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Kant's ethical theory explained and evaluated

Paul Emecz

on 16 February 2011

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Transcript of Kant

Kant's ethical theory Reason Autonomy Duty Biography Categorical Ends in themselves Good will Universal Most imperatives are 'hypothetical'. For example... "You should try and score a goal." This applies if you are a footballer. However, people watching a football game should not try to score! You should wear school uniform Never travel on a motorway! Always wear a condom! Kant believed that all moral statements
are Categorical. Do not kill. Do not steal. Do not tell lies. anything whoever you are anyone Hypothetical Some people think that moral statements are just hypothetical. Do not steal...
...if you don't want to go to jail! Don't tell lies... ...unless you have your fingers crossed. Be nice to your parents... ...if you want any Christmas presents. ever Kant said we should use reason to work out what is right and wrong "The little emotions are the great captains of our lives" Van Gogh "Two things fill the mind with ever-increasing wonder and awe: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." Knowing what is right and wrong is like knowing the laws of mathematics This is why we (try to) choose judges who are intelligent! Emotions Some people think we work out what is right by using our emotions. Follow your heart! It's only wrong if you get caught Kant said that the only thing that is intrinsically valuable is a good will. “There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be regarded as good without qualification, except a good will.” “A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing, i.e., it is good in itself.” “... reason recognizes as its highest practical function the establishment of a good will, whereby in the attainment of this end reason is capable only of its own kind of satisfaction, viz, that of fulfilling a purpose which is in turn determined only by reason, even though such fulfilment were often to interfere with the purposes of inclination.” “But what sort of law can that be the thought of which must determine the will without reference to any expected effect, so that the will can be called absolutely good without qualification? Since I have deprived the will of every impulse that might arise for it from obeying any particular law, there is nothing left to serve the will as principle except the universal conformity of its actions to law as such, i.e., I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” Kant swiftly dismissed consequentialist arguments. Utilitarians claim that bringing about good outcomes is intrinsically good - good in and of itself. However, consider this example. What if I punch someone in the face for no good reason. They end up in hospital and have a brain scan. The scan reveals a tumour - I have saved their life! Does this good consequence make my violent outburst a good action? Clearly not. In fact the only thing that is good, in an unqualified way, is the good will. Hedonism “Nature has placed mankind under the government of two sovereign masters, pain and pleasure - they govern us in all we do, in all we say, in all we think: every effort we can make to throw off our subjection, will serve but to demonstrate and confirm” Jeremy Bentham The hedonist has to agree that if a person enjoys degrading and mutilating a corpse, and no one else is harmed, then that action is morally right and praiseworthy... Do the right thing, because it is the right thing to do Do not do wrong things, because they are wrong. "An action, to have moral worth, must be done from duty." Immanuel Kant It is possible to act out of kindess and do the wrong thing. Acting out of kindness alone does not have moral worth. The right motivation is not 'love' or 'utility' or 'to fulfil your God-given purpose' - the right motivation is duty. The road to hell is paved with good intentions Consequences Some people think that pleasure is intrinsically good - good in and of itself. Some people think that an action is good if the consequences are good Jack Bauer kills an innocent Ryan Chappelle in 24, saving the lives of hundreds of thousands of people who would have been killed by the release of a deadly virus. God
me. Within the first two to four months of the bombings, the acute effects killed 90,000 - –166,000 people in Hiroshima and 60,000 -–80,000 in Nagasaki Oppenheimer, the 'father of the atomic bomb', had this thought after the bombs were dropped:

'Now I am become Death, the destroyer of worlds.' Joseph Fletcher considered the nuclear bombings as one of four specific examples to illustrate his theory of Situation Ethics. He said "If the end doesn't justify the means, what does?" I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.
First statement of the Categorical Imperative: Universalisability Is it a contradiction of the will? Is it a self-contradiction? I have a perfect duty not to follow the maxim I have an imperfect duty not to follow the maxim Make the maxim into a universal law Another way of putting this:

Before you do something, think to yourself "What if everyone followed the same principles I do?" Kant also said:

Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature.

Relative Some people think that what is right depends on the situation Assisted suicide is illegal in Britain. However, some doctors do help individual patients to die. If the patient is suffering intensely, some doctors think that, in those situations, it is right to help the patient die. What is right depends on the situation. However, most people who campaign for euthanasia argue for the 'right to die'. This takes us back to Kant's Categorical Imperative, and universal principles. So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end in itself, never as means only. Natalie Evans wanted to use frozen embryos without her partners consent. This would be using him merely as a means to an end. It is legal to create a child knowing it will be used as a donor sibling. However, in the UK you cannot screen for a donor unless the screening will also prevent an inherited disorder. The new baby is being treated as an end it itself, not merely a means to an end. Sperm donors can no longer remain anonymous. 18 years later a young adult could turn up and say 'Hi dad!' Is the sperm donor allowing himself to be used merely as a means to an end? Women in India carry up to 5 children each as commercial surrogates. Kant would say they are throwing away their humanity and allowing themselves to be used merely as a means to an end. Kant also said: "So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends.

The Greater Good Some people think that the amount of happiness that results from your actions is more important than the actions themselves. It was a rainy night
When he came into sight,
Standing by the road,
No umbrella, no coat.
So I pulled up alongside
And I offered him a ride.
He accepted with a smile,
So we drove for a while.
I didn’t ask him his name,
This lonely boy in the rain.
Fate, tell me it’s right,
Is this love at first sight?
Please don’t make it wrong,
Just stay for the night.

