“Good Will_ Duty_ and the Categorical Imperative” by sdfwerte


									Jacques Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784
“Good Will, Duty, and the
 Categorical Imperative”

  Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
• Modern philosophy begins with René Descartes
• However, Kant is regarded by many as the
  greatest of all the modern philosophers.
• Indeed, with Plato and Aristotle, Kant is often
  considered to be one of the three greatest
• Kant made great contributions in epistemology,
  metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics..
• Kant notes that “everything in nature works according to
  laws.” However, humans differ from other parts of
  nature in that humans alone can according to principles.
• Thus, Kant recognizes the rationality of human beings.
• Humans are rational in having a “conception of laws,” or
• Our rationality enables us to understand the correctness
  of moral laws such as “keep your promises,” and to know
  the difference between right and wrong.
             FREE AGENCY
• Human beings are also free agents, that is, we have
  free will, or can freely choose between options,
  including moral options. That is, we can freely
  choose to do right or wrong.
• Because of our rationality, we can understand the
  difference between right and wrong. And, because of
  our rationality, we can understand moral laws which it
  is our duty to accept as binding.
• Our freedom to choose means then that we are capable
  of freely acting on this knowledge. That is we can
  freely choose to do what is right.
• Knowing how to act morally requires reason.
  Thus we must be able to deduce and understand
  the principles of correct moral behaviour.
• Having understood what is the right thing to do,
  we then act in a morally correct way when we
  freely choose to act according to the moral law
  which reason has recognized to be correct.
• Kant calls our ability to act according to
  principles, or our capacity to use our free will to
  do the right thing, practical reason.
• Kant recognizes that people are not only rational
  agents but we also have desires and appetites.
• However, as a rational agent, a person can choose to
  do what is right in spite of the influence of desires
  and appetites.
• When desires and appetites, or what Kant calls
  “subjective conditions,” would lead a person not to
  do the morally correct thing, or when morality and
  desire conflict, the moral person acts according to
  reason to do the right thing, despite of the influences
  of their desires and appetites.
               MORAL WORTH
• For Kant, a person of moral worth does the right thing, and
  does regardless of the influence of desire and appetite which
  may lead her to do the wrong thing.
• And, for Kant, moral worth is the most important attribute
  which a person can have.
• Moral worth is more important and more admirable than
  such “talents of the mind” as “intelligence, wit, and
  judgment” and is more important than such “qualities of
  temperament” as “courage, resolution, and perseverance.”
• For Kant, “these gifts of nature” - intelligence, courage, and
  so forth - may also become bad and mischievous if the will
  which is to make use of them is not good.”
                  GOOD WILL
• As seen, Kant recognizes that such things as intelligence
  and talent are good and valuable, but he thinks that moral
  worth has absolute value, and is more important than
  anything else which we might admire in a person.
• We have also seen that, for Kant, we are obligated by
  reason to follow objective moral laws even though we
  may not do so because of the influence of subjective
  conditions, or desires and appetites, on the will.
• A person‟s will to do the right thing, the thing which
  reason can identify as the morally correct thing to do, is a
  good will, and one which does not is not thoroughly good.
                GOOD WILL
• A person of moral worth is a person of good will in
  freely choosing to do the morally correct thing
  whether or not she is under the influence of desire to
  do otherwise.
• And Kant says that “Nothing can possibly be
  conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can
  be called good without qualification, except a Good
• Again, things like intelligence, talent, courage, and
  diligence are good, but if they are not backed by good
  character or a good will, then they can be put to bad
  use by a bad person. For instance, Hitler.
               GOOD WILL
• A good will is necessary to make sure that
  what Kant calls “gifts of fortune,” such as
  wealth and power, do not lead us astray as
  moral beings.
• Even things which are thought to be “good in
  many respects,” such as “self-control and calm
  deliberation,” “have no intrinsic unconditional
  value, but always assume a good will.”
                 GOOD WILL
• For Kant, a good will is not good because of what
  it brings about or helps to bring about, but because
  it is good in itself (intrinsic).
• A good will, considered by itself as it is in itself, is
  much more admirable than anything which it
  brings about.
• For instance, the good will which brings about
  happiness is much more deserving of respect than
  is the happiness which it produces.
              GOOD WILL
• Even if a good will accomplishes nothing, it
  is still to be admired as something which
  “has its whole value in itself.”
• So whether a good will is useful in
  producing results or not, it is still of the
  utmost goodness in itself.
• The value of a good will then lies entirely in
  itself and not in what it produces.
                GOOD WILL
• For Kant, “a good will is good not because of
  what it performs or effects, but is good in itself.”
• Because the value of a good will lies entirely
  within itself, it is still good whether it results in
  anything which is either a good or a bad effect of
• The good will then “has its whole value in itself,”
  and “its usefulness or fruitlessness can neither add
  to nor take away anything from this value.”
• Kant says that “the moral worth of an action does not lie in the
  effect expected from it, nor in any principle of action which
  requires to borrow its motive from this expected effect.”
• Thus, unlike any consequentialist theory, Kant says that it is
  incorrect to look for the moral worth of an action in its effects.
• The reason for this is that expected effects of actions, such as
  improving one‟s own condition, as in egoism, or increasing the
  happiness of everyone likely to be effected by the action, as in
  utilitarianism, Kant says “could have been brought about by
  other causes.”
• And, if that were the case, then “there would have been no
  need of the will of a rational being.”
• Recall that, for Kant, it is in this will “alone
  that the supreme and unconditional good can
  be found.”
• And if that is where the supreme and
  unconditional good is to be found, then it is
  not to be found in the consequences of an
  action, whether those consequences mean a
  better life for oneself, as in egoism, or in a
  better life for everyone affected by the action,
  as in utilitarianism.
• Thus, for Kant, the moral person does what is right
