Kantian Deontological Ethics


Key Terms

Deontological ethics - judges morality of an action based on rules e.g. duty

Hypothetical imperative - tells you what you must do in order to achieve a particular result e.g. I ought to diet if I want to lose weight 

Categorical imperative - a command which expresses an unavoidable requirement of the moral law. It must be followed regardless of outcome

Kant's categorical imperative - it's three forms establish that an object is morally good if we can will all persons to do it(universal law), it enables us to treat other persons as ends and not just means + it allows us to see other persons as mutual law-makers in an ideal 'realm of ends'

Autonomy - the ability to act out of reason and to give 'the moral law to yourself'

A maxim - the rule or principle used to guide a person's actions e.g. I shouldn't tell a lie

A perfect duty - something you have to follow to avoid contradiction of law of nature e.g. theft

Imperfect duty - duty to act on maxims we wish were universalized, not following these would be contradictions of the will e.g. laziness + cruelty to animals

1 of 5

Key Terms 2

The Summum Bonum - the ultimate end or supreme good, a state in which virtue and happiness are united + almost impossible to achieve this state in life due to phenomenal constraints

A good will - a good action is one done purely out of duty

2 of 5

Advantages of Kantian Deontological Ethics

Kant's theory gives humans intrinsic worth 

Insists that we treat each individual person with dignity and don't use people

Safeguards Justice and rights and it is consistent + impartial 

Highlights possible problems with depending on consequences 

Tries to counter-act the inherent selfishness of human nature

The categorical imperative prohibits acts that would commonly be considered immoral 

Emotions can be swayed by all sorts of factors; love may be blind or foolish

The freedom that Kant gives humans is combined with a sense of responsibility 

In harmony with Golden Rule (Do to others as you would have them do to you)

Gives importance to the idea that people have Reason and free will 

3 of 5

Disadvantages of Kantian Deontological Ethics

Mixed motives - there may be other psychological reasons to feel moral obligation to do with genes and social upbringing

Consequences - Utilitarians maintain that absolute duties are irrational but good intentions can produce bad consequences + most people take the consequences of their actions into account when deciding between right and wrong

Competing duties - someone may have to duties to fill but can't do both e.g. joining army or protecting mother at home

Applying the categorical imperative - when maxims are universalized, laws are either too broad e.g. not killing or the addition of detail makes our duty unclear

Not all universalisable maxims are moral - many trivial non-moral acts can be universalised Contradictions arise when we try to universalise maxims that include relative or ‘norm’-related positions

The value of other motives - Kant's emphasis on reason seems to come at the price of having to put emotions such as sympathy and compassion to one side.

4 of 5

Disadvantages of Kantian Deontological Ethics 2

Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives - foot asks why we should follow oughts which depend on ifs

Value of commitments - being consistently impartial ignores the ‘embedded’ nature of any particular human life – we have specific duties to specific individuals (family, friends, etc.) 

5 of 5


No comments have yet been made

Similar Philosophy resources:

See all Philosophy resources »See all Morality resources »