Kantian Ethics And Categorical Imperative

Kantian Ethics And Categorical Imperative

•    With his theory of the Categorical Imperative, Immanuel Kant introduced modern deontological ethics in the late 18th century.
•    Unlike Mill, Kant believed that certain actions (such as murder, theft, and lying) should be avoided at all costs, even if the action would bring more happiness than the alternative. 
•    There are two questions Kantians must ask themselves whenever they decide to act
1.    I Can I rationally wish for everyone to behave as I propose? If the answer is no, we must refrain from carrying out the action.
2.    Do I act in a way that respects human goals rather than exploiting them for my own gain? If the answer is no, we should not carry out the action.
•    Kant thought these questions were interchangeable
•    Kant's theory is an example of a deontological moral theory, which holds that the rightness or wrongness of actions is determined by whether they fulfil our obligations rather than their consequences. 
•    Kant believed that there was a supreme moral principle, which he called The Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative establishes our moral obligations.


•    A command is what an imperative is. As a result, “Pay your taxes!”, “Stop kicking the football!”, and “Don't kill animals!” are all imperatives. 
•    Imperatives are divided into two categories. 
1.    Hypothetical Imperatives: these imperatives demand that you have a relevant desire in order to fulfil them. For example, “study biology in college if you want to go to medical school.” This command does not apply to you if you do not wish to attend medical school. Another example is if your father says to you, “If you're hungry, eat something!” - You are free to ignore the command if you are not hungry. 
2.    Categorical Imperatives: These imperatives compel without exception. “Don't cheat on your exam,” for example. You are not permitted to cheat, even if doing so would benefit your interests.
•    Morality, according to Kant, must be based on the categorical imperative because morality is such that you are bound by it and cannot opt out or claim that it does not apply to you. 
•    In Immanuel Kant's deontological moral philosophy, the categorical imperative is the central philosophical concept.


There are three different ways to express the categorical imperative. That is to say, there are three ways to express what it is. Kant claims that all three say the same thing, but whether this is true is currently debatable. 

1) The First Formulation: Formula of Universality and the Law of Nature

Kantian Ethics And Categorical Imperative


Immanuel Kant
•    What exactly is a maxim? A maxim is a rule or principle that guides your actions. For example, I might make it a rule to donate at least as much to charity each year as I spend on eating out, or to do only what will benefit a member of my family.
•    The command essentially states that you are not allowed to do anything yourself that you would not be willing to allow everyone else to do. You are not permitted to make personal exceptions. If you expect other people to keep their promises, for example, you must also keep your own promises.
•    It commands, more precisely, that every maxim you follow must be such that you are willing to make the case that everyone follows that maxim in similar situations.
•    For example, if I wanted to lie to get something I wanted, I would have to be willing to make the case that everyone lied to get what they wanted - but no one would believe you if that happened, so the lie would not work and you would not get what you wanted. So, if you wanted such a maxim (of lying) to become a universal law, you would achieve your goal - thus, lying is impermissible under the categorical imperative. It's illegal because the only way to get away with lying is to make an exception for yourself.
•    We have a perfect duty, according to his logic, not to act on maxims that result in logical contradictions when we try to universalize them.
•    When universalized, moral proposition A: "It is permissible to steal" would result in a contradiction. The concept of stealing is predicated on the existence of private property, but if A is universalized, there can be no private property, and thus the proposition is logically negated.

2) The Second Formulation: The Formula of Human¬ity

Immanuel Kant
•    Every rational action must have not only a principle, but also a goal in mind. Most goals are subjective in nature, as they must be pursued only if they align with some hypothetical imperative that a person may choose to adopt. It would be necessary to pursue a goal categorically in order for it to be objective.
•    All rational action stems from the exercise of one's free will. However, treating it as a subjective goal is to deny the possibility of general freedom. Because the autonomous will is the sole source of moral action, claiming that a person is merely a means to another end rather than always an end in themselves would contradict the first formulation.
•    Kant derives the second formulation of the categorical imperative from the first on this basis.
•    We can learn that a person has a perfect duty not to use the humanity of themselves or others as a means to some other end by combining this formulation with the first. 
•    Slave owners are effectively asserting a moral right to own someone as a slave while also asserting a property right in another person. This would be a violation of the categorical imperative because it denies the basis for free rational action in the first place; it denies a person's status as an end in themselves.
•    According to Kant, no one has the right to treat another person as a mere means to an end. Slaves are used to cultivate a slave owner's fields (the slaves acting as the means) to ensure a sufficient harvest (the end goal of the owner).
•    The second formulation also leads to the imperfect duty of advancing our own and others' goals. If a person seeks perfection in themselves or others, it is their moral obligation to seek it for everyone equally.

3) The Third Formulation: The Formula of Autonomy

Immanuel Kant
•    Kant claims that the first formulation establishes the categorical imperative's objective conditions: that it be universal in form and thus capable of becoming a natural law. Similarly, the second formulation establishes subjective conditions: that certain ends in themselves, namely rational beings as such, exist.
•    As a result, the concept of self-legislation emerges. Each subject must will maxims that have the appearance of universality but do not encroach on the freedom of others, and thus each subject must will maxims that could be universally self-legislated.
•    Kant distinguishes between autonomy (literally: self-law-giving) and heteronomy after introducing this third formulation (literally: other-law-giving). The categorical imperative necessitates autonomy, according to this third formulation. 
•    It is not enough to follow the right behaviour; one must also demand that behaviour from oneself.

