Immanuel Kant’s Ethical System For Drug Use

Cedric Crumbley
6 min readMay 16, 2017

Let’s talk about drug use. Not just any drug use, let’s talk about heroine. If every single person in the world used heroine what would happen? Let’s include men, women, and children. Would all of society eventually have a drug problem? Would some end up dying?

That’s taking the categorical imperative into effect. Now the problem comes when society starts sending people to jail for using heroine. Why not allow people to freely choose to use heroine or not? Take away the fear of disobeying the law.

I mean if you are making the decision for me you are in fact telling me you are smarter than me. So to protect me from myself you impose laws that restrict my freedom. At that very moment you turn me into a slave, which is the highest form of disrespect. What if I want to get high as a kite? That’s my right and you designed an unjust system to take it away from me. Though I myself would not use heroine but this is an extreme example to make a point.

If you think you have the right to control people you are in fact enslaving people. You are not giving them the freedom to exercise their will. Who knows, I just might choose to contemplate and ask myself, “If everyone in the world used heroine, what type of world would this world be?” Well, if heroine made the world worse then that would help me make the right decision that heroine is not good. On the other hand if I thought long and hard about it and determined that if everyone in the world used heroine then the world would be a better place then I can proceed in my use of heroine.

I have the ability to form good intentions. By taking away my chance to form good intentions you are enslaving me. By making laws turning drug abusers into criminals you become a manipulator. Just because a person uses drugs it does not make him or her a criminal. Why not give people the freedom to make a logical choice?

Instead of giving me freedom to make a choice, you exploit my desires to use drugs and disrespect my autonomy through manipulation. You manipulate my thoughts. I use heroine and you throw me in jail and make me feel like a criminal. Is it illegal to commit a crime against myself? It’s self harm yes but this is my body. As long as I don’t cause harm to another human being that’s my prerogative. Stay out of my business, man. Just let me be free. You limit my freedom and you make me feel bad.

You need to respect my choice. I decide my own categorical imperative.

I am the only one who can decide if heroine is good for me or not. It is not the job of society to decide what is good for me. I alone make that decision. If I want to get high all day it is not your role to decide what is good or bad for me.

Does society have the right to restrict choices that harm me? I don’t need society to protect me from myself. It’s ridiculous. When you reduce my choices you reduce my autonomy. When you treat me as a means to an end you are limiting my autonomy. You disrespect me.

Here’s how we can handle this. Just give me all the information about heroine. The good, the bad, and the ugly and then let me decide my fate. I don’t need you limiting my choices. I want the freedom to get high without thoughts of repercussion.

After you give me all the information, let me choose a standard to govern my own life. Given the chance I can choose a standard in which my actions are determined to be moral or not. I may choose to behave in a manner that if everyone acted as me it would make society a better place. In this way you allow me to discipline myself. Let me govern myself and decide if I want to use heroine or not.

If you enslave me then I should be able to enslave you. What’s your fix? Alcohol. Ok, so if I get a year in jail for taking a hit of heroine then you should get a year in jail for taking a sip of alcohol. Not fair? Tough. That’s the only way to have a just and moral society. Any other way is immoral.

We can all govern ourselves without any interference. When the people fear the government there is tyranny. When the government fears the people there is liberty. I vote for liberty. We can all govern ourselves thank you very much.

By society making decisions for me they treat me as if I don’t have a purpose of my own. I am not just meant to be a means to an end for society. I have a plan and a mind of my own. I have a purpose. I am not here just to achieve your means. I am a means to myself. NOT a means to your end.

Do you realize that if you throw me in jail for using heroine you better not get caught using heroine because you are going to jail. Eye for an eye friend. It doesn’t matter who you know. We don’t care. You are going down.

By treating me as a means to your ends you are being selfish. You exploit my use of heroine by being selfish. You violated the universal law so you are wrong. I am only bound to obey the laws I give to myself.

Society should not restrict my choice to use drugs. I should not be punished for using drugs. I should be able to use my own judgment to determine what is right and wrong in my life. As Immanuel Kant noted, “An action done from duty has its moral worth, not in the purpose that is to be attained by it, but in the maxim according to which the action is determined.” (Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Page 12)

The law of utilitarianism makes heroine a problem because I would be limited to acting in ways that maximize overall happiness. To maximize overall happiness I must consider the consequence of using heroine. If using heroine is good for me then it must be good for everybody else. The problem I face is having people I love. If someone saw me using heroine they may start using the drug. Then I would feel bad because I know what the consequences would be for them. They may become addicted and possibly die from an overdose. Not good.

According to utilitarianism the act of me using heroine would be considered wrong. This is because if it fails to maximize the happiness of those I love, I would be subject to being punished by a legal authority for using heroine. If not by a legal authority I would be subject to punishment of my own conscience.

Utilitarianism supports the notion of allowing society to determine what’s good or bad for me. Utilitarianism supports the law interfering with my life decisions.

The consequences of using heroine make drug use a bad decision. Taking drugs cause more damage than just being a maxim in and of itself. As Jon Mill noted, “The moral rules which forbid mankind to hurt one another are more vital to human well-being than any maxims, however important, which only point out the best mode of managing some department of human affairs.” (Utilitarianism Page. 59)

Immanuel Kant argues that autonomy, or the ability to self-govern yourself is the basis for morality and justice. Kant understands autonomy as having the ability to determine your own maxim. If you determine a maxim you have the ability to decide what is morally right or wrong. When it comes to drug use, Kant would argue only individual actions can make a moral society. Government does not have the right to lay claim on the interests of freedom or what’s good for me. If I choose to use drugs that’s my right as an individual.

John Mill would refute Kant and say each act must be calculated for immediate consequences. Your personal interests must be weighed against the public good. What is considered good for you may be considered bad for the public. If that’s the case, drug use would cause harm. Mill would argue the government should be able to intervene when drugs cause harm to the public.



Cedric Crumbley

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