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“People should always do their duty”. Explain how Kant understood this concept.

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Introduction

Kant and the categorical imperative Q: "people should always do their duty". Explain how Kant understood this concept. Immanuel Kant was an eighteenth century German philosopher, who lived all of his life in the town of Konigsberg, East Prussia. Kant belied that the only way we can make selfless, rational moral decisions is by acting out of a sense of duty. Kant was troubled by the apparent inconsistency between the findings if the physical sciences in his day, and that of the accepted moral and religious attitudes and doctrines of his contempories. What particularly concerned Kant was the fact that everything that occurred in the natural sciences could be explained by the use of strict laws, whereas human beings appeared to behave in a relatively chaotic and unpredictable manor when faced with moral decisions. Kant believed this to be a contradiction that had to be resolved, and subsequently started work on a deontological, universal moral theory defined by him as "the categorical imperative", something that he believed should underpin all moral decision-making Kant starts his argument by making a distinction between a posteriori statements and a priori statements. ...read more.

Middle

A categorical imperative, Kant holds, is one that is an end in itself and takes the form "do x". It is a call to duty, an action done for its own sake. Kant then introduces the idea that we should act as lawmakers when making moral decisions; "act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law". What Kant means by this is that we should only perform a moral action if we are willing for that action to become a universal law for everybody to follow. Kant then introduces the practical imperative, which in summary runs as follows: " 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". Kant believed that a person with a good will is someone who acts wholly rationally, someone who disregards their selfish inclinations and acts out of a sense of duty in accordance with the categorical imperative. ...read more.

Conclusion

It may be argued that no direct contradiction would result from the universalization of such law and thus we would have no perfect duty to avoid acting in such a way. However, it may be argued that no rational person could consistently will that it became a universal law, as there is always the chance of the mother obtaining the financial means. If this were accepted, then we would have an imperfect duty not to act in this way. However, if the act of abortion is regarded as killing, then the resulting duty may change. Killing other human beings, Kant would argue, is clearly contradictory, and thus we have a perfect moral duty not to do it. Referring back to the previous example, the new maxim would become "it is permissible to kill someone if you do not have the financial means to support them". Because the maxim of "killing" has already been established to be self contradictory (if universalised), then the maxim of killing someone because you cannot financially support them would also be considered contradictory, and we would therefore have a perfect moral duty not to do it. Once established, the duties arrived at under the categorical imperative are absolute. However, as can be seen, establishing what are duties are is not always straightforward. ...read more.

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