The Kingdom of Ends

Immanuel Kant
•    Because a truly autonomous will is not subject to any interest, it is only subject to the laws it creates for itself—but those laws must be regarded as if they were binding on others, or they would not be universalizable, and thus would not be laws of conduct at all. As a result, Kant introduces the concept of a hypothetical Kingdom of Ends, in which all people should consider themselves as ends rather than means. We should only act in accordance with maxims that are compatible with a possible kingdom of ends.
•    Kant claims that a person's goodness or badness is determined by the motivation for their actions, not by the goodness of the actions' consequences. What I mean by "motivation" is what drove you to take the action (i.e., your reason for doing it).
•    Kant claims that the only way to have moral worth (i.e., to be a good person) is to be motivated by morality. 
•    To put it another way, if a person's emotions or desires drive them to do something, that action cannot be considered morally valuable. Although it may appear strange, there is good reason to agree with Kant.
Why motivation is so important: 
•    Imagine you've won the lottery and are unsure what to do with your winnings. I consider what would be the most enjoyable thing to do with it: buy a yacht, travel around the world in first class, have that knee operation, and so on. I decide that giving the money to charity and enjoying the special feeling you get from making people happy would be a lot more fun, so I donate all of my lottery winnings. 
•    According to Kant, I am not a morally worthy person because I did this; after all, I simply did what I thought would be the most enjoyable, and there is nothing admirable about such a self-centred pursuit.
•    It was just fortunate for those charities that I thought donating money was entertaining. Only when you do something because you know it is your duty and you would do it even if you didn't like it, do you have moral worth.
Why it doesn't matter what happens: 
•    The following example demonstrates why Kant is unconcerned about consequences. 
•    Consider two people who are out late one night drinking at a bar, and each of them decides to drive home very drunk. They drive through the middle of nowhere in different directions. One of them encounters no one on the road and thus makes it home safely, despite driving recklessly. Another drunk is not so fortunate, and comes across someone walking at night, killing the pedestrian with his car. 
•    Kant would argue that both drunks are equally bad based on their actions, and that the fact that one got lucky does not make them any better than the other. 
•    After all, they both made the same decisions, and the differences in their actions had nothing to do with either one's control. People who act for the right reasons follow the same logic. Both people are morally worthy if they act for the right reasons, even if one of their actions happens to have bad consequences due to bad luck.
Kantian Ethics And Categorical Imperative
The incorrect interpretation is: 
•    Consider the case of the lottery winner who donates to charity described above. Assume he donates to a charity with the goal of saving hundreds of starving children in a faraway village. 
•    The food arrives in the village, but when a group of rebels learns that they have food, they come to steal it, killing all of the village's children and adults. Feeding starving children had a good intention, but the actual consequences were negative. 
•    Kant isn't arguing that we should consider the intended consequences when making moral judgments. Kant claims that moral worth is properly assessed regardless of intended or actual consequences by looking at the motivation of the action, which can be selfish even if the intended consequences are good.
•    Kant does not forbid happiness: a careful reader will notice that one of the selfish person's intended consequences in the example above is to make himself happy, implying that intended consequences do matter. 
•    It might appear that Kant is claiming that if one of my goals is to make myself happy, my action is unworthy. This is a blunder. Even according to Kant, the result of making myself happy is a good result. Kant clearly believes that happiness is a good thing.
•    There's nothing wrong with doing something solely for the purpose of making yourself happy; this isn't selfishness. You can gain moral worth by doing things you enjoy, but the reason you are doing them must be because they are required by duty. 
•    Also, there is a popular misconception that Kant believes it is always wrong to do something that simply makes you happy, such as buying an ice cream cone. This isn't the case at all. Kant believes that you should do things to make yourself happy as long as they are not immoral (i.e., against your duty) and that you would refrain from doing them if they were.
•    It is not immoral to eat ice cream, so go ahead and do it. It will not make you a morally deserving person, but it will also not make you a bad person. In this way, many actions that are permissible but not required by duty are neutral.
•    A good person, according to Kant, is one who always does their duty because it is their duty. It's fine if they enjoy doing it, but they must be willing to do it even if they didn't like it. The overall theme is that in order to be a good person, one must be good for the sake of goodness.


•    According to Kant, lying is always wrong. James Rachels summarises his case in the following way: 
1.    We should only take actions that are consistent with rules that will be universally adopted. 
2.    We would be breaking the rule "It is permissible to lie" if we lied. This rule could not be universally adopted because it would be self-defeating: people would stop believing each other, and lying would be pointless.
3.    As a result, we should avoid lying.
•    The flaw in this argument is that we can lie without simply following the rule "Lies are permitted." 
•    Instead, we might be adhering to a rule that only applies in certain situations, such as “It is permissible to lie when doing so will save a life.” Without contradiction, this rule can be made a universal law. After all, it's not as if people would stop believing each other just because it's common knowledge that people lie to save lives. 
•    For one thing, that scenario is uncommon—people may still be telling the truth nearly all of the time. Under certain circumstances, even the taking of human life may be justified. Take, for example, self-defence. 
•    The rule "It is permissible to kill when killing is the only available means of defence against an attacker" appears to be without flaws.
•    It is not necessary to take Kant's theory to mean that lying is prohibited in all circumstances (as Kant did). Maxims (and the universal laws that follow from them) can be specified in a way that takes into account all of the relevant circumstances. 
•    Take, for example, the case of the Inquiring Murderer. Assume you're in that situation and you tell the murderer a lie. Instead of thinking of the universalized maxim as "Everyone Always Lying," we can think of it as "Everyone Always Lying to Protect Innocents from Stalkers."
•    This maxim appears to pass the categorical imperative test. Unfortunately, Kant's theory becomes more difficult to understand and apply as a result of complicated maxims.

Any suggestions or correction in this article - please click here ([email protected])

Related Posts: