Kant’s categorical imperative states that we must behave in such a way that our behaviour can be elevated to universal law or rule. We do good when we help an elder cross the street because we adopt a supposedly objective moral law (“it’s good to help destitute people”), which is glimpsed and embraced by our reason. Since this law is universal, it doesn’t matter whether the elder is a war criminal or he or she is attempting to stab a person across the street: our action would be good in any case. The ethics of Königsberg’s philosopher is absolute, whereby every human life is an end in itself (not animal one, which would not be moral for supposedly lacking rationality). So categorical imperative, by definition, cannot be relativized: without it, the basics of ethics would be completely subjective and arbitrary.
However, simple practical reason tells us that there is no commandment, not even the “thou shalt not kill”, that can be raised to absolute moral law: killing, stealing, or lying would not be bad per se, but depending on which moral purpose they are bound to. When someone kills in self-defense, or to defense innocent third parties, acts morally good. When someone kills a tyrant, does a favor to humanity (even St. Augustine agreed to this, and he has not been yet rectified by Catholic Church). When someone steals to feed his or her hungry child is performing a morally right act (as long as violence is not disproportionate). When someone kills an animal for food, because he or she has no other source of livelihood, you cannot oppose an animalist ethics to him or her. It is even untenable to affirm that eating human flesh is inherently bad: for the Uruguayan sportsmen lost in the Andes almost half a century ago, eating the flesh of their deceased friends was a good deed that saved their own lives. Of course, lying is the right thing to do when survival and well-being (for example, if a member of Islamic State asks you for your religion), the happiness of your loved ones, or any other moral asset is at stake. Continue reading “Why killing is not ‘per se’ evil? (much as Kant turns in his grave)”