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Kant: Grounding for Metaphysics and Morals Essay

Immanuel Kant states that the only thing in this world that is “good without qualification” is the good will. He states the attributes of character such as intelligence, wit, and judgment are considered good but can be used for the wrong reasons. Kant also states that the attributes of good fortune such as health, power, riches, honor, that provide one happiness can also be used in the wrong way (7). In order to understand Kant’s view of moral rightness, one must understand that only a good will is unambiguously good without qualification, it is “good in itself”.

To clarify, Kant states that “a good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing, i. e. it is good in itself” (7). To Kant, a good will is the only thing that gives action moral worth. Human beings were granted with reason not only to attain self-preservation and a state of happiness, but “its true function must be to produce a will which is not merely good as a mean to some further end, but it good in itself” (9).

Human beings are called to exercise reason through duty to bring a universal good to all. This duty, living according to our highest reason, must be exercised through action that is beneficial and non-contradictory to all. Duty has three major qualifications for Kant. One must recognize that duty is good in itself when an action is performed out of the need of the completion of the duty itself, such as one who abstains from supporting a large restaurant corporation that inhumanely raise cattle or poultry, because he or she recognizes that it is a duty to not perpetuate unethical practice.

Or one who carefully recycles their waste not because of the pleasure of being an enlightened “green” individual, but because of the recognition that it is “good in itself” to reuse products. The second qualifier of duty is that of inclination; an action that is performed in “accordance with duty” rather than performed “because they are impelled thereto by some other inclination”(10). The “maxim”, or the origin of motivation, that is present in action only has moral worth if it is free of self-interest and is acted upon with immediate inclination to perform universal duty.

“The moral worth depends, therefore, not on the realization of the object of the action, but merely the principle of volition according to which, without regard to any objects of the faculty of desire, the action has been done” (13). When one’s action is in accordance with duty and is free from the “influence of inclination”, one’s maxim has moral content, furthering the importance of having a “good will”. The third qualification of duty according to Kant is as such: “Duty is the necessity of an action done out of respect for the law” (13).

It is universally understood that any living thing can act out of instinct, but it is imperative for rational beings to recognize a moral law and act in accordance with it. An action that is performed from duty, excluding the “influence of inclination” and “every object of the will” that distracts from duty, reveres the law in the highest respect because “the pre-eminent good which is called moral can consist in nothing but the representation of the law in itself” (13). Past attempts to set morality on empirical understanding seems ignorant and foolish when the concept of an a priori foundation is established.

Kant believes that the general understanding of morality has rested upon of a faulty foundation of thought because “there is absolutely no possibility by means of experience to make out with complete certainty a single case in which the maxim of an action that may in other respect conform to duty” (19). In other words, It is impossible for us to determine universal morality from experience and circumstance because experience and circumstance of action is not universal to all.

Kant believes that morality, defined until his careful deliberation on the subject as contingent on proof through experience (a posteriori) which is deemed circumstantial because again experience is not universal to all. Kant believes that morality can only be defined and understood though principles not contingent on experience (a priori) and therefore can be universally recognized, “For when moral value is being considered, the concern is not with the actions, which are seen, but rather with their inner principles, which are not seen” (19).

Kant emphasizes that an a priori understanding of morality will further our pursuit to perform in accordance with morality without the distraction of personal inclination and interest. Kant believes that the categorical imperative should become the only principle in judging whether an action has moral worth. Kant states that the categorical Imperative is to “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature” (30). To clarify Kant is saying that your action must be a universal law that all rational beings are commanded to follow.

For example, if you will your action to commit theft, it can not be set as a universal rule for all rational beings. The action of theft is wrought by selfish inclination. If you do something to better yourself or for a sense of enjoyment it is because you are inclined to do so. Kant counters with an understanding of the hypothetical imperatives in relation to the Categorical: “A Hypothetical Imperative thus says only that an action is good for some purpose, either possible or actual”(25). Hypothetical imperatives are ordinary and common continuous action, daily occurrences.

The exercise of our free will and use of rationality is individual to us, and such can not be commanded universally. Hypothetical imperatives is to do an action because it is a means to a desired end: it has inclination and justification that is outside acting of duty. Hypothetical imperatives are based on the a posteriori empirical realm. For example, Michael Vick got in trouble for dog fighting and now he is going around and speaking against it to restore his family name. So the imperative would be stated like this, Due to the fact that Michael Vick got caught dog fighting he is now going around and preaching to restore his family name.

This shows that its not the categorical imperative and that he has an ulterior motive. Now if he was doing it because it was good in itself than Kant would agree that his action could be justified for all the good of all rational beings. Another hypothetical imperative would be the Denver University presidential debate. The city spent 500,000 thousand dollars on extra employees and security for the debate. As one put it there is a ying and a yang to the debate. They spent the money so that they could get public recognition and extra tax dollars.

