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Kant famously argued that lying under any circumstances is morally wrong, since you cannot consistently will for everyone to lie or make false promises [see 4:403]. The maxim that one ought always tell the truth and keep one’s promise, however, can be universalized and thus follows directly from the categorical imperative. So, moral law requires that one ought always tell the truth, i.e. it is one’s duty to be truthful.
After reading the relevant sections from Kant and watching the “Jewhunter” scene from Inglourious Basterds. Develop clear, concise, and thoughtful responses to the following three prompts:
Consider the situation in which Perrier LaPadite finds himself, as portrayed in the scene from Inglourious Basterds. He is housing a Jewish family, the Dreyfuses, under his farmhouse in Nazi-occupied France. Col. Hans Landa, the so-called “Jewhunter”, and his SS search team visits the LaPadite home to seek out Jewish “enemies of the state”. If the moral law requires that one tell the truth, should Perrier tell the truth? Is it really morally right to help the Nazis by telling them the truth?
This problem (sometimes called the ‘Murderer-at-the-door’ problem) purports to be a counter-example to Kant’s categorical imperative—by implying an exception to one’s duty to be truthful. How should the Kantian respond to this problem? Are there conflicting duties in this case? Does Kantian Deontology as a moral framework have any other resources (besides the duty to truthfulness) at its disposal in order to explain away the purported counter-example?
Kant actually anticipated a version of this problem and addressed it in an essay entitled, “On the Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives”, in which he argues that if we lie to prevent a murder, we are legally and morally blameworthy for any ill effects that follow from the lie (since we broke the moral law). He claims, “If by telling a lie you have prevented a murder, you have made yourself legally responsible for all the consequences; but if you had held rigorously to the truth, public justice can lay no hand on you, whatever the unforeseen consequences may be. After you have honestly answered the murderer’s question as to whether the intended victim is at home, it may be that he has slipped out so that he does not come in the way of the murderer, and thus the murder may not be committed. But if you had lied and said he was not at home when he had really gone out without your knowing it, and if the murderer had then met him as he went away and murdered him, you might be justly accused as the cause of his death. For if you had told the truth as far as you knew it, perhaps the murderer might have been apprehended by the neighbors while he searched the house and thus the deed might have been prevented. Therefore, whoever tells a lie, however well-intentioned it might be, must answer for the consequences, however unforseeable they were.” Do you think this is a cogent response to the problem? Why or why not? Are there any morally significant differences between the Nazi-at-the-door scenario and the murderer-at-the-door scenario
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