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Kant and the categorical imperative

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Introduction

KANT & THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE: MODEL ESSAY 1 (a) "Duty should be done, simply because it is duty." Explain how Kant analysed this concept. (33 marks) (b) "Categorical Imperatives allow no room for compassion in the treatment of women wanting abortions." Discuss. (17 marks) (Part A): Kant tried to develop a theory of ethics which relied on reason rather than emotion. While he was not anti-religious, he wanted an ethical system which was not clouded by religion, emotion or personal interpretation. He placed emphasis on motives behind an action rather than, like the Utilitarians, the consequences of an action. He believed that consequences were no guide to whether an action was moral or not. His theory is known as deontological, or duty-based, where ends can never justify the means. He believed that there were general rules which must be adhered to in every circumstance. He called these absolute rules of what is good or bad 'Categorical imperatives'. These rules were rationally determinable. Individuals must never be reduced to the level that they are a convenience for the happiness of someone else. ...read more.

Middle

Not lying, to Kant, is an absolute imperative and he uses a priori reasoning to come to this conclusion. These moral rules are as reliable as mathematical proofs because they derive from first principles. Only free agents (people thinking for themselves and making their own decisions) can make moral decisions. There must be an element of choice - the choice to do good or bad. He assumed that we are all free agents. An action can only possess moral value when it is done for is own sake, for duty's sake, and not for the pleasure of the individual or in the hope of gaining specific outcomes. (Part B): Taken at face value, one could argue that "Categorical Imperatives allow no room for compassion in the treatment of women wanting abortions." This is because categorical imperatives are absolute rules which cannot be altered to suit an individual. To Kant, murder is always wrong and this would be the categorical imperative. Kant would have to be persuaded that this categorical imperative cannot be said to cover every abortion. ...read more.

Conclusion

If the moral rule - to end one life to save another, for example - can be universalised then compassion can be shown in the treatment of women who want abortions. If it is decided that when the mother's life is at risk abortion is allowed, it could be said that this is a principle everyone should practise if faced with this situation. It should be weighed up whether the best outcome would be achieved and whether it be the best rule if it became a general rule. If, in the case of abortion, the mother's life is saved, then this could become the general rule. An exception is not being made or an individual being given precedence over the categorical imperative, the categorical imperative itself has been re-evaluated. The scope of the categorical imperative has been narrowed. The universal, right thing to do is to kill the unborn child because it threatens the life of the mother. Compassion has been achieved although it is incidental; it does not make the action any more moral from the deontological point of view. Thus, the categorical imperative might allow abortion in some cases, but it takes no account of compassion. Andrew Bunce ...read more.

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