Summary: • Thus, Kantian ethics states an action is right if it is in accord with the Categorical Imperative (the supreme principle of morality). Right actions flow from right principles. • From using our capacity to reason Kant believes the Categorical Imperative can be formulated in at least three ways; they are all equivalent with the first formulation being the basis. Though they bring out various aspects of the moral law, they cannot tell us more than what the first formula does.
Categorical Imperative: • The CI does not depend on a logically prior condition though it assumes the predisposition that one wishes to be rational and will follow what rationally determined duty dictates (in contrast to hypothetical imperatives which means that the consequent depends upon the antecedent: If p, then q). Thus, morality is a function of human reason. Human reason is governed by Logic. Q.E.D., to be irrational is to be inhuman. To be sure, there are perfect and imperfect duties. Actions are characterized as perfect because they follow directly from an application of the universalization of the Categorical Imperative in contrast to imperfect duties that follow from CI only after considering other factors (e.g., seeking our own happiness). An imperfect duty is just as strong in its action guiding force as a perfect duty. Thus, their point of origin highlights their differences.
Three Formulations of the Categorical Imperative: • First formulation: “Act in conformity with the maxim and the maxim only, that you can will at the same time a universal law.” This means that what I consider doing, it must be something that I can will or accept that all do (universal); it is replacing individual preferences with purely universal terms. • Second formulation: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always an end and never as a means only.” In essence, every person has intrinsic value and that humanity is a limit or constraint on our action. • Third formulation: “Therefore, every rational being must act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.” In other words, we have to will what is consistent with the operations of the kingdom as a whole. In sum, all people should consider themselves as both members and heads
Major Points to Consider: 1. What gives an act moral worth is our motives because we can’t necessarily control the consequences of our act or/and things do not always turn out as we want. He calls this motive “the good will.” Therefore, we are responsible for our motives to do good or bad, and thus it is for this that we are held morally accountable. 2. What is the right motive is acting out of a will to do the right thing; only an act motivated by this concern for the moral law is right. Consider the following Shopkeeper illustration:
Major Points to Consider: 3. Kant’s Shopkeeper illustration: A shopkeeper charges her customers a fair price and charges the same to all. But what is the shopkeeper’s motive? A. If the shopkeeper’s motive for charging a fair price is that it serves her own best interest, then this motive is not praiseworthy. B. If the shopkeeper’s motive for charging a fair price is because she is sympathetic toward her customers, then this motive is still not praiseworthy. C. If the shopkeeper’s motive is to do the right thing because it is the right thing, then her motive is indeed praiseworthy. Only doing that which is morally right is praiseworthy. We do not always know when our acts are motivated by self-interest, inclination or pure respect for morality. Also, we often act from mixed motives. However, we are certain that the motive is pure when we do what is right regardless how we feel or/and the consequences.
Major Points to Consider: 4. In order for our action to have moral worth we must not only act out of a right motivation but we must also do what is right. Right Motive Right Act The motive and the act must be morally right! We must not only act of duty (have the right motive) but also “according to duty” or as “duty requires” (do what is right).
5. How we are to know what the right thing to do is to test our motives and actions against the categorical imperative. If our motive and acts meets the criteria of the categorical imperative we are obligated to do it. CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE: “Oughts” that tell us what we ought to do no matter what, under all conditions, and are universally binding (categorical imperative). 1st form of Categorical Imperative: “Act only on that maxim which can will as a universal law.” This means that what I consider doing, it must be something that I can will or accept that all do (universal). Right Motive Right Act
According the first formula: According to the first formula: the agent must be willing to eliminate all individual reference from the maxim of her action. The most significant exclusion from the maxim is oneself. Therefore, in order to pass the test of the categorical imperative in the first formulation, one must be prepared to go on willing even if it contains no reference to oneself.
6. Thus, whatever I consider doing, it must be something that I can will or accept all do. A law by its very nature has a degree of universality. Act only on that maxim which you can will as a universal law. Maxim: is a description of the action that I will put to the test. 7. How do I know what I can and cannot will as a universal practice? As a rational being I can only will what is non-contradictory
8. First Two Forms of the Categorical Imperative: 1st form of Categorical Imperative: “Act only on that maxim which can will as a universal law.” This means that what I consider doing, it must be something that I can will or accept that all do (universal); it is replacing individual preferences with purely universal terms. 2nd form of Categorical Imperative: “Always treat humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end.” This means that every person has intrinsic value & that humanity is a limit or constraint on our action.