  because it is right, and does not do right because he
  or she is considering the likely effects of doing right
  for himself or for anyone likely to be affected by
  the action.
• The goodness of an act is not then judged by its
  consequences, as in a consequentialist theory, but is
  due to a good will, or willing to do the right thing
  because it is the right thing to do.
           MORAL MOTIVES
• For Kant it is the moral person who is to be
  respected and revered. However, you are not an
  intrinsically moral person if, although you do the
  right thing, you do so for the wrong reason.
• For instance, you may keep a promise, not ought of
  knowing that it is the right thing to do, and acting on
  that knowledge, but because you perceive it to be to
  your benefit to do so.
• A moral person is motivated to do the right thing
  because he recognizes that it is the right thing to do,
  and so acts out of duty.
• According to Kant, you don‟t act correctly
  for a subjective reason, such as pleasure or
  happiness, if you are a moral person.
  Rather, you act out of duty.
• What is morally right for one person is
  morally right for everyone, which is what is
  meant by saying that morality is universal.
• It is your duty to do what is morally right as
  an objective matter.
• Kant‟s ethics is called deontological. The
  word deontology comes from the Greek
  words deon for duty and logos for science.
  Thus deontology would be the science of
• A deontological theory of ethics stresses a person‟s
  duty to do the morally correct thing regardless of
• For deontological ethics, some acts are morally
  obligatory whether their consequences are good or
  bad for human beings.
• Because of lack of consideration of consequences, a
  deontological theory is nonconsequentialist.
• The deontologist will typically hold that his moral
  standards are higher than those of the
• An imperative is a command that I act in a certain
• Kant talks of two kinds of imperative, or two
  kinds of “command (of reason),” namely,
  hypothetical or categorical.
• A hypothetical imperative concerns an action
  which “is good only as a means to something
  else.” (His italics.) A categorical imperative
  concerns an action which “is conceived of as good
  in itself.” (His italics.)
• A hypothetical imperative is conditional.
• That is, it depends on certain things, and
  concerns what needs to be done in order to
  attain an objective.
• An imperative (a command of reason to act
  in a certain way) is hypothetical when it
  concerns an action which is good only as a
  means to something else.
• For instance, if you want to begin collecting art, then
  your ability to collect good art will be dependent or
  conditional on your ability to recognize good art.
• It is therefore imperative that you learn something about
  art so that you can tell the good from the bad. And the
  hypothetical command of reason in this case would be:
  “If you want to build a good collection of art (the
  hypothetical) then learn about art (the imperative).
• Thus learning about art is good, but it is hypothetical
  because it is a means to something else, namely acquiring
  a good collection.
• A categorical imperative is unconditional -
  „categorical‟ means absolute, unqualified,
  or unconditional.
• Kant‟s categorical imperative is objectively
• It concerns the necessity of a correct moral
  action itself without reference to any
  consequence of the action.
• According to Kant, all moral laws, or what he
  calls “imperatives of duty,” such as: keep your
  promises, tell the truth, and repay your debts, “can
  be deduced from this one imperative”.
• Kant thinks that the categorical imperative is a
  general law to which particular moral laws, such
  as those just cited, must conform.
• We have seen that Kant thinks that the goodness of an
  act does not lie in its effects, but in the conception of
  the moral law according to which all rational agents
  should act, and so Kant is not a utilitarian or
• If we look to moral law for correct moral behaviour,
  and not to the effects of actions, then we must ask what
  kind of law it is to which we are to look for morality.
• The answer, for Kant, is the categorical imperative, the
  general law from which, and according to which
  particular moral laws can be tested.
• To test a moral act one can ask: “What would
  happen if everyone did this?” Or, “Would it be
  okay for anyone to do this in the same or similar
• If what I am about to do is morally correct then,
  for Kant, it would be morally correct for everyone
  to do the same thing in the same circumstances.
• If an action is morally correct then it is
  universalizable, that is, it is good for everyone,
• For Kant, a particular moral principle can be tested by
  asking if a rule pertaining to behavior which goes
  against the principle can be universalized.
• And he says: “If not, then it must be rejected . . .
  because it cannot enter as a principle into a possible
  universal legislation” [cannot be a moral law
  applicable to everyone.]
• Thus a test of a maxim or moral law such as „keep
  your promises‟ is to ask if a principle pertaining to
  conduct which would break the law, such as „it is okay
  to make a promise which you don‟t intend to keep,‟
  could be universalized.
                  TEST: SUICIDE
                                 • Is suicide okay for a
                                   depressed person if he or
                                   she reasons as follows?
                                 • a) To stay alive would be
                                   far less good for me than
                                   bad. b) I love myself. c)
                                   Because I love myself I do
                                   not want to see myself
                                   suffer. d) Therefore, I
     Old Man in Sorrow             ought to commit suicide to
(On the Threshold of Eternity)     end my suffering.
  Vincent Van Gogh, 1890
                TEST: SUICIDE
• For Kant, the crucial thing for the morality of suicide is
  whether or not this reasoning to the correctness of suicide
  to end suffering from self-love “can become a universal
  law of nature.”
• And he thinks that it cannot since, according to Kant, to
  commit suicide out of self-love is contradictory. It is
  contradictory because self-love is the very thing which
  motivates us to improve our lives.
• However, the removal of life is not improvement of life,
  and so self-love which provided these contradictory
  options cannot be made “a universal law of nature, and
  consequently would be wholly inconsistent with the
  supreme principle of all duty.” .
• According to Kant, persons are rational agents
  who are ends in themselves.
• Thus Kant says that “man and generally any
  rational being exists as and end in himself, not
  merely as a means to be arbitrarily used . . . ”
• For Kant, rational beings are persons and non-
  rational beings are things.
• Persons are ends in themselves and have absolute
  value, whereas things are means to an end and
  only have relative value as means to an end.

