Ethics. Immanuel Kant.


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  • Created by: Chloe.
  • Created on: 16-05-11 11:04

Kantian Ethics.

  • Immanuel Kant
  • Deontological (concerned with the morality of duty)
  • Absolute
  • Based solely on duty
  • Doing a moral duty comes from God (theist)
  • Moral statements
  • Highest form of good is good will.
  • Good will doest the right thing regardless of the outcomes
  • Universalisation
  • Maxims
  • We should never be used merely as a means to an end
  • Disagreed with making moral choices out of compassion.
  • Categorical Imperatives - you do something because it is right to do
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The thinking of Kant.

Kant sought to discover a rational basis for one's sence of duty, and from this devised a principle by which one can distinguish between right and wrong.

Kants theory of ethics is deontological meaning that it is concerned with the morality of duty. It focuses on morality of an action and disregardes the consequences of an action. It is also absolute, since the morality of an action takes no regard of the situation it is in.

Kant said we should do the right thing just because it is right not because  it fulfils our desires or is based on our feelings. We know what is right by using our reason. To test a moral maxim we need to ask wheather we can always say that everyone should follow it and we must reject it if we cannot.

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Moral duty.

Kant's starting point for moral philosophy was his observation that we all have experience of an inate moral duty. He believed that our moral duty could be reveaed to us through reason, objectively. His theory was based soley on duty.


Kat said that it is not our duty to do what is impossible for us to do. For Kant, the fact that we ought to do something implies that we can. Although if circumstances prevent this then the obligation ceases.

We all aim to reach an ultimate end called the summum bonum. However since it is impossible to reach this state in one lifetime he dedcued that we must have immortal souls to succeed. Thus Kant believed in an afterlife where there is possibility to reach one's summum bonum. For an afterlife to exist, Kant said God must exist. For him, God was a necessary for morality and not the other way around.

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Moral statements.

Kant said there were 2 types of moral statement...

A PRIORI ANALYTIC: statements that are knowable without research. '1+1=2'

A POSTERIORI SYNTHETIC: statements that are knowable only by empirical examination. It can be verified of falsified. 'it's raining today.'

Kant reasoned that statements about moral law are different they are

A PRIORI: Morality can be known using reason.

SYNTHETIC: Morality can be verified of falsified.

therefore kant concluded that more statements are knowable through reason since they are a priori and there must be a method to varify wheather the statement is true or false.

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Good Will and Duty.


Kant argues that the highest form of good is good will. To have good will is to perform one's duty. To do one's duty is to perform actions which are morally required and to avoid those action's which are morally forbidden.

We should perform our duty because it is our duty, and for no other reason. To perform an action out of desire for any self indulgent consequences is not a morally good action. Duty is good in itself.

 According to Kant there is no moral worth in the feeling of satisfaction we get from doing our duty. - if giving to charity out of love for others fives you that warm glow of having helped others it is not necessarily moral. If i give to charity because my duty commands it them i am moral. So even though the act of giving to charity has the same result, according to Kant one way is moral and the other is not. He is arguing against Hume...

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Hume's argument was that morality is only based on making people happy and fulfilling their desires. - it is just a servant of the passions, and morality is founded on our feelings of sympathy for others and depends on our human nature.

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An imperative is something that you are obliged to do. There are 2 kinds:

have 'ifs' - if you want to pass this course you have to work.
have instrumental value
are a means to an end - they are not obligatory if the end is not desired

have no 'ifs'
have intrinsic value
are ends in themselves - their authority does not come from achieving an end

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kants categorical imperative.

The categorical imperative helps us to know which actions are obligatory and which are forbidden.

Hypothetical imperatives are conditional. 'if i want x then i have to do y'. These imperatives are not moral.

For kant the only moral imperatives were categorical imperatives. 'i ought to do x' with no reference to desires or needs.

Thus, Kant derived his own categorical imperative, in order to help us determine which actions are morally obligatory and which are forbidden.

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There are 3 categorical imperatives... (formulations)


1. THE UNIVERSAL LAW. All moral statements should be general laws, which apply to everyone under any circumstances. They should be both univerable (applied to all poeple in all situations) and willed to be univeralised. If rules are not universable then others will not have the same freedom to act on the same moral principles as i use. There should be no occasion under which an exception is made.

Kant uses the example of a man who borrows money due to need. He knows he will not be able to pay it back, but he sees too that he will get no loan if he does not promise to pay it back. He is inclined to make such a promise.

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2. TREAT HUMANS AS ENDS IN THEMSELVES. Kant says you should never treat poeple as a means to some end and exploit them. To treat people as a means to an end means to deny that person of the right to be a rational and indpendent judge of his or her own actions. It is to make oneself in some way superior and different. To be consistent we need to value everryone equally. Therefore...People should always be treated as ends in themselves. This promotes equality.

3. ACT AS IF YOU LIVE IN A KINGDOM OF ENDS. Kant assumed that all rational agents were able to deduce wheather an argument was moral or not through reason alone and so, all rational humans should be able to conclude the same moral laws.  


Any action that ignnores the individual dignity of a human being in order to achieve its end is wrong...

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The three posulates of practical reason.

Apart from making the individual the sole authority for moral judgement, Kant's theory of ethics seems to grant freedom to do anything that can be consistantly universalised. This morality sets limits but does not give direct guidence; therefore in order to make sence Kant has to postulate the existance of God, Freedom and Immortality. Kant says that happiness is not the foundtion of reason for acting morally but he claims that it is the reward.

Kant postulated three things that were necessary for his theory to work, but which rationally must exist:

1. We must be free to be able to make decisions.

2. There must be an afterlife (or immortality) for us to be able to achieve the summum bonum.

3. God must exist in order to be a fair judge to bring us to the afterlife or not.

This is why Kant is referred to in discussions about the Moral Argument for the Existence of God.

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Strengths/Weaknesses of Kants theory of ethics...

:) the categorical imperative prohibits acts which would commonly be thought of as immoral such as theft, murder and sexual abuse.
:) Kant makes a distinction between duty and inclination.
:) It does not rely on predicting outcomes ot happiness, and is rational and certain.
:) He corrects the utilitarian approach that punishment of the innocent can be justified if the majority benefit.
:) Kant gives humans intrinsic worth meaning that they can no longer be used as a means to an end. This promotes equality.

:( Kants refusal to allow any exceptions to a maxim is incompatable with modern politics. In war, the sacrifice of few is necessary. Kant does not allow this.
:( A morality in which results are left out of account seems detached and impractical.
:( Kant cannot distinguish between conflicting duties.
:( Kants universability encounters problems. How similar do two moral dilemmas have to be to be covered by the same maxim?
:( it is very hard to seperate reason from emotions such as compassion. Some might argue that emotions play an important part in ethical decision making.

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Brilliant. :)

saiqa saleem


so helpfull =]

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