Explain what Kant means by 'summum bonum'

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Explain what Kant means by ‘Summum Bonum’.

Immanuel Kant, the famous Enlightenment philosopher, uses the term ‘summum bonum’ to describe the ‘highest good’ in his Critique of Pure Reason. He employs the idea of ‘summum bonum’ to postulate the existence of God; however it is worth noting that it was not his intention to prove the existence of God.

In order to understand Kant’s idea of ‘summum bonum’, we have to understand his ideas of moral duty and categorical imperative first. First and foremost, Kant believes that there are objective moral values. There is universal agreement that some actions are right and others are wrong, which we instinctively know. It does not matter what culture, circumstances or period of history we are talking about. Actions like murder and rape, for example, are always wrong. If we are not sure if a particular action is morally right, we can work it out through philosophical reasoning. Kant, as an Enlightenment philosopher, believes that the universe is fundamentally knowable through reason. The Categorical Imperative deals with universalizability and states that an act is immoral if it cannot be made into a rule for all humankind to follow. It is worth noting that Kant rejects the idea that God’s will or commands are the basis of morality, because emphasizes that reason is the basis of morality, as ultimately Kant believes that humans are autonomous. Kant believes that humans are obliged to uphold these moral values because we have a duty to do so. In other words, humans should carry out virtuous actions purely from a sense of duty, not because they expect a reward or because they are fearful of punishment if they do not do so. The only intrinsically good reason for moral action is the ‘good will’. It is important to note that consequences are not important to Kant, since he is not a utilitarian. So, if it is one’s duty to tell the truth, one should do so no matter what the consequence or cost is.

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By ‘summum bonum’ (the highest good), Kant means that one should do what is moral, i.e. one’s duty because we know what is morally right or wrong instinctively. If we take our ethical nature seriously, we can see that it is what we should aim to achieve. Kant then goes on to argue that a good will, i.e. a person with the right moral intentions, will always seek to bring about the ‘summum bonum’, or the perfect state of affairs. In Kant’s own words, ‘the perfect accordance of the mind with the moral law is the supreme condition of ...

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