 • Because persons are rational, they are ends in
   themselves for Kant, and not merely things which
   have relative value because they are only means to
   something else.
 • The status of persons as rational agents who are
   ends in themselves gives rise to a second way of
   stating the categorical imperative: “So act as to
   treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in
   that of any other, in every case as an end withal,
   never as means only.”

• Although persons can sometimes be used as means to an
  end - as you use a teacher as a means to the end of getting
  an education - persons are never to be used merely or only
  as means.
• Thus something like slavery is morally reprehensible since
  you are treating a slave as a thing and not as a person, you
  are using a slave as a machine or an instrument of cheap
  labor and not recognizing his or her essential humanity.
• All rational beings are subject to the same universal moral
  laws which conform to the categorical imperative of acting
  on a principle which you can will to become a universal
• The community of rational beings who act under a
  system of common moral laws Kant calls a
• Each person must recognize himself as an end in
  himself and must recognize at the same time that
  every other person too is an end in himself. This
  is our duty according to Kant.
• Kant says that “all rational beings come under the
  law that each of them must treat itself and all
  others never merely as means, but in every case at
  the same time as ends in themselves.”
• That is, every person is subject to the second form of the
  categorical imperative, the law which says that it is our
  duty to treat each person as an end in herself and never
  as merely as a means to an end.
• Whenever a person is treated as a means to something
  else, it must be recognized at the same time that she is
  an end in herself.
• According to Kant, when we all recognize each other as
  ends in themselves, and not merely as means to an end,
  then our community, our kingdom, becomes a
  community of persons treated as ends in themselves, or
  what Kant calls a kingdom of ends.
• We know that, for Kant, respect for the moral law
  is of the utmost importance.
• And Kant thinks that we should not consider the
  value of our own pleasure or well-being or that of
  others over the moral law.
• Contra at least act utilitarianism, in a contest
  between increasing happiness and the moral law,
  the moral law should win.
• Some people think that Kant‟s devotion to the moral law can
  have absurd consequences. For instance, he said that it is our
  duty always to tell the truth. As such it would not seem
  permissible ever to tell a lie, even to save the life of another
• We have an obligation to tell the truth since lying cannot be
  universalized, and we have an obligation to help others for
  reasons seen above in the fourth test of the categorical
  imperative. Might we not then need to lie to help another?
  And doesn‟t this raise a problem about conflicting duties?
• However this might be dealt with, since moral rules like telling
  the truth, are both universally valid - for everyone, at every
  time and at every place - and thus admit of no exceptions - for
  Kant we have an absolute duty to follow them.

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