Kantian ethics

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Kant & Moral maxims

Kant believed in Priori concepts- beyond human knowledge.

 Morality is seen as more important than desire and Kant made a system through which he thought humans can become rational following moral laws.

Maxims- the subjective moral principles that are universal divine laws created by God and can be figured out by all human beings. E.g. we know lying is wrong so laws like libel developed from lying being wrong.

Good will must be present in human beings as it is central to Kants belief. This is because good will can turn subjectively based ethical maxims into moral laws.

Kant thought human beings approach moral issues ins seperate ways. We have selfish desires but we also have raional minds which will make us realise what should control us.

Trust is crucial in this decision making as for Kant, trust is good will.

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The Categorical imperatives and key definitions

Categorical imperative- shows if the subjective origin of the maxim is morally right.

Universal law principle- Should be accepted for all  regardless of situation, circumstance, people involved.

Humanity as an ends not a means- Treat everyone equally no matter the benifits or drawbacks. Don't devalue human kind and yourself (treat yourself as a duty)

Universal kingdom of ends- A society where everyone wants the same good. These goods are common ends to society. Conflict is removed and harmony must be pursued.

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Duty & the Hypothetical Imperative

Hypothetical imperative- Something we OUGHT to do to achieve a certain end. If you want this you should follow DUTY.


Kant's moral philosophy is deontological and based on duty. Duty can be converted into a set of universal moral laws that all humans ought to do.

Extreme duty- Done at the cost of yourself and rejects happiness as a basis for decision making.

  • Strength- takes into account the responsibility we have to others and it recongises the unviersalisability for morality.

Taxonomy of duty- Kant has a low regard for human nature as it is contrary to reason.

Duty saves humans from self delusion. Kant drew up 2 taxonomies with the 1st being achieving the highest good which is known as transcendental taxonomy. The second is passion, which leads to insanity.

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Summum Bonum

Kants moral system is designed to create a moral community in which all moral ends are reconcilled.

It's a slow process and has a telological and religious basis. Kant is clear that his ethics will lead to a purposeful transformation in human society. Conflicts are resolved as this unity is reached.

Sumumm Bonum- Highest good which overcomes conflict. A moral society is one where all rational beings are ethically content with their moral position. This is not reached till after death.

Consumation of moral good- Happiness and morality work in heaven.

Kant's teleology- there is an inbuilt good to which nature and history aspire. It is the kingdom of ends.


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Strengths and Weaknesses


  • Most actions do not need a moral litmus test. This is good as you can focus on what is important. It also recongnises that many actions, however moral should not be done if they are not universal.
  • Emphasises on autonomy- freedom to act morally
  • Duty fits in with human experience
  • Equal treatment of others eradicates family bias
  • Principle of universalisability means it is applicable to all


  • Incompatibility- in on way, Kant agrees with autonomy but if it is not a universal law it disagrees
  • Too cold as there is no place for love
  • Consequences ignored- e.g. house fire, who to save, mum or neigbour
  • Do priori laws actually exist?
  • Moral luck- Thomas Nagel & Bernard williams said what is good in 1 sitch bad in 2nd.
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