Explain Kant's categorical imperative.

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Explain Kant’s categorical imperative (25 marks).

Kant is an 18th century German philosopher who wrote the book Groundwork for metaphysics. The book deals with his theory that morality is a priori synthetic (a priori is a statement that is knowable without reference to any experience and synthetic means having truth or falsity can be tested using experience or the senses) and that moral decisions should be taken with a universal view to one’s duty to mankind as a whole. He laid out his ideas about the categorical imperative in this book. An imperative is a statement of what should be done. The philosopher Hume said that you can’t get a ‘should’ statement out of an ‘if’ statement. This means that experience can only give us hypothetical imperatives (not moral commands to the will – they are ‘if’ statements and do not apply to everyone and you only need obey them if you want to achieve a certain goal, for example, ‘if’ you want to be healthy then you should exercise and eat a balanced diet). A categorical imperative is a ‘should’ statement, but it is not based on experience, and doesn’t rely on a particular outcome. According to Kant, categorical imperatives apply to everyone because they are based on an objective a priori law of reason (an objective law is something that is factually true).

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The categorical imperative is one principle with three formulations:  The Universal Law, treat humans as ends in themselves and act as if you live in a Kingdom of Ends. The natural law is to “act according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” and what it says is that everyone should universalise their maxims without contradiction – for an imperative to be categorical or deontological it must consist of principles that can be applied in any situation. This basically means that before you do something you should ask yourself ...

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