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Does Kant's account of categorical imperatives and universal laws elucidate ordinary criteria for judging right from wrong actions?

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Introduction

PHILOSOPHY Tutorial Essay Question Two Write an essay of not more than 1,000 words in answer to one of the following questions. The essay is to be handed in at the next tutorial. 1. Can the maxim "Lie whenever it is to your advantage to do so" be made into a universal law? What has this question to do with moral obligation? 2. Does Kant's account of categorical imperatives and universal laws elucidate ordinary criteria for judging right from wrong actions? Reading: Kant, I - Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Moral, (Preface and Chapter 1) Walker, RCS - Kant (chapter XI) K�rner, S - Kant (chapter 6) Does Kant's account of categorical imperatives and universal laws elucidate ordinary criteria for judging right from wrong actions? In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Moral, Kant attempts to obtain selected ethical rules from the concept of reason. He claims that morality is objective; and not determined by the consequences of an action, but by the intentions behind it. The starting point of Kant's ethics is the concept of freedom. According to his famous maxim that 'ought implies can', the right action must always be possible: which is to say, I must always be free to perform it; "what makes categorical imperatives possible is this, that the idea of freedom makes me a member of an intelligible world."1 The categorical imperative, which, in Kant's moral philosophy, is said to be "the fundamental law of morality"2, provides the basis of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Moral. ...read more.

Middle

This method of looking at ethical choices focuses on which actions are right. The notion of universalizability is a version of the so-called 'Golden Rule of Christianity', "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you". It is a priori in that it is based in what can recommend itself to reason alone. This explains its right to a 'universal' form, and to the kind of necessity embodied in the categorical 'ought'. The second formulation of the categorical imperative is "Act so as to treat others and yourself always as ends, never simply means to ends".5 This is another way of saying that we should not use other people, but should always recognise their humanity: the fact that they are individuals with wills and desires of their own. The restraint on our freedom is that we must respect the freedom of everyone. Kant claimed that to treat someone as a means to an end is equivalent to denying their fundamental humanity. A kingdom of ends is an imaginary state whose laws protect individual independence, allowing everyone to be treated as an end rather than a means to an end. Kant's third imperative is, "Act as if through your maxims you were a law-making member of a kingdom of ends".6 In this kingdom nothing conflicts with reason, and the rational being is both subject and sovereign of the law that there obtains. ...read more.

Conclusion

4. Therefore, you should not lie. Kant, therefore, would claim that in the case of the inquiring murderer, you should tell him the truth, because to not do so would be breaking a fundamental, moral law. In doing so however, you will be providing the murderer with the information he requires to commit an immoral act. Can then, in this case, the moral law, 'Do not lie', be broken in favour of the moral law, 'Do not commit murder'? Or, is the individual only responsible for his or her own actions and therefore, in this case, only required to tell the truth? It would seem that Kant believes that in this case, you should tell the truth, as the act of murder would not be your own immoral action, but that of the murderer. However, Kant also claims that, 'the only absolutely good thing is a good will'. Would the individual then, be morally right to lie to the murderer, thus 'overshadowing' their moral wrong-doing with the good intention of saving a person's life? Kant is not clear on this point, and it is because of this that I believe that Kant's account of categorical imperatives and universal laws do not elucidate ordinary criteria for judging right from wrong actions. His Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Moral, does however, provide the bases of the structure of moral judgements, and their universalizability and impersonality. ...read more.

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