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Explain what Kant meant by 'the Categorical Imperative'

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Explain what Kant meant by 'the Categorical Imperative' Kant's categorical imperative stems from an initial belief that humans base their moral judgment on pure reason alone. This would be in contrast to a morality theory, which assumed that human's actions are guided by emotions or desires; for example, when deciding what I ought to say to a friend who is distraught rationality would dictate that I give sensible advice, whereas my emotions might impulsively tell me to give comfort and sympathy. To test the morality of an action Kant uses a test, which is known as the Categorical imperative, or Kant's "universality test", but before explaining more fully what Kant meant by this I will look briefly at Kant's ethics so as to provide the framework in which the Categorical Imperative was drawn up. Kant believed that all moral actions, i.e. those things which one ought to do, were necessarily something that one was able to do. For example, it cannot be deemed right of me to donate five million pounds to a Tsunami clear-up team if I do not actually have millions of pounds. ...read more.


This is where the idea of the imperative comes in. Instead of describing the world and making judgments about it, the imperative can be used as a guide to action. This imperative is free from emotional guidance or motivation and addresses itself to the agent directly. Therefore reason is supposedly able to determine the will and emotions are not necessarily a part of the decision making process. Although Kant discussed hypothetical imperatives, as well as categorical imperatives, the main distinction between the two is that the hypothetical imperative is based on conditionality, i.e. it is not something that is relevant to all, but is relevant only to the person who is carrying out the action. Therefore, Kant argues, such imperatives are conditional to the agent's (person who is doing the action) desires and this does not correspond to the true command of reason. Categorical imperatives are different because these apply universally and tell people what to do unconditionally. For example, if someone tells me that they will buy me dinner if I give them a lift into town, then this is a conditional action and would fall into the hypothetical imperative category. ...read more.


Kant's main point in this idea about categorical imperatives being universal is that one should do as one would be done by. This he calls the Golden Rule and consists in the fact that based not on experience, but a priori, one must act according to reason, which will constitute in ends that respect the freedom of all. This is necessary so that our rational freedom can produce universal laws that are applicable to all equally. To not treat other rational beings with equal respect, i.e. to use them as a means and not to treat them as an end in themselves, would be to deny their autonomy and freedom. Therefore, not only must action be universally acceptable, but it must also be respectful on all rational agents and treat them not as a means to an end, but an end in themselves. However, Kant also notes that talking about all people being treated as ends in themselves refers to an ideal world which is not a true reflection of the world in which we live and that we do actually act irrationally and without respect for each others autonomy and freedom. Rosa Page 1 ...read more.

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