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Exploring Whether All Morality Should Reduce To Respecting Autonomy

1684 words - 7 pages

Kantian Ethics states that all morality can be reduced to respecting autonomy. This theory has faced criticisms as well as support. Its most plausible idea is that autonomous agents are capable of making their own decisions and even if their choices may not be the best for them, these choices should be respected. However, criticisms of this theory include concerns such as 1) respecting autonomy is not equivalent to respecting the autonomous agent, 2) the theory does not concern (or concerns very little) with non-autonomous agents such as children and non-human animals, 3) it is implausible that respecting autonomy is the only factor determining morality, and 4) respecting others’ autonomy does not follow from respecting one’s own autonomy. And despite counter-arguments to these concerns, I will present that it is implausible that all of morality can be reduced to respecting autonomy of autonomous agents.
Kant defines morality as a law for rational beings, for which freedom is a property of. And because rational beings have the idea of freedom and act under this idea, they are regarded to have practical reason and be capable of making independent judgements and imposing the moral law on themselves, which he defines as moral autonomy. This theory is also supported by Kant’s The End-In-Itself Formulation of the Categorical Imperative, where he states that people’s rational nature is never a means to an end, but an end in itself. This implies intrinsic value to autonomy and emphasizes respect to this sole significant moral factor. However, respecting autonomy is not necessarily equivalent to respecting the agent and their choices. In Kant’s argument of disallowing suicide, he declares that suicide disrespects one’s own autonomy by bringing an end to it. This seems to imply that autonomy is almost like a precious jewel in your possession that must be protected. But, isn’t this not why we should respect autonomy? We should respect autonomy because we respect that person’s thoughts and decisions, not because autonomy by itself is a precious material.
Additionally, although it makes sense that agents with practical reasoning capabilities may deserve respect for their decisions, it does not follow that agents lacking the capabilities deserve no respect. Kant’s theory suggests a mere indirect duty to non-autonomous agents such as children, non-human animals, and the intellectually disabled. This indirect duty arises from the probability that if we are cruel to non-autonomous agents, we are likely to be cruel to autonomous agents. This is a very weak argument because it states that if cruelty to non-autonomous agents were not likely to make us cruel to autonomous agents, then there is no further issue with disrespecting the non-autonomous which is problematic.
It is also problematic that Kant reduces all of morality to respecting autonomy, which can be seen as a type of duty to fulfill. He does not imprint any value on care, love, beneficence, fidelity,...

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