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Explain what Kant meant by the Categorical Imperative.

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Introduction

a) Explain what Kant meant by the Categorical Imperative (33 marks) The categorical imperative is an unconditional command, which, for Kant, told us what our duties were. This is a deontological theory, which means it points to the actions that are good in themselves and pursue the ultimate aim of reaching supreme good, while also telling us which actions are forbidden. This theory is based on duty. To act morally is to do one's duty, and one's duty is to obey the moral law. This theory distinguishes between duty and inclination and accepts that if something can't be done, then there is no guilt. They make no reference to desires or needs. He believed that the only way we can make selfless, rational moral decisions is by acting out of a sense of duty. Kant believed that if we 'ought' to do something, then it implied that we 'could' do it. It lets everyone know their duty in a situation. This view stands in opposition to teleological views such as utilitarianism, which if something is right or wrong is dependant on the consequences of the action. ...read more.

Middle

This theory puts together a powerful set of moral principles. b) Assess critically Kant's claims about the Categorical Imperative (17 marks) Kant believes that one of the most important features of the categorical imperative is its universalisability, that my maxim should become a universal law. Thus we recognise that there are moral dilemmas that may be similar but different. Are all killings the same? Some can be justified, others cannot. Is this a weakness in Kant's theory? Kant would say that it is dependant on the reason, not the outcome and for that reason; he is not categorising all killings as the same moral problem. Humans should not be treated as means to an end; they should be treated as ends in themselves. Humans are the highest point of creation and therefore need to be treated uniquely. Unlike utilitarianism, using the Categorical Imperative, you cannot sacrifice one for the greater good of the greater number. Happiness should only be sought if it doesn't prevent another's happiness. But difficult decisions do have to be made, and Kant's approach is not best suited to deciding upon the answers to some questions. ...read more.

Conclusion

Kant also argued that the categorical imperative that allows one to determine what actually is moral is known as a priori, meaning that you don't obtain morals through observations, but by only reason. And in order to gain a full overview, he should look at the consequences too, otherwise you are unable to get a complete picture of the situation. This theory could encourage someone to become selfish and choose a duty that benefits them in the long run. If you don't consider obtaining morals through both observation and reasoning, you are therefore unlikely to recognise what is right and wrong. The categorical imperative sometimes seems to give false negatives in terms of what is permitted behaviour. For example, I cannot will that everyone in the world should eat in my favourite restaurant. Perhaps this sort of problem can be avoided by being careful in the use of relative terms like my. In this case, it is possible to will that everyone should eat in their favourite restaurant. The real flaw in this argument is that it doesn't allow emotional free will. This strikes me as a fundamental dilemma, which doesn't make the argument appeal to me. I also think that we shouldn't dismiss individuals for the sake of helping the majority. 1 ...read more.

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