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Transcript of Immanuel Kant
The categorical imperative
The formulae of the categorical imperative
Kant's social and political philosophy
Real-world applications of the categorical imperative
Criticisms of Kant's ethics
Topics to be Covered:
Kant's two classes of beings in the world: means-to-ends and ends-in-themselves
Autonomy: deciding for oneself
Heteronomy: having another individual or thing decide on one's behalf
Insofar as they possess the capacity to exercise their reason (the highest human faculty), humans are rational, autonomous agents whom Kant presupposed to be free from the infinite circuit of causally necessitating events
Humans use their reason to determine the morally correct course of action by asking what
to be done "out of reverence for the law" (Kant 14)
The Categorical Imperative
, or the Age of Reason, began with the 1687 publication of English scientist Sir Isaac Newton's
and ended with the beginning of the French Revolution in 1789
It was during this age of rational thought and secular, theoretical inquiry that Immanuel Kant emerged from his dogmatic slumber and effectuated a Copernican revolution both in epistemology and ethics
= Transcendental idealism
sect of the Lutheran Church which emphasizes morality and rationality over doctrinal belief and feeling
Ethics = rationalist deontology
Kantian Ethics: The Categorical Imperative
"Dare to know! Have the courage to use your own intelligence!"
Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785)
Deontology derives from the Greek
, meaning duty, and
, meaning rational study or
science. Hence, deontology is the
philosophical science of duty.
Deontologists focus on our duty to carry out the right or moral action, consequences notwithstanding.
The Good Will:
"It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will" (Kant 1).
Categorical = unchangeable, absolute, unconditional
Imperative = principle, rule, command
"I ought to do this."
principle upon which we ought to act, conceived through ordinary practical reason, which precedes all elements of circumstance and contingency and reflects only the deep, inherent nature of moral reality
Types of maxims:
Subjective = principle upon which a rational agent does act
Objective = absolute principle upon which a rational agent ought to act
By "just doing it," the objective concurs with the subjective and a moral act is at hand.
The First Formulation
We judge an action as moral or amoral by posing the question, "What if everyone were to do this?"
If an action passes the universalizability test, however, it is not necessarily moral. We must also be able to will that the maxim upon which we act should become a universal law.
Therefore, we must be content living in a world where such a law is imposed for all of humankind.
The Formula of Universal Law
"I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law" (Kant 70).
If everyone in this room were to act as you have, could the maxims upon which you have acted be universalized? Would you want them to be?
The Second Formulation
The Formula of the Law of Nature
"Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature" (Kant 52).
Kant believed that nature was teleological, consistent with the Aristotelian concept of
, which states that everything in nature, albeit intelligent or mindless, acts for a particular end.
Hence, if we are to test a moral maxim, we must ask whether it would effectuate a systematic harmony in the individual and the entire human race, if it were universally adopted.
In other words, only if the maxim of a proposed action contributes to harmony or progress in nature is it truly moral.
The Third Formulation
The Formula of the End in Itself
"Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end" (Kant 65).
The principle of humanity, in essence, states that we should not use other people.
Insofar as humans are autonomous, rational agents who possess a good will, they are not merely subject to external forces acting upon them.
Rather, they are ends-in-themselves with unconditional worth, and should not, therefore, be used as means to particular ends.
Using another person is synonymous with removing their freedom, which subsequently eliminates equality from the human condition.
Immanuel Kant: On Abortion
The Golden Rule
"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you."
Has roots in a wide range of world religions, and is commonly used as a standard way to resolve conflict
Used as a basis for building larger ethical systems
Considered to be a highly subjective ethical system which does not often work in times of conflict
Appeals to inclinations and emotions, which are considered empirical
The Idea of Freedom
Kant believed that humans are ultimately free, and this enables morality to exist
Freedom = control over one's choices and actions
*Therefore, moral rightness and wrongness apply only to free agents who can control their actions and have it in their power, at the time of their actions, to act either rightly or wrongly
If someone is not in control of their actions, they cannot be held accountable for such actions and therefore the distinction between right and wrong cannot be made
For example, a bank robber has complete control over his or her actions, and thus acts amorally by knowingly, willingly, and freely committing a crime.
The Formula of Autonomy
"So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making a universal law through its maxim" (Kant).
