Kantian Ethics - Criticisms

  • Created by: A. Person
  • Created on: 28-12-13 14:40

Kantian Ethics: Criticisms


What Actually Makes an Act Moral?

Kant fails to truly define what makes an act moral.

Not every universal maxim can really be said to be a moral one: it could be amoral, or trivial (eg. ‘I must always write in green ink.’)

Similarly, Kant gives no way to distinguish between social etiquette, and moral obligations. For instance ‘I must always eat with a knife and fork’ is a categorical imperative – but is it really a moral duty?

Kant’s Theory Doesn’t Recognize The Role of Emotion

Kant says that, when it comes to morality, emotions are irrelevant. We should rely purely on cool, calm reason, not our desires or feelings.

This contradicts our intuitions: many emotions, such as guilt or compassion, do seem to have a moral dimension, and yet Kant disregards such sentiments. Surely it is just as important to develop a character which is naturally inclined to perform good actions, than to simply perform duties, despite not really caring about other people? (Virtue Ethics would argue that developing a good, virtuous character is the true path to morality.)

Bernard Williams argues that, while we can use reason alone to answer factual questions like ‘what is 2+2?’, or ‘I wonder if strontium is a metal?’, this kind of unemotional ‘figuring out’ is completely inappropriate in personal, real-life situations.

We can’t use the same kind of reasoning that we would use to consider the question of ‘is strontium a metal?’ to decide what to do if a mad axeman demands that you return his weapon to him.

If we remove our emotions from such scenarios, we are essentially losing our sense of self – we are forgetting our humanity.


Kant’s Theory Doesn’t Fit with Our Intuitions

Kant uses an


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