Kantian Ethics

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  • Created by: Abitracey
  • Created on: 14-04-12 15:45

The Good Will and Duty

In the search for intrinsic ‘good’, Kant did not believe that any outcome was inherently good. Pleasure or happiness could result out of the most evil acts. He also did not believe in ‘good’ character traits, as ingenuity, intelligence, courage etc. could all be used for evil. In fact, he used the term good to describe the ‘good will’, by which he meant the resolve to act purely in accordance with one’s duty. He believed that, using reason, an individual could work out what one’s duty was.

Free Will, God and Immortality

If our actions are pre-determined and we merely bounce around like snooker-balls, we cannot be described as free and morality doesn’t apply to us. Kant could not prove that we are free – rather, he presumed that we could act morally, and for this to be the case we must be free. He also thought that it followed that there must be a God and life after death, otherwise morality would make no sense.

Synthetic A Priori

We do not follow predetermined laws. However, we must act according to some laws, otherwise our actions are random and without purpose. As a result, rational beings must determine for themselves a set of laws by which they will act.

These laws are not analytic (true by virtue of their meaning), but they cannot be determined through experience (a posteriori). Hume pointed this out when he said that you couldn’t move from an is (a synthetic statement about the world) to an ought (a statement about the way the world should be). The rational being has to determine the synthetic a priori – the substantive rules that can be applied prior to experience.

The Categorical Imperative – Universalisability

An imperative is a statement of what should be done. We have said before that Hume realised you can’t get a should statement out of an is statement. In other words, experience can only give us hypothetical imperatives (If you want…


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