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Kantian Ethics and Universal Maxims

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Introduction

Explain Kant's understanding of universal maxims. Immanuel Kant argued that morality is a matter of following absolute rules - rules that admit no exceptions and appeal not to religious considerations but to reason. Kant observed that the word 'ought' is often used non-morally for example, 'If you want to become a better artist, I ought to study this book.' We have a certain wish and, recognizing that a certain course of action would help us fulfil this wish, we follow this course of action. Kant called this the hypothetical imperative; telling us what we ought to do if we want to fulfil our wishes. In contrast, Kant observed that moral obligations do not depend on particular wishes or desires. The form of a moral obligation is not 'If you want something, you ought to do such-and-such,' Instead, moral requirements are categorical, that is, 'You ought to do such-and-such' regardless of your particular wishes and desires. Hypothetical 'oughts' are easy to understand - we merely choose the means necessary to achieve the ends we desire. They are possible because human beings have wishes and desires. Categorical 'oughts', however, are possible because we have reason - which is binding on rational agents simply because they are rational. ...read more.

Middle

Of course, many different but related rights exist besides this basic one; for example, the right to truth; the right of privacy; the right not to be injured; the right to what is agreed. Kant argued that the moral status of an action is not determined by its consequences. We are not morally obligated to seek the best overall outcome by out actions, but rather we are obligated to perform those actions that accord with our moral duty - the fundamental demand that we should treat others, and ourselves, in a manner consistent with human dignity and worth. This theory is a deontological theory, which is; what you do in your action and the nature of the action itself determines its moral status; rights and duties are justifiable regardless of consequential values. So rights and duties are 'fundamental', 'inalienable'. It is unlike utilitarianism, as Kant is not interested in the consequences of an action. Kant has many assumptions or reasoning..... * The universe is fair. * All human beings desire and seek happiness. * All human beings ought to be moral and do their duty. * The Summum Bonum (highest good) represents the combination of virtue and happiness. ...read more.

Conclusion

Anything could technically be universalised; hence the principle is exposed to a reduction ad absurdum. 'All men called Joe who are unemployed should rob a bank on Tuesday' is in theory universablisable, but clearly fails Kant's test in all other ways. Kantian ethics is harder to understand than other theories. It steals free will. It doesn't take consequences into account. Kant refuses to allow expectations places big restrictions in different situations. Universalisability generalises different but similar dilemmas. To compare Kantian ethics to utilitarianism; utilitarianism is a teleological approach, instead of a deontological approach. A teleological approach is what you achieve by your action determines the moral status of that action (consequences); justification for recognizing certain rights and duties is dependant upon their utility (usefulness) in achieving a maximization of value. If an act is right or wrong in utilitarianism it is dependant on the greatest good, for the greatest number being produced. It is a posterior argument which is based on evidence or experience. The ends justify means, it has the principle of utility, which is whether the greatest good for the greatest number can be 'argumented' or least good 'diminished'. Overall, Kant's understanding of Universal, maxims can be looked at positively or negatively. It confuses situations but also offer a good resource when making morale decisions. ...read more.

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