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Transcript of Immanuel Kant
The Moral Theory of Immanuel Kant
The Trolley Problem
The Categorical Imperative
Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
1. Is there a moral obligation to pull the switch?
2. What is the source of this moral obligation?
3. How can the moral worth of the action be assessed?
Kant's Three Moral Propositions
The Four Formulations of the Categorical Imperative
is a will guided by reason to act independently of inclination or consequences.
Only a good will has absolute moral worth.
An act of the will has moral worth only if it is done from duty—respect for the moral law.
A good will has moral worth independent of what it effects.
as reason in its practical application.
Kant argued for
; according to which, a moral action is good if it is done for the sake of duty (from the Greek
, meaning obligation or duty; from
, meaning to bind, tie, or fetter).
is a universal and necessary obligation required by reason.
imperative that the rational agent derives from reason.
e Kingdom of Ends Formulation
: "Act according to the maxims of a member universally legislating for a merely possible kingdom of ends"
The Universal of Law of Nature Formulation:
"Act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law"
The Autonomy Formulation:
"Act according to the maxim that can make itself at the same time a universal law"
The Humanity Formulation:
"So act that you use humanity, in your own person as well as in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means"
is a rule followed in a deliberate and intentional act.
is not human beings in general or individual persons. It is the set of rational capacities that makes us human: the rational capacity for autonomous action that makes it possible for us to pursue our own interests.
In Kant's view, the preservation and development of our humanity was an objective
of human life and should never be violated.
Kant held that reason enables human beings to act independently of their inclinations, and therefore, they are capable of
—determining their actions according to reason.
To act as a member of a
kingdom of ends
is to understand ourselves to be a member of a community of rational agents and to restrict our actions to those that would be acceptable to the entire community.
: "If you want x in circumstance C, do A."
: "Do A (in circumstance C)."
"We can call any philosophy that is based on experience
. We can call it
philosophy if it sets forth its teachings entirely on the basis of a priori principles. When pure philosophy is merely formal, it is called
; but if it is limited to specific objects of the understanding, pure philosophy is then called
... In this way there arises the idea of a two-fold metaphysics—a
metaphysics of nature
metaphysics of morals
. Thus physics will have an empirical part, but also a rational part; and similarly ethics, although here the empirical part might be given the special title
, the term
being properly used to refer just to the rational part" (Kant,
, Preface, Ak. 388, 315).
Kant is seeking to discover the
conditions that make moral judgments possible. In doing so, he is seeking to establish ethics on rational foundations (i.e., according general, a priori laws and principles that are universal and necessary) instead of empirical foundations (i.e., feelings or consequences).
"For if any action is to be morally good, it is not enough that it should
to the moral law—it must also be done
for the sake of that law
, Ak. 390, 316).
Are We Free?
"The will is a kind of causality that living beings have so far as they are rational. Freedom would then be that property whereby this causality can be active, independently of alien causes determining it; just as natural necessity is a property characterizing the causality of all non-rational beings—the property of being determined to activity by the influence of alien causes" (Kant,
, Ak. 446, 342).
"Freedom must rather be a causality that accords with immutable laws, though laws of a special kind; for otherwise a free will would be a fiction. Natural necessity, as we have seen, is a heteronomy of efficient causes; for we saw that every effect was only possible according to the law that something else gets the efficient cause to act as a cause. What else then can freedom of will be but autonomy—that is, the property that a will has of being a law to itself?" (Kant,
, Ak. 447, 342).
Freedom is the activation of the causal power of will to legislate universal law (e.g., the categorical imperative). For Kant, we are free when we acting in accordance with the moral law.
"An absolutely good will is one whose maxim can always include itself considered as a universal law" (Kant,
, Ak. 447, 343).
"All human beings think of themselves as having free will. That is the basis of all judgments of actions that say they
ought to have been done
, although they were not done" (Kant,
, Ak. 455, 347).
