Moral Philosophy

- Utilitarians


- Natural Law

  • Created by: dami
  • Created on: 16-02-13 21:40

Normative Ethics and Moral Decisions

Normative ethics is concerned with what things are good or bad, how we ought to live, what makes actions right or wrong.

The aim of Normative ethics is to give us a standard, rule or principle that helps to determine what is right or wrong. Normative theories should provide us with guidance of what people should do and create systems that produce a set of rules to guide action. 

Three type of normative theories- 

1. Deontological- emphasis is on intentions, duties and rights. The consequences of an action do not determine whether the action is right or wrong, an action is right or wrong based on the 'motive' of the act or because of whether it is in alignment with the rules. [Immanuel Kant and Thomas Aquinas]

2. Utilitarianism- Is teleological because the an action is right or wrong based on the consequences of that action.[Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Peter Singer]

3. Virtue theory- Is mostly concerned about who I ought to be and acquiring virtues rather than specific actions. It is about what makes a 'good' person, practical wisdom. [Aristotle]

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Consequentialism- The view that the moral character of an action is determined solely by the consequences of that action. 

1. Ethical Egoism- An action is right if the consequences result in the best action for me. Human beings are motivated by self interest and we make moral decisions based on what will produce the best outcome for ourselves. [Thomas Hobbes in Leviathan argues that in the state of nature we pursue what benefits ourselves] Ethical egoism argues that it is not only in our nature to be egotistical but we should be egotistical and we should aim to promote our own interest and maximise what benefits us.  

2. Psychological Egoism- We are motivated by self interest and this is part of our human nature. It doesn't argue that we should pursue our self interest it simply says that it is part of our human nature to do so .Note- Most consequentialist don't agree with ethical and psychological egoism in terms of promoting self interest.

3. Utilitarianism- What is good is either the promotion of pleasure/ happiness or preferences. Hence a morally good act is one that brings about the greatest amount of pleasure [hedonistic] or satisfies preferences of the parties involved. 

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Example 1- Why we shouldn't promote self interest and why this aspect of consequentialism doesn't necessarily provide us with the normative guidance we require or one that our intuitions agree with. 

'On Saturdays you and your friends go out for a drink. Everyone buys a round of drinks for everyone else but you don't. You always manage to ensure that you do not buy a round. You also have no intention of every buying a round.

- What would happen if everyone behaved this way?

- If everyone behaved this way, how it would damage your self interest?

- Is it still in your self interest to behave this way?

Thomas Hobbe's reason for us getting into a contract is ideal as an answer. It no longer benefits us to promote our self interest so we get into a contract. In the same way, self interest doesn't promote any form of morality and after a period, if everyone simply promotes their self interest then we become immoral because we resort to any action to preserve our self interest like lying, stealing and in some cases murder. 

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Morality is about producing good consequences and not having good intentions. The fundamental imperative of utilitarianism is, always act in a way that will produce the greatest amount of happiness for the greatest amount of people. This is known as the principle of utility. It is the principle used to judge the rightness of an action. The greatest good for the greatest number is based on the principle that my total happiness cannot take precedence over the greatest net happiness of everyone involved. 

1. Classic/ Act Utilitarianism- The ultimate good is pleasure or happiness [For Bentham, the good is pleasure/ happiness]. Pleasure and pain are the basis of action and they define the good. Our motives are also based on pleasure and pain [psychological hedonism]. Therefore an action is right if it promotes pleasure/ happiness [for the greatest number]

a. We determine on a case by case basis whether an action is right or wrong 

b. Bentham assumed that pleasure and pain are measurable, hence he proposed that we tally the pleasure and pain that results from our actions. We assess the quantity of pain and pleasure involved in an action using the hedonic calculus. 

