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Kantian Ethics

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J. Ryan Stone Phil 211 1st Paper Kantian Ethics Due Date September 23 2004 Immanuel Kant sets out a basis of what we can perceive as Kantian ethics in his essay, "The Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals." Kant discusses such ideas as good will, duty, two versions of categorical imperative and autonomy. Each idea is significant and relevant to another idea. The nature of Kant's undertaking is to derive a theory of morality from pure rationality; an ethical view that should be followed because it is unreasonable not to follow. Kant wants to know what is absolutely good. As it appears to him, anything that might seem good in itself can be made part of a larger, evil plan; therefore, Kant says that there is nothing good in itself except the good will. People must look solely at the motivation for a one's action in order to determine if the action is morally good, not at the consequences. Kant says that, "...a good will is good not because of what it performs or effects." ...read more.


Act only on that maxim that one can, at the same time, will to be a universal law. If an individual thinks a certain action is correct, then it should be correct for everyone under the same circumstances, not just for the one person. Therefore, if one is impartial, that person is acting on the idea that it is irrational to prefer one's self to others; an individual is no better than anyone else is. When someone acts selfishly, that person is making themselves an exception; yet the same person also thinks that the general rule should hold for others (or most of the time), "we actually acknowledge the validity of the categorical imperative." The second formulation of the categorical imperative is, "So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as a means only." Kant is saying do not treat people as if they were mere objects, existing only to serve your own ends. They should be treated as if their goals and desires are just as important as yours. ...read more.


To begin with, it does not make sense that actions could be judged solely on motives. Should it not also follow that consequences are important? Kant argues, for example, that one ought to keep promises because, otherwise, promises do not mean anything. Is that not, in some way, looking at the consequences? Is there not something wrong with saying that morality should ever be concerned with the consequences? Is motivation all that ultimately matters? Subsequently, Kant does not provide any standards for the level of specificity of the maxim. Thus, may a person be able to "universalize" maxims that are clearly immoral as long as one can never be in the position of the person harmed? What about Kant's example of promises? One could agree that he or she cannot universalize breaking promises whenever it is to the promise-giver's advantage to do so, but what about when an individual could universalize the maxim that whenever one can save a life of another by breaking a promise then should one do so? As a final point, Kant's theory does not protect against a completely distorted view of the world or personal sincerely held prejudices. ...read more.

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