Explain Kant's theory of Duty as the basis for morality

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Char Ayoub

Explain Kant’s theory of Duty as the basis for morality. (33)

Kant (1724-1804) lived a totally uneventful life in Königsberg, East Prussia and was a key figure in the European Enlightenment. He was influenced by the scientist known for discovering gravity, Isaac Newton. Kant viewed the universe in a very mechanistic way, i.e., things operated according to fixed rules and emphasised the pre-eminence of reason as an authority for knowledge. It was this emphasis on reason that lead him towards his deontological theory, therefore he was concerned with the actions, not the consequences.

Kant’s theory is deontological because it’s based on duty. To act morally is to do one’s duty, and one’s duty is to obey the moral law. Kant believed that we should not be influenced by feeling and inclination, we should not act out of love or compassion but only out of duty. He also believed that it isn’t out duty to do thing were unable to do. For Kant, the pure fact the we ought to do something implies that it is actually possible. Moral statements are said to be prescriptive, they prescribe an action. An ‘ought’ implies a ‘can’.

Kant goes on to say that every human seeks an ultimate end called the supreme good, the summum bonum- a state in which human virtue and happiness are united. However, since it is impossible for humans to achieve such a state in one lifetime, he deduced that we had to have immortal souls to succeed. Although Kant rejected theological arguments for the existence of God, his ethical theory assumes immortality and God’s existence. Kant believed that God must exist to provide an opportunity for reaching this supreme good. So, for Kant, morality leads to God.

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Kant believed that there is an objective moral law and that we know this law through our reason. We know the moral law without reference to any consequences.

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me. I do not merely conjecture them and see the as thought obscured in darkness or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon: I see them before me, and I associate them directly with the consciousness of my own existence.” ...

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