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The Hedonic Calculus

1. Richness [amount and depth of pleasure]  2. Purity [is the action accompanied by more pains/ pleasures]  3. Remoteness [In terms of time, does it affect me sooner or later]  4. Intensity [how intense is the pleasure or pain] 5. Certainty/ Uncertainty [how certain can you be of the outcome of that action] 6. Extent [the number of people affected by the action] 7. Duration [how long will the effect last]

- You add up all the pleasure/ pain and then do what action leads to the most pleasure and the least pain. 

- If one course of an action involves a small amount of pain and a huge amount of pleasure, it is better than an action that leads to no pain but a little pleasure. 

- The calculus can be used for all sorts of situation and the idea is that once you have mastered it, it will provide a principle/ guidance for you making moral decisions. 

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How the Calculus Works

Example 2, 3, 4 - Trolley Problem thought experiment, Innocent Man and Prison Guards  

'A trolley is hurtling down a track towards five people. You are on a bridge under which it will pass, and you can stop it by dropping a heavy weight in front of it. As it happens, there is a very fat man next to you – your only way to stop the trolley is to push him over the bridge and onto the track, killing him to save five. Should you proceed?' 

'Suppose that a judge or magistrate is faced with rioters demanding that a culprit be found for a certain crime and threatening otherwise to take their own bloody revenge on a particular section of the community. The real culprit being unknown, the judge sees himself as able to prevent the bloodshed only by framing some innocent person and having him executed.' Is this moral or the right thing to do?

'A group of prison guards are torturing a prisoner and the guard's pleasures outweight that of the prisoner's'. According to the hedonic calculus, work out what the right or moral action is?

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Strengths/ Problems of Utilitarianism

Strengths of Utilitarianism

- It gives clear answers to some moral problems and we are in a position to take into account different situations. It is flexible and doesn't restrict us to a code.

- It is hard to ignore consequences, actions do have effects and we have to take account of these.

Problems with Bentham's Classic/ Act Utilitarianism

- Bentham does not consider the quality of pleasures and pains being measured. For example Bentham would argue that the pleasure I derive from reading and playing chess is perhaps the same with the pleasure derived from eating on the hedonic calculus. 

- Using the hedonic calculus in practice is difficult. People don't agree on the remoteness, intensity and purity and so on of an action. 

- Is pleasure a single experience that can be measured? Pleasure isn't a single sensation but it is based on a series of sensation. 

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Problems with Utilitarianism

- Actions have unforeseen consequences and so it is not possible to calculate all the consequences of an action. 

- It appears that there are other ways of deciding whether an act is right or wrong apart from the amount of good or evil it produces. Two acts could produce the same amount of happiness and one might involve something we might consider wrong. 

- Bentham's theory condones actions which although they increase the total amount of pleasure are morally inexcusable. 

- Basing moral decisions on the principle of utility is too simplistic and reductionist. We consider things like virtue, rights as morall valuable things that need to be taken into account. 

- We have special responsibilities towards people like our parents and friends when we make moral decisions and act utilitarianism doesn't take account of that. 

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Rule Utilitarianism

Mill was a hedonistic utilitarian and believed that pleasure is the sole good and the promotion of pleasure over pain should determine our moral decisions. He rejected Bentham's quantitative assessment of pleasure in the hedonic calculus and replaced it with a qualitative measure. Mill's theory puts emphasis on the variety of pleasures and happiness and acknowledges their respective values. 

He argued that some pleasures are higher [pleasures of the mind/ intellectual pleasures] than other [bodily pleasures].

His qualitative approach solves the issue posed earlier with the guard's whose pleasure outweigh that of the prisoners. He argues that this type of pleasure is a low one and it doesn't outweigh the pain experienced by the prisoner. 

Mill- Human beings experience 'lower pleasures' like the pleasures of food, drink and sex but we are also capable of experiencing intellectual pleasures that are rational, like the pleasures of reading books, creating laws and learning. Mill= 'higher' and 'lower' pleasures.

The way we distinguish between these two orders of pleasures is by appealing to competent judges that are experienced with both types of pleasures.

