The Kantian Slaveholder

Immorality is not reducible to inconsistency:   a Kantian can consistently own slaves as long as he doesn’t believe that they are ends in themselves.

If this isn’t the final word, we must distinguish between actual consistency and what we can call ideal consistency, concede that the Kantian slave-owner is actually consistent, and maintain that he is ideally inconsistent.

It is easy enough to make the distinction and the concession but we cannot show that he is ideally inconsistent.

To prove that the Kantian slave-owner is ideally inconsistent despite being actually consistent, we must establish both 1) that he morally ought to believe, or logically must believe, or willy-nilly ends up believing, and 2) that what he believes ought to be true, or must be true, or willy-nilly ends up being true.

The reason we must establish both is that someone can maintain actual consistency either by failing to add an inconsistency-causing belief to his repertoire or by adding its negation.  This is a general point about consistency. For any consistent set of propositions and for any proposition that would render the set inconsistent if it were added to the set, the consistency of the set can be maintained either by not adding the proposition at all or by adding its negation. This set is consistent: {If we are in Saskatoon, we are in Saskatchewan; If we are in Saskatchewan, we are in Canada; We are in Saskatoon}.  Adding “We are not in Canada” would render the set inconsistent.  We maintain consistency if either we don’t add “We are not in Canada” or we do add “It is not true that we are not in Canada.”

But it is impossible to establish both that the Kantian slaveholder ought to believe and that his beliefs ought to be true on the ground that he would be inconsistent unless he believed and unless his beliefs were true.  You need some other grounds to prove that he ought to believe and that he ought to believe truly.  There is the same problem with the logical and causal options.  Therefore, immorality is not merely inconsistency.

Some try to appeal to the contention that beliefs necessarily aim at the truth.  But it will not get us what we need. First, it does not show that the Kantian slave-owner ought to believe, must believe, or willy-nilly ends up believing the relevant propositions.  Second, even if he has a propositional attitude that is like a belief in all other respects but that does not aim at the truth, it does not follow that it is a defective belief that ought to be replaced. What follows is that either it is a defective belief or it is a perfectly good specimen of a different kind of thing – it is impossible both to use an essential property to categorize things and to use its absence to criticize the same things.  But if we can’t establish that it is a defective belief, we can’t establish that it ought to be true.

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