“[I]n ethics what is right in theory must work in practice.”
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.
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.
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
Morality is not: a matter of what we feel a matter of what is most efficient a product of human invention or whim
Reason vs Feeling Reason grasps what is universal & objective understands and applies principles Feelings are particular & subjective tend to be arbitrary and unpredictable
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.
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?
Act only on that maxim which you can will to become universal law.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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?
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.
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.
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
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
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?