Jacques Louis David, The Oath of the Horatii, 1784 “Good Will, Duty, and the Categorical Imperative” Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) KANT AND MODERN PHILOSOPHY • Modern philosophy begins with René Descartes (1596-1650). • 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 philosophers. • Kant made great contributions in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics.. MAN, NATURE, AND RATIONALITY • 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 principles. • 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. REASON AND AGENCY • 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. RATIONALITY AND DESIRE • 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 Will.” • 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 it. • 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.” MORALITY AND CONSEQUENCES • 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.” MORALITY AND CONSEQUENCES • 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. MORALITY AND CONSEQUENCES • 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. MORALITY IS UNIVERSAL • 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. DUTY • 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 duty. DUTY • A deontological theory of ethics stresses a person‟s duty to do the morally correct thing regardless of consequences. • 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 consequentialist. IMPERATIVES • An imperative is a command that I act in a certain fashion. • 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.) HYPOTHETICAL IMPERATIVE • 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. HYPOTHETICAL IMPERATIVE • 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. CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE • A categorical imperative is unconditional - „categorical‟ means absolute, unqualified, or unconditional. • Kant‟s categorical imperative is objectively necessary. • It concerns the necessity of a correct moral action itself without reference to any consequence of the action. CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE • 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. CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE • 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 consequentialist. • 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. TESTING MORAL LAWS • 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 circumstances?” • 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, everywhere. TESTING MORAL LAWS • 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.” . PERSONS AND THINGS • 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. PERSONS AND THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE • 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.” PERSONS AND THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE • 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 law. THE KINGDOM OF ENDS I • The community of rational beings who act under a system of common moral laws Kant calls a kingdom. • 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.” THE KINGDOM OF ENDS II • 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. KANT AND MORALITY • 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. KANT AND MORALITY • 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 person! • 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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