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Following months of speculation (and free pre-President Trump-like publicity) in the main stream media about if / when Joe Biden would formally announce his candidacy for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President, Biden finally announced the day before Easter Friday 2019. The first thing Biden did was to hold a meeting with Comcast executives (Comcast owns CNN). The following Monday (April 22) speaking to Teamsters Temple #249, 4701 Butler St., Lawrenceville, Joe then held a rally with Firefighters in Pittsburgh PA (having earlier being endorsed on live TV on CNN by Harold Schaitberger, the IAFF's General President). At the rally, Biden described the current zeitgeist using the terminology of Immanuel Kant i.e. that workers are unfairly being ‘used as a means to an end’ and were not being treated as ‘an end in themselves’.

This was very odd language coming from Joe Biden, as any politically aware undergraduate moral philosophy student would know. Joe was forced to drop out from his first (1988) run for President due to (inter alia) having been exposed as plagiarizing part of a speech by (socialist) Labour Party leader Neil Kinnock (U.K.). So why is he now taking the liberty of borrowing from an 18th century German philosopher, in his speech about ends in themselves etc. to a firefighter’s union? Not only does such talk risk re-opening old plagiarism wounds, it is just wildly out of keeping with Biden’s political record - the opposite of Kant’s in philosophical terms.

Kant’s views about the nature of morality are put forward in his short work entitled ‘Groundwork on the Metaphysic of Morals’, first published in 1785 (the book is also sometimes referred to as ‘Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals’). Kant is the first philosopher to stress the importance to morality of *duty*, and of doing one’s duty for duty’s sake. (The term ‘deontological’ which is often used in referring to Kant’s moral theory, comes from the Greek word ‘deon’ meaning duty.) Deontological moral theories in general are in sharp contrast to consequentialist ones (e.g. which might require using someone as a means to an end - a notion that Biden brazenly claims to eschew in his speech mentioned above). For example, according to Kant, the *actual* consequences of our actions are irrelevant for the purposes of assessing their moral rectitude. His moral theory is thus in sharp contrast to utilitarianism and ethical egoism, which are both consequentialist in nature. Biden’s political history has been notoriously consequentialist, not deontological. Just like Hillary and Donald, he lies a lot. Lying is something that Kant expressly rejects but which is typically required by consequentialism. For example Biden is nowhere near the most progressive candidate for 2020, contrary to his claim that he is indeed the most progressive.

We normally think of the notion of duty as invoking specific requirements, arising due to one’s position in a particular setting; e.g. a social or economic one. For instance one has specific duties as a parent, employer, employee, etc. However, Kant’s notion of duty is much more general than this specific notion. In abstracting the concept of duty from its more usual specific sense, Kant wants to dissociate this more general notion from the idea that the reason one should fulfill one’s duty is in order that particular human social institutions can function properly.

As Richard Norman puts it in chapter six of his book ‘The Moral Philosophers’ (p.71):

‘The fulfillment of ‘duty’ becomes simply an abstract moral requirement, not something required for the effective functioning of human social institutions. Duty is to be performed entirely for its own sake, not in order to promote human happiness or fulfillment.’

When does an action have moral worth?

For Kant, for an action to have any moral worth, it must be performed for the sake of duty, and one acts for the sake of duty if one acts with the right intention or motive (i.e. one acts with a ‘good will’). To act with the right intention/motive is to do what one believes to be right simply because (one believes) that it is the right thing to do. One question that arises at this point, however, is whether Kant allows that an act can have moral worth if it is done from *mixed motives*, e.g. done because one can see that it is the right thing to do, but also e.g. because one is inclined to act like that (e.g. altruistically) anyway. Some philosophers have argued that on a charitable interpretation of Kant, he should be understood as saying that an action *can* have moral worth if it is done out of inclination, but only to the extent that it is done out of duty too. To put the same point slightly differently, it is being suggested that Kant thinks that *only if you would have done the action in question out of a sense of duty anyway* (i.e. even if you hadn’t been inclined to act like that too), can it count as having moral worth when you *are* inclined to so act.

Of course, when someone is inclined to act altruistically, it is more difficult in that situation to determine whether the act is done out of a sense of duty too. It is easier to tell that an action has moral worth when motives conflict; such that one acts out of a sense of duty even when it is obvious that one is not inclined to act like that.

For example, Biden has a history of inappropriate conduct with women: he is inclined to be a bit creepy. If Joe Biden had done more to defend Anita Hill during the Clarence Thomas Supreme Court hearings in 1991 (which he now claims would have been the right thing to do), this would have been evidence that he puts moral duty above self-interest. However, Biden “did not permit other witnesses to testify further on her behalf, such as Angela Wright (who made a similar charge) and experts on harassment” (Wikipedia on Joe Biden). Biden was Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee at the time and could have allowed Wright to testify, yet he refused (much like how witnesses were not allowed to testify during Brett Kavanaugh’s more recent Supreme Court hearing (following a hands-tied-behind-their-back one week FBI ‘investigation’)).