1st Categorical Imperative: • 1st Categorical Imperative is a decision procedure for moral reasoning. 4 Steps: 1. Formulate a maxim that enshrines your reasoning for acting as you propose. 2. Recast maxim as universal law of nature governing all rational agents-all people will act upon. 3. Consider whether your maxim is even conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature. 4. Ask whether you would or could rationally will to act on this maxim in such a world.
Explains how we ought to treat ourselves. 9. Second Form of the Categorical Imperatives: 2nd Categorical Imperative: “Always treat humanity, whether in your own person or that of another, never simply as a means but always at the same time as an end.” This means that every person has intrinsic value & that humanity is a limit or constraint in our action. Treat ourselves & other as ends rather than merely as means. The moral conclusions should be the same whether we use the 1st or 2nd form of the categorical imperative.
“All maxims as proceeding from our own law-making ought to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends as a kingdom of nature." Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 4:436/104. • Key Points: • Think of ourselves as members of a society of beings whose permissible ends are to be respected. • 2. Test our maxims by asking, whether, supposing the maxims were natural laws, there would be a society of that kind. In other words, we are obligated to act only by maxims which would harmonize a possible kingdom of ends. • 3. We have a perfect duty not to act by maxims that create incoherent or impossible states of natural affairs when we attempt to universalize them; • We have an imperfect duty not to act by maxims that promote unstable or greatly undesirable states of affairs. • “Kant seems to assume that those who apply the categorical imperative to their maxims will come out with answers that agree when the maxims tested are alike.” J.B. Schneewind, “Autonomy, Obligation, & Virtue,” pg. 338. 10. Third Formulation of the Categorical Imperative: Hypothetical Kingdom of Ends
Third Categorical Imperative introduces a social dimension to Kantian Morality The formulation of the CI states that we must “act in accordance with the maxims of a member giving universal laws for a merely possible kingdom of ends” (4:439). It combines the others in that (i) it requires that we conform our actions to the maxims of a legislator of laws (ii) that this lawgiver lays down universal laws, binding all rational wills including our own, and (iii) that those laws are of ‘a merely possible kingdom’ each of whose members equally possesses this status as legislator of universal laws, and hence must be treated always as an end in itself. The intuitive idea behind this formulation is that our fundamental moral obligation is to act only on principles which could earn acceptance by a community of fully rational agents each of whom have an equal share in legislating these principles for their community.
Summary of first three categorical imperatives: • The Categorical Imperative requires that I act only on maxims that I can will as universal law. • The categorical imperative is supposed to give us a test for maxims. • Maxim is the is “subjective principle of an action.” The principle of an action is that prescription from which the action follows. • If the maxim meets the test, the action that follows from it has moral worth; if the maxim does not meet it, the action does not have moral worth.
1st Categorical Imperative: • 1st Categorical Imperative requires willingness to continue to the subscription to the maxim of an action even if all individual or singular reference is excluded from it. Eliminating individual or singular reference requires eliminating reference to me. In other words, think of replacing individual references with purely universal terms.
1st Categorical Imperative: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” Rather than thinking that humanity is the goal or proper end of our action, he presupposes that humanity is a limit or constraint on our action. This kind of constraint can be seen mostly clearly by tracing the connection with the first formula, the Formula of Universal Law. Remember, the agent must be willing to eliminate all individual reference from the maxim of her action. The most significant exclusion here is that of herself. Therefore, be prepared go on willing the maxim even if it contains no reference to herself. The constraint that the second formula imposes is that the maxim of an action must be such that any other free and rational person can adopt it. Treating humanity as an end in itself is, for Kant, respecting our capacity for free and rational choice; in his term, it is respecting our autonomy. I am constrained, according to this first formula, by the consideration that is wrong, other things being equal, to impede the agency of others. To treat another human being as merely a means is to ignore the other as a center of agency. The clearest cases here are those of coercion and deception. For example: If I take the hand of one of my students in my class and with it I strike the neighbouring student’s face, I have bypassed the first student’s agency. I have treated her merely as a means, as though she were merely an organic hitting implement. The same is true when I deceive somebody, because if I conceal the nature of the situation, I impede her ability to make a free and rational choice for that situation.