For Kant, freedom was an "idea of reason" that was necessary and presupposed morality.
Autonomy vs Heteronomy
"If the will seeks the law that is to determine it anywhere but in the fitness of its maxims for its own legislation of universal laws, and if it thus goes outside of itself and seeks this law in the character of any of its objects, then heteronomy always results. The will in that case does not give itself the law, but the object does so because of its relation to the will... The moral imperative must therefore abstract from every object to such an extent that no object has any influence at all on the will, so that practical reason (the will) may not merely minister to an interest not belonging to it but may merely show its own commanding authority as the supreme legislation" (Kant,
, Ak. 441).
: All persons are rational beings.
: All rational beings are capable of self-legislation (giving universal laws to themselves).
: All persons capable of self-legislation are worthy of respect.
.: All persons should be treated with respect.
having its own laws
: law of another
Space (outer sense) and Time (inner sense)
World of Appearances (Objective Phenomena)
Quantity Quality Relation Modality
Substance and Accident
Cause and Effect
Forms of Sensibility
"So I tried first whether Hume's objection could not be put into a general form, and soon found that the concept of the connection of cause and effect was by no means the only concept by which the understanding thinks the connection of things
[prior to experience], but rather that metaphysics consists altogether of such concepts" (Kant,
, Ak. 260).
The Transcendental Unity of Apperception
Blue, Red, Hard, Round
Relations of ideas (necessary/
Matters of Fact (synthetic/
"Intelligence, wit, judgment, and whatever
talents of the mind
one might want to name are doubtless in many respects good and desirable, as are such
qualities of temperament
as courage, resolution, perseverance. But they can also become extremely bad and harmful if the will, which is to make use of these gifts of nature and which in its special constitution is called
, is not good. The same holds with
gifts of fortune
; power, riches, honor, even health, and that
and contentment with one's condition which is called happiness make for pride and often hereby even arrogance, unless there is a good will to correct their influence on the mind and herewith also to rectify the whole principle of action and make it universally conformable to its end. The sight of a being who is not graced by any touch of a pure and good will but who yet enjoys an uninterrupted prosperity can never delight a rational and impartial spectator. Thus a good will seems to constitute the indispensable condition of being even worthy of happiness" (Kant,
Kant rejected the basic premise of virtue ethics (c.f., Aristotle, Stoics), namely, that happiness is a product of talents of the mind like wisdom, intelligence, or prudence; or qualities of temperament like courage, temperance, and generosity; or gifts of fortune like power, wealth, honor, and health have a conditional value not an unconditional value as the ancients argued.
For Kant, the moral worth of an action does not depend on outcomes or
outcomes, but only on the willing itself.
"Moderation in emotions and passions, self-control, and calm deliberation are not only good in many respects but even seem to constitute part of the intrinsic worth of a person. But they are far from being rightly called good without qualification (however unconditionally they were commanded by the ancients). For without the principles of a good will, they can become extremely bad; the coolness of a villian makes him not only much more dangerous but also immediately more abominable in our eyes than he would have been regarded by us without it" (Kant,
"A good will is good not because of what it effects 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" (Kant,
Do We Have a Duty to be Compassionate to Others?
"Reason, however, is not competent enough to guide the will safely as regards its objects and the satisfaction of all our needs (which it in part even multiplies); to this end would an implanted natural instinct have led much more certainly. But inasmuch as
reason has been imparted to us as a practical faculty
, i.e., as one which is to have influence on the will,
its true function must be to produce a good will
which is not merely good as a means to some end, but is good in itself" (Kant,
, Ak. 396).
"Duty, which includes that of a good will, though with
certain subjective restrictions and hindrances,
which far from hiding a good will or rendering it unrecognizable, rather bring it out by contrast and make it shine forth more brightly" (Kant, Groundwork, Ak. 397).
Kant recognized that although human beings recognize the moral law (what is universally and necessarily required by reason), their inclinations ("certain subjective restrictions and hindrances") might lead them to act contrary to this law.
