Kant Essay, Research Paper
Immanuel Kant was a sound, grounded philosopher of the Enlightenment. His explanations were black and white, clear-cut, which may be seen as his greatest attribute, as well as his worst flaw. The drive behind all of Kant’s ideas was reason. To Kant, morality was a matter of rational, acting morally equaled acting rationally. He challenged people to make their own ethical decisions using the power of reason instead of becoming pawns of circumstance, society, or our own emotions. Kant disregarded many previous ethical principles based on consequences of actions, such as Utilitarianism, and focused on the intentions behind the actions. Kant believed genuine good will stood at the heart of morality. He thoroughly examined this concept of good will and developed a way to measure it, called the categorical imperative. This dramatic reasoning of morality has been both praised and criticized.
Kant’s writing “Good Will, Duty, and the Categorical Imperative,” highlighted his philosophy. In this passage, good will is defined in terms of motivation and reason. In that good will can never violate reason and it can never be motivated by anything but itself. It is good in itself, without any other qualifications. It is not considered good because of what it affects or performs. Good will has no attachments and is unconditional. Here arises the first difficulty- how can one determine if the will is good? How can you tell when someone is acting out of good will? For Kant the answer is simple and followed with another question. Kant claims acting on good will is obeying duty, which means following the categorical imperative. To explain this aspect of good will, without moving into the categorical imperative, it is best to use an example.
Three people, all with the same physical and reasoning abilities, stand on a corner and are watching an elderly woman cross the street. From a distance they all witness an oncoming MAC truck heading straight for the old lady. The first person, Mike, runs out into the street and saves the woman whom he knows is his grandmother. He loves her very much and would not want to see her be hit, saving her out of sympathy. The second person, Stan, has no relation to the woman, but still runs out and saves her in hopes of impressing the third member of this trio, who happens to be a gorgeous supermodel. The third person, we?ll call her Amanda, just for namesake, runs out into the street and rescues the elderly woman purely because she knows it was the right thing to do. If Kant was to analyze this situation, he would claim that only Amanda acted on good will because she acted as her duty and will commanded. The other two people acted only due to circumstance, had the woman not been Mike?s grandmother, or had Stan not wanted to impress Amanda, they might not have committed such a courageous act. Their actions were not independent and could not stand on their own grounds. It is for this reason that Kant dismisses all circumstance and emotions. It is necessary to disregard feelings and individual situations from moral actions, in order to distinguish between the two. Kant?s methods allow no exceptions. Kant was an absolutist deeming it necessary to hold moral absolutes.
This example may also be used in differentiating Kant?s idea of good will and everyday conceptions of it. Most people believe good will means no more than acting righteously and behaving in accordance with moral standards. For instance, most people at the scene of rescuing the old woman would say all three acted with good wills. Kant, however, would strongly disagree. Good will, for him, is very specific, depending not solely on the action, but the absolute intention and motivation behind it. How may one test the intentions of will in determining if it was good or not? Kant derived a test called the categorical imperative.
The categorical imperative was a solution to figuring out whether an act was moral or immoral. Kant formularized a question to gauge all morality. Is this the kind of act everyone should perform? Could my action be made a universal law? If it could be made universal without canceling out the original intention or violating natural law, then the action would be deemed moral. Kant uses some examples in his writing. One example was in terms of borrowing money without intention of repaying it. If this were made a universal law, eventually no one would lend money to anyone due to the knowledge of never being repaid. The consequence of this universialization cancels out the original intention. Another example may be illustrated in the universalizing of never keeping secrets. If no one ever kept a secret, eventually everyone would stop telling secrets. The original intention would be undermined by the effect of making it a universal law. Yet, is this test successful in determining good will in all cases? Kant, as an absolutist, would have to say yes, but I along with many others disagree.
I completely agree with Kant and all his principles providing we were living in a utopia, a perfect world. The world we live in today, however, makes it near impossible to apply Kant?s theories. Kant is wonderful, in principle, but in practice his principles fall apart. Morality is too complex and cannot be simplified in such a way as Kant has simplified it. Kant is an absolutist, black and white. This would work if we lived in black and white, but our world is much more colorful. He allows no exceptions, which is commendable, yet unrealistic.
Aside from its simplicity, my main difficulty with Kant?s theory is that it takes away our human character. By ignoring individuals, circumstance, and emotions Kant takes away our humanity and individuality. While in attempt to preserve individualism and dignity, Kant ironically violates this directly. He asks us to think on our own two feet and to use OUR reason, but at the same time he asks us to follow HIS laws and principles. How can we be using our own logic, while we are following his? We are limited to his guidelines, therefore violating individual thinking, which is what he encourages. Kant?s process of weighing morality is emotionless. This is very dangerous and costly. Without emotions we are robots. Feelings are the main identity of our species. Reason can only take us so far.
My final criticism of Kant is his ignorance of variations of reason. Everyone does not reason in the same way. For instance, what if someone hated technology and wanted to rid the world of computers. Apply the categorical imperative to this situation. Would it be reasonable for everyone to smash his or her computer? For an anti-technology person, this universal law is practical. It accomplishes their goal of ridding the world of computers. This abuse of the categorical imperative may come in many forms.
Although I have many criticisms of Kant, he makes a strong argument, which is why people still follow his philosophy today. He presents clear and sensible explanations of good will. His absolute statements may be his strongest point or his greatest downfall. You may use your reason to decide.