Tapestry of Faith: What We Choose: An Adult Program on Ethics for Unitarian Universalists

Alternate Activity 2: Thinking Further about a Rules-Based Morality

Part of What We Choose

Activity time: 20 minutes

Description of Activity

Use this activity as an extension of Activity 4, Kant's Moral Law.

Introduce the activity with these or similar words:

Believing that moral rules need to be universally applicable, Kant arrived at some interesting conclusions about the nature of humanity. Kant believed that human life was inherently worthy of dignity and respect. As such, he felt it was immoral to use any human being as a means to an end. If such behavior were universalized, he argued, it would result in the dehumanization of our entire species; we would all interact with one another for the sole purpose of achieving our own ends. We would not look at one another as persons, but as instruments of gratification. Kant wrote, for example, that prostitution was immoral because a human being was used as a commodity or "thing" rather than recognized as a person. Another example of using a person as a means to an end is befriending someone not because you like them, but because that person has status and power and can be of use to you. Kant had strong moral objections to this and any behavior in which a person was objectified, used, and not treated with respect and dignity.

Invite participants to consider ways in which they are in relationship with others exclusively as a means to an end. Examples include store clerks, gas station attendants, doctors, and other people we depend on for certain services. Invite participants to brainstorm as many examples as possible.

Lead a discussion using the following questions as guides:

  • Is it morally acceptable if some of our relationships serve solely as a means to some end?
  • If so, what distinguishes morally acceptable relationships from other such relationships that might not be morally acceptable?