Friday, December 07, 2012

Dealing with interpersonal conflict, a Kantian perspective

Some people say that Kant's idea of duty and morals are too abstract, rationalistic, and formalistic. I would contend that they're not abstract at all, and that their rationalistic and formalistic aspects are a strength, not a weakness. Although it's more complex than this, Kant liked to boil down his moral philosophy to the phrase 'treat people as ends, not as means' (I'm paraphrasing), by which he meant that in dealing with someone you should always try to honor their humanity, always remember that on the other end of whatever it is you're putting out there is a human being who most likely shares the same aspects of humanity that you do. Kant's moral deductions from this can be seen as representative of the process of questioning the rightness of one's actions before doing something that's potentially harmful or disruptive. If you have an issue with someone, there's high emotions, and you want to find a good way of dealing with it that in itself won't make your actions in the wrong, going through a process of evaluating whether in whatever you're doing you're attacking the actions and not the person, which is what treating people as ends not as means implies, can surely help accomplish that goal.

It is rationalistic, in that it applies reason to situations that are sometimes highly emotional, and it is formalistic, in that it gives a formal way of evaluating potential actions to make them more in the right, but both of these things serve to increase, rather than decrease, the value of the approach itself.

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