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Kantian Hangover

Over at Crooked Timber, there's a discussion of the German Federal Constitutional Court's case on shooting down hijacked airplanes:

In the UK we are being treated to a rich and enjoyable series of programmes on Justice featuring Michael Sandel . No doubt there will be quibblers, but I think he’s done a great job so far. Last night’s episode discussed Bentham, Kant and Aristotle and, for my money, both utilitarians (in the shape of Peter Singer) and various German Kant-fans came across as slightly unhinged. The moment that most summed this up, however, was discussion of the German Constitutional Court’s Kant-inspired dismissal of a law that would allow the federal authorities to shoot down a hijacked airliner destined to crash into a city with catastrophic loss of life. Judgement here . According to these Kantians, even if the passengers are doomed to die in the next few minutes and shooting-down the plane will save many lives on the ground, to attack the airliner would show a lack of respect for their human diginity, purposiveness, endiness etc. and so is forbidden. For me, that looks like a reductio.

A comment:

[I]t’s at least not at all obvious that Kant would require the decision the German court suggests here. I’ve only skimmed it, but the idea that, in such a case, the government would be “intentionally” killing the innocent passengers is at least not obvious, and I don’t see why Kant would have to accept that, so it seems more the reasoning of the court that’s to blame than Kant here. (I’m not sure that Chris is saying otherwise.) The court seems to suggest that either we are merely doing a crass utilitarian balancing of lives here or else we must say this course of action is completely impermissible, but that’s just wrong (and not something Kant is committed to, I think.)

As an American lawyer, however, what interests me is that the case could be brought at all. I’m not a huge fan of the rules of standing in the US, but I’m fairly sure that here the people who brought the complaint would not have had standing to do so, and in this case that doesn’t seem an unreasonable outcome.

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