Kantian universalization in action.


Yet much as we might like, women cannot, by definition, enter all-male environments, nor men all-female ones, successful cross-dressers excepted. Which brings up the locker-room conundrum: for every straight person made uncomfortable by the presence of gays in the locker room, there’s another straight person who thinks how much more interesting life would be if he or she could go to the Women’s or Men’s locker room, respectively. But that wouldn’t work, because if one man could go into Women’s, they all could, and the room would no longer contain only potential objects of attraction.


There is therefore but one categorical imperative, namely, this: Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

Now if all imperatives of duty can be deduced from this one imperative as from their principle, then, although it should remain undecided what is called duty is not merely a vain notion, yet at least we shall be able to show what we understand by it and what this notion means.

Since the universality of the law according to which effects are produced constitutes what is properly called nature in the most general sense (as to form), that is the existence of things so far as it is determined by general laws, the imperative of duty may be expressed thus: Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature.

We will now enumerate a few duties, adopting the usual division of them into duties to ourselves and ourselves and to others, and into perfect and imperfect duties.*

* * *
Another finds himself forced by necessity to borrow money. He knows that he will not be able to repay it, but sees also that nothing will be lent to him unless he promises stoutly to repay it in a definite time. He desires to make this promise, but he has still so much conscience as to ask himself: “Is it not unlawful and inconsistent with duty to get out of a difficulty in this way?” Suppose however that he resolves to do so: then the maxim of his action would be expressed thus: “When I think myself in want of money, I will borrow money and promise to repay it, although I know that I never can do so.” Now this principle of self-love or of one’s own advantage may perhaps be consistent with my whole future welfare; but the question now is, “Is it right?” I change then the suggestion of self-love into a universal law, and state the question thus: “How would it be if my maxim were a universal law?” Then I see at once that it could never hold as a universal law of nature, but would necessarily contradict itself. For supposing it to be a universal law that everyone when he thinks himself in a difficulty should be able to promise whatever he pleases, with the purpose of not keeping his promise, the promise itself would become impossible, as well as the end that one might have in view in it, since no one would consider that anything was promised to him, but would ridicule all such statements as vain pretences.

The terrifying conclusion: going into the girls’ locker room violates the categorical imperative.


13 Responses to “Kantian universalization in action.”

  1. Phoebe Says:

    Right, the Categorical Imperative. He should have called it the Locker Room Rule.

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    Kant wouldn’t have thought of it. He was pretty much sexless. Which is kinda sad for him, because if he were a little lustier, he could have earned more moral worth by suppressing those lusts out of regard for the moral law. Poor Kant.

  3. ben wolfson Says:

    But of course the only thing the person is thinking is how much more interesting his or her life would be if he or she could go in.

    It is obviously not to the point to defuse someone’s idea that it would be interesting to be allowed backstage with the observation that if everyone were allowed backstage, backstage would not contain only them and rock stars. (And techs and whatever but we’ll elide that.)

    he could have earned more moral worth by suppressing those lusts out of regard for the moral law.

    A misunderstanding popular all the way back to Schiller.

  4. Paul Gowder Says:

    I’m moderately sure I heard Allen Wood utter something like that “misunderstanding” at one point. A shameless appeal, I know, but shame is so fall 2008.

  5. Paul Gowder Says:

    Oh. Bugger. Never mind. Judging from pgs. 26-40 of Kant’s Ethical Thought, I must have missed a “not” somewhere in there, since Wood totally repudiates that interpretation. Botheration and dash.

  6. Phoebe Says:

    OK, I’m not going to weigh on on what Kant *really* meant/ was really like, and will leave that to the philosophers.

    But the locker-room conundrum is not that much like wanting to go to a VIP area. It’s about wishing, on behalf of those who find one sex attractive, to be surrounded entirely by members of that sex. It’s not about, ‘Oh, if only *I* could go to Women’s’, it’s about an understanding that this is what straight men generally would like, but if straight men generally got their wish, no good. It’s also about a desire not to stand out (and thus be sent out, quickly) while in the wrong room, something that’s an option for gays, whereas straights are stuck with, at best, the VIP situation.

  7. Matt Says:

    Phoebe- do you really think that people attracted to the opposite sex (or straight men, if you want to limit it to that) would really like to only, or mostly, be surrounded by the opposite sex? Many of my closest friends are women, but many are men, too. The idea that one would want only one or the other seems a bit crazy to me, like something one would think without really thinking about it, in the “if only I could eat _nothing but chocolate ice cream!” variety. It doesn’t sound like anything any sensible person would really want.

  8. Phoebe Says:

    Socially? No. There’s a reason I refer to a locker-room scenario. I think the typical straight person would prefer to be surrounded by nude members of the opposite sex than by nude members of the same.

    But also, to go back to the point I make in my post, straight people *must* interact with members of the same sex to have the camaraderie that comes of interacting with those of the same sex. Gays need not do this. While TV shows and movies in particular would have it that gay men simply love being surrounded by women, my sense is that there’s a good amount of separatism resulting naturally from being attracted to the same sex as one interacts with the most easily.

  9. Matt Says:

    Well, you’re experience is different from mine here, and from what seems to me to be that of a lot of people. I can’t speak generally, of course, but I think you might be over-generalizing from your own case and tastes.

  10. Mike Says:

    Anyone here actually go to a gym locker room at say, a 24 Hour Fitness? It’s disgusting. There are mostly old (presumably heterosexual) men who walk around naked with their fat, grey-haired bellies shamelessly exposed. If you’re sitting on a bench, they’ll stop in front of you with their scrotum in your face. The creepiness factor is a common complaint of young men.

    So I don’t think a fully-informed woman would really want to go in.

    I think people going to a locker room in Equinox would not be surrounded by young, virile, toned women. It’d be cellulite-ridden housewives. I mean, take a look around the gym. Imagine seeing EVERYONE naked. I’d much rather see NO ONE naked.

    So straight men want to enter the “Girl’s Locker Room” would be in for an interesting reality check. I say let men in, just as a way to keep men out.

    Incidentally, gay men check out straight dudes hardcore. This is a fact. Again, to go the West Los Angeles 24 Hour Fitness; or downtown Los Angeles Gold’s Gym. This makes straight men feel uncomfortable.

    Now, there is nothing about “gayness” that encourages this eye fucking. It’s what straight men to do women all the time. It “maleness” rather than “gayness” that’s responsible.

    So I’m all for straight men learning some empathy: “Yes, this is how your gender – and how you – behave. It kinds sucks to be on the receiving end, doesn’t it?”

    I avoid them locker rooms alltogether; and would rather give myself a “bath” using baby wipes than endure that disgusting environment.

    If others disagree, then let reality be the best antidote.

  11. Phoebe Says:

    I’m not sure which experience you’re referring to. My question is how much interest a person attracted to AND more comfortable with members of the same sex has in interacting voluntarily with members of the opposite sex, a question with little to do with personal experience, as I’ve never experienced being gay. My point is that the reality is probably somewhere between “Will and Grace” and Van Dyke-style separatism, but perhaps closer to the latter. But, who knows.

  12. Phoebe Says:

    “Now, there is nothing about “gayness” that encourages this eye fucking. It’s what straight men to do women all the time. It “maleness” rather than “gayness” that’s responsible.”

    No, (straight) women in a room of naked men would check out the naked men. I guarantee it.

  13. Mike Says:

    No, (straight) women in a room of naked men would check out the naked men. I guarantee it.

    My answer to that is: “Enjoy.” ;)

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