Immanuel Kant Essay, Research Paper
Immanuel Kant is one of the most influential philosophers in the history of western philosophy. His contributions to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics have had a profound impact on almost every philosophical movement that followed him. Immanuel Kant s moral philosophy centers around the notion of the good will. Kant believes the good will is the faculty of acting according to a conception of law. He believes we control however, what is the will behind the action.
He uses his three principles to support his belief. Kant s three principles of Morality are
1. An action has moral worth or value that is, is good if it is not merely in agreement with duty but also for the sake of duty.
2. An action s moral worth originates in the form of the maxim that guides the action.
3. Duty is the necessity of an action executed out of respect for the law.
The morality of an action, therefore, must be assessed in terms of the motivation behind it. For example, If two people, Smith and Jill, perform the same act, from the same conception of the law, but events beyond Smith’s control prevent her from achieving her goal, Smith is not less praiseworthy for not succeeding. We must consider them on equal moral ground in terms of the will behind their actions. He believes the only thing that is good without qualification is the good will. In his eyes, happiness is not essentially good because even being worthy of happiness, Kant says, requires that one possess a good will. The good will is the only unconditional good despite all encroachments. Kant s shopkeeper example is an easy way to understand this. A shopkeeper, Kant says, might do what is in accord with duty and not overcharge a child. Kant argues, “it is not sufficient to do that which should be morally good that it conform to the law; it must be done for the sake of the law.” There is a clear moral difference between the shopkeeper that does it for his own advantage to keep from offending other customers and the shopkeeper who does it from duty and the principle of honesty. This example ties in to Kant s Three Principles of Morality. We may be tempted to think that the motivation that makes an action good is having a positive goal–to make people happy, or to provide some benefit. But Kant disagrees. He believes that No outcome, should we achieve it, can be unconditionally good. Fortune can be misused, what we thought would bring benefit might actually bring harm, and happiness might be undeserved. Hoping to achieve some type of an end, no matter how beneficial it may seem, is not purely and unconditionally good. It is not the effect or even the intended effect that bestows moral character on an action. All intended effects “could be brought about through other causes and would not require the will of a rational being, while the highest and unconditional good can be found only in such a will.” So it is the recognition and appreciation of duty itself that must drive our actions.
What is the duty that is to motivate our actions and to give them moral value? For this Kant uses two laws produced by reason. If we are given some end we wish to achieve, reason can then provide a hypothetical imperative, which is a rule of action for achieving the end. One way to think is explain this is using the act of buying a new car. In a buying a new car, you must first determine what kind of car you want to buy. Conceiving of a way to achieve some desired end is by far the most common employment of reason. But Kant has shown that the acceptable conception of the moral law cannot be merely hypothetical. He thinks that our actions cannot be moral on the ground of some conditional purpose or goal. Kant says NOT IN MY HOUSE J. In his view morality requires an unconditional statement of one’s duty. And in fact, reason produces an absolute statement of moral action. The moral imperative is unconditional; that is, its imperative force is not tempered by the conditional force. Lets say for another example you tell yourself If I want to achieve some end, then do X.” It simply states, do X. Kant believes that reason dictates a categorical imperative for moral action. He gives at least three formulations of the Categorical Imperative.
1.”Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
2.”Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature.”
3. Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.”
What are Kant’s arguments for the Categorical Imperative? Lets look at it using this example. Consider the person who needs to borrow money and is considering making a false promise to pay it back. The maxim that could be invoked is, “When I am in the need of money, borrow it, promising to repay it, even though I do not intend to.” But when we apply the universality test to this maxim it becomes clear that if everyone were to act in this fashion, the purpose of promising itself would be diluted. The borrower makes a promise, willing that there be no such thing as promises. Therefore such an action would fail the universality test. The argument for the first formulation of the categorical imperative can be thought of this way. We believe that in order to be good, we must remove partiality and the consideration of any particular goal from our motivation to act. The act cannot be good if it comes from subjective impulse. Nor can it be good because it seeks after some particular goal that might not attain the good we seek. Therefore, we must abstract away from all hoped for effects. So if we remove all subjectivity and particularity from motivation we are only left with will to universality. This causes the question “What rule determines what I ought to do in this situation?” to become “What rule ought to universally guide action?” What we must do in any situation of moral choice is act according to a maxim that we would want everyone to act according to.
The second version of the Categorical Imperative invokes Kant’s conception of nature and draws on the first Critique. The mind necessarily structures nature In the earlier discussion of nature, we saw that. And reason, in its seeking of ever higher grounds of explanation, works to achieve unified knowledge of nature. A guide for us in
moral matters would be to think of what would not be possible to will universally. Maxims that fail the test of the categorical imperative generate a contradiction. Laws of nature cannot be contradictory. So if a maxim cannot be willed to be a law of nature, it is not moral.
The third version of the categorical imperative ties Kant’s whole moral theory together. In so far as long as they posses a rational will, people are set off in the natural order of things. They are not merely subject to the forces that act upon them; they are not merely means to ends. They are ends in themselves. All means to an end have a just conditional worth because they are valuable only for achieving something else. The possessor of a rational will, however, is the only thing with unconditional worth. In Kant s theory the possession of rationality puts all beings on the same footing.
Kant critic sizes utilitarianism because utilitarian moral theories evaluate the moral worth of action on the basis of happiness that is produced by an action. Whatever produces the most happiness in the most people is the moral course of action. Kant objects to moral evaluations of this sort. To him the essence of the objection is that utilitarian theories actually devalue the individuals it is supposed to benefit. If we allow utilitarian calculations to motivate our actions, to him we are allowing the assessment of one person’s welfare and interests in terms of what good they can be used for. It would be possible, for instance, to justify sacrificing one individual for the benefits of others if the utilitarian calculations promise more benefit. Doing so would be the worst example of treating someone utterly as a means and not as an end in themselves.
Another way to look at his objection is to note that utilitarian theories are driven by the merely contingent leaning in humans for pleasure and happiness, not by the universal moral law dictated by reason. To act in pursuit of happiness, to Kant, is illogical and subjective, and is no more moral than acting on the basis of greed, or selfishness.
All three emanate from subjective, non-rational grounds. He thinks the danger of utilitarianism lies in its embracing of baser instincts, while rejecting the indispensable role of reason and freedom in our actions.
Kant s philosophy makes me think of an apple, the core is the good will, because that is what his philosophy centers around. The rest of the apple could be his principles of morality, and the categorical imperative. Even though some of his beliefs were a little extreme most continue to prefer them over utilitarianism. Immanuel Kant will always be remembered as one of the greatest philosophers of our time.