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Kant’s Ethical Philosophy and Milgram’s Experiments

The problem for Kant’s ethical philosophy is whether moral principles are applicable to nonhumans, such as Galacticans. Kant’s humanity formulation holds that people should not treat others as a means to an end (Gibson, 2019). Instead, human beings are agents with goals and ambition and should be accorded respect. Since Galacticans are creatures that resemble both humans and robots, they cannot be termed as wholly human. Kant’s ethics may not be relevant to the behavior of Galacticans. One can reasonably object to Galacticans eating humans from Kant’s ethical perspective. According to the humanity formulation, the inherent value of human beings lies in their humanity, and they must be treated as an end-in-themselves (Gibson, 2019). If Galacticans ate human beings, they would fail to value human beings’ inherent value. Using people as food constitutes treating them as a means to an end. Therefore, from Kant’s ethical perspective, Galacticans should not eat humans.

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Aside from Kant’s ethical philosophy, ethical dilemmas can also be analyzed from a utilitarian perspective. According to the utilitarian theory, actions are moral if they result in happiness or pleasure and immoral if they cause harm or unhappiness (Louis & Fieser¸ 2017). Additionally, utilitarianism seeks to maximize the wellbeing of the most number of people where each person’s happiness matters equally (Louis & Fieser¸ 2017). From this perspective, one can reasonably object to Galacticans eating human beings. Galacticans eating humans causes unhappiness to the latter, which is against the happiness principle. However, if welfare is maximized when Galacticans eat human beings, then a reasonable objection from a utilitarian perspective does not exist. Since everyone’s happiness counts equally, the Galacticans’ welfare is also considered when analyzing this dilemma from a utilitarian viewpoint.

Milgram should not have subjected people to the experiments on obedience. He designed the first experiment at Yale University to investigate how much pain a common person would inflict on another when instructed to do so (Louis & Fieser¸ 2017). His maxim was that it is acceptable to conduct such kinds of experiments provided that they enhanced understanding of human beings (Gibson, 2019). Milgram’s maxim cannot be universalized, which means that it would be reprehensible for every person to act in the manner that Milgram did. If universalized, Milgram’s maxim would create a contradiction in will. No rational person would desire a world where scientists can subject them to any kind of experiment just to understand humanity.

From Kant’s ethical viewpoint, Milgram demonstrated that he lacked respect for persons. He treated the participants as a means to his end. His goal was to discover the extent to which human beings would obey instructions (Louis & Fieser¸ 2017). He disrespected the personhood of the “teachers” who were instructed to administer increasing shock voltages to “learners” for every incorrect answer given. To achieve this goal, Kant employed deception because the “teachers” did not know that the learners were actually actors. Some of the participants, especially the “teachers”, could have been psychologically traumatized by the experiment. It was unethical for Milgram to subject the participants to psychological harm because it shows he did not value their humanity.

Although Milgram lacked respect for his subjects, his findings justify achieving his goal by the means that he employed. Milgram’s experiments revealed that human beings usually feel compelled to obey authority, which is against Kant’s autonomy formulation. Under this formulation, Kant proposes that human beings should have freedom to decide what actions to undertake (Gibson. 2019). Milgram’s experiments showed that human beings may not always have free will, which is a requirement of the categorical imperative.


Gibson, S. (2019). Arguing, obeying and defying: A rhetorical perspective on Stanley Milgram’s obedience experiments. Cambridge University Press.

Louis, P. P. & Fieser, J. (2017). Ethics: Discovering right and wrong (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.

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