The following is taken from Immanuel Kant’s The Metaphysics of Morals (Part II, “The Science of Right”), translated by W. Hastie with emendations and paragraph numbers added by Jeremy Anderson. The complete text is available free online here. In this excerpt, Kant first explains what crime is and the different sorts of crimes (paragraph 1), which is not very important for our purposes. He then presents his view that punishment is justified by the criminal’s having committed a crime (par. 2).
This is to be contrasted with other theories of punishment such as the Utilitarian theory, according to which punishment is justified by the good it brings to society. Kant rejects the Utilitarian theory for two reasons. First, he believes it treats criminals as mere means to others’ good; Kant’s Categorical Imperative forbids this. Second, the Utilitarian theory could, possibly, justify punishing an innocent person because of the good it might bring to society. To Kant, this sort of injustice is absolutely intolerable.
Having explained why we punish people Kant goes on to discuss how and how much to punish criminals (par. 3-8). Here he asserts that the hurt done to the criminal should equal the hurt the criminal did to others, both in amount and in kind (in class we are calling this the “Equal Punishment” version of the lex talionis). The rest of the piece mostly explains what he means by this, with particular emphasis on the need for the death penalty. In paragraphs 8 and 10 Kant considers some interesting exceptions to the rule that murderers must be executed.
Okay, so Kant believed that punishment should always be in response to a crime – punishing someone to protect society or to deter others is immoral. Kant goes on to say that it is also immoral for a person to commit a crime, and not be punished. In other words, every crime merits a punishment; it is Kant’s form of equality. Kant refers to this as “jus talionis,” which is loosely translates as “the right of retaliation. ” However, Kant was opposed to punishing people if it took away their humanity.
In other words, if a person tortures people, that person should not be punished by torture, because doing so would be dehumanizing OURSELVES. In other words, it would be stooping to the level of the torturer. Kant did believe in Capital Punishment – in fact, he insisted on it. He states in his book, Metaphysics on Morals, that according to Jus Talionis, murderers MUST die – there is no earthly punishment other than death that can balance out a murder, and thus preserve Jus Talionis, the balance between crime and punishment.
It is like a scale – the side of justice must balance the side of injustice. An Exposition of Kant’s, Arendt’s, and Mill’s Moral Philosophy Immanuel Kant adheres to Deontological ethics. His theory offers a view of morality based on the principle of good will and duty. According to him, people can perform good actions solely by good intentions without any considerations to consequences. In addition, one must follow the laws and the categorical imperative in order to act in accordance with and from duty.
Several other philosophers such as Hannah Arendt discuss Kant’s moral philosophy. In her case study: “The Accused and Duties of a Law-Abiding Citizen”, Arendt examines how Adolf Eichmann’s actions conformed to Kant’s moral precepts but also how they ran of afoul to his conception of duty. In contrast, John Stuart Mill adopts a teleological view of moral philosophy. He exposes his view of consequentialism and utilitarianism to argue that an action is morally right only to the extent that it maximizes the aggregate happiness of all parties involved regardless of the motive.
In the present paper, I will expose Kant’s moral precepts and the importance of duty in his Deontological principles. Then, I will evaluate Arendt’s report on Adolf Eichmann to analyze the ways in which his actions were in accordance to or against Kant’s moral philosophy. I will conclude my discussion with an evaluation of Mill’s approach to morality in order to examine the differences between his teleological philosophy and Kant’s ethical principles.
Kant’s moral philosophy is based on the categorical imperative (CI), good will, and duty. According to the CI, it is an absolute necessity, a command that humans should accord with universalizable maxims to treat people as ends in themselves and exercise their will without any concerns about the consequences or conditions of their actions. This concept can also be expressed in systematic terms by the two following formulations.