This is evidence that Biden is disingenuous in 2019 in letting people think that he believes that people should not be used as a means to an end. He still refuses to admit that he intended to do anything wrong, regarding Anita Hill. He clearly did not intend to do what is morally right with respect to the Kantian view he now professes to espouse.

Similarly, Biden claimed to be pro-choice in the face of recent (May 2019) attempts in southern states (Alabama in particular) to outlaw virtually all abortion. Those against abortion are hoping that this issue will eventually come before the Supreme Court (which currently has a conservative majority). If Biden’s political voting record had clearly showed he was in favor of pro-choice despite his personal Catholic religious views, this would have been evidence that he regarded it his moral duty to promote the (constitutional, secular) idea of a woman’s right to control her own body, despite personal religious self-interest (i.e. being prevented by the Catholic hierarchy from talking at Catholic schools etc.). Biden wants to pretend that a reconciliation between a secular and non-secular (Catholic) view of morality is possible.

As he has explicitly claimed - he thinks life begins at conception but doesn’t want to (federally) impose that view on you. That claim was less than convincing since Biden has voted in Congress that individual states should have the right to overturn Roe v Wade. Biden thus is ok with state legislature imposing their views on abortion (just like Trump) whilst appearing to be in favor of abortion at the federal level. You can’t consistently be in favor of pro-choice in one state but not in another. Biden fails the Kantian ethics test here - if something is morally permissible in one context, it’s permissible in all similar contexts.

Consider also whether he passes the moral duty test on the issue of gay rights as a Catholic, or on a bold plan to combat climate change as a corporatist whose first act the day he officially announced was to meet with Comcast executives? As an African-American, do you think Biden’s crime-bill was motivated by his sense of moral duty or rather political self-interest?

Kant gives the example of a shopkeeper’s honest treatment of her customers to illustrate his point about the importance to morality of particular actions being done with the right motive. He isolates three different motives which might underlie the shopkeeper’s overt, outward behavior towards her customers. First, the shopkeeper’s motive might be self-interest; her honesty might be explained by the fact that she thinks that by treating her customers fairly, her business will benefit. Secondly, the shopkeeper might treat her customers honestly due to inclination to treat them like that – she might just enjoy being honest for example. Third, the shopkeeper may act as she does just because that’s what she thinks one ought to do, morally speaking. Only if the shopkeeper acts with this final sort of motive does her behavior towards her customers have any moral worth, Kant thinks. (One may personally like someone because of their philanthropy, but this has no bearing on whether their action has any moral worth, thinks Kant. Similarly, although it may not necessarily be wrong to act out of self-interest, such a motive is not morally praiseworthy, in Kant’s view.)

So, in order for an act to be morally right, it must be done with the right sort of motive. However, this is not all that is required; an act must also be morally permissible in order for the act to be morally right. Kant claims that we can discriminate between morally permissible and impermissible acts by subjecting the acts in question to a test – that supplied by the categorical imperative.

Kant’s categorical imperative

There is, strictly speaking, only one categorical imperative (three other formulations are allegedly derived from this one). It can be stated as follows:

Act only on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

(‘Act only so as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other, never solely as a means but always also as an end.’ derives from the above main categorical imperative according to Kant.)

Kant claims that moral requirements are categorical, i.e. unconditional, strictly binding, and independent of our interests or projects, applying equally to everyone who can act morally – they are objective in that sense. He contrasts categorical imperatives with hypothetical imperatives, which are conditional upon our interests and desires. For example, the following is an instance of a hypothetical imperative:

If you want to become President of the United States of America, you should lie about your past and be vague about your future policies

Note the conditional form of the imperative (‘imperative’ means ‘command’). *Given the hypothesis* that you want to get to become President, then you should lie. But if you don’t want to become President, no reason has been given why you should lie. If I’d made the above conditional statement to you, but it turned out that you weren’t running for President, then I should be required to *withdraw* my claim that you should lie.

However, Kant thinks that moral requirements are not hypothetical, but are rather categorical in nature. Moral requirements are not conditional upon our particular goals or interests, only binding on us assuming the hypothesis that we happen to want certain things. On the contrary, moral requirements (e.g. ‘you ought to tell the truth’) are supposed to provide us with *a reason for acting* (e.g. telling the truth, keeping promises etc.) *regardless* of what our goals, desires, or interests are. Moral requirements are categorical, claims Kant, involving imperatives of the form ‘you should do X!’.

