure. To be moral, whether good or bad, requires being in state of freedom. Kant is inconsistent when at one time he asserts that one needs to be able to act against their desires to be moral, and then now stating that regardless of the overwhelming desires from society, which our own instincts lead us to, we can be moral because in the end we are the ones making the final choice. Whether we are morally accountable under overwhelming pressure, Kant seems to waiver. Which ever is the case though there is still the problem that it does not seem like we would ever be able to be moral while living among men.

What role can the church help people to become moral, especially if, as Kant believes, society leads people to be evil and the church is a part of society? Kant would state something along the following. That society does not have to lead people to be evil that is merely the way it is now. There can be ethical communities in which people act in a universally ethical way bound through reason. The aim of the church Kant believes is to achieve such a society and it is the process of getting to this state which the church can help others. The church can act as a support group in a sense, by providing guidance to others on reasoning. This would be the extent of the churches ability; they could not tell people how to act for instance. The church for Kant is around to facilitate people to reason about their moral behavior through scripture and prayer so that they may come to their own realization that they should act morally for moralities sake. The church as a religious institute Kant does not care much about, and believes the only faith that matters is a moral one.

Kant divides faith into two types the Ecclesiastical faith which is visible in the institutions of churches, and a Pure Religious faith. The pure religious faith Kant deems as the real religion, an invisible one, inside of each person. One main reason for splitting the two apart is because Kant does not see anyway of knowing externally what God would want. So the only way of knowing what God would want is through something which every person has, and that is the ability to reason. Each person can reason what is right and wrong and each person can reason that they should be moral simply because being moral is good. According to Kant this is what God would want, for people to be moral, no more, no less. Ecclesiastical faith on the other hand goes along with the typical human thought that God wants more than merely doing what is moral, He would want things such as thanks for example. The problem with this as Kant sees it is that there is no way of knowing that God wants thanks or that good wants people to eat only certain things on certain days for example. In addition to not being able to know these, believing that God wants more than for people to just be moral to one another can easily lead the church to have the same problems which society in general has. Competing for example even if it is competing to be the most moral, it is morally wrong. Even though the Ecclesiastical faith has its problems Kant believes that each one has in it human moral reason which is simply buried by differing amounts of scripture and such, and the faith of Pure reason, the only true faith to Kant, can be cultivated in a sense from each of these other faiths. Kant believes we can deal Ecclesiastical faith to get to the real faith, the faith of pure reason. The reasoning behind this is that each of these faiths must have had at the base a desire or goal to be the religion of pure reason, each founder of these religions Kant assumes must have had it in their mind to aim for the faith of pure reason whether they knew it or not. This is a very bold statement on his part and he does not really support it.

The role of the church under Kantian thinking is hard to pin point. Most of the time he states that we do not need the church to be moral, religious, and do what God wants us to do. Other times though he asserts that we can use the church and through careful examination of scripture by people with strong moral fortitude we can come to the real religion of pure reason. The relationship between the Ecclesiastic faith and the faith of pure reason seems awkward at best. In one hand Kant is saying that we do not need Ecclesiastic faith, and in the other he is saying because a lot of people do not know to be moral on their owns Ecclesiastic faith will help them to reason, so that they can be moral. Although this is not an inconsistency it is certainly breeching on it. In addition if people in general do require the church to help support them to be moral it does not seem that they are doing it on their own, a requirement for Kant in order to be moral.


  1. Kant, Religion Within The Boundaries of Mere Reason (Cambridge University Press)