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Rule Utilitarianism II

Mill famously said 'it is better to be Socrates dissatisfied than a pig satisfied', which means that it is better to strive for and enjoy higher pleasures, you can also enjoy lower pleasures but you are able to distinguish between them. If you are a pig satisfied then you cannot understand higher pleasures, your knowledge is limited to lower pleasures and so you cannot make a judgement about which is better. 

Mill - 'Observance of rules benefit society', he argues that the a behavioural code or rule is morally right if the consequences of adopting that rule are more favourable than unfavourable to everyone [principle of utility]

Act utilitarianism weighs up the consequences of each particular action while rule utilitarianism gives a framework of certain moral rules that will have favourable consequences for everyone.

For example, adopting a rule such as 'stealing is wrong' or 'You should not kill another person' clearly has favourable consequences for everyone in society. 

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Rule Utilitarianism III

Three tier method for judging conduct

1. A particular action such as stealing my friend's car is morally wrong since it violates a moral rule against theft. 

2. The rule against theft is morally binding because adopting the rule produces favourable consequences for everyone 

3. The rule should be followed in order to benefit society


- Avoids the hedonic calculus and need for complex calculations, it just appeals to a rule such as 'do not steal' 

- When we create rules we promote those that result in the greatest good for the greatest number. Rules are selected, revised and replaced on the basis of their utility. So the rules ultimately have to satisfy the principle of utility.

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Problems with Rule Utilitarianism

- It is possible to generate unjust rules that justifies slavery for example

- Human beings have goals other than mere pleasures 

- Mill commits naturalistic fallacy, although we can also argue that he doesn't because he doesn't actually define the good, he just assumes that we all desire happiness and that is the ultimate goal. 

- Some acts are just wrong regardless of whether they produce happiness or not. Utilitarians claim that no action is wrong in itself. 

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Two Critiques of Utilitarianism

Bernard Williams- The importance of intergrity. In Utilitarianism: For and Against, he offered a scenario that remains a famous critique of utilitarianism

Example 5- 'Jim is in a small South American town as a tourist. Along a wall are twenty Indians who are about to be shot. The captain, noticing Jim is a visitor, offers Jim the chance to shoot one Indian and the rest will be freed. However if he does not shoot one, then all twenty will be killed. Given that he cannot stop the captain and the Indians cannot escape, what should Jim do?' 

1. Bernad Williams argues that utilitarianism cares only about the consequences and not how the action was brought about, it is not important whether the action was brought about through force and whether the person wanted to carry the action or not. 

2. Jim may be forced to committ a murder to save the lives of 19 Indians. 

3. If he doesn't kill one, all 20 die. Utilitarianism would then consider Jim responsible for their deaths because of his inaction. 

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Two Critiques of Utilitarianism II

4. Williams disputes this and argues that Jim should not be held responsible. It is not he who kills the Indian, it is the captain who kills them. He says that there has to be a difference between the acts that I do and the acts that someone else does. 

5. Utilitarianism also implies that Jim ought to kill the one Indian because he will bring about the greatest number of happiness for the greatest number of people. He argues that Jim's integrity is more important than the principle of utility. Integrity refers to moral feelings that we have in situations. 

6. Utilitarianism doesn't give any weight to our feelings at all, as all that matters is the consequences of our actions. We spend a life time cultivating these moral feelings and these are part of who we are as individuals. Hence we have to take into account our integrity and not just the consequences of that act. 

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Two Critiques of Utilitarianism III

Robert Nozick- 'The experience machine' [Anarchy, State and Utopia]

His criticism is focused on hedonism in particular and the argument of classic utilitarians that the promotion of pleasure is a good thing. Through a thought experiment called the experience machine, he proposes that: 

'Suppose there was an experience machine that would give you any experience that you desired. Neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would think and feel you were writing a great novel, making a friend or reading an interesting book. Should you plug into this machine for life, preprogramming your life experiences? While you're programmed you'll believe that everything is happening. Should you plug in?' 