Reason orients the will away from consequences and inclinations toward the moral law.
"To be beneficent where one can is a duty; and besides this, there are many persons who are so sympathetically constituted that, without any further motive of vanity of self-interest, they find an inner pleasure in spreading joy around them and can rejoice in the satisfaction of others as their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of his kind, however dutiful and amiable it may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth. It is on a level with such actions as arise from other inclinations, e.g., the inclination for honor, which if fortunately directed to what is in fact beneficial and accords with duty and is thus honorable, deserve praise and encouragement, but not esteem; for its maxim lacks the moral content of an action done not from inclination but from duty" (Kant,
, Ak. 398).
"Suppose the mind of this friend of mankind to be clouded over with his own sorrow so that all sympathy with the lot of others is extinguished, and suppose him still to have the power to benefit others in distress, even though he is not touched by their trouble because he is sufficiently absorbed with his own; and now suppose that, even though no inclination moves him any longer, he nevertheless tears himself from this deadly insensibility and performs the action without any inclination at all, but solely from duty—then for the first time his action has genuine moral worth (Kant,
, Ak. 398).
The Moral Law
"Unless we wish to deny to the concept of morality all truth and all application to a possible object, we must grant that its law is so broad in meaning that it must be valid not merely for human beings as such, and valid not merely under contingent conditions and subject to exceptions, but with absolute necessity" (Kant,
, Ak. 408).
The Moral Law must be:
Abstract from everything empirical
Universal and necessary
Make no reference to consequences of actions
Be independent of inclinations
Be capable of inspiring respect
"Everything in nature works in accordance with laws. Only a rational being has the power to act in accordance with the idea of laws—that is, in accordance with principles—and thus has a will. Since reason is required if we are to derive actions from laws, the will is nothing else than practical reason" (Kant,
, Ak. 412, 327).
"The idea of an objective principle, in so far as it constrains a will, is called a commandment (of reason), and the formulation of this commandment is called an Imperative" (Kant,
, Ak. 413, 327).
"One need only look at the attempts to deal with morality in the way favored by popular taste. What he will find in an amazing mixture is at one time the particular constitution of human nature (but along with this also the idea of a rational nature in general), at another time perfection, at another happiness; here moral feeling, and there the fear of God; something of this, and also something of that. But the thought never occurs to ask whether the principles of morality are to be sought at all in the knowledge of human nature (which can be had only from experience). Nor does the thought occur that if these principles are not to be sought here but to be found, rather, completely a priori and free from everything empirical in pure rational concepts only, and are to found nowhere else even to the slightest extent—then there had better be added the plan of undertaking this investigation as a separate inquiry, i.e., as pure practical philosophy or (inf one may use a name so much decried) as a metaphysics of morals" (Kant,
, Ak., 410).
Kant claims that the ordinary way of viewing morality—as an empirical phenomenon observable by experience—fails to provide normative principles for moral action. The moral law, Kant claims, must be valid for all rational beings in general, not simply human beings in particular.
"Everything in nature works according to laws. Only a rational being has the capacity of acting according to the conception of laws (i.e., according to principles). This capacity is the will... The conception of an objective principle, so far as it constrains a will, is a command (of reason), and the formula of this command is called an imperative" (Kant,
, Ak. 412).
Applying the Categorical Imperative
"4. A fourth man, for whom things are going well, sees that others (whom he could help) have to struggle with great hardships, and he asks, “What concern of mine is it?
Let each one be as happy as heaven wills, or as he can make himself; I will not take anything from him or even envy him; but to his welfare or to his assistance in time of need I have no desire to contribute
.” If such a way of thinking were a universal law of nature, certainly the human race could exist, and without doubt even better than in a state where everyone talks of sympathy and good will or even exerts himself occasionally to practice them while, on the other hand, he cheats when he can and betrays or otherwise violates the right of man. Now although it is possible that a universal law of nature according to that maxim could exist, it is nevertheless impossible to will that such a principle should hold everywhere as a law of nature.
