Kant was a deontologist who believed that knowledge was created by the mind, not external factors; because of this he wanted to unite reason and experience. Humanity’s frail nature was the human condition according to Kant, their struggle to make moral decisions and do the right thing can only be solved by employing reason and his three maxims when decision making. Kant’s diagnoses the human condition as human’s frailty and impurity when distinguishing between one’s self interested inclinations and moral duty.
Humans were “…finite beings with our individual needs…yet we [were] also rational beings, and for Kant that include[d]…the recognition of moral obligations” (Stevenson and Haberman p. 155). The contrast and ever-apparent strain between these opposing sides of human nature fuel Kant’s diagnosis of human’s frailty. In Kant’s conception of human reason and action, he distinguished between categorical and hypothetical imperatives which displayed the human struggles regarding what decisions were morally right.
Self interested desires, “…which involve[ed] only the selection of means to satisfy one’s own desire” (p. 151) could be defined as a hypothetical imperative. However, categorical imperative claims “…that morality is fundamentally a function of [one’s] reason, not just [one’s] feelings” (p. 151). Knowing what was morally right and doing what was morally right was the depravity of human nature, the choice of choosing one’s own happiness over their obligations to those who surround them.
The desire for instant gratification from any action hinders human’s consideration of longer-term self-interest. The difficulty arises when the one must decide to postpone immediate satisfaction in the interest of future goals; a “…balance to strike between living for the moment and planning for the future…. ” (p. 155) must be reached. Human’s struggles with moral decisions and personal gain exemplify their frailty, defining Kant’s theory of the human condition.
Employing reason and the three maxims when decision making was Kant’s prescription to human’s frailty. Kant’s three maxims were rules or ideas that built off one another to determine the morality of each decision one makes. The first was universzability; one had to ask themselves whether or not this action would better society if everyone performed it, “… [humans] must not be concerned merely for our own happiness” (p. 159).
If it did not pass, then the decision failed, meaning it was not morally right; if it passed one would proceed to the second maxim. Humans must be treated as an end, not a means to an end; people must not be used to get ahead. Again, if the action did not satisfy this maxim, then it failed and was considered immoral. The final maxim states that every individual was a supreme moral agent; people had to always be doing the right thing, and be their own moral authority.
Kant argued “…that the ‘highest good,’ the ultimate end of all moral striving, must be the combination of virtue and happiness…” (p. 159). Kant believed that through his logical reasoning, people would be able to communicate more effectively because they are not only concerned for the well being of themselves, but also of those who surround them. Kant also mentioned that humans need the ability to hope that their moral decisions or virtues will eventually be rewarded and were not ultimately pointless.
Following Kant’s three maims, utilizing reason and hope, humans may overcome their condition of frailty and depravity. Kant’s differentiation between categorical and hypothetical imperative distinguish the basis for making moral decisions and doing the right thing, ultimately benefiting those who surround them. Following his prescription of testing the three maxims was a simple way to decide whether an action was morally right and would be beneficial, curing the human condition of uncertainty and frailty.
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