According to Nozick, classic utilitarians would argue that we should plug into the machine since it promotes pleasure and happiness for the majority of the people. However Nozick argues that we would not plug into the machine because we would be concerned about the reality of our experiences, therefore this suggests there is something other than pleasure that affects our well-being. 

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Two Critiques of Utilitarianism IV

Nozick's reasons:

1. We want to actually do things and not just have the experience of doing things 

2. We want to be a sort of person 

By considering plugging into the machine and then rejecting the idea, we demonstrate that there are other values aside from pleasure. 

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Preference Utilitarianism

Peter Singer and R M Hare 

- Peter Singer argued that classic utilitarianism with its emphasis on pleasure doesn't take into account the different views people have on what constitutes as pleasure or happiness. 

- Preference utilitarianism takes into account the preferences of the person concerned in each case. The right thing to do is the act that maximises the satisfaction of the preferences of all the people involved. 

- It tries to distinguish between happiness and preferences and allows people to determine what constitues pleasure and pain rather than allowing one person to impose his or her criterion of happiness on others like Mill's 'competent judges' would. 

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Strengths and Weakness of Preference / Ideal Utili


- It solves one of the main problems of hedonistic utilitarianism which doesn't take into account the different views that people have as to what happiness os. The right thing to do is to maximise the satisfaction of the preferences of everyone involved. 

- It's very useful in regards to practical ethics


- Imagine a community where everyone has a preference for cruelty! 

Strength of Ideal Utilitarianism

- Solves the problems of other forms of utilitarianism justifying torture or slavery, we would choose acts that promote justice rather than happiness thus slavery and torture are wrong because they don't promote justice. 

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Ideal Utilitarianism

G.E Moore

Ideal utilitarianism is concerned with maximising the good. We ought to act in a way that brings about the best consequences.

1. The view of what the good is, is different from the definition of the 'good' by hedonistic utilitarianism. 2. Ideal utilitarianism argues that there is more to life than pleasure and pleasure isn't the only intrinsic good. Other intrinsic good like beauty, art, knowledge and friendship should be promoted. They also deny that the sole object of moral concern is the maximisation of pleasure or happiness. 

Things like taking drugs may produce pleasure temporarily but they are wrong in themselves because they cause long term harm. Moore would argue that a work of art is intrinsically valuable hence contrary to classic utilitarianism he would disagree with burning a work of art simply because it is not producing pleasure since society doesn't appreciate it. He argues that the work of art is intrinsically valuable and this outweighs whether it produces pleasure or not.

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Positive and Negative Utilitarianism

Positive Utilitarianism aims to promote anything that is of intrinsic value such as beauty, friendship art and doing good. The good goes beyond the satisfaction of desires. 

Negative Utilitarianism aims to reduce/ minimise things that have intrinsic disvalue such as lying or stealing. 

Weakness of Utilitarianism 

- What is the good? Is it pleasure, happiness, preference or intrinsic value?

- Utilitarianism has too much flexibility and can justify immoral acts

- Is morality always about the greatest happiness for the greatest number?

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Further Criticisms of Utilitarianism

1. Can we measure pleasure? 2. Can we identify moral goodness with gaining pleasure?

3. Can we predict consequences? 4. Can we derive from the fact that human beings seek pleasure the value that we should? 

5. Should happiness be the ultimate good/ aim? 6. Does utilitarianism conflict with egoism? 

7. Utilitarianism overlooks motives 8. Does the end justify the means? 9. Utilitarianism could lead to inequality (The utility monster) 

10. Utilitarianism doesn't focus enough on the moral character of the agent and our integrity

11. Utilitarianism doesn't adequately defend our notions of justice

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Immanuel Kant is an example of a deontologist and he believes that morality is independent from god and everyone's will. He wanted an ethical theory that was not clouded by religious or emotional instincts. He argues that morality is discovered through reason and when we act according to reason, we are acting autonomously. So his proposition lies on the idea that we have a sense of moraly duty- we feel we know what is right and wrong and we feel compelled to choose what is right. For him, morality isn't about the consequences of an action and we shouldn't consider consequences when we want to determine whether an action is right or wrong (consequences are no guide at all to the morality of an action). What matters is the motive behind the action or the intentions behind it, and this motive should purely be duty

Good intentions are what Kant calls the 'good will.' 

