Our personal relationships with intimates--family, friends, and significant others--are an important part of our lives. This intuitive importance gives rise to a tension between moral theory and personal relationships that such theories should respect and, ideally, resolve. An adequate moral theory should acknowledge the value we place on personal relationships while also recognizing their limits. This requires that a moral theory be able to explain both of the following: 1) our obligations to intimates and to strangers, and 2) the moral failings particular to personal relationships, such as domestic violence. Though they meet these requirements, impartial moral theories like Kantian moral theory have been criticized for failing to account for the value we place on personal relationships and actions done for intimates. As an alternative, some philosophers have turned to an ethic of care, where the central value is the care given in personal relationships.
Against critics of impartiality, Kantians have responded that Kantian moral theory does not exclude personal relationships and that we are permitted to act for reasons that come from personal relationships, like love. In this dissertation, I argue that their defense does not show the true importance of personal relationships in Kantian moral theory. After closely examining the Categorical Imperative as explained in the Formulation of Humanity as an End and the Kantian concept of respect, I argue that Kantian moral theory in fact requires us to give intimates special consideration.
With this understanding of Kantian moral theory, I defend a general duty of beneficence. The special consideration we give to intimates does not, under Kantian theory, come at the expense of our obligation to strangers, as it does in an ethic of care. Fruthermore, Kantian moral theory can account for the difference between the types of domestic violence outlined in the sociological literature. An ethic of care cannot give such an account. Because of this, Kantian moral theory offers more guidance regarding our moral responsibility as a society to stop domestic violence. Thus, Kantian moral theory more adequately explains our obligations to intimates and strangers than does an ethic of care.
University of Minnesota Ph.D. dissertation. December 2008. Major: Philosophy. Advisors: Michelle Mason and Sarah W. Holtman. 1 computer file (PDF); vii, 202 pages.
Bramer, Marilea Elizabeth.
Taking relationships seriously: the place of personal relationships in Kantian moral theory.
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