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Kant’s Deontological Ethics

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1 Kant’s Deontological Ethics
The Ethics of Immanuel Kant

2 Immanuel Kant [ ] Immanuel Kant is one of the most influential philosophers in the history of Western philosophy. His contributions to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics have had a profound impact on almost every philosophical movement that followed him.

3 Immanuel Kant [ ] A large part of Kant’s work addresses the question “What can we know?” The answer, if it can be stated simply, is that our knowledge is constrained to mathematics and the science of the natural, empirical world.

4 Immanuel Kant [ ] It is impossible, Kant argues, to extend knowledge to the supersensible realm of speculative metaphysics. The reason that knowledge has these constraints, Kant argues, is that the mind plays an active role in constituting the features of experience and limiting the mind’s access only to the empirical realm of space and time.

5 Introduction to Kant’s Ethics
Kant acknowledged that he had despised the ignorant masses until he read Rousseau and came to appreciate the worth that exists in every human being. Kant insisted that actions resulting from desires cannot be free.

6 Kant’s Philosophy Autonomous Decisions Deontology (Deon = Duty)
Actions in themselves are right or wrong Ethical rules should never be broken Human value Duties – used to derive reason and moral decision The capacity to make an informed, uncoerced decision,free of external authority. This is very important, why? Because Kant regarded every individual as equal. You must understand that Kant was a firm believer in autonomy; Kant’s ethical theory reflected the optimistic confidence in the objectivity of human reason and the value of individual autonomy, which was characteristic of the term Enlightenment. Is this different from Utilitarianism? Can anyone explain the term deontology? Kantian ethics, like utilitarianism, begins with a basic principle and derives rules from that principle and it guides one’s actions. He is considered a deontologist because he emphasizes what we are supposed to do, deon fron the greek, meaning duty. This brings the third bullet into play. Kant strictly believed that actions are in themselves right or wrong and not simply because of their consequences. Utilitarianism focuses on outcomes, where Kantianism focuses on the action itself. This makes a smooth transition into the next point where Kant took the extreme view that some ethical rules should never be broken regardless of the consequences. This is the extreme opposite of Utilitarianism! If it is not for the good of the whole, it needs to be changed. Human value is obviously important because if we did not value life, we would all give up our children for the good of the society, right? No, we do not do that because we hold the value of life high, typically higher than material things. Once again, Kant believed that ethical rules are intended to protect and benefit human beings, even the most basic ethical rules may need to be broken in unusual circumstances to avert major human catastrophes. In all but very extreme cases, however, deontologists regard respect for individual human beings as taking priority over maximizing happiness. This piggy-backs with the first point that Kant encourages individuals to make good decisions because each person is important. Take home message for this one is: universal respect for all persons! How could this be different from utilitarianism? “an action is morally good and praiseworthy only if it is done from a sense of duty, or what Kant calls a “good will”. Duty and good will go hand in hand. This is where utilitarianism and Kantianism leave the same highway altogether. Remember one word “Motive”. In Kantianism, motive is everything, whereas, in ut., one’s motives are completely irrelevant and only consequences matter. So to finish this slide up…it is not enough to do the right thing; it must be done because the one who acts believes that this action is morally right, which is his/her duty.

7 Duty Ethics The obligation to do our duty is unconditional.
That is, we must do it for the sake of duty, because it is the right thing to do, not because it will profit us psychologically, or economically, not because if we don’t do it and get caught we’ll be punished. The categorical imperative was Kant’s name for this inbred, self-imposed restraint, for the command of conscience within that tells us that the only true moral act is done from a pure sense of duty.

8 Introduction to Kant’s Ethics
Freedom is to be found only in rational action. Moreover, whatever is demanded by reason must be demanded of all rational beings; hence, rational action cannot be based on an individual’s personal desires but must be action in accordance with something that he can will to be a universal law.

9 Introduction to Kant’s Ethics
This view roughly parallels Rousseau’s idea of the general will as that which, as opposed to the individual will, a person shares with the whole community. Kant extended this community to all rational beings.

10 Deontological [Duty] Ethics
Kant’s most distinctive contribution to ethics was his insistence that one’s actions possess moral worth only when one does his duty for its own sake. Kant first introduced this idea as something accepted by the common moral consciousness of human beings and only later tried to show that it is an essential element of any rational morality.

11 Deontological [Duty] Ethics
Kant’s claim that this idea is central to the common moral consciousness expressed, albeit in an explicit and extreme form, a tendency of Judeo-Christian ethics; it also revealed how much Western ethical consciousness had changed since the time of Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle.

12 Deontological Ethics Ethical theory that judges the moral rightness of an act in terms of the intrinsic moral value of the act itself

13 Kant’s Categorical Imperative
Kant’s ethics is based on his distinction between hypothetical and categorical imperatives. He called any action based on desires a hypothetical imperative, meaning by this that it is a command of reason that applies only if one desires the goal in question. For example, “Be honest, so that people will think well of you!” is an imperative that applies only if one wishes to be thought well of.

14 Kant’s Categorical Imperative
“When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.” Abraham Lincoln A similarly hypothetical analysis can be given of the imperatives suggested by, say, Shaftesbury’s ethics: “Help those in distress, if you sympathize with their sufferings!” In contrast to such approaches, Kant said that the commands of morality must be categorical imperatives: they must apply to all rational beings, regardless of their wants and feelings.

15 Kant’s Categorical Imperative
To most philosophers this poses an insuperable problem: a moral law that applied to all rational beings, irrespective of their personal wants and desires, could have no specific goals or aims, because all such aims would have to be based on someone’s wants or desires. It took Kant’s peculiar genius to seize upon precisely this implication, which to others would have refuted his claims, and to use it to derive the nature of the moral law.

16 Kant’s Categorical Imperative
Because nothing else but reason is left to determine the content of the moral law, the only form this law can take is the universal principle of reason. Thus, the supreme formal principle of Kant’s ethics is: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”


18 A Problem of Kant’s Ethics
Kant still faced a major problem. He had to explain how one can be moved by reason alone to act in accordance with this supreme moral law; and, second, he had to show that this principle is able to provide practical guidance in one’s choices.

19 A Problem of Kant’s Ethics
If one combines Hume’s theory that reason is always the slave of the passions with Kant’s denial of moral worth to all actions motivated by desires, the outcome would be that no actions can have moral worth. To avoid such moral skepticism, Kant maintained that reason alone can lead to action without the support of desire.

20 A Problem of Kant’s Ethics
The moral law inevitably produces a feeling of reverence or awe. If he meant to say that this feeling then becomes the motivation for obedience, however, he was conceding Hume’s point that reason alone is powerless to bring about action.

21 Deontology One thing that can be said confidently is that Kant was firmly opposed to the utilitarian principle of judging every action by its consequences. His ethics is a deontology. In other words, the rightness of an action, according to Kant, depends not on its consequences but on whether it accords with a moral rule, one that can be willed to be a universal law.

22 Deontology In one essay Kant went so far as to say that it would be wrong for a person to tell a lie even to a would-be murderer who came to his house seeking to kill an innocent person hidden inside. This kind of situation illustrates how difficult it is to remain a strict deontologist when principles may clash.

23 Deontology Apparently, Kant believed that his principle of universal law required that one never tell lies, but it could also be argued that his principle of treating everyone as an end would necessitate doing everything possible to save the life of an innocent person.

24 Deontology Another possibility would be to formulate the maxim of the action with sufficient precision to define the circumstances under which it would be permissible to tell lies—e.g., perhaps there could be a universal law that permitted lying to people who intend to commit murder. Kant did not explore such solutions, however.

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