• Created by: holly
  • Created on: 19-04-15 13:38


  • Kant argued that morality is a matter of following absolute rules - rules that admit no exceptions and appeal not to religious considerations, but to reason.
  • The term deontological is derived from the Greek word deon, meaning 'duty'. 
  • Deontology is concerned with the intrinsic properties of actions, whether they are good or bad in themselves.
  • Challenges teleological views e.g. Utilitarianism, Situation ethics
  • Similar to our society and the law
1 of 13


  • Kant developed an absolutist and deontological ethical theory working on a priori rules.
  • Kant doesn't believe morality is dependent upon God and rejects the ontological and cosmological arguments for the existence of God (think to philosophy)
  • An influence on Kant's thought was Rousseau. He taught the importance of human dignity, the primacy of freedom and the intrinsic work of human beings.
  • Kant attempts to fuse rationalist (Spinoza, Descartes) and empiricist (Hume, Locke) approaches
  • Kant accepts Hume's view that we are governed by our desires, but refuses to believe thats all there is. 
  • He believed reason is a distinct faculty and independent of world experience and therefore indepedent of our desires and nature.
  • It is only when we act according to pure reason that we are truly free or autonomous,
  • Any person then with the capacity to reason is able to come up with moral rules. 
2 of 13

1. 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"

  • Good will is the only thing that can be good, in and of itself.
  • He rejects other motives (happiness, love etc) on the ground that they can sometimes be put to bad uses
  • He distinguishes between intrinsic and extrinsic or instrumental goods.
  • Extrinsic: depends on something external of itself to be good e.g. utilitarianism says something is good if it makes people happy.
  • The good will is an instrinsic good and 'shines forth like a precious jewel'. 
  • Acts made on good will, even if they lead to a bad out come, are 'good through willing alone'
3 of 13

2. Duty

What is doing the good will mean in practice? Doing your duty

  • Kant warns about combining inclination and duty
  • Only an action which springs from duty is moral
  • E.g. giving money to the poor to impress someone is not moral. It is only moral if it is purely from their good will and duty
4 of 13

3. Categorical Imperative

  • Must be universal and apply to everyone. 
  • Every human has the capacity to reason, and since doing your duty is acting according to reason, therefore all humans have the capacity to fulfil their duty.
  • Kant calls it the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
  • It is always expressed by the command 'I ought...'
  • This contrasts with the hypothetical imperatives that state 'you ought to do something if... you want to be happy/avoid pain etc'. They are always conditional on your own self interest or desires
  • Categorical imperatives are not concerned with 'ifs'. 
  • They command us how to act irrespective of our inerests or desires. It is therefore absolute.
5 of 13

First version: Formula of Nature - Universability

"Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law"

  • Maxims: the underlying principles or action, or guidelines according to which we live, on which we base our actions and our moral decisions
  • Would you like other people, in the same situation as you, to always act in the same way?
  • If no, you are involved in a contradiction, and what you are planning on doing goes against reason and good will, therefore immoral.
  • E.g. if you are going to break a promise, this is immoral, as if everyone acted this way, we'd live in a world where no one keeps promise - which by definition, is something you keep. 
6 of 13

Second version: Formula of Humanity

"Act in such a way as you always treat humanity whether in your own person or on the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end"

  • Another formulation of the categorical imperative
  • We must never treat human beings as a means, but as with worth in themselves. 
  • We must never treat others instrumentally, or use them, but treat them with the full respect that their humanity deserves. 
  • He sees this as a self-evident principle (a priori). 
7 of 13

Third version: Kingdom of Ends

"A rational being must always regard himself as making laws in a kingdom of ends which is po**ible through freedom of the will"

  • This version ties the first two together.
  • It stre**es that humans do not operate alone, and they must use their reason to create a society in which all are valued. It adds a community element to Kant'** thought 
8 of 13

Categorical Imperative Summary

  • To be moral is to act for duty alone, for it is only when we act from duty that we are truly autonomous. 
  • Acting for the sake of duty alone means treating oneself and every other rational being as an end in herself and never merely as a means
  • Kant takes autonomy literally to mean 'self law': it is the fact that the will is a law to itself; or that our actions are autonomous insofar as we act in accordance with the law of our own rational nature - and this would be the moral law.
  • In acting in this way, then, we act freely, morally and rationally
9 of 13

The Summun Bonum - happiness

  • Kant rejects happiness as a primary goal in ethical decision making
  • "Pure practical reason requires not that we should renounce the claims of happiness; it requires only that we take no account o them whenever duty is in the question"
  • Happiness is something that we necessarily pursue as rational beings
  • The Summun Bonum or highest good consists of two parts: virtue and happiness.
  • Virtue, connected to good will, is the required condition for anything to be good or desirable
  • The perfect state for Kant would be one in which humans are happy to the degree that they deserve to be happy.
10 of 13

W.D. Ross

  • Ross argued that the notion of acting out of motivation is incoherent as we cannot choose why we act, we can only choose how we will act
  • Ross devised the prima facie duties - duties to repay acts of generosity or to help those who are dependent upon us. However, we cannot tell in advance what the relevant prima facie duty will be, only the situation we are in will reveal it and some element of judgement will be necessary before we decide.
  • A conflict between prima facie duties does not negate one or both of them, but rather is a conflict between two things which do matter, and which is resolved by making a decision about which matters more in a particular situation. The only way to come to any moral knowledge is by moral experience.
  • Ross appeals to intuitionism, to solve problems about conflicting duties. 
11 of 13


  • Categorical imperative tells us what not todo, not how to live our lives. It is impersonal and seems to rule out our natural inclinations.
  • Rejects all external moral authorities, unacceptable to Christians etc
  • With sufficient ingenuity almost every precept could be universalised' - Alasdair MacIntyre
  • Are humans really united by reason? Would we all agree on what is morally acceptable in a given situation?
  • Kant's rules are too rigid. Surely there are times when it is ok to lie or kill e.g. Nazi Germany
  • Hume: it makes no sense to suppose that someone acts from the motive of duty unless there is in human nature some 'natural passion' providing another motive to perform the action in question. Kant's attempt to associate authentic moral worth with actions performed soley from the motive of durt, apart from any incentive of inclination, might therefore seem, to be entagled in incoherence.
  • Nietzsche criticised Kant for being contradictory. Kant establishes a view independent of God but then assumes the existence of moral laws point toward the existence of a law giver (God). And as we cannot reach the Sommun Bonum on earth, we have a soul to allow us to.
12 of 13


  • Motivation is valued oer consequences, which are beyond our control. An immoral motive cannot be justified by unforseen good consequences, but a good motive is, in itself, worthy of value
  • Justice is always an absolute
  • Recognises the value of moral absolutes that do not change with time or culture.There must be somethings which are intrinsically good or bad e.g. ****.
  • Provides objective guidelines for making moral decisions
  • Hinman - Kantian ethics is entirely impartial treating each individual as a morally valuable being. 
  • Universal
  • Provided a basis for Human rights. 
13 of 13


No comments have yet been made

Similar Religious Studies resources:

See all Religious Studies resources »See all Ethics resources »