Kantian Ethics - Problems

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Kantian Ethics: Problems

  1. The Role of Reason

  • Kant has been criticised for his over-emphasis on concern for duty, which has supplanted genuine concern for humanity

  • It seems that emotions, such as sympathy and compassion, and the emotions of the invested parties, are also important

  • To act out of duty alone, and not genuine care for others, implies a lack of authenticity in one's motivation – for example, would our intuitions really tell us that a father who only plays with his son out of a sense of duty is really morally better than a father who does the same out of love?

  • Ultimately, Kant's account of moral motivation lacks humanity – it seems that we respect people more if they struggle between reason and inclination, rather than mindlessly following rules

  • Bernard Williams raises a similar point:

  • While factual questions like ‘what is 2+2?’, have a 'unity of interest', with the purpose of finding a universal answer, this kind of unemotional ‘figuring out’ is not appropriate in moral considerations, because it does matter who is asking the question.

  • If we remove our emotions and individuality from scenarios, we are essentially losing our sense of self.

  • Morality should not require that we deny who we are, or that we deny the realities of the situations we face ourselves in; we should not have to abstract ourselves from our projects, and adopt an entirely impartial view.

  • Williams provides the example of a man who has an opportunity to save two people who are equally in danger, one of whom is his wife. He claims that it is obvious that the man would rather save his wife – his wife forms part of his 'projects and commitments'; she is part of what makes his life worth living. Williams suggests that a Kantian would want the man to think about the action; to consider whether saving his wife would accord with universal law... Williams' point is that he shouldn't have to do this.

     2. Who has moral status?

  • Kant's theory entails that we must respect other rational beings – the 'kingdom of ends' is a community of people…


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