Jodi was explaining to me this evening that ethicists find fault in Kant’s categorical imperative, the first formulation of which is (if I’m paraphrasing correctly) that you should act in a way in which you can will everyone else to act. The problem, they say, is that Kant forbids lying because nobody really wants to live in a world in which everyone lies.
This prohibition on lying, they say, fails a common-sense thought experiment. If you were hiding a family from Nazis (it’s always Nazis with these people), and you answered the door to find an SS officer who asks you if you know where the family are, most people would say that it’s right to lie in this circumstance, whereas Kant would identify the act as lying and conclude that it’s wrong to lie.
But I think this analysis misframes the scenario. There’s no reason to focus on how well your answer to the SS officer corresponds with fact, or with your best knowledge of fact (whether or not you are lying). I would call this action “working to stop a genocide” (in a broad sense), or “preventing murder” (in a more specific sense), and I can easily will that everyone would act in these ways.
I suppose I’m not the first to think of this defense, but I’d love to hear from anyone who has some idea about Kant. Am I being reasonable here?