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Kant's theory of Ethics

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Introduction

` Kant and the Deontological Argument Immanuel Kant was born in Konigsberg, East Prussia, 1724, and died in 1804 and so, was alive during much of the 18th Century. One of his most important pieces of work was the development of his own theory of ethics, which aimed to prove that ethics should be based on reason. That is why Kant's theory is considered to be of a deontological nature. The historical context of the 18th Century is important when trying to realise why Kant came up with his particular ethical theory based on reason. This period of time is named the 'Enlightenment Period' during which there was increased recognition of the need for the development of an ethical theory based on reason, and reason alone. Kant was, to a great extent, influenced by German pietism i.e. the view that religion should be based on human experience rather than study or rational proof. He stands as part of the 'European Enlightenment', the movement that aimed to go beyond authority and superstition so as to deal with morality based solely on human reason. In its basics, Kant's moral theory is deontological, meaning it rests on the concept of duty or obligation (derived from the Greek word 'ontos' meaning duty/obligation). Kant argues we should handle our affairs through duty to the moral law. Kant starts off by arguing that reason is the primary source of knowledge. ...read more.

Middle

This is in contrast to the 'hypothetical imperative', which is not absolute. The hypothetical imperative is characterised by the word 'if' 'IF you want to gain praise, you should help people' whereas the categorical imperative is characterised by the word 'ought' 'you OUGHT to follow the categorical imperative because it is the moral law'. The categorical imperative is not dependent on anyone's desire to make it an imperative; it is binding not just in some situations and for certain people, but always, for everyone. There are three formulations of Kant's categorical imperative. The first is 'The Formula of Universal Law'. This states 'Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law' (Fundamental Principles, page 38) that is to say, whatever moral law we choose to guide our actions, the law must make rational sense when universalised. In this case we can use the example of 'The False Promise'. A man is forced to take out a loan. He knows he will not be able to repay it but he knows that he will not get the loan if he does not promise to repay the money. He does not know whether to take the money and lie, or tell the truth and not be able to take out a loan. Suppose he decides to lie. ...read more.

Conclusion

As well as this Kant's view of human reason can differ from others. David Hume believed that reason should be subordinate to emotions, wants and desires of the individual 'reason is and ought only to be the slave of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey them' whereas for Kant, it is the other way around. Another weakness is the difference between the absolute and relative position. Kant takes up the absolute position and does not consider the circumstances and how they can affect humans. He differs from Aristotle, who was interested in virtue ethics, which suggests that you should build on virtues and end up as a better person. Lastly, John Stuart Mill argues that Kant does not have a concern for the consequences of an action and asks if something can really be classed as morally right if it results in the death of thousands of people even if the person thought he was acting out of good will. In conclusion Kant's principle is a humanitarian one. Kant argues that if we use reason to determine our actions then we are less likely to be swayed by conflicting circumstances. We would all be governed by the principles of 'universal law' and 'the end in itself' and shall treat others as human beings worthy of respect. ...read more.

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