• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

Kant's Theory of Universal Law

Extracts from this document...

Introduction

Lindsay Mack October 17, 2001 PHIL-050 Sherman Imagine the Gestapo pounding at your door, demanding to know if you are hiding Jews. Fearful for your life as well as theirs, you resort to Kantian ethics to aid you in your decision: should I tell the truth, which Kant values so dearly, or lie to these people in order to save the Jews whom I have been helping? Although Kant appears to strongly condemn lying for any purpose, a further investigation of his various Formulae and their indications reveals that, in this instance, lying may be morally permissible. By examining Kant's rules for a moral life, in particular the Formulae of Universal Law and of a Kingdom of Ends, one proves the ability to make a logical exception to the Kantian edict against lying. Upon these grounds, you may morally lie to the Gestapo in order to protect Jews seeking refuge. Within this hypothetical lies a moral dilemma rising from the inevitable conflicts of duty. It is likely that in approaching a solution this dilemma, one will first refer to Kant's test of the Categorical Imperative, that is, unconditional command. Applying the test, the contradiction that Kant so despises presents itself blatantly; the indication is that it is wrong to lie in the given situation. ...read more.

Middle

With these two assumptions in mind, it is becoming to evaluate the background data with which one is supplied. In this example, one must consequently question the free will of the Gestapo; if one does not have a free will, then that will cannot possibly be undermined. According to Kant, a good will is the only determiner of morality, and those who possess this will are rational beings. Above all, the autonomous nature of the free will is exalted. Thus, any who do not operate on their own accord, who follow instead the rules, commands, or dictates of another, are not capable of being moral beings. It can suitably be stated that the Gestapo are not agents of free will; in contrast, they are very much agents of heteronomy. Rather than following the moral policy of self-determinism, they are merely agents of the government which commands them. This resolved, it can be argued that it is permissible to lie, given that one is not lying to another being who is exercising their free will. For so long as all rational beings follow a policy of truth and honesty toward one another, there is no weakening of the will or of morality; as it has been determined that the Gestapo do not represent their free will, it cannot be contradictory or corrupting the free will to lie to them. ...read more.

Conclusion

For if everyone to follow this imperative, it cannot be deduced that the free will of any single being would be weakened. Even in the case of those possessing but not applying rationality, their free will is not threatened, only the heteronomous command that they act upon is undermined. Furthermore, this statement of intention complies with the need for generality and universality. It is not situation-specific, does not rely on any notion outside of rational thought, and can be applied to a whole population of rational beings without consequence. Analyzing Kant's Formulae of Universal Law, Humanity, and Kingdom of Ends, one delves deeper into the moral considerations of Kantian ethics. What appears to be a simple question of lying becomes a moral dilemma; the conflicting duties of honesty and humanity must somehow be resolved. In doing so it becomes evident that the simple imperative not to lie is made obsolete through the rebuttal of elementary assumptions. This rebuttal draws on Kant's own definition of the three Formulae and discredits the former maxim through definition and analysis. The Gestapo are proven on these grounds to be separate from the realm of rational beings, thus allowing for the deception of them within the imperatives of Kantian ethics. Relying on this proof, an acceptable maxim is formulated. A deeper examination of the criterion results in a maxim diametrically different from that anticipated; through definition and analysis, one arrives at a suitable end of which Kant would approve. ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our AS and A Level Practical Questions section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related AS and A Level Practical Questions essays

  1. Utilitarianism VS Kantian Deontological Ethics

    less close relatives of your future absence from the proceedings as this could result in unwarranted concern. Kantian deontological ethics requires you to act so that you could universalise your maxim. The maxim in this case may be 'never do something that could lead to suicide', which, assuming you don't

  2. Discuss the Relationship between law and morals. Consider how far the law seeks to ...

    Pretty had contracted motor neurone disease and was confined to a wheel chair. She required no direct medical intervention to keep her alive but did receive pain-killing drugs to ease the considerable discomfort she found herself in. She had great difficulty in talking, eating and sleeping.

  1. Essay on Law vs. Justice

    Many cases in America show us examples of the delicate balance between ethical and unethical decisions that can affect the entire complexion of business. There are many cases and situations in which unethical practices are revealed. Not always are these practices necessarily illegal, but they often are.

  2. Austin's theory of law is based on coercio

    Conversely it may be suggested that this ignores and liberty or rights of humans against arbitrary state power. However, it is submitted that the purpose of government is to serve the common good and thus it will in theory be limited by constitutional laws and public opinion (named 'positive morality by Austin).

  1. Kantian Ethics and Universal Maxims

    maxim would be: 'Whenever you need a loan, promise to repay it, even though you know you cannot do so.' Could this maxim become a universal law? No, says Kant. If it did, people would no longer believe each other and nobody would lend money.

  2. `Always tell the truth and Always keep your promises' Kant's Categorical Imperative.

    Moreover, 'In this kingdom nothing conflicts with reason, and the rational being is both subject and sovereign of the law which there obtains'. (Scruton, p.71). This last version of the imperative appears to act as a bridge between ethics and politics, though a politics of a particularly idealistic hue.

  1. Evaluate Korsgaard's discussion of the Universalizability Argument. In what ways does she conform with ...

    By virtue of which it becomes a substantive command. In this case, Korsgaard thinks that the person must think of himself first as a citizen of the Kingdom of Ends. Kant does not show that universalization must range over human beings as such. By this, the person must treat his humanity as a normative identity, a source of principles and laws for himself.

  2. Natural Moral Law - in theory and in practice.

    essential human nature which makes a man a man.? He cites the example of the Inuit community who believe it is acceptable to kill an elderly member of the community if they know they will not survive the winter. Another criticism which makes the theory impractical is the point that it is a Naturalistic Fallacy.

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work