Example 1 'Man A id walking along the street when he comes across a house fire. He hears a child screaming in terror. Man A and another passerby Man B race into the burning hoise. By the time Man A gets into the house, the child has run downstairs although he doesn't know this. Coincidentally Man B is downstairs and sees the child and carries her to safety. Unfortunately Man A is trapped and killed. Who did the morally better thing? 

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The Good Will 

  • The good will is the only truly good thing and what really matters is that you have a good will 
  • Other characteristics such as bravery, intelligence and courage might be good but they are not good if we have bad intentions. For example, the difference between Stalin and Mother Theresa for Kant would be that Mother Theresa had the good will. 
  • Only our motives determine the moral worth of an action 
  • The genuinely moral motive for action is the good will, which is a recognition of our duty 
  • Doing something with a good will is doing our duty 
  • Our judgements of the good will are determined by reason alone hence we act according to reason and not feeling, if we act according to emotions then we are not acting freely neither are we autonomous. 
  • If we do something that looks good (has good consequences) but with the bad intentions or the wrong motives, it is not a good act. 
  • The good will is a motive that is free from the person's self interest or calculation of what the consequences of his or actions will be. 
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The Good Will 

  • The good will is the only truly good thing and what really matters is that you have a good will 
  • Other characteristics such as bravery, intelligence and courage might be good but they are not good if we have bad intentions. For example, the difference between Stalin and Mother Theresa for Kant would be that Mother Theresa had the good will. 
  • Only our motives determine the moral worth of an action 
  • The genuinely moral motive for action is the good will, which is a recognition of our duty 
  • Doing something with a good will is doing our duty 
  • Our judgements of the good will are determined by reason alone hence we act according to reason and not feeling, if we act according to emotions then we are not acting freely neither are we autonomous. 
  • If we do something that looks good (has good consequences) but with the bad intentions or the wrong motives, it is not a good act. 
  • The good will is a motive that is free from the person's self interest or calculation of what the consequences of his or actions will be. 
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  • The good will is not about pleasurable emotions such as kindness because these are to do with personal desires 
  • The good will is in acting solely because it is the right thing to do, it is your duty
  • Only things done out of moral duties are good acts 
  • The only good thing is the good will and acting with a good will is our duty. 
  • There is moral worth or merit attached to doing what is natural to you. 

Example 2 'Imagine a shopkeeper who keeps the price of his goods the same for his customers and there is not an unfair inflation of prices neither does he overcharge his customers. Kant argues that if this action is not done solely out of duty then it is not a moral one. He might perhaps be acting out of self interest since he also gains something from his act, retaining his customers and attracting new ones. Even if the shopkeeper is by inclination honest or acting out of a sense of fairness, Kant still doesn't see it as a moral act'. 

Kant formulated the categorical imperative to help us work out what our moral duties are and the categorical imperatives are guideline/ principle to determine whether we are acting out of the good will or not. 

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Kant's Categorical Imperatives 

Imperative means command and categorical imperatives are not dependent on a condition or an aim, instead they tell us that we have a certain obligation or duty. They are often things that we ought to do. Since Kant's moral system is based on the categorical imperatives then they are true for all people for all time (They are universal). He argues that we should follow the categorical imperatives because they don't depend on the person or the situation unlike hypothetical imperatives. 