This formula is concerned not only with following a universal law, but also with following a universal law which we ourselves create as rational agents
This is directly linked to the idea of freedom, since human reason gives itself universal moral laws to follow
The law which we are bound to obey must be the product of our own will; therefore, it rests on "The idea of the will of every rational being as a will which makes universal law"
According to Kant, this gives humans their supreme value
The fact that humans are free from causality entails that they have responsibilities, or duties, both to themselves and to others
Duty to oneself:
responsibility an individual has to him or herself, which often has an impact on society as a whole
Duty to others:
duty which directly involves society as a whole
Involves the employment of a maxim that would result in a favourable outcome if it were to become universal law
Strongly encouraged behaviour
We have an imperfect duty to seek our own perfection and the happiness of others
Ex) Imperfect duty to oneself: If an individual has a certain aptitude or potential that would benefit society, he or she has an imperfect duty to him or herself to pursue that interest.
Ex) Imperfect duty to others: A doctor has a moral (and professional) obligation to treat all patients.
Involves the application of a maxim that would not cause contradictions if it were universally adopted
We have a perfect duty not to use ourselves or others merely as means to the satisfaction of our inclinations
Ex) Perfect duty to oneself: An individual has a perfect duty to him or herself to not commit suicide.
Ex) Perfect duty to others: Everyone has a perfect duty to intend to keep the promises they make.
Find the basic principle or maxim on which an ethical decision is being made. (For example, "You can tell lies.")
Imagine a possible world in which this maxim is universal. (For example, a world in which everyone lies all the time.)
Ask yourself "Will this maxim lead to a contradiction?" (For example, since everyone is lying, lying itself will cease to work. There will be no lies because no one will ever have cause to believe anyone else. This makes lying a self-contradictory act: a liar depends on the general truthfulness of people.)
If there are contradictions, then the maxim is immoral (impermissible). If there are no contradictions, then it is moral (permissible). (For example, if everyone always told the truth, the result might be an odd world, but it would be a world in which there were no self-contradictions or irrationalities. Therefore, telling the truth is moral but lying is not.)
How does one arrive at a maxim?
The Highest Good
Every human action has an end, which humans are unavoidably concerned with, since this is part of what it means to be a rational being
We form an idea of the maximum satisfaction of all of our inclinations and desires, which Kant calls happiness
Nobody can know "what he really wishes and wills" - that is, what would make him completely happy
"Virtue and happiness together constitute possession of the highest good in a person, and happiness distributed in exact proportion to morality constitutes the highest good of a possible world."
All particular duties lead toward the promotion of the highest good. Kant argues that we can comply with our duty to promote the highest good only if we believe in the immortality of the soul and the existence of God.
Religion Within the Bounds of Bare Reason (1793)
The highest good would be a world of complete morality and happiness.
We must represent holiness as continual progress toward complete conformity of our dispositions with the moral law that begins in this life and extends into infinity.
Kant claims that in order for happiness to be ultimate, it must be caused by virtue.
God: "cause of nature, distinct from nature, which contains the ground of this connection, namely the exact correspondence of happiness with morality."
Applications to Real Life
Suppose that someone is planning to commit suicide because their life is difficult, and they are miserable and unhappy. They would have to think: "If I am committing suicide because my life is difficult and I am unhappy, then everyone who is not happy or who has a difficult life should be able to do so as well." Kant would say that suicide is not moral in any case, and that it should not be a course of action for anyone.
Suppose that a person was to help another person commit suicide. For instance, Dr. Jack Kevorkian was a doctor who euthanized more than 45 terminally ill patients after he, himself, had evaluated their mental health and behaviour for several months. This, then, is moral, according to Kant.
Consequentialism: Suicide is morally wrong solely because a human life is ended, and the motive behind the decision does not matter.
Deontology: One cannot look at the consequence of an action to determine if it is morally right or wrong, but rather at the motive and process of thinking behind the action.
Another situation to which Kantian ethics could be applied is in the act of a crime, such as rape. In the case of rape, the criminal and the victim do not have mutual feelings about the situation, and the one committing the crime is using the victim as a means to his or her end, rather than as an end in itself. Therefore, rape is not, and will never be, moral.
In the case of lying, there is much controversy when it comes to Kant's categorical imperative. According to Kant, lying is morally wrong, regardless of circumstances, since the consequences of one's actions cannot be included in one's moral figuring.
Criticisms of Kantian Ethics
Kant's main critics include Arthur Schopenhauer (1788-1860), Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel (1770-1831), and John Stuart Mill (1806-1873).
1. Arthur Schopenhauer
Did not agree with Kant’s categorical imperative
Claimed that it is an egoistic principle which narrows down to the statement "I should not do to others what I do not want done to myself"
Kant said that sympathy, happiness, and self-love are all feelings that are too unstable and unreliable to be effective foundations for morality, but Schopenhauer believed that human conduct is guided by either sympathy for people or selfish (i.e., egoistic) concerns for oneself
Argued that truly moral conduct must be sympathetic or compassionate
Following Kant's categorical imperative would cause man's egoism to drive how he would consider the universal implications of his actions
In other words, decisions would be egoistic and man would have a different view when he would think of a decision globally
2. Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel
Argued that Kant’s categorical imperative has no practical application - that is, it cannot actually be used in the world
Said that the categorical imperative of which Kant spoke does not offer any clear guidelines for assessing moral conduct, nor does it provide humans with specific moral duties to follow
The problem with the categorical imperative is the fact that it is a moral litmus test based on the absence or presence of a contradiction
Therefore, it can prove difficult to detect contradictions within things that we know are contradictory
3. John Stuart Mill
Stated that the categorical imperative reduces to utilitarianism
While Kant believed that the moral duties of humans are derived from human reason without any consideration of consequences, Mill held that our moral obligations derive only from our considerations of how our actions may affect other humans and their happiness
Mill's utilitarian principle: "Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness"
We look at the consequences of our actions and from those consequences we determine whether our actions bring more happiness than sadness
This principle is very similar to Jeremy Bentham's utilitarian principle of "the greatest good for the greatest number"
Mill argued that the categorical imperative does not succeed as a purely rational source of obligation, but is actually just a complicated and disguised version of the utilitarian principle
"Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure." - John Stuart Mill
"Education is the art of making man ethical." - G. W. F. Hegel
Fieser, James. “The Categorical Imperative.”
Moral Philosophy Through the Ages
. University of Tennessee, 2012. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
Johnson, Robert. “Kant’s Moral Philosophy.”
Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
. The Metaphysics Research Lab, Stanford University, 2004. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals
. New York: Harper Perennial Modern Thought, 2009. Print.
Libribooks. “Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals - by Immanuel Kant.”
. 2013. 24 Nov. 2014.
McCormick, Matt. “Immanuel Kant: Metaphysics.”
Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
. N.p., 1995. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
SparkNotes Editors. “The Enlightenment (1650–1800).”
. 2005. Web. 24 Nov. 2014.
Stickney, Dr. Jeff et al.
Philosophy: Thinkers, Theories & Questions
. Whitby: McGraw-Hill Ryerson, 2011. Print.
Talbot, Marianne. “Deontology.”
Bioethics: An Introduction
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The categorical imperative, on the other hand, is an objective concept, for it is based on
reasoning, and thus goes beyond the golden rule by appealing to the duty of free, rational agents.
"Compassion is the basis of all morality." - Arthur Schopenhauer
Kant's politics are concerned with
One's political duty is to abide by the laws of the state.
To arrive at philosophical principals that are fair and will be applicable to the entire world for future generations.
How can this goal be acheived?
"Aufklarung, Sapre Aude"
The Universal Basis of Right
Rights must be able to coexist without contradiction
The Role of the State
The state is a
Even when state action hinders certain freedoms, it aims to inhibit actions which would themselves hinder the freedom of others.
Theory of Practice
of every member of the state
as a human being
of each member with every other as a subject
of every member of the commonwealth as a citizen
Government Policy & Social Contract
Kant was the first political thinker to suggest a
"League of Nations" that abides by "social contracts."
A legislator must "give his laws in such a way that they could have arisen from the united will of a whole people and regard each subject, insofar as he wants to be a citizen, as if he has joined in voting for such a will" (Kant).
A "state of nature" is not a "state of peace."
1. No conclusion of peace shall be considered valid as such if it was made with a secret reservation of the material for future war.
2. No independently existing state, whether it be large or small, may be acquired by another state by inheritance, purchase, or gift, for state is a society of men, not a possession.
3. Standing armies will gradually be abolished altogether. This encourages war and violence and costs money.
4. No national debt shall be contracted in connection with external affairs of the state. This gives a state power over another. Kant believes that bankruptcy would then be inevitable.
5. No state shall forcibly interfere with the constitution and government of another state.
6. No states at war with one another shall permit such acts of hostility such as would make a mutual confidence impossible during a future time of peace. This prohibits the employment of assassins, breaches of contract or agreement, and espionage.
Law Abiding & Punishment
Property According to Kant
Social Contract & Property:
Kant’s Three Types of Property:
1. Property in Things
2. Property in Contracts
3. Contract-Like Property in Other Persons
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Perpetual Peace (1795)