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Assess Kant's philosophy: How successful do you find his approach?'

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Introduction

Stacey Mottershaw 61/Wb 10th November 2003 'Identify and explore the central features of Kant's theory. How successful do you find his approach?' Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 and is known as being one of the greatest philosophers of all time. He is also one of the last philosophers to create an entire philosophical system that covers most of the major issues in ethics. In this essay I am going to be looking into Kant's Ethical Theory and the first and second formulation of his categorical imperative test. I am going to evaluate how successful they are in completing the aims they were originally given. Kant is a deontologist who only ascribes worth to the deontological approach and he does not administer his theory around consequences. This means that he believes all agents should perform their actions out of duty, with no other motivation and with no regard to the consequences of the action. Deontological theories differ over the basis or grounding of duty. For some, the duty is to God's will whereas to others (including Kant) the duty would be to the moral law, which is generated by the application of reason. ...read more.

Middle

Kant says that the supreme principle of morality is found in the categorical imperative. To help moral agents decide whether or not their personal policy statements are rational or not, Kant came up with the Categorical Imperative test. An imperative is something that helps us to decide something else - it is usually in the form of a command. A categorical imperative is a single command with no given condition (as opposed to a hypothetical imperative that always has a condition attached). Kant favours the categorical imperative because of his deontological approach that is not necessarily concerned with conditions or consequences. The categorical imperative test is used to test the rationality of a moral agents personal maxim. The aim of the categorical imperative test is to help moral agents to decide whether or not their personal policy statements are rational and if they can be put into the form of a command. If you can wish that your personal policy statement could become universalized in every situation then it passes the test and in Kant's perspective, it could be classified as moral law. ...read more.

Conclusion

Others would argue against Kant's theory does not work, as it does not allow other motives for action such as emotions. However, Kant would say that emotions ARE allowed but only when acting 'in line with duty' rather than purely 'out of duty'. He says that we cannot perform actions based on other motivations such as emotion due to the pure nature of them; emotions are naturally deceptive and extremely biased. Also, he would not give moral praise to an action that was motivated by an emotion as it was not done out of duty towards the moral law. The aim of the categorical test was to provide assistance to a moral agent in a moral dilemma. The test appears to have failed this in everyday situations and this is what undermines Kant's approach to ethics. Overall it seems that although Kant's theory is successful in itself, the way in which the test was formulated can be improved, as it is the test that is criticized the most and it is the test that has it's flaws. If Kant could come up with another test, better than both the first and second formulation of the categorical imperative then he would have a brilliant theory for which to test any personal maxim against. ...read more.

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