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  • Iddo Landau responds:

I believe that there is much to learn from Gilead's arguments, and that his paper adds to the understanding of the themes presented in the original discussion. However, in the end I do not think that the claims I made are rebuffed.

Gilead should be commended for expanding the discussion of the Mandarin thought experiment (henceforth: Mandarin) from the existentialist context, to which it was limited in my original article, to the Kantian one. This is a fruitful move. However, we should keep in mind that in Kantianism—unlike existentialism—to be autonomous is to be moral. Thus, some of my claims may be understood differently in existentialist and Kantian contexts. I wrote, "I would like to argue, however, that it [the Mandarin thought experiment] also casts doubt on an important and central existentialist notion: the value of being an authentic, autonomous individual, who behaves as he or she does not because of fear of what others would say, but because he or she genuinely chooses this or that course of action" ("To Kill a Mandarin," p. 95). But to claim, in a Kantian context, that the Mandarin casts doubt on the value of being autonomous is to suggest that the Mandarin casts doubt on the value of being moral, which it certainly does not. Similarly, in a Kantian context it cannot be the case that "if we were true, autonomous individuals . . . we would have killed an unknown person," since a Kantian autonomous individual is moral and would not kill an innocent person. In the existentialist context, however, things are different; there, autonomy is not tantamount to morality, and the suggestion that we should be autonomous creates many risks. When reading Gilead, I at times felt that he was examining certain expressions that had originally been set in an existentialist context, where autonomy does not equal morality, as though they had been presented in a Kantian one.

Gilead also seems to overstate my position on the ability to behave morally when social supervision is revoked. He suggests that, in my [End Page 158] view, "in order to behave morally, respecting the moral law or value is certainly less than enough" and that I regard as "self-deception or simply wishful thinking . . . any attempt at thinking . . . that other motives (such as the respect for the moral law) are sufficient to behave morally." However, I do not make such strong claims. I do not think that respecting the moral law is insufficient for behaving morally, only that many (even if not all) will not choose to mind the moral law. Nor do I think that, when there is no external social supervision, it is impossible to remain moral, or that no one can successfully withstand the temptation that the Mandarin presents, or that any view that people are able to withstand the temptation and act morally without social supervision is self-deception. However, I do believe that the number of people who can withstand the temptation, and act morally when there is no social supervision, is significantly smaller than we like to think. Unfortunately, if complete secrecy is guaranteed and the return value for wrongdoing is sufficiently high, many, including "nice" people like you and me, who condemn immoral behavior and are considered by others and themselves as perfectly decent, will either kill an innocent person or have significant difficulties in refraining from doing so.

But I should point out, first, that this is an empirical, objective question, and thus not in line with the subjectivist, personal character of much of the original paper. Second, I should note that while I cannot present a satisfactory empirical proof for my assessment, there is nevertheless some basis for it: too many people, upstanding people like you and me, told me time and again that they would accept the Mandarin deal, or at least find it difficult to resist it. Gilead thinks that only very few would so respond, but does not present any empirical evidence for this claim, not even as limited and unscientific as mine, stating that he simply believes "the opposite to be the case." He also feels the suggestion to be annoying. I agree that it is...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1086-329X
Print ISSN
0190-0013
Pages
pp. 158-161
Launched on MUSE
2007-04-24
Open Access
No
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