Question any claim to a universal truth, it could be wrong.
I attended a philosophy talk in Colchester this morning, and Immanuel Kant was the principle philosopher used in the topic on respect.
Mentioned in this talk was the idea by Kant of the “categorised imperative”, a commanding rule that applies to all situations. One example I had problems with was used in relation to lying. According to Kant it is good to be truthful, and this must apply to all situations regardless of circumstance.
In the talk an example was given of the murderer who comes to the door asking for a person you are hiding. According to Kant you should not lie to the murderer, but it appears okay to mislead, for instance to tell the murderer that the hidden person was seen by you earlier that day in the market, since that was where you met them in reality.
I think many people in the room had problems with this idea by Kant, I certainly did. I went on the attack in the question and answer stage of the talk on three points:
The Jew and the Gestapo
Kant is German, and two hundred years later his countrymen produced the Nazis, a group who desired to exterminate Jews. I gave the example of twenty Jewish children hidden in the basement, the Gestapo are at the door asking if there are Jewish children hidden in the house. The Gestapo are known to be intense in questioning, thus it is unlikely that many individuals can be clever enough to mislead the Gestapo and keep to Kant’s principle of being truthful. To tell the truth to the Gestapo would be a death sentence to both the Jewish children and the one hiding them.
Kant as the universal authority
To accept the universal law to always be truthful is to accept that Kant is a supreme authority. Is there a greater authority than Kant, and can Kant be in error? Kant is influenced by his protestant faith in coming to his laws, he could be challenged on the grounds of bias, error, and that there are higher authorities than him, for instance his god.
Do unto others as you wish done to you
A fairly universal principle shared amongst a number of philosophies and religions is to treat others as you would like to be treated. Would the person hiding the Jews wish to be betrayed if he was the Jew being hidden on account of a misguided rule? This principle conflicts with Kant’s rule, which principle is right?