V For Villain

The next essay in “Supervillains and Philosophy” is “V for Villain” by Robert Arp. Framing this all around “V for Vendetta”, Arp examines the issue of using people, as the villains and even the hero in the work constantly do. This will, of course, immediately run up against Kant’s maxim of treating people not merely as means, but always also as ends in themselves. By that standard, even the hero V is acting immorally, and we’d be acting immoral if we did so even if using those people resulted in better actions, which would be one of the main clashes between Utilitarianism and Kantianism, and also one of the main criticisms of Utilitarianism (that it would allow you to use someone merely to provide the most utility).

But this always raises the question of what happens if the person chooses to be used? What if they are perfectly willing to be used and are fully aware of what is going on, and thus choose it themselves? As Arp points out, to use them violates at least a strict reading of Kant’s principle, but to deny them the ability to choose to be used seems to violate it as well, as you end up using them as a means to fulfilling your own morality. How can we resolve this?

I think most of the controversy over this ignores the part where Kant says that the imperative applies to yourself as well. You are not allowed to use yourself merely as a means, but must also always treat yourself as an end in itself as well. This is what’s behind his rather infamous proscription against masturbation, as you use yourself merely as a means to your own sexual gratification. While that’s debatable, it’s clear that the choice to be used can only be a valid moral choice for Kant if the person isn’t even treating themself as a means to some other end, but also as an end in themselves. There’s a lot more to work out here wrt what counts as a valid end, but this ought to eliminate a lot of the cases where we immediately think that someone is consciously choosing to be used; they are, but they are still treating themselves as a means, and so even though you would be acting properly moral to accept their choice, they are acting immorally in making the choice.

Ultimately, we need to treat others as independent moral agents, but we also have to think of ourselves that way as well. While most of the focus of morality is in not using others, we do have to remember that we ought not use ourselves either.



10 Responses to “V For Villain”

  1. ontologicalrealist Says:

    I think that it is a very good point that you have made that one must not treat oneself as only a means to an end. Does it follow from this that one must not sacrifice oneself for the good of others?

    • verbosestoic Says:

      I think it depends on the view. It’s clear that you should reject the Utilitarian reasoning that you should sacrifice yourself for the good of others just because it IS for their good; you don’t total up benefit and act accordingly because they’d be using you as a means to their end. And you can’t use yourself as a means to an end either, so you wouldn’t sacrifice your own interests just to, say, look good or anything like that. Beyond that, though, you certainly ought to sacrifice your own interests for the interests of others when you have a moral obligation to, because when you act properly morally you treat yourself as an end as well as a means. So, for Kant, when you have a duty to (likely). For the Stoics, when it is virtuous to. The details of all of this are, of course, complicated and controversial, but I think none of them argue that it follows that you ought not sacrifice yourself for others, but instead that you ought not sacrifice yourself merely as a means to their good.

  2. ontologicalrealist Says:

    I agree generally with your reply here , this is also my morality.

    Have you thought deeply about Kantian epistemology, specially the chapter on aesthetics in “Critique of Pure Reason”? , his so called Copernican revolution and it’s implications?

    • verbosestoic Says:

      It’s probably been about 15 years since I studied the “Critique of Pure Reason”, so I haven’t thought about it much recently beyond the little parts that I use here and there.

  3. ontologicalrealist Says:

    Just out of curiosity, What are your main interests in philosophy?

    • verbosestoic Says:

      My three main areas are:

      Ethics – Stoic with a mix of Kantian.
      Philosophy of Mind – Mostly dualist, heavily influenced by Chalmers.
      Epistemology – I’m a reliablist.

      I dabble in a lot of areas, though.

  4. ontologicalrealist Says:

    Hi verbosestoic,
    You commented on coel’s blog, on the post about Roger Trigg,

    “Nope. It’s that scientismists — insist that anything that uses empirical data in any way is by definition science — that’s generally how the broadening of science plays out — and metaphysics has concluded for good reasons that empirical data, without any other kind of justification, can’t work for those questions. Russell even uses science to make that claim: we could take empirical data unadorned if we thought that we had direct perceptual access to reality, but if science is correct we clearly don’t. And any test that we could run to correct our perceptions has to be run through our empirical perceptions, and so runs into the same issue; I can’t use propositions derived from experience to validate experience as a whole. So, empirical data is out.”

    This seems to me excellent reasoning. This is a conclusive argument against scientism. Perhaps you can flesh out this reasoning and write a post on your blog?

    I wonder if you would like to post a comment on my blog about this idea?


    Post name: What exists and what is perceived to exist

    Best Wishes

    • verbosestoic Says:


      The main argument from Russell is in the “Science vs Science” page on the side, including John Dewey’s response to it and a more in-depth analysis of the issue. I’ve also gone after scientism more directly — and more relevantly — in a series that you can find by searching for “scientism”.

  5. ontologicalrealist Says:

    Thanks for this info. I find your blog interesting.

    What is your attitude towards religion? Are you a believing christian? What religious beliefs you have if any?

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