Example 3 ' Examples of categorical imperatives are things such as 'I ought to get something nice for my sick friend or I ought to keep my promises, I ought not to steal and I ought not to lie' 

The first formulation of the categorical imperative 

'Act only according to the maxim that you can will to be universalised' 

  • maxim: rule, will: want, universalised: apply to all people of all time, anywhere
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In essence you want the rule to be applicable to everyone and to be universal- This is known as the principle fo universalisability. Kant wants us to generate objective moral rules that are binding to everyone and is not based on our experiences or feelings. I should only make a maxim that I would want to be universalised. 

He devises two tests to help us analyse whether the maxims that we are thinking of creating is right or not 

1. Contradiction in conception or nature: a maxim is wrong if the situation in which everyone acted on that maxim is self contradictory. For example a maxim such as 'I ought to steal' or 'I ought to lie' becomes self contradictory when universalised because the concept of owning a property or telling the truth becomes non-existent and invalid. 

2. Contradiction in will: It is logically possible to universalise the maxim asuch as 'not to help others in need' however we can't will this as we might need help and to will an end is to will the means. 

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The second formulation of the categorical imperative 

'Act as to treat humanity (including yourself and other persons) as an end and never as merely a means' 

  • Kant is trying to get us to universalise how we feel about our own importance
  • This forumulation universalises our notion of ourselves as valuable rational agents 
  • Kant is asking us to respect humanity 
  • Because we are rational beings we have inherent value- we are ends in ourselves and count equally with one another
  • This formulation requires that no rule of conduct applicable to all rational beings can favour one person over another 

For example making false promises is an example of using someone solely as means rather than an end. 

  • You treat someone as an end by considering their feelings, needs and want 
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The third formulation of the categorical imperative 

'Act as if you were though a maxim a law-making member of a kingdom of ends'

  • This means that when you are thinking of creating rules you need to think about society

How the categorical imperative works 

  • Decide what you want to do 
  • Make a maxim 
  • Apply your maxim to the categorical imperative 
  • See if it can be universalised 
  • If it can, then it is a law 

Example 3 and 4 of how categorical imperatives work 

'Think about what Kant's argument against suicide and false promises would be using the three formulations of the categorical imperatives.'

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Strengths of Kant's Deontology

Kant gives us a moral framework and guide to right action. His ethics are absolute and deontological and universal. Not dependent on people, society, happiness/ pleasure or consequences. We can discover ethics through reason, the only thing that matters is good will and acting according to rules that pass the categorical imperatives. He gives us clear guidelines for acting morally. 

  • It takes account of justice since the rightness of action is based on the action itself and not the consequences. For Kant, man is a being of intrinsic worth, he is a rational creature that cannot be exploited for the greater happiness of others (Think of jailing the innocent man) 
  • He draws a sharp distinction between duty and inclination (Shopkeeper example). Your inclination can sway you to do either moral or immoral acts so it is better if we act solely our of duty, hence we become appreciative of the rights of others. Because we are all usbject to universal law, we realise that our duties to others are the same as our duties to ourselves, and my rights are identical to rights of others. 
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Criticisms of Kant's Deontology

  • If we obey rules generated by the categorical imperatives then we will follow rules that we have no obligation to follow- for example a rule that says everyone should wear slippers on Wednesday (hence the fact that a rule can be universalised does not guarantee that it will be morally good or even moral)but Kant responds to this by saying that we should universalise only those rules that have to do with morality. 
  • Kant bases his theory on the rationality of human beings. While we are rational, we may not have the same desires, for example a sadist might want ****** universalised- reponse- would this even pass the categorical imperatives? A murderer might want to universalise murder but that doesn't mean it would pass the test of the categorical imperatives.
  • The main problem with Kant's argument is that it creates absolute rules and doesn't offer a guideline or a solution when duties clash. It doesn't offer any exceptions yet we might argue that there are certain occasions where immoral things become permissible briefly. 
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