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Using the Categorical Imperative To Determine Our Duties

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1 Using the Categorical Imperative To Determine Our Duties

2 Task Use the Categorical Imperative to work out whether or not the following actions are right or wrong and explain why they would be right or wrong given Kant’s criteria [Quick reminder: the 3 criteria of the Categorical imperative are – 1. the universal law 2. Treat humans as an end in themselves not a means to an end 3. Act as if you live in a kingdom of ends] Rape Abortion Helping others Murder Telling the truth Torture Mercy killing/euthanasia Homosexuality Slavery Taking drugs

3 Using the Categorical Imperative To Determine Our Duties
Kant suggests that we can think of there being a general principle of action, or a MAXIM, underlying the intention to perform any act This is a rule of conduct – a reason why someone decides to act in a certain way or an expression of our motive to act But to be moral, an act must have the appropriate maxim underlying it – one which expresses our duty to perform the act

4 This means that actions to help the homeless, or to obey your parents, i.e. To be moral, must be grounded in a maxim such as ‘Always help others (just because it’s your duty), or ‘Always respect your mother and father (because it’s your duty). It cannot be conditional- ‘Always respect your mother and father (if you want to inherit their money and property in their will) Since categorical imperatives are unconditionally binding, they are equally applicable to all people because of their status as ‘rational beings’ – beings which can freely deliberate about their actions

5 Duty Kant offers 4 illustrations of the types of duty that the categorical imperative entails The types of duty that Kant discusses are duties to ourselves and duties to others Within each of these we find there are perfect duties (ones which have no exceptions) and imperfect duties (ones which have occasional exceptions)

6 Some Examples Each of the following examples shows how a particular maxim underpinning an action can (or cannot) be universalised, so demonstrating whether or not that maxim is a duty Example 1 Perfect duty to ourselves: Someone miserable is contemplating committing suicide, and Kant shows how the categorical imperative entails that the person has a duty not to commit suicide (no matter how miserable they are).

7 Example 2 Example 3 Perfect duty to others:
Someone wants to borrow money on the promise that they’ll pay it back, but they know that they will never be able to afford to pay it back within the agreed time limit of the loan. Kant believes the categorical imperative to show that making false promises cannot be universalised; it cannot be a duty and is morally wrong. Example 3 Imperfect duty to ourselves: Someone with natural talents lets them go to waste because they are lazy. Here Kant uses the categorical imperative to show that it is wrong for us to waste our natural talents – we must at least choose to develop some of them (this is why it is an imperfect duty, because we can choose to let some of our talents rust).

8 Example 4 Imperfect duty to others:
Someone who is doing pretty well in life is considering helping out other people. Kant shows that although it is possible to universalise the maxim ‘don’t help others’, it is not possible to ‘will’ this to happen – because we would not want to be in a situation where we need assistance and yet no one wants to help us.

9 Kant Vs. Hobbes In the following scenarios what would Kant say you should do and what would Hobbes say you should do? Which do you think is the best course of action? You promise to take your nephew to the park on Saturday. But on Wednesday your friend calls up with tickets to a gig your favourite band are playing on Saturday. Do you break your promise or not? You are helping out your auntie by taking her dog Rex for a walk to the newsagents. Suddenly the dogs fur catches fire from the flick of someone’s cigarette butt. Rex is in pain but no water is available, only 2 pints of milk on No.5’s doorstep. Do you steal the milk or leave it? You are standing on the roof of a building hauling a piano up to the 3rd floor. You hear gunshots. A man directly below the piano is shooting at innocent people. Do you drop the piano and shoot him or let him carry on shooting?

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