All I wanna do is make love to you...

So we found this hotel,
It was a place I knew well
We made magic that night.
Oh, he did everything right
He brought the woman out of me,
So many times, easily
And in the morning when he woke all
I left him was a note
I told him
I am the flower you are the seed
We walked in the garden
We planted a tree
Don’t try to find me,
Please don’t you dare
Just live in my memory,
You’ll always be there

All I wanna do is make love to you...

Then it happened one day,
We came round the same way
You can imagine his surprise
When he saw his own eyes
I said please, please understand
I’m in love with another man
And what he couldn’t give me
Was the one little thing that you can In this Heart song, a woman deliberately has sex with a stranger to become pregnant, because her husband is infertile. She didn't ask for his consent. However, she and her husband got to raise a child, so does the end justify the means? Kant places respect for the autonomy of the individual at the centre of his ethical system. If we are not free, we cannot act morally. If I was forced to do something, it can't be right to say I ought not to have done it. Ought implies can If you have no other options, and you don't know what you're really getting into, your autonomy has been compromised. For example, the US Government was criticised, under George W. Bush, for the way it recruited marines from poor areas with high unemployment. Fahrenheit 9/11 showed recruiters giving a misleading picture of what life in the services is like. Strengths Weaknesses Inflexible, not allowing you to do the right thing in particular circumstances. Sometimes the end justifies the means It requires a degree of intellectual capacity that not everyone has 'Imperfect' duties are 'contrary to the will'. People will disagree about what is contrary to the will. What do you do if two 'absolute' rules come into conflict? Gives order and structure for society and laws Kant's rules are in line with our instincts and common conceptions of morality. It gives us respect for individuals, their autonomy and 'human rights'. Everyone knows the rules and they always hold in every situation Kant provides damning criticisms of other ethical theories – for example, evil actions can have good consequences, but that doesn’t make them right. Kant's theory provides universal moral laws that don't rely on religious beliefs, culture, race, nationality etc. OCR Exam Questions This question was from June 2009 :

(a) Explain the strengths of Kant's theory of ethics. [25]

(b) 'Kant's theory of ethics is not a useful approach to abortion.' Discuss. [10]

This question was from the January 2009 AS Ethics paper:

(a) Explain, with examples, Kant’s theory of the Categorical Imperative.

(b) ‘Kant’s theory has no serious weaknesses.’ Discuss.

This question was from the OCR Website :

(a) Explain Kant’s theory of duty.

(b) To what extent is Kant’s ethical theory a good approach to human embryo research?

The following are actual exam questions written by OCR:

(a) Explain what Kant meant by ‘the Categorical Imperative’. [33]

(b) Assess critically Kant’s claims about the Categorical Imperative. [17]

Taken from the OCR website:

(a) 'People should always do their duty.' Explain how Kant understood this concept. [33]

(b) 'The use of the Categorical Imperative makes no room for compassionate treatment of women who want abortions.' Discuss. [17]
Immanuel Kant was born in Königsberg, Germany in 1724. He had a strict Lutheran up-bringing: intense religious devotion, personal humility and a literal interpretation of the Bible. His education was strict, punitive and disciplinary. He did not enjoy the early years of his life, but was happier when he enrolled at University at 16.

Initially, Kant wrote on the sciences, later turning to philosophy. He was appointed Professor of Logic and Metaphysics when he was 45. After his inaugral dissertation in 1770, he published nothing for more than a decade, when the revolutionary Critique of Pure Reason emerged. At over 800 pages, it's hard to summarise briefly(!), however it showed that Kant believed we could have sure and certain knowledge, but this said more about the way we think than the world itself. For example, the way we structure our thoughts presupposes that time moves forwards and that when one event follows another there is a causal link.
His famous work on moral philosophy came in 1785 - Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. In much the same way as his earlier work, Kant looks at the presuppositions we make - if there is morality, there must be free will, God, an afterlife etc. Kant was a long way from arguing that morality PROVES God's existence (Kant offered no moral argument for the existence of God, whatever your textbook may say!)

Kant is well-known for being a creature of habit - stories of locals setting their watch by his early-morning walks. He never married, didn't travel - the picture is painted of a sparse, dull, austere life. It isn't clear to what degree this is true. However, what he wrote was exciting. His writing is long, dry and in German, but the ideas are powerful, visionary and important.
Kant died in 1804. His tomb reads (from Critique of Practical Reason): "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the more often and steadily we reflect upon them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me."
Straightforward and easy to use. This is an objective morality that is based on reason. Agrees with the ‘golden rule’ found in all of the main religions of the world. The good will requires people to act unselfishly out of duty. Compatible with principles of equality, mutual respect, democracy. Establishes justice as an absolute and universal principle. Kant theory provides no motivation to do the right thing, other than it being the right thing to do Unclear. Walker: “regrettable vagueness”. Paton: Kant presupposes that we are autonomous, but doesn’t demonstrate it. The consequences of our actions are always relevant to whether they are right or wrong. Kant’s laws only work if everybody follows them. "Reason is and ought to be the slave of the passions" Hume Reason should be the ‘slave of the passions’, rather than totally discounting them. You should balance self-interest with the interests of others (Butler), rather than ignoring self-interest entirely. Too simplistic. Morality has many factors, not just acting out of duty. Sometimes our duty to someone (for example to tell the truth) is overridden by another duty. Evaluating Kant's Ethical Theory OCR Exam Questions
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