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Duty and Prescriptive Ethics
· The term `deontological' is derived from the Greek
word deon, meaning `duty'. So, deontological systems
are concerned with describing our moral duties.
· By contrast with consequentialist systems, deontology
is concerned with the intrinsic properties of actions ­
whether they are good or bad in their own right.
· The most famous moral deontologist is the German
philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804).
· Kant thought that our morals should not be influenced
by feelings (`inclination'), but instead we should be
concerned with fixed statements of duty (I ought to...).
This makes Kantian ethics `prescriptive'.…read more

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Kant lived a very dull life in the
Immanuel Kant late 18th century, never leaving
his home town of Königsburg. His
life was so structured that people
used to set their watches by his
afternoon walks. Still, what Kant
lacked in terms of an interesting
lifestyle he made up for in the
complexity and interest of his
philosophy.
Kant's key work on ethics was the
Groundwork of the Metaphysic of
Morals, in which he sought to
establish real ethical duties and
values over and against typical
human desires (contrast this with
Jeremy Bentham's psychological
hedonism).
It's important to remember that Kant was a rationalist. He thought that
he could find a rational and universal basis for ethics. He sought to
demonstrate that being moral is rational behaviour.…read more

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Goodness and Moral Law
· Kant maintained that humans seek an
ultimate end called the supreme good, the
summum bonum. This is the state in which
the highest virtue and the highest
happiness are combined.
· While Kant was not interested in
arguments for God's existence, his theory
of ethics assumes God. Kant thought that
reaching the summum bonum must
somehow be guaranteed. So, he thought it
reasonable to assume that God exists to
support the idea that we can reach the
highest good.
· But what is goodness? Kant thought that
he had found it in the idea of moral law ...…read more

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"Two things fill the mind with ever new
and increasing admiration and awe ...
the starry heavens above me and the
moral law within me."
Kant believed that the moral law is
objective; its rules are real and binding. The
logical definition he applied to moral
statements was synthetic a priori. The
`synthetic' part means that moral
statements are not true by definition (not
analytic) and so can be true or false. The `a
priori' part means that moral statements
cannot be demonstrated through
experience; they are more a part of our
understanding.
So, again: moral law is synthetic a priori ­ it
may be true or false and is not known
directly from our experiences. It is a part of
our reason.…read more

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Moral Imperatives
· For Kant, the basis of duty is what he calls `categorical
imperatives'. To explain this, he distinguishes real ethics
from `hypothetical imperatives' ­ instructions which have
conditions attached to them. For example:
Antecedent: `If you want to get in shape ...'
Consequent: `... then you should get some exercise.'
This prescribes actions on the basis of hypothetical
desired outcomes.
· Yet for Kant, the whole point of ethics is that it is not based
on our desires or circumstances. A moral law is a
categorical imperative because it has no antecedent; there
is no `if' part in the command. In other words, duties are
binding for their own sake.…read more

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