Kantian Ethics

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  • Created on: 23-05-16 09:20

Immanuel Kant

- Born 1724, dies in 1804

- Never left Germany his whole life

- Was a theist but didn't believe God's existence could be proved 

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Duty, Goodwill and Freedom

- An act is only moral if it is done out of duty 

- Goodwill is the only justified reason for being moral

- We should never rely on our instincts or our emotions when making decisions

- Autonomy is vital in making moral decisions - we should decide for ourselves how we act

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Hypothetical Imperatives

- There is a factual relationship between the goal and the method

- 'If you want... then you should...' 

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Categorical Imperatives (Kant's favourite)

- An absolute instruction that accounts for all situations 

- It is entirely deontological - there is no sense of a goal or reason in moral decisions

- Kant had 3 main categorical imperatives, these were:

1) Universiability - your maxim should remain just and still work if everbody were to make this moral decision (e.g. fake promises wouldn't be moral because if everyone made fake promises then actual promises would lose their worth)

2) Never treat people as a means to an end - we should never use people for our own needs, we should always treat people as a means to their own ends and give them autonomy as a free rational agent

3) Kingdom of Ends - we should act as if we were the law-making body of a kingdom of ends - every moral decision should become a law to us 

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Summon Bonum

- The summon bonum is a supreme good that can only be acheived in the next life

- As rational agents, Kant didn't think we did irrational actions for no reason - there must be a reward as a result of acting moral

- Kant had faith in the justice of the universe, having seen the injustice of evil people having good lives on earth 

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Kant's Three Postulates

- You must accept these to believe in the Summon Bonum:

  • There is a God - only a divine being has the knowledge required to reward those who follow their duty. Our innate sense of moral law is evidence for God's existence
  • Immortality - without an immoral soul a reward is unattainable
  • Freedom - To obtain the reward you must have acted freely 
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W.D Ross

- Tried to update Kantian ethics with Prima Facie duties 

- These were conditional duties - Ross disagreed with Kant that morality is absolute and universal

- Prima Facie Duties:

  • Fidelity 
  • Gratitude
  • Justice
  • Beneficence (helping others)
  • Self-improvement 
  • Non-malevolance (avoid harming others)
  • Reperation for any harm done
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Strengths and Weaknesses of Ross


- More flexible and forgiving 

- Better real world application


- An overcomplication of Kant's simple ethics

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Strengths and Weaknesses of Kant


- Use of reason

- People can't justify bad things with good consequences

- High value on human life - humans as autonomous rational agents

- Clear and absolute


- The Summon Bonum is teleological whereas the rest of Kant's theory is deontological 

- Categorical imperatives can contradict one another

- Our instincts and emotions are there for a reason

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