For a will which resolved this would conflict with itself, since instances can often arise in which he would need the love and sympathy of others, and in which he would have robbed himself, by such a law of nature springing from his own will, of all hope of the aid he desires
, Ak. 423).
"1. A man who is reduced to despair by a series of evils feels a weariness with life but is still in possession of his reason sufficiently to ask whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to take his own life. Now he asks whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. His maxim, however is:
For love of myself, I make it my principle to shorten my life when by a longer duration it threatens more evil than satisfaction.
But it is questionable whether this
principle of self-love
could become a universal law of nature. One immediately sees a contradiction in a system of nature whose law would be to destroy life by the feeling whose special office is to impel the improvement of life. In this case it would not exist as nature; hence that maxim cannot obtain as a law of nature, and thus it wholly contradicts the supreme principle of all duty" (Kant,
, Ak. 422).
"2. Another man finds himself forced by need to borrow money. He well knows that he will not be able to repay it, but he also sees that nothing will be lent him if he does not firmly promise to repay it at a certain time. He desires to make such a promise, but he has enough conscience to ask himself whether it is not improper and opposed to duty to relieve his distress in such a way. Now, assuming he does decide to do so, the maxim of his action would be as follows:
When I believe myself to be in need of money, I will borrow money and promise to repay it, although I know I shall never be able to do so
. Now this
principle of self-love
or of his own benefit may very well be compatible with his whole future welfare, but the question is whether it is right. He changes the pretension of self-love into a universal law and then puts the question: How would it be if my maxim became a universal law? He immediately sees that it could never hold as a universal law of nature and be consistent with itself; rather it must necessarily contradict itself.
For the universality of a law which says that anyone who believes himself to be in need could promise what he pleased with the intention of not fulfilling it would make the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it impossible; no one would believe what was promised to him but would only laugh at any such assertion as vain pretense
, Ak. 422).
"3. A third finds in himself a talent which could, by means of some cultivation, make him in many respects a useful man. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers indulgence in pleasure to troubling himself with broadening and improving his fortunate natural gifts. Now, however, let him ask whether his maxim of neglecting his gifts, besides agreeing with his propensity to idle amusement, agrees also with what is called duty. He sees that a system of nature could indeed exist in accordance with such a law, even though man (like the inhabitants of the South Sea Islands)
should let his talents rust and resolve to devote his life merely to idleness, indulgence, and propagation—in a word, to pleasure
. But he cannot possibly will that this should become a universal law of nature or that it should be implanted in us by a natural instinct. For,
as a rational being, he necessarily wills that all his faculties should be developed, inasmuch as they are given him and serve him for all sorts of purposes
, Ak. 423).
Given that human beings possess a natural instinct for self-preservation (i.e., a law of nature), Kant claims that suicide contradicts the laws of nature, and therefore cannot be considered to be in accordance with the Categorical Imperative.
False Promise Example
Given that the aim of a promise is to render to another what one has agreed to render, Kant claims that a false promise involves a logical contradiction that contradicts the laws of nature, and therefore cannot be considered to be in accordance with the Categorical Imperative.
Formula of Universal Law (FUL/FLN)
: "Act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law [of nature]"
Formula of the Humanity as End (FHE)
: "So act that you use humanity, in your own person as well as in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means"
Formula of Autonomy (FA)
: "Act according to the maxim that can make itself at the same time a universal law"
Formula of Kingdom of Ends (FKE)
: "Act according to the maxims of a member universally legislating for a merely possible kingdom of ends"
Violates: FUL/FLN, FHE
Neglected Talents Example
Indifference to Others Example
Violates: FUL/FLN, FKE
Kant's Central Moral Principle: A rational being who acts only in accordance with maxims that can be represented as universal laws will recognize that it has a duty to perform those actions.