So the hypothetical imperative would go, Increasing the money we spent on the debate will therefore increase our revenue and public recognition. Kant believes that the categorical imperative should become the only principle in judging if an action is good for all rational beings, because it can become a universal rule for all rational beings. Kant speaks of a “kingdom of ends” in which all rational beings act in such a way that their actions can be willed onto all other rational beings as universal law.

In this kingdom of ends rational beings are respected as ends in themselves, and also for the ends which they set. To be a member of the kingdom of ends the rational being must first be moral so that they can become a legislator of ends. One must legislate ones actions as law and also follow these laws himself. Each member is ruler and subject. Ones actions must always be the product duty, always acting absent of self-interest. Actions must never be the product of inclinations, impulses, or feelings, but always the good of humanity as a whole in mind.

One must remove self-love from the equation and act in such a way that is universal to all, while willing all rational beings to act in the same manner. In this kingdom of ends, everything has either a price or a dignity. There are two kinds of price: a market price and an affective price. Kant says that things with a price are usually a product of our inclinations or used to satisfy our urges (40). A dignity, however, is something that cannot be substituted because it is beyond value. It is an end in itself.

Kant says that the only things in the kingdom of ends that can be considered dignities are morality and humanity (40-41). The idea of a kingdom of ends that Kant describes sounds uncannily familiar to the underlying principles of the United States. In the respect that each person is only limited by the necessitation of his will. Every person determines their own destiny, and is only limited by how hard working or how prudent the individual is. In our country we are taught to respect different people’s ways of life, thereby treating people as ends in themselves.

If our society were to act more accordingly to Kant’s principle of a kingdom of ends, things like littering wouldn’t take place. Everyone uses public spaces so it’s contradictory to the categorical imperative to spread trash around damaging the environment. Also, if Kant’s principals were applied in our society the death penalty wouldn’t exist. Kant says that dignities cannot be traded or substituted, so a life could never be a price for another life. Lastly, in Kant’s kingdom of ends Nature and art would respected to a greater degree.

Kant says that art and nature should be afforded a greater meaning because they are valued not on the effects which arise from it or profit, but in the metal dispositions which arise from it (41). In other words, instead of action itself they have the potential to cause action and change people’s will, which Kant believes is more important. Kant concept of a an ultimate a perfect society, the “kingdom of ends” is founded on the assumption that “rational beings are ends in themselves” by following the categorical imperative.

If one believes to be an end in themselves that is benefitted by means of action, than this assumption should be applied to all rational beings. By following the categorical imperative, one asks all to respect their motives and act in accordance with universal moral law, and vice versa. Through this general respectful disposition and freedom from selfish inclination, one aspires to live in a society of the “kingdom of ends” by acting in such a way that is universal for all rational beings, free from manipulation and using of rational beings as means to an end.

In our democratic age, which is hardly democratic, if everyone were to follow the categorical imperative aspiring to create a community that resembles the “kingdom of ends”, our country would truly be a shining example for other societies. A government that was held to a universal moral law, with each individuals acting in accordance, no one would go hungry, no one would go homeless, no one would go uneducated, everyone would work together to add to the good of the community because it is commanded of them.

We live in a society that vehemently denies any duty to another, one’s moral law is purely based on physical needs and the physical world, and is authored by the individual with no regard for a universal law or universal good. When rational beings discover their “autonomy of will”, that is, when they learn to be free of selfish inclination and act in an a priori manner universal to all: there is possibility for a idealized and perfect world. Racism would not exist; people would recognize another rational being as ends in themselves, skin color would be cease to be a defining factor in how one is treated.

Sexism would not exist; men and women would see one another as partners in contributing to the good of all. Classism would not exist; everyone would seek to provide every rational being with the means to live up to their utmost potential. Ableism would not exist; advances in medicine and prosthesis and the ability to access these tools would give every rational being the opportunity to move and function as is ideal to all. Large corporations would redefine themselves and would try to outdo one another in being the most accountable to universal law.

An understanding between humans and their obligation to future generations would reverse the damage that has been wrought on the Earth–by the autonomy of will individuals would act as whole to discontinue unethical practices that sacrifice the health of the planet: oil drilling, coal mining, fracking, pipelines, and large dams (to be short) would cease to exist. The United States of America was built upon and ideal that everyone can make it on their own, live the American Dream, own a mid-sized suburban house with a white picket fence and a back yard.

This ideal was only true to some, and is perpetuating the isolationist ideaology that is ruining the society from the outside in–If we all chose to live by a universal ideal, behavior that is commanded of us with social consequence, and