• Created by: Claire
  • Created on: 30-04-13 18:03

Intro to Kantanian Ethics

  • Kant's ethical approach is deontological - meaning the rightness or wrongness of an action is based upon the action itself and not on the consequences
  • His had an absolute, universal view. 
  • A prior - based on reason
  • Our morals are here in the universe, so our goodness depends on what we do (duty)
  • Kant is a rationalist - reason is the means by which we analyse the world. We can never be certain about knowledge through our sense because what we sense may be open to interpretation
  • His idea of morality is not based on knowledge through our senses (unrealiable, previous point) but the duty we have compelling us to do so. 

Animals > Desires inclination > Phenomenal Realm

Humans > Desire and Reaon > Phenomenal and Noumenal Realm

God > Reason > Noumenal Realm 

1 of 5

Key words

  • Summon bonum - highest good
  • Hypothetical Imperitive - something I must do if I want a certain thing to happen
  • Categorical Imperitive - something I must obey to be applied universally
  • Means to an end - not using someone to reach another purpose
  • Reason - reason is the means by which we analyse the world
  • Goodwill - the only way you can get this is by doing your duty without moral interpretation
  • Synthetic - based on experience and things we do as ration beings
2 of 5

Duty, Goodwill & Reason

Goodwill: a morally good action done only with a 'pure motive'; the only valid reason would be duty.

Duty: To Kant, duty is another word for our moral obligations, which he argued as purely through inclination. We should not act out of kindness or self-benefit, but because we feel as if it is our duty to.

Example: If we say "I'm going to tell the truth", this would be a moral obligation of ours as our inclination would be to tell the truth rather than lying, which is our duty so it is a morally good action. To act on duty, we must know what the moral laws are, and to find out what these are, we use the Categorical Imperitive.  

Reason: If we do something because of our duty, this makes it a morally good action. If we tell the truth because we feel it is our duty to do so, it is good. If it is done upon kindness or self-benefit, it isn't a good action but bad.

3 of 5

Categorical & Hypothetical

Hypothetical imperitive:
It is subjective, meaning it doesn't command any action. 
Eg. "If I want to lose weight, I must exercise" > The problem with the hypothetical imperitive is that we gain something out of it ("I want to lose weight"), so it is used for self-benefit, therefore is not a good action in Kantanian Ethics.
Categorical imperitive:
It is objective, meaning it gives us imperitives or demands.
Eg. "I ought to lose weight" it imples "I can/will/must lose weight", which means it gives you the imperitive of losing weight regardless of the outcome.
The Categorical imperitive demands actions that do not consider the outcome or human emotions, but simply the action itself (deontological).
This gives us laws to abide by, so to enforce that these can be used within different cultures and around the world, we must universalise them.
Formulation 1: ‘Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law '
Formulation 2: Do not treat people as a means to an end.
Formulation 3: (Autonomy) 'Act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxim'

4 of 5


To be able to class categorical imperitives as laws, we must universalise them.
The concept of universalisation is to apply maxims (laws) universally in order for everyone to abide by them, regardless of culture etc.
However, if they cannot be applied universally, they cannot be moral laws.

Examples of universal maxims:
"It is wrong to kill innocent people"
"It is wrong to steal"

Means to an end: (Formulation 2 of the C.I.) 

  • moral laws are to treat everyone as rational beings equally amongst each other, so we should not treat others as a means to an end
  • treating people as a means to an end is immoral


Kant believes his theory of duty will help us reach the summon bonum & we will ultimately be rewarded by God.

5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Ethics resources:

See all Ethics resources »