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Kant’s Ethical Theory. “[I]n ethics what is right in theory must work in practice.”

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Presentation on theme: "Kant’s Ethical Theory. “[I]n ethics what is right in theory must work in practice.”"— Presentation transcript:

1 Kant’s Ethical Theory

2 “[I]n ethics what is right in theory must work in practice.”

3 Kant’s model The purpose of Ethical theory is –to present the ground on which all ethical decisions rest. –to identify the general form of (the formula for) moral goodness.

4 What is Moral goodness? “Nothing in the world... can possibly be conceived as good without qualification except a good will.” A good will = a free intention to act according to moral law.

5 Morality is: A given reality: –“the moral law within” as law it is understood rationally –applied consistently & impartially –without regard to outcomes or specific circumstances –expressed in principles

6 Morality is not: a matter of what we feel a matter of what is most efficient a product of human invention or whim

7 Reason vs Feeling Reason grasps what is universal & objective understands and applies principles Feelings are particular & subjective tend to be arbitrary and unpredictable

8 Kant assumes: Humans are inherently rational. Humans possess free will. Humans are composite beings. –Body (inclinations) and mind (reason). –Which tend to be in conflict This conflict defines moral struggle.

9 The Moral Law: Kant’s Categorical Imperative Imperative: It commands Categorical: It commands unconditionally, universally & absolutely, without exception A test for assessing the moral worth of any action: –Can I will this action to become a universal law?

10 Act only on that maxim which you can will to become universal law.

11 What does Kant mean? maxim: personal principle of will that directs conduct. will: implies freedom of choice We choose our personal maxims. universal law: analogy is law of nature or laws of physics which apply equally & impartially Laws are objective & universally binding.

12 Kant’s Categorical Imperative Expresses the basis of all moral action A formal directive expressing what one ought to do, what we are obligated to do. Distinguished from hypothetical imperative: –Do x if you want y.

13 Principle of Autonomy An action is moral if and only if it is: CHOSEN –freely –rationally –By the self (autonomously) Principle of Freedom: Freedom is a basic quality of the will of all rational beings. We cannot deny our freedom.

14 Understanding Duty Duty is rational obligation. We act morally when: –we act “from a sense of duty” –not just “in accordance with duty” Test of duty is not met when we act from: –Habit –Instinct –Inclination –Feelings of any kind –A desire to achieve the best consequences

15 Categorical Imperative 2 Act always to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other,... at the same time as an end, and never merely as a means.

16 Implications Human beings have intrinsic value. They are ends in themselves. No human should be treated merely as a means to someone else’s ends. This is a general moral rule. Individual Responsibility for all our rational actions. –But what of non rational actions? How far does intrinsic worth extend?

17 Criticisms of Kant’s approach Critique 1: Kant’s emphasis on reason devalues the role of feeling and emotion in moral matters Response: Kant doesn’t say emotions don’t accompany morally potent situations, only that the ground of morality cannot be emotion.

18 Critique: CI admits of no exceptions –Kant does not consider the weight of circumstances Reply: Kant does distinguish the ideal from the practical; wishing from doing. Critique: Anything imperative can be universalized if we qualify it sufficiently. –Response: We must distinguish between categorical and hypothetical imperatives.

19 What people don’t like about Kant emphasizes struggle excludes too many who seem good dictates state of mind as a precondition of morality can’t handle conflicts of duty

20 Advantages of Kant’s perspective : He emphasizes intentions. –Mind of the agent is the moral factor. He emphasizes human dignity. –basis of modern moral understanding –promotes principles equality & justice impartiality & universality

21 Philosophical Questions: What does Kant get right? –Universality of human dignity? –Imperative of respect? Can we correct the things in his theory we don’t like while preserving the best of his insight?

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