Kantian ethics


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The Good Will and Duty
In the search for intrinsic `good', Kant did not believe that any outcome was inherently good.
Pleasure or happiness could result out of the most evil acts. He also did not believe in `good'
character traits, as ingenuity, intelligence, courage etc. could all be used for evil. In fact, he used the
term good to describe the `good will', by which he meant the resolve to act purely in accordance
with one's duty. He believed that, using reason, an individual could work out what one's duty was.
Free Will, God and Immortality
If our actions are pre-determined and we merely bounce around like snooker-balls, we cannot be
described as free and morality doesn't apply to us. Kant could not prove that we are free ­ rather, he
presumed that we could act morally, and for this to be the case we must be free. He also thought
that it followed that there must be a God and life after death, otherwise morality would make no
Synthetic a Priori
We do not follow predetermined laws. However, we must act according to some laws, otherwise
our actions are random and without purpose. As a result, rational beings must determine for
themselves a set of laws by which they will act.
These laws are not analytic (true by virtue of their meaning), but they cannot be determined through
experience (a posteriori). Hume pointed this out when he said that you couldn't move from an is (a
synthetic statement about the world) to an ought (a statement about the way the world should be).
The rational being has to determine the synthetic a priori ­ the substantive rules that can be applied
prior to experience.
The Categorical Imperative ­ Universalisability
An imperative is a statement of what should be done. We have said before that Hume realised you
can't get a should statement out of an is statement. In other words, experience can only give us
hypothetical imperatives (If you want to be healthy, then you should exercise and watch what you
eat). A description of the way the world is cannot tell us the way we should act.
A Categorical Imperative is a should statement, but it is not based on experience, and doesn't rely on
a particular outcome. Rather, it logically precedes experience, or helps us make sense of experience.
In another area of thinking, Kant showed that we must presume that time moves forwards ­ our mind
imposes this on our experiences to make sense of them. We therefore could never demonstrate or
prove this through experience.
It is like that with the categorical imperative: certain actions are logically inconsistent and would make
no sense as universal laws, such as lying. As a result, `Do not lie' is a categorical imperative. This
understanding that our mind plays an active role in ordering and shaping our experience was
revolutionary, and is Kant's greatest achievement.
Kant states the categorical imperative as follows:

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I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a
universal law.
The Categorical Imperative ­ Law of Nature
Kant also states the categorical imperative as follows:
Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature.
It is difficult to see how these two statements are different, and many texts treat them as
though they say the same thing.…read more

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All deontological (duty or rule-based) systems will have problems when two rules come into conflict.
It is possible to have a third rule (Always tell the truth unless doing so endangers someone's life), but
this complicates the theory, resulting in rules with lots of clauses and sub-clauses (a little like our legal
There could also be literally millions of rules that are not self-contradictory but, if universalised,
would seem absurd.…read more

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Strengths Weaknesses
Not consequentialist ­ Kant easily shows the fatal flaw Consequences ­ There are some occasions when
of Utilitarianism ­ a bad act can have good consequences are so severe that many think it is better
consequences. Kant's theory doesn't make this mistake. to break a rule than allow awful things to happen.
Universal ­ Kant's theory provides moral laws that hold Inflexible ­ You should be able to break an unhelpful
universally, regardless of culture or individual situations.…read more

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Youk wanted to die. What was important was the act
Objective ­ Kant's theory gives objective standards, Difficulty forming maxims ­ SS ask if you have Jews
independent of our own interests, cultural bias etc. hiding in your attack. Which maxim are you
universalising? "Do not tell lies" or "Do not expose
others to violence"?
Duty ­ At first, it may seem better to act out of A priori ­ Some have criticised the claim that we work
compassion.…read more

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Start with a maxim - Jenny, whose life is threatened by her pregnancy and wants an
abortion, should abort.
Make it universal - All women whose life is threatened by their pregnancy and want an
abortion should abort.
Is it self-contradictory? - No, it's not self-contradictory
Is it a contradiction of the will? Could a rational person want to live in a world with this
Now you probably find that a hard question, which is a valid criticism of Kant.…read more

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Doing this naturally left them little chance of getting
a match. However, using IVF they could select an embryo (through Pre-implantation Genetic
Diagnosis) that would be able to act as a donor.
The Hashmis were allowed to do this. Their child had an inherited disorder, so screening was a
benefit to the NEW baby too. After IVF, you would screen all embryos and discard the ones with the
inherited disease.…read more


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