Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Kantian Ethics.

Extracts from this essay...


Critically evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of Kantian Ethics. Kantian ethics originates in the ethical writings of Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), which remain the most influential attempt to justify universal ethical principles that respect the dignity and equality of human beings without assuming theological claims or a metaphysical conception of the good. Kant's systematic, critical philosophy centres on an account of reasoning about action, which he uses to justify principles of duty and virtue and an account of the relationship between morality and hope. Both Kant's ethics and contemporary Kantian ethics have been widely criticized for preoccupation with rules and duties, and for lack of concern with virtues, happiness or personal relationships. However, these criticisms may apply more to recent Kantian ethics than to Kant's own ethics. Kant's main writing on ethics and politics can be found in, The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals 1785; throughout these writings he insists that we cannot obtain ethical conclusions from metaphysical or theological knowledge of the good or from a claim that human happiness is the sole good. We lack the basis for a teleological account of ethical reasoning, which therefore cannot be simply a matter of mean to an end reasoning towards a fixed and knowable good.


An ethical theory that applies to principles can be more than empty and less than rigid. Other critics object that since Kantian ethics focuses on obligations and rights, and in good measure on justice, it either must or does neglect other ethical categories, and in particular the virtues, good character or good lives; that 'natural and human rights...are fictions' and that obligations inevitably conflict in ways that render all deontological ethics incoherent. Some critics have laid particular stress on the point that in requiring impartial respect for all, Kantian ethics entirely ignore the place of happiness, of the emotions, of personal integrity and above all of personal relationships in the good. They have claimed that we must choose between an ethics of justice and one of care, an ethic of rules and one of relationships, an ethic of duty and one of virtue, and that the latter term of each pair is to be preferred. Several recent writers have suggested that Kant's ethics is the most convincing form of Kantian ethics, and that its distinctive features are strengths rather than weaknesses. Many of these writers accept much of the critique of deontological ethics, but think that not all the criticisms apply to Kant's ethics, of which they offer detailed interpretations.


Trust would break down. In short, terrible consequences would result from the public expectation that this rule would prescribe killing, stealing, and so on when such acts would maximize the good. One of the advantages of Kantian ethics is it takes into account of justice, in other words it corrects the Utilitarian presumption that the punishment of the innocent can be justified in terms of the majority and benefit through 'the greatest good for the greatest number'. Another is that unlike Utilitarianism Kantian ethics does not have to be measured like in Utilitarianism to find the amount of pleasure received. This makes Kantian ethics more universal than Utilitarianism. In Kantian ethics there would be no unjust actions since people would only be doing actions out of their duty. Utilitarianism fails to critically realise the difference between two people, that being that, places of little value on individual worth, but places equally little worth on all individuals. Since Utilitarianism is a teleological ethical theory which means that it is concerned with the consequences, this would require us to foresee the consequences of an action before we commit it. However, Kantian ethics is only concerned with duty so the problem Utilitarianism faces, is that it has to face the duty which can be predicted much more easily than the consequence. Sources Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (1985) B. Williams Kant's Virtues (1996) O. O'Neill Routledge Encyclopaedia of Philosophy Gavin Huggett

The above preview is unformatted text

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • Over 150,000 essays available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Over 180,000 student essays
  • Every subject and level covered
  • Thousands of essays marked by teachers
  • Over 180,000 essays
    written by students
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to write
    your own great essays

Marked by a teacher

This essay has been marked by one of our great teachers. You can read the full teachers notes when you download the essay.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review on the essay page.

Peer reviewed

This essay has been reviewed by one of our specialist student essay reviewing squad. Read the full review under the essay preview on this page.