Dr. Thomason suggested that one way Kant can answer the Gestapo problem [that on Kant's view, it is immoral to lie to the Gestapo even to save innocent lives, which appears to be a reductio, since it obviously is not only moral, but morally praiseworthy] was by claiming that people in Nazi germany were in effect living in a state of nature, and in the state of nature, there are no moral rules. Such a view has a long history, but it is not usually associated with Kant. Kant famously insists that morality is contextless, absolute duty, that applies everywhere all the time. Dr. Thomason is arguing that the usual interpretations are incorrect.
An essential feature of almost all conceptions of morality that descended from the Greeks [and that includes every major philosopher in the West through Nietzsche] is that morality is rational. One ought to act morally because it is rational to act morally. Unless you are an anti-moralist, or an anti-rationalist, there is good reason to accept this view: to deny it is to somehow make it that you ought to do something that literally makes no sense. Morality would be indistinguishable from taboo, and the answer to the question: why should I be moral? would get the answer: no reason. It is easy to see that such a view would immediately undercut any motive to be moral, and since morality is frequently burdensome [where it is not, there is no need for it], people would simply walk away from all talk of moral duty.
That kind of view, possible after Nietzsche, but at a price, was never an option before. Instead, Plato, Aristotle, Hobbes, Locke, Rousseau, Hume, and Kant, etc., etc., all agree that an action is good if and only if it is rational, and if something is moral then it must be good.
Hobbes began the state of nature view with these assumptions in mind. If some act was not rational, then it could not be good. In trying to develop the basis of political authority, he imagines the world without "a common power to keep us in awe," i.e. a world without government. He argues that in such a world, three motives would force us to do what is rationally in our self interest, anything. First, competition would drive us to be enemies, and since it is irrational to leave an enemy alive to wreak havoc on us later, it is rational to eliminate the opposition. Second, since striking first is always be best strategy, as in battles to the death, the person who would strike second may already be dead, self-defense makes enemies of us all. If we knew who was an enemy, we might avoid this problem, but as we do not, this becomes a serious problem. Even people who seem trust worthy may abuse our trust, and that would put ourselves at risk, something never rational. Co-operation becomes impossible.
To make an agreement where we depend on the co-operation of others is to put yourself in the same danger, and that is never rational. And if it is not rational, it is not good. If morality binds us to that agreement, then it is still not rational, and not good. So morality would be neither, which seems clearly wrong.
An agreement becomes rational only when there is sufficient reason to believe the other person will stick to the agreement. In the state of nature, there is no such reason, and hence agreements are irrational. Once there is a social agreement to abide by agreements, and sufficient coercive powers to bind people to their agreements, all agreements ["contracts"] not expressly forbidden by the common power to keep us in awe are binding and rational. This allows us to be moral agents: now that it is rational to keep agreements, we are morally bound to do so.
If Nazi Germany were the state of nature, then there would be no moral rules. It would be perfectly rational to lie to the Gestapo. It would be good to do so, then, though not morally good to do so. But the cost of such a view is high: it would also not be wrong for the Gestapo to murder innocent people. Such moral restraints are also part of the social agreement, and the assumption is that there is no such agreement. We would then have to say that is is not immoral to lie in that circumstance, but also that it is not immoral to kill. And this applies equally to all.
Nor would it be morally praiseworthy to aid others at risk to yourself. Indeed. this would, on Hobbes view, be irrational, too. It brings no good to yourself, and puts you at risk. Hence, on a Hobbesian view, we have several counter intuitive results. The person who aids a Jew is not being rational, and not doing a good thing. The Gestapo agent, who murders both the Jew and the protector, is also not doing a morally bad thing.
Moreover, to have this position, we would also need some argument to show that Nazi Germany was in fact the state of nature. There is no reason to think so on Hobbes view, at least. The common power did keep everyone in awe. Life was not solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short, unless you were an enemy of the state. Those people would not be bound by the agreement, and not bound by morality. That is, Jews in the Third Reich could rationally resist, and use all the means of war to do so. But the people protected by the authority have no such philosophical recourse. We need some reason to think that the state of nature, and hence, a state of war, existed between the people hiding Jews and others. Only then can Kant claim that the moral imperative "do not lie" does not apply to those people living in Nazi Germany.
Other conceptions next