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Kantian Ethics and the End in Itself

The idea of the categorical imperative formulated by Immanuel Kant is based on four specific principles, and the principle of ends is one of them, in addition to the principle of universalizability, the principle of humanity, and the principle of autonomy. The purpose of this paper is to explain how this principle can be applied to the situation when leaders treat their subordinates rather unethically.

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The problem under consideration is the following: the man obtaining a higher position offers his female subordinate the promotion in exchange for oral sex. In this context, it is important to answer the question of whether this man has treated the woman as a Kantian end in itself or he has failed to treat the woman like that. The position that is argued in this paper is that the boss has failed to treat the woman as the end in itself because he regarded her as means when making an offer and hoping she can accept it.

The discussed leader does not regard the female subordinate as the end in itself because he perceives her rather as means. It is possible to assume that the purpose of the leader’s offer is his desire to initiate sexual relations with the woman against her will and with the help of his power and role in their organization. Kant’s principle is based on the idea that “rational nature exists as an end in itself” (117). Thus, according to the philosopher, “every rational being exists as an end in itself, not merely as a means” (116). In this context, each rational human being should be regarded as having the value in itself, and his or her desires are equally important to other people’s ones. When offering the female subordinate the promotion in exchange for oral sex, the boss accentuates only his desires and will, viewing the woman only as the source of satisfying his interests and wishes.

Furthermore, it is also possible to state that the boss tends to objectify his female subordinate depending on her gender. In this case, he regards her rather as an object than a rational human being who has her own will, desires, and interests. According to Kant, in contrast to humans who are the end in themselves, there are also objects of inclinations or goods and things. Thus, “All objects of the inclinations have only a conditional worth; … the inclinations themselves, as sources of needs, are so far from having an absolute worth” (116). Applying this idea to the discussed scenario, it is possible to note that the boss perceives the woman as the object of his inclination to address his needs, and her perceived value is conditional rather than absolute. As a result, her opinion regarding the situation is not discussed because, using the lenses of the leader, she cannot have her own opinion and dignity.

In order to ensure that the boss does not makes similar offers to other women in the organization, it is necessary to discuss his perspective regarding the absolute and conditional worth of people around him. It is possible to assume that the boss is inclined to regard only his person as having the worth, and his views are based on the subjective vision and analysis of the situation. The problem is that the man does not perceive his female subordinate as an object of respect, according to Kant’s terminology. Thus, following Kant, “rational beings are called persons because their nature already marks them out as an end in itself, that is, as something that may not be used merely as a means, and hence so far limits all choice (and is an object of respect)” (116). The question is whether the described man perceives the woman as a rational being or rather as a means, and the possible answer is that he does not regard her as an independent human being with free will.

The nature of the offer allows for a conclusion about the boss’s position and views regarding the question. Thus, it is important to state it again that, when making this unethical offer, the man accentuates his intention to regard or use his female subordinate “merely as a means” (Kant ///). From this perspective, the boss has failed to treat the woman as the end in itself because of his perception of her as the source for addressing his needs, as not the absolute worth in itself, and as means for satisfying his desires.

Now, it is important to define Kant’s principle of ends in order to continue the analysis of the situation for the purpose of explaining its ethical nature. Thus, Kant formulated the practical imperative in the context of the categorical imperative to accentuate the practical nature of explaining people’s actions. The following imperative was proposed: “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” (117). The analysis of the discussed situation indicates that the boss has failed to address this imperative because he did not treat the subordinate needing the promotion “as an end” (Kant 117). Instead, one can assume and provide evidence to the fact that he treated her “as a means” (Kant 117). The man was concentrated only on his personal will and desire, ignoring the interests of the subordinate and selecting an unethical path of interacting with the woman.

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The problem is that it is possible to be sure that the boss did not want to be treated as a means by other people. In this context, he also violated the principle of objectivity associated with applying the principle of ends. According to Kant, the formulated principle is both subjective and objective in its nature if this law is followed by all people (117). This means that all people should treat each other persons with their free will, desires, as well as needs. On the contrary, the described leader is inclined to ignore this principle and perceive himself as the end in itself and the woman as the source or means for realizing his desires. For the man, the discussed woman is the object whose worth cannot be comparable to his own.

It is accentuated in the description of the situation that the woman is not attracted to her boss. As a result, she does not regard the situation as the possibility to satisfy her needs and interests through accepting the man’s offer. This fact can be used as evidence to state that her free will and interests could be violated due to the boss’s inappropriate treatment. In this context, it is critical to focus on one more reformulation of the main idea proposed by Kant. Thus, “A human being, however, is not a thing and hence not something that can be used merely as a means, but must in all his actions always be regarded as an end in itself” (117). If a woman does not want to have sexual relations with her boss, but she can be made to have oral sex with the man because of his powerful position, it is possible to state that her rights are violated. As a result, she is not treated as the end in itself, and she needs support to overcome this situation.

The philosopher also explains that there are also situations when false promises can be made. The described scenario can also be discussed in the context of such a situation. The reason is that there are no guarantees that being used as a means, the woman can be promoted by her boss. Thus, Kant claims, “For, he whom I want to use for my purposes by such a promise cannot possibly agree to my way of behaving toward him, and so himself contain the end of this action” (118). This means that both parties need to agree on their actions and view each other as ends in themselves in order to achieve the agreement in an ethical context.

It is possible to conclude that the discussion of the situation with reference to the writing by Kant indicates that the boss has failed to treat the subordinate as the end in itself. Thus, this argument is effectively illustrated with the help of the examples that were taken from the work by Kant and that serve as evidence to support the ideas presented in this paper.

Work Cited

Kant, Immanuel. “The Good Will and the Categorical Imperative.” The Ethical Life: Fundamental Readings in Ethics and Moral Problems, edited by Russ Shafer-Landau, 3rd ed., Oxford University Press, 2013, pp. 107-119.

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