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  • Created by: Elizabeth
  • Created on: 24-10-13 18:17

Kantian Ethics


§  One feature of Kantian ethics is its emphasis on reason.

§  According to Kant, morality can be derived from rationality.

§  Immorality is irrational.

§  As rationality is universal, possessed by all human beings, morality is universal too; we are all subject to the moral law.

§  Another aspect of Kant’s ethics is its lack of interest in motives.

§  According to Kant, we ought to act from duty. Whether we want to do the right thing or not, we ought to do it; our motives are irrelevant to ethics.

§  This means that someone who gives money to charity reluctantly, because they believe that they ought to, acts just as well as one who gives money to charity joyfully, because they have compassion for those less well off than themselves.

§  In fact, the person that gives out of duty acts better than the person who acts out of inclination if the person who acts out of inclination would not have so acted if they had not had the inclination (such as feeling compassion) to do so


Duty not emotion

§  Kant argued that emotion clouds our judgement, which results in actions that are selfish or misguided

§  In addition, emotions are fickle and unreliable. Our emotional responses to situations vary from day to day; morality needs to be universal, containing moral truths that can apply in all situations, to all people

§  The only way to resolve this problem is to always follow our duty over our emotion

§  Reason/rationality is therefore of central importance to Kant

§  An action cannot have been the right action unless to take it is in accordance with our duty





§  Philosophers as far back as Plato have argued that our appetite/inclinations must not rule over reason but that they must be the slave to reason. Kant follows in this tradition, arguing for a moral realism that sits well with what most people intuitively accept to be true.

§  Duties cohere with our sense of conscience- our conscience or inner moral sense seems to push us towards meeting certain duties and obligations




§  How can we address the problem of conflicting duties?


e.g. I may have a duty to keep my promise to nan Sass that I will do her washing and ironing.  However, I may also have a duty to attend a very important meeting that I promised a long time ago I would go to. Which of these duties should take precedence?


The summum bonum

·        Kant argues that it would be irrational to be moral if everyone else was immoral and there were no justice therefore justice must be available to those who act through duty

·        The reward of the ‘highest happiness’ (summum bonum in Latin) is awarded to those who freely act in accordance


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