Friday, July 15, 2016

Deontology and Equal Treatment in Commerce

From guest blogger, Olivia.

Weddings in countries across the world are a time a great celebrations and confusing amongst families, but another layered was added for this Oregon family. The United States has always had a seeming complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community it comes to politics when the country rests on Christian values that they were allegedly founded on. The case in which the bakery located in Oregon denied service to a same sex couple that was looking to buy a wedding cake. The owners are Christian who firmly believe that marriage is between a man and a woman, and being involved in their wedding would contradict her beliefs. [She] is more than willing to bake cakes for gays, just not for weddings. Despite the legal ramifications of her decision, we can look at whether or not the decision she made was a moral one.

If viewing through the eyes of Kant, we can use is second gloss which states, “Always treat humanity, whether yourself or others as an end and not simply as a means.” If the couples that means to get married is assumed to be both autonomous and rational, then the store owner’s personal disposition has less value in whether or not a cake is sold. A business/client relationship should be treated with dignity and respect, and as a part of the relationship, a fair exchange without mentioning of personal beliefs would be the moral thing to do; therefore, the bakery owner acted immorally. Her actions inadvertently called the couple irrational, like a child or animal, because of their sexual orientation.


Tim Heinzel said...

I think we can refuse to associate with each other and still satisfy the condition of treating people as ends and not simply as means. The baker wanted to remain in a state of inaction - she didn't really even do anything to the gay couple other than say "no". It is debatable whether or not maintaining inaction is even something that we should be applying moral principles to, but if it is, then it appears that refusing to fulfill someone's requests and making them feel bad in the process is immoral. Then, our ability to say no to something is contingent on how someone else would feel about it.

It's obviously not great that people are upset others do not want to associate with them, but in a world filled with tons of values - many of which are opposing - it will be impossible in all business or interpersonal cases to uphold everyone's values. If the baker is forced to make the cake, she feels her values are violated. If she doesn't, the couple requesting the cake feels bad.

For me, the morality of this situation is as simple as saying it is almost always moral to stay in a state of inaction. Saying no to a request is completely fine.

Alexander H. said...

I think this example is very similar to the example of the Trolley problem. The similar point that I see is the lack of action. In the trolley case, we discussed two sides to the dilemma. One side said that it is immoral to not take action in a situation that could save someone's life. The other said that it is moral to not take action, because you are choosing not to participate.
Although the gay couple would like to be served, nothing is binding the storeowners to sell to these customers. It is their duty to sell cakes, and they are not required to sell to every person that walks into their establishment, regardless of who it is.

Mark said...

What an yucky situation...

I agree with Tim that remaining in a state of inaction is akin to being neutral. Though, one would intuitively have a certain expectation of a cake shop, as opposed to the passerby in the trolley example.

From a consequential perspective, the couple had this intuition: a promise of a cake, and then was let down when they were refused service. Thus the refusal was negative.

From say a Kantian perspective, however, it's hard to weigh the negative emotions against the owner's beliefs.

Maybe gauging morality here really comes down to what extent instilling the expectation of a cake translates into obligation to deliver it. I'd imagine if the owner specialized in cookies instead, the couple wouldn't have been as disappointed for being refused a cake, even if he/she had the same attitude towards them.