I recently posed a puzzle about Kant's moral philosophy. The puzzle was this: if lying is always wrong, would it be wrong (according to Kant’s theory) to lie to a robot with speech technology who came to your door trying to locate innocent people who were hiding from a tyrannical government?
Many of you know by now that I’ve committed to presenting philosophical puzzles for the duration of the Corona crisis. This month's puzzle is somewhat sci-fi in nature, but not totally farfetched, as we’ll see. The motivating question is this: What should Kant say about lying to robots?
Is reason our only guide to the true and the good? Or can reasonable people disagree on what is true and good? Is it simply a mistake to fetishize reason? These are some of the questions we tackle as we take on the broader question of whether reason can save us.
The Good Place, a hit TV show, begins with a woman named Eleanor who wakes up in the afterlife. Eleanor learns that she has landed in "The Good Place," even though she knows that she should have landed in the other place. Chidi, a professor of moral philosophy whom Eleanor confides in, decides to teach her to be good.
The belief that some things are natural while others are unnatural is part of the common currency of human thought, but we rarely pause to consider exactly what it means to say that something is unnatural. It’s important to do so because this concept is politically very potent.