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Examine the Strengths and Weaknesses of Kants Ethical Theory

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Introduction

Examine the Strengths and Weaknesses of Kants Ethical Theory. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) is a very trendy philosopher. The theory he puts forward is argued from deontological ethics (from the Greek Deon, meaning obligation) and therefore is an ethical theory considered solely on duty and obligations, where one has an unchanging moral obligation to abide by a set of defined principles. Thus the ends of any action do not justify the means, i.e. if someone were to do their moral duties, then it would not matter if it had negative consequences. So basically rules come above all else according to Kant. In his book 'The Critique of Reason' he argues that only one fact is undisputable, and that simply is that there is a moral law in existence, which then leads to the existence of God. He said that everyone can detect with there senses a moral law existent in the universe and therefore they have a obligation to follow it to reach the highest form of good which he called 'the summum bonum' (is Latin for 'highest good'). Kant says something's are naturally good, and to do them would be defined as good will, and to have a good will is to do ones moral duty, we don't act out of compassion or love, we are just doing our duty. Actions should be performed as our duty not out of motive. He said morality was innate; a part of us, and it was our moral duty to carry it out for good, which must lead to God. ...read more.

Middle

This led him to argue that God exists as no-one on earth can achieve 'summum bonum' so there must be someone who can, he defined that someone to be god. Accordingly Kant says good actions should be universalisable and free, so basically when making our ethical decisions we should ask ourselves a simple question "What if everybody did that?" f the answer is no, then the categorical imperative tells us that the action is wrong. So if I cheated on my A-level exam to pass and be successful in the future, this would be my maxim, however I would not want others to do the same and therefore this action would be wrong according to Kants Categorical Imperative. My cheating pre-supposes that most people do not cheat even though they have the same reasons to cheat as I have. So as a result Kants ethical theory can often be described as an idealistic view (tells you what you should be doing but doesn't take into account real life situations and consequences) So it is therefore inevitably in conflict with Utilitarianism as Kants approach rubbishes all motive and only the action is important, compassion and love hold no significance. Kant calls Utilitarianism "Morally repugnant" and "Calculated" Kant's theory has many strengths, one strength being that it is absolute and deontological; to many people this is a strength as with the rules being deontological they don't change. You can avoid debate, as many of the moral laws are common in most societies, I.e. ...read more.

Conclusion

It also doesn't judge each situation on its own merits rather on some law. This is a strong point a situationist would raise. It doesn't make allowances for compassion or sympathy in motivating our actions. And what about the categorical imperative, is it a good way of testing right or wrong? Many people will also raise this question. If we are to act according to our duty, then how do we deal with conflicting duties (i.e. the war in Vietnam, telling the truth might conflict with saving a life, or what about lying to save a friends life from a manic intent on killing him) Its concept of 'Duty also raises many weaknesses': don't we as general reasoning human beings want to know more about its contents? Are we satisfied with being told 'do you duty'??? Why should we do the supposed duty without being told why? Isn't this injustice. This is a weakness of the theory. So far the arguments for and against Kants ethical theory we have looked at provide a hugely contrasting picture. The basic contradictions seem to be between love and law, on one hand we have Kant arguing that all decisions should be made based on the moral law inherent in the universe and on the other hand we have others saying that leaves no value for love, compassion, emotion etc. These seem to be the basic contradictions. In conclusion I believe Kant's theory is not a very effective guide to human behaviour as it is contradictory, and how far can duty maybe lead to a disastrous outcome; there is no space for common sense i.e. not killing Hitler lead to the holocaust. ...read more.

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