I once took a class: Introduction to Philosophy. I was studying in Madrid, Spain, at the time, and figured it’d be a good opportunity to do something new. So I enrolled.
The class was in Spanish. My Spanish was okay, but nowhere near the level needed to understand what’s going on in Philosophy. What I also didn’t know is that classes in Spain are a little bit different than in Germany.
45 minutes of lecture, 45 minutes of discussion. The lecture wasn’t too bad. But when we got to the discussion part, it got nasty. Three people yelling at the same time, and the one who was yelling the loudest was right. Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to Spain.
I threw the towel after three classes. No way I was gonna understand anything. Maybe philosophy wasn’t for me.
Since then, I tried my hand at Seneca and Marcus Aurelius, but neither caught me really. Maybe I’m still too young for this shit — you know, kind of like I’m still hoping to grow a beard and eventually be able to enjoy whisky.
And then, this weekend, I read about Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy.
Of course, I didn’t read Kant himself. I had Mark Manson do it for me, explaining Kant using burritos. If you do one thing, read this blogpost. It’ll be worth your time.
Manson points out that the one rule for life is:
“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.”
In English: never use a person to achieve something, but always relate the final goal to that person.
Let me give you an example: say I wanna go into management consulting, and I know someone who works at the consulting firm I would like to work it. It’s a person I do not particularly care about, but have known before, and I want that job. So I shoot that person a message if they want to grab a beer. The person might think it’s about personal reconnection, but in reality it’s just because I want a foot in the door. Therefore, I’m using this person as a means to an end (getting the job at the consulting firm).
Which, according to Kant, is unethical.
The same is true when you’re selling something. You tell a person all kinds of things, but in the end, you’re not really interested in the person — you’re interested in the sale. Which also would be unethical, since you’re using the person as a means to an end (making the sale).
Note: if Kant endorses capitalism or not is a discussion in itself that I won’t go into. Check out Mark Manson’s article for that — he does a lot better job at explaining this.
Now, those scenarios are pretty clear. But what happens if the sole purpose of existence of a person is to be used as means to an end?
When I do sales, I talk to secretaries a lot. I’m not particularly interested in the secretary, I just wanna talk to their superior. So, according to Kant, I’m using this person as a means to an end.
But that’s the exact point of the secretary’s existence: to be used as a means to get to the superior person. They’re the gatekeeper.
The same is true for prostitutes: when you go to a hooker, you pay for sex. You’re not interested in the person (unless you’re one of those dudes who fall in love with a hooker and keep coming back three times a week), you’re interested in the sex. Therefore, you’re using the hooker for sex. But that’s the exact point.
Is this still unethical?
In general, learning about Kant’s model of morality has caused quite the shift in thinking for me. It’s a great mental model for making ethical decisions.
But it’s not black and white — some scenarios are highly complicated. That’s not a bad thing. After all, people who studied philosophy in university need to get paid too.
And it’s nice to wrap your head around concepts like this sometimes.
After reading this article and having an avid discussion with a very good friend, I realized that philosophy might not be so bad after all. I’ll keep you posted. But one thing’s for sure: I’m definitely not going back to that Spanish classroom.
What do you think? Let me know in the comments! And if you want to read more of my stuff, follow me on Medium or check out my website. Thanks for coming here. Have a great day!