Kant’s main categorical imperative involves some rather technical terminology. One important term which appears in it is ‘maxim’. We can understand a maxim as a subjective general principle or rule, which we take to justify an action in a particular case. For example, if I (as President of the U.S.A.) want more money for my billionaire friends and can get some by throwing thirty million people off their health insurance, then I will do so even though I know I have no health insurance alternative for the thirty million people in question. My maxim in performing the act of asking for the money could be stated as follows:

Whenever I want money for my billionaire friends and can get it by throwing 30 million people off their health insurance, then I will do that even though I know I haven’t got any health insurance alternative for such people (I lied about promising them a better insurance plan).

The maxim is general, since if I adopt it, I commit myself to behaving in the described way *whenever* I want money (as President) and the other conditions are satisfied – i.e. not just in this one case. Since money is debt, I can run up debt with other countries e.g. China, depending on the U.S. military to prevent me from having to pay back that debt. So if I want more money for my billionaire friends I will lie about there being a need for a war in Iraq (promoting Halliburton stock like Dick Cheney did) or Iran, North Korea. etc.

The essence of Kant’s main categorical imperative is that whatever I (e.g. as President of the U.S.A.) consider doing, in order for it to be morally permissible, it must be something that I could consistently (i.e. without contradiction) accept that all (e.g. American Presidents) do.

Application of the categorical imperative

According to Kant, we have a duty to refrain from making lying promises, a duty to refrain from suicide, a duty to develop our talents, and a duty to help others. Just considering the first of these four examples, Kant thinks that an action is morally permissible only if its underlying maxim can be willed to become a universal law. So, in particular, the action of making a lying promise is only morally permissible if its underlying maxim could be willed to become a universal law. In the case of the President of the USA, the maxim could be stated as follows:

When I want money (for me and my friends) and can get some by borrowing it on a false promise, then I shall borrow the money and promise to repay, even though I know that I won’t be able to repay (but the U.S. military will ensure that I won’t have to repay).

However, if one attempts to will that this maxim could become a universal law (i.e. that the maxim is generally applicable), one attempts to will the following:

Whenever *any* President wants money for himself / herself and friends and can get some by borrowing it on a false promise, then he / she will borrow the money and promise to repay it, even though he / she knows that he / she won’t be able to repay (but the U.S. military funded by your taxes will ensure that he / she won’t have to repay).

Kant would argue that if the individually applicable maxim were to be accepted as a universal law, applying to any President, the possibility of gaining an advantage from one’s own act of lying as President would be undermined. For if the maxim were universally accepted, no one should believe that whenever some other President promised they would pay back some money, that they were being told the truth. But a necessary condition for the success of one’s own lie is that it *is* believed. So to will that everyone accept this maxim would be to will a situation in which gaining money from the act of making a false promise is impossible. No one should be foolish enough to lend someone else money on the basis that the other person promises to pay the money back, if everyone accepts that anyone can promise to pay back money even when they have no intention of doing so.

Kant thinks that if one tries to will that the above maxim be universally accepted, one can see that one can’t do it, since one would be willing that everyone can act according to that maxim, and make lying promises to try to borrow money, but in doing so one would also be willing a situation in which no one could make lying promises to try to borrow money. (A necessary condition for making a lying promise is that it is believed, but this is precisely what is being ruled out by willing that everyone can make lying promises.) Since this is so, says Kant, no one can consistently will that the maxim underlying making such a lying promise could become a universal law. So according to the categorical imperative, making such a lying promise is not morally permissible.

Kant had not foreseen the American corporate main stream media propaganda machine, whose function it is to fool you into believing the lies of politicians, especially with regard to war.

Bernie Sanders’ record, rather than Joe Biden’s is one of acting from a sense of moral duty. Unlike Biden, Bernie has put moral duty before self-interest his whole life in fighting for progressive issues and policies when it was unpopular to do so e.g. opposing regime change wars, espousing a minimum livable wage, advocating true Medicare for all, free college tuition, criminal justice reform, bold action on climate change etc.

Joe Biden is not a Kantian, despite his Pittsburgh speech writers’ claims to the contrary. He is another ethical egoist (just like Hillary and Trump) who think that lying (or anything at all) is morally acceptable if it furthers their own (i.e. their corporate donors’) political interests.

Jake Tapper of CNN introduces this next vid claiming that Joe Biden is towering over Democratic competitors for the party’s nomination for President in Spring 2019. That claim was based on skewed polls in which the views of Democratic Party voters under the age of 50 were not represented, whilst the views of such voters older than 50 were over-represented.