1st Categorical Imperative: The constraint that the second formula imposes is that the maxim of an action must be such that any other free and rational person can adopt it. Treating humanity as an end in itself is, for Kant, respecting our capacity for free and rational choice; in his term, it is respecting our autonomy. I am constrained, according to this first formula, by the consideration that is wrong, other things being equal, to impede the agency of others. To treat another human being as merely a means is to ignore the other as a center of agency. The clearest cases here are those of coercion and deception. For example: If I take the hand of one of my students in my class and with it I strike the neighbouring student’s face, I have bypassed the first student’s agency. I have treated her merely as a means, as though she were merely an organic hitting implement. The same is true when I deceive somebody, because if I conceal the nature of the situation, I impede her ability to make a free and rational choice for that situation.
What is the connection between the categorical imperative is the following: • If I cannot will maxim X as universal law, then I am acting for reasons that it is not possible for everyone to share. But to act toward people on the basis of reasons they cannot possibly share is to use them, to treat them as a mere means to my goals. In fact, all people should consider themselves both members and heads because we have a perfect duty not to act in maxims that create incoherent or impossible states of natural affairs for it will lead to unstable or greatly undesirable states of affairs. See, the truly autonomous will is not subject to any particular interest. Kant’s idea here is that one should not treat others in ways they couldn’t rationally assent to.
10. Perfect and Imperfect Duties: Imperfect Duties: Are those duties that don’t whole heartily conform to the categorical imperative. e.g., If I were an egoist and concerned only about myself, no one could accuse me of using other people; I would simply leave them alone. But this attitude & practice is inconsistent with the duty to treat others as persons. As persons, they also have interests and plans, and to recognize this I must at least sometimes and in some ways seek to promote their ends and goals. Perfect Duties: Perfect duties are absolutes & necessary; they conform to the categorical imperative. eg., We can and should absolutely refrain from making false or lying promises.
1st example: Suicide “Whenever continuing to live will bring more pain than pleasure, I shall commit suicide out of self-love.” 1. Suicide can’t be a universal law for one can’t will that would be universal will. 2. Remember, suicide would be morally right if and only if the person who is thinking about suicide can consistently will that suicide be a universal law.
1st Example: Suicide: • A man reduced to despair by a series of misfortunes feels wearied of life, but is still so far in possession of his reason that he can ask himself whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to take his own life. Now he inquires whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. His maxim is: 'From self-love I adopt it as a principle to shorten my life when its longer duration is likely to bring more evil than satisfaction.' It is asked then simply whether this principle founded on self-love can become a universal law of nature. Now we see at once that a system of nature of which it should be a law to destroy life by means of the very feeling whose special nature it is to impel to the improvement of life would contradict itself and, therefore, could not exist as a system of nature; hence that maxim cannot possibly exist as a universal law of nature and, consequently, would be wholly inconsistent with the supreme principle of all duty." (Quoted from the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, as translated by T.K. Abbott)
2nd example: Lying & Not Keeping Promise: “Whenever I need money, then I shall borrow the money and promise to repay, even though I know I will not repay.” 1. Lying and not keeping promise can’t be a universal law for one can’t will that would be universal will. 2. Remember, lying and not repaying would be morally right if and only if the person who is thinking about lying and not keeping promise can consistently will that lying and not keeping promise be a universal law.
3rd Example: Developing One’s Habits • "A third finds in himself a talent which with the help of some culture might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than to take pains in enlarging and improving his happy natural capacities. He asks, however, whether his maxim of neglect of his natural gifts, besides agreeing with his inclination to indulgence, agrees also with what is called duty. He sees then that a system of nature could indeed subsist with such a universal law although men (like the South Sea islanders) should let their talents rest and resolve to devote their lives merely to idleness, amusement, and propagation of their species- in a word, to enjoyment; but he cannot possibly will that this should be a universal law of nature, or be implanted in us as such by a natural instinct. For, as a rational being, he necessarily wills that his faculties be developed, since they serve him and have been given him, for all sorts of possible purposes." (Quoted from the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, as translated by T.K. Abbott)
3rd example: Developing One’s Habits “When I’m comfortable as I am, I shall let all my talents rust.” 1. Everyone necessarily wills that some of his or her talents be developed. 2. If everyone necessarily wills that some of his or her talents be developed, then no one can consistently will that his non-use of talents to be a universal law. 3. Non-use of talents is morally right if and only if the agent thinking about non-use of talents can consistently will that non-use of talents be a universal law. (The Categorical Imperative) 4. Therefore, allowing one’s talents to rust is morally wrong.
4th Example: Helping Others. • A fourth, who is in prosperity, while he sees that others have to contend with great wretchedness and that he could help them, thinks: 'What concern is it of mine? Let everyone be as happy as Heaven pleases, or as be can make himself; I will take nothing from him nor even envy him, only I do not wish to contribute anything to his welfare or to his assistance in distress!' Now no doubt if such a mode of thinking were a universal law, the human race might very well subsist and doubtless even better than in a state in which everyone talks of sympathy and good-will, or even takes care occasionally to put it into practice, but, on the other side, also cheats when he can, betrays the rights of men, or otherwise violates them. But although it is possible that a universal law of nature might exist in accordance with that maxim, it is impossible to will that such a principle should have the universal validity of a law of nature. For a will which resolved this would contradict itself, inasmuch as many cases might occur in which one would have need of the love and sympathy of others, and in which, by such a law of nature, sprung from his own will, he would deprive himself of all hope of the aid he desires." (From the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals, as translated by T.K. Abbott)
4th example: Helping Others: “When I am flourishing and others are in distress, I shall give nothing to charity.” • Everyone necessarily wills that he or she be helped in desperate circumstances. 2. If everyone necessarily wills this, then no one can consistently will that non-help be a universal law. 3. Not helping others is morally right if and only if the agent thinking about not helping others can consistently will that not helping others be a universal law. (The Categorical Imperative) 4. Therefore, not helping others is not morally right.
Fairness, Consistency, and morally equal treatment of all people for they are intrinsically valuable. 11. Advantages of Kant’s Moral Theory: Emphasizes the Law of Non-contradiction; we would not will anything that is not rational. Emphasizes doing what is morally right (it is our duty). It is universally binding and Impartial-in order for an action to be morally permissible, we should be able to will it for all.
12. Criticisms against Deontological Ethics: Duty centered ethics stressing obedience to rules, as opposed to result-centered or utilitarian ethics. 1. No clear way to resolve moral duties when they come into conflict with each other. 2. Deontological ethics are consequential moral systems in disguise enshrined in customs and law have been known to give the best consequences. 3. Do not readily allow for gray areas because they are based on absolutes. 4. Which duties qualify given time or location: Are old duties still valid? 5. Human welfare and misery: Some principles may result in a clash with what is best for human welfare & prescribe actions which cause human misery. 6. Rule worship: The refusal to break a generously beneficial rule in those areas in which it is not most beneficial is rule worship. 7. Exclusive focus on “rationality” ignores our relations to & with other human beings.
There is no clear way to deal with moral conflicts consider the following: a. Killer comes to the door: If a killer comes to the door and ask for a friend of yours inside whom he intends to kill, you must tell the truth (illustration by Kant). But there is only one exceptionless rule in Kant’s philosophy and that is given in the categorical imperative: We are never permitted to do what we cannot will as a universal law or what violates the requirement to treat persons as persons. Kant may not give us adequate help in deciding what to do when moral conflicts are involved because in the above example, both to tell the truth and preserve life are moral obligations.
Regarding Impartiality & Rationality: b. Kant’s moral philosophy is its belief in impartiality; in order for an action to be rally permissible, we should be able to will it for all. However, persons do differ in significant ways (gender, race, age, and talents). In what way does morality require that everyone be treated equally and in what does it perhaps require that different person be treated differently (e.g., gender). c. Kant’s stress on rationality may be considered to be too male-oriented, too Westernized. It is subject to the continental critique of structure (Foucault).
Kant’s View of Virtue/Vice • Kant defines virtue as “the moral strength of a human being's will in fulfilling his duty” (6:405) and vice as principled immorality. (6:390) This definition appears to put Kant's views on virtue at odds with classical views such as Aristotle's in several important respects. • First, Kant's account of virtue presupposes an account of moral duty already in place. Thus, rather than treating admirable character traits as more basic than the notions of right and wrong conduct, Kant takes virtues to be explicable only in terms of a prior account of moral or dutiful behavior. He does not try to make out what shape a good character has and then draw conclusions about how we ought to act on that basis. He sets out the principles of moral conduct based on his philosophical account of rational agency, and then on that basis defines virtue as the trait of acting according to these principles.
Kant’s View of Virtue/Vice • Second, virtue is for Kant a strength of will, and hence does not arise as the result of instilling a ‘second nature’ by a process of habituating or training ourselves to act and feel in particular ways. It is indeed a disposition, but a disposition of one's will, not a disposition of emotions, feelings, desires or any other feature of human nature that might be amenable to habituation. Moreover, the disposition is to overcome obstacles to moral behavior that Kant thought were ineradicable features of human nature. Thus, virtue appears to be much more like what Aristotle would have thought of as a lesser trait, viz., continence or self-control.
Kant’s View of Virtue/Vice • Third, in viewing virtue as a trait grounded in moral principles, and vice as principled transgression of moral law, Kant thought of himself as thoroughly rejecting what he took to be the Aristotelian view that virtue is a mean between two vices. The Aristotelian view, he claimed, assumes that virtue differs from vice only in terms of degree rather than in terms of the different principles each involves. (6:404, 432) But prodigality and avarice, for instance, do not differ by being too loose or not loose enough with one's means. They differ in that the prodigal acts on the principle of acquiring means with the sole intention of enjoyment, while the avaricious act on the principle of acquiring means with the sole intention of possessing them.
Kant’s View of Virtue/Vice • Fourth, in classical views the distinction between moral and non-moral virtues is not particularly significant. A virtue is some sort of excellence of the soul , but one finds classical theorists treating wit and friendliness along side courage and justice. Since Kant holds moral virtue to be a trait grounded in moral principle, the boundary between non-moral and moral virtues could not be more sharp. Even so, Kant shows a remarkable interest in non-moral virtues; indeed, much of Anthropology is given over to discussing the nature and sources of a variety of character traits, both moral and non-moral.
Kant’s View of Virtue/Vice • Fifth, virtue cannot be a trait of divine beings, if there are such, since it is the power to overcome obstacles that would not be present in them. This is not to say that to be virtuous is to be the victor in a constant and permanent war with ineradicable evil impulses. Morality is ‘duty’ for human beings because it is possible (and we recognize that it is possible) for our desires and interests to run counter to its demands. Should all of our desires and interests be trained ever so carefully to comport with what morality actually requires of us, this would not change in the least the fact that morality is still duty for us. For should this come to pass, it would not change the fact that each and every desire and interest could have run contrary to the moral law. And it is the fact that they can conflict with moral law, not the fact that they actually do conflict with it, that makes duty a constraint, and hence virtue essentially a trait concerned with constraint.
Kant’s View of Virtue/Vice • Sixth, virtue, while important, does not hold pride of place in Kant's system in other respects. For instance, he holds that the lack of virtue is compatible with possessing a good will. (6: 408) That one acts from duty, even repeatedly and reliably can thus be quite compatible with an absence of the moral strength to overcome contrary interests and desires. Indeed, it may often be no challenge at all to do one's duty from duty alone. Someone with a good will, who is genuinely committed to duty for its own sake, might simply fail to encounter any significant temptation that would reveal the lack of strength to follow through with that commitment. That said, he also appeared to hold that if an act is to be of genuine moral worth, it must be motivated by the kind of purity of motivation achievable only through a permanent, quasi-religious conversion or “revolution” in the orientation of the will of the sort described in Religion.
Kant’s View of Virtue/Vice • Kant here describes the natural human condition as one in which no decisive priority is given to the demands of morality over happiness. Until one achieves a permanent change in the will's orientation in this respect, a revolution in which moral righteousness is the nonnegotiable condition of any of one's pursuits, all of one's actions that are in accordance with duty are nevertheless morally worthless, no matter what else may be said of them. However, even this revolution in the will must be followed up with a gradual, lifelong strengthening of one's will to put this revolution into practice. This suggests that Kant's considered view is that a good will is a will in which this revolution of priorities has been achieved, while a virtuous will is one with the strength to overcome obstacles to its manifestation in practice.
Criticisms against Deontological Ethics: • How do decide between two principles? • What about moral conflict between two morally right principles. • From where or whom do we get our principles? Nature? God? • If from nature, that assumes that what is in nature is actually good? How do we define nature?
Criticisms against Deontological Ethics: 1. No clear way to resolve moral duties when they come into conflict with one another. • They are consequential moral systems in disguised-enshrined in customs and laws that have been known to promote the best consequences. • Do not readily allow for gray areas because they are based on absolutes. • Which duties qualify given time and location. Are old duties still valid? • Human welfare and misery: Some principles may result in a clash with what is best for human welfare and prescribe actions which cause human misery. • Rule worship: Refusal to break a rule because it is rule, even if it is not beneficial.