Criteria Arguments for Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative



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Lincoln Douglas

Negative Arguments
Resolved: It is morally permissible to kill one innocent person in order to save more innocent people.

Criteria Arguments for Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative


  • “Act so as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of another, in every case as an end and never as a means.”

  • Our actions should not use individuals as means for our own ends, but rather to treat all others as ends in themselves.

  • The consequences of an action cannot determine the rightness or wrongness of the action; if the act is immoral it cannot be permissible, even if it produces a good result.

  • Morality is a priori, it should be considered before experience.

  • The moral law of the categorical experience explains that we should “Always act in such a way that the maxim [the principle] determining your conduct might well become a universal law.” If there is even one situation in which killing one innocent person in order to save more innocent people is immoral, then it is always immoral.


Possible Arguments for Contentions


  1. Outcomes Are Rarely Known

    1. The basis of the resolution and the Affirmative case is that we can foresee the future to determine whether an action is right or wrong. For example, that a person who does cancer research will be successful at developing a treatment that will save many lives. Or that by selecting to help five people will inevitably lead to the death of one person.

    2. The fact of the matter is that we rarely know this information when we are called upon to make a decision. We do not know if our choice to switch a trolley car from one track where five people are standing to a track where only one person is standing is the best decision. Perhaps all five people are physically fit and will be able jump out of the way, while the single person has a disability and will not be able to escape the trolley’s impact.

    3. Because we cannot know the future we should never knowingly take the life of a human being because we think there is a chance it could save others. To do so is not morally permissible.




  1. There are many examples where killing one to save many is not morally permissible

    1. I know five people in urgent need of organ transplants who will be saved if I kill one healthy person. Is it morally permissible for me to murder this innocent person to save five others? No, my action cannot be considered moral. If it was, then there would be no laws against people drugging others in order to take their organs and give them to others.

    2. In the ancient society of Sparta, children with disabilities were thrown over a cliff to their death because the society believed that every citizen should be physically strong enough to be part of the warrior elite. The Spartans feared that allowing the disabled to live would put their society in danger. Ironically, one of the Royal children was born deformed but was allowed to live because of his family line – he became one of the most successful rulers, leading Sparta to defeat Greece and claim military victory. How many other worthwhile, talented, and intelligent individuals were thrown over the cliffs based entirely on a physical disability?


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