Kantian Ethics

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  • Created by: Saleena
  • Created on: 31-12-12 23:49


It is not easy to arrive at a Moral Judgment when the Intention and the Outcome of an action appear to be in Conflict. To clarify this, Kant established a fixed Rule that would apply to anyone in any situation. In other words, an Absolute Moral Law that was indeed Universal.

To ensure of would not be clouded by Emotion, Kant based it on the Power of Reason, which he believed was Universal. Since Judgements about Outcomes are difficult unless you can predict the Future accurately, Kant concentrated on a person's Intention.

He believed that everybody can Reason how they ought to Behave in a Situation, this he called the 'The Moral Law within'. People are Free to act according to this Moral Law if they wish to. A Good action undoubtedly involves following the Moral Law buy that may not be Adequate in deciding what is Good and what is Bad. When a Good Deed becomes tangled with a doubtful intention or a bad out one we are uncertain how Good the Action is. 

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Introduction (Continued)

Although Kant expressed himself in a Philosophical and quite difficult way, he believed that he was putting forward something that would help people deal with the Moral Dilemmas of everyday life, and provide all of us with a useful guide go acting rightly.

'Good will shines forth like a Precious Jewel' - Kant 

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Good Will

In Kant's search for an Absolute Rule, there has to be no 'Ifs' or 'Buts' and no place for Emotion. An action is only Good , Kant maintained, when a person acts from a Sense of Good Will. An action is only Good if an individual chooses to act out of a sense of Good will towards another Human Being. 

In Kant's opinion, Good Will is the only Pure Motive'.  It is impossible to conceive of anything at all in the World, or even out of it, which can be taken as Good without Qualification, except 'Good Will' of course. 

In his opinion all other qualities has the potential to be misused. For Example, a person might act out of Kindness because it made them feel Good, or they wanted to appear Virtuous to others. That would be a wrong action because the only valid Reason is Duty. 

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The only acceptance Reason for putting Good Will into action, Kant maintained, was a sense of Duty.

Good Will + Duty = A Moral Action.

Most of the Reasons suggested for the actions carried about a person usually involve Emotions or Ulterior Motives. Kant was searching for an Objective Definition of Morality that could be applied in all Situations, which meant the reasons for any Action must be Coldly Rational and Free from Emotion.

A person acting from a sense of Duty is clearly not being forced to. Indeed Kant said 'Duty involves Freely choosing the Action' as anything else would invalidate it. If you ask the question 'Why do people do something from a Sense of Duty' the only answer can be 'Because it is their Duty to'. Any other answer would introduce a Motive. 

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The Hypothetical Imperative

An Hypothetical Imperative usually involves a case where if this happens, then something else follows. The reason for an action is always related to the outcome. There is no obligation to obey this imperative unless you want to achieve that outcome.

For Example, if you want to go on a Dream Holiday, then you wi have to Save up for it. Because Kant was searching for an Absolute Moral Law, what he defined as the Hypothetical Imperative was no use because these judgements were not connected with Morals and they were Dependent on Outcome. It is useful to remember that this Hypothetical Imperative will begin 'If I do this ... Then this will happen'; making it Teleological. 

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The Categorical Imperative

First Formulation - Universalisation

For an action to be Morally Valid ... The person performing the action must not carry out any action unless he or she believes that, in the same situation, all people should act in the same way.

Kant said everyone must be in a position to carry out an action. If there is any Reason why that might not be possible then the action is not Universal and Logically invalidates it.

There cannot be one rule for one and one for another. For a Rule to be Absolute, there can no exceptions. Kant used the example of breaking a promise. Suppose you borrow money and promise to repay but know full well that you will never be able to.  That action can only be tight of you are prepared to let everybody else make promises they know they can't keep, which of course would make promises worthless and defies Reason. He then considered Laziness, which is a logical possibility for everyone. It must be wrong to be lazy, he reasoned, because we would not want it apiece universally so that everybody was lazy. 

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The Categorical Imperative (Continued)

Second Formulation - Humans as Ends

For Kant, a moral code must treat humans with respect and not just as a means to an end; humans must be the end in themselves. He regarded Humanity as the Highest Point in God's Creation, Intelligent Rational brings with Human Rights.  Kant rules out all forms of exploitation like Slavery but did accept that it was possible to people for means. For Example, it would be acceptable to go to the Doctor in order to be cured, but it would be wrong to treat people only as a means.

Third Formulation - The Kingdom of Ends

The Kingdom of Ends is a Society made of people, all of whom are entitled to be treated as ends and not means. In this third version, Kant says everybody should act as though everyone else has the same Human Rights as themselves.

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Measuring Up

One of the criticisms leveled at Kantian Ethics is that it relies on everyone sharing the same values and having the same sense of Integrity. Some people have suggested that there is no common Moral Code amongst humanity; our understanding of what is Right and what is Wrong depends on the Culture in which we have brought up.

Although Kantian Ethics went a long way towards defining an Absolute Moral Code, many people have condemned it as Cold and Inhuman. Actions undertaken from a sense of Love or Compassion are not classed as Moral by his definition, yet Love and Compassion are important Human Motivation.

For example, according to Kant the person who gives money to charity out of Compassion is not doing a Virtuous thing. They should only Act out of Duty.

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‘Ought’ implies ‘Can’

Kant said that we only have a Moral Obligation to do our Duty if we can. If circumstances prevent this, then that Obligation Ceases.

‘Is’ is not the same as ‘Ought to’

Kant said that what is Good is what we Ought to do. If you apply the same notion that because something is Good we Ought to do it, then you will see the weakness within this. For example, Kant might have said ‘A Dog is a Good Pet’. That is a descriptive sentence which just tells us how things are. If Kant followed his argument through, he would say ‘A Dog is a Good Pet, so you ought to have a Dog’. You can probably see now that there is a big difference between the ‘Is’ part of that sentence and the ‘Ought’ part. The second half of that sentence is prescriptive because it makes a rule about what we must do.

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  • People generally do have the same ideas about Morality.
  • It is based on Reason and there are clear criteria for what is Moral.
  • It shows respect for human life and treats everyone, even Minorities, Fairly.
  • There is one rule for everyone which applies to all Cultures and throughout time.
  • Kant distinguishes between Duty and Inclination.
  • Most People recognize the idea of Duty, it is part of what it means to be Human.
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  • Putting Duty above everything else seems Cold and Inhuman. There is no place for actions undertaken as a result of Love or Compassion.
  • Not everyone agrees that Duty is the Best Motive.  
  • Putting Duty above everything else may lead to an Outcome where people get Hurt and you feel Guilty.
  • The Outcome may be more important than the Decision-Making Process.
  • This Abstract Principle is not easy to apply in Real-Life situations.
  • It’s human nature to consider the consequences before acting.
  • What happens in a situation where there is a conflict of Duties? For example, how can you decide whether you should visit your Gran in Hospital or do your Homework?
  • Not everybody is capable of Rational Moral Decision-Making.
  • It only works if everybody does it. If one person doesn’t then everything collapses.
  • Every action we take involves Love and Compassion because we are Human Creatures.
  • Kantian Ethics only works if everyone lives in the Kingdom of Ends.
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