11 May, 11 | by Iain Brassington
So… I’ve been writing a paper on Kant, the basic thrust of which is to assert the importance of respect for autonomy over and above respect for persons. (That is, I think that Kant thinks that we ought to respect persons because they’re autonomous; this is in contrast to the modern idea that we ought to respect autonomy because it’s a property of persons.) But the journal’s word limit has meant that I can’t fit some bits in – so I’ll shove ‘em here instead.
One line I’ve had to drop has to do with what seems like a blind-spot in the Categorical Imperative (or “another blind spot”, if you’re that way inclined). If there is only one CI (and Kant claims that there is), and if the CI mandates respect for autonomy (and he claims that it does), there ought to be a way to say that any wrong action is a violation of respect for autonomy, either in oneself or others. (If we couldn’t tie all wrongful actions to that, there’d have to be more than one principle of morality.) Correspondingly, any claim that an action violates respect for persons, on the reading of Kant that I favour, would have to be translatable into a claim about it failing to respect autonomy. But there are some times when Kantian respect for autonomy looks quite weak in comparison to a “respect for persons” claim. Take, for example, recent* controversy about Christian doctors demanding the right to ask patients if they can pray for them. I think that such an offer ought not to be made. Part of my objection has to do with respecting the integrity of the patient, and I guess that this has some kind of relationship with a claim about respect for persons. However, I’m really struggling to see how this could be substantiated by means of an appeal to autonomy. So if respect for autonomy is fundamental to morality – as I think it is for Kant – the offer would not violate the duty. Since I think it does, I must think that, at least, there is something missing from Kant’s account.
*Blimey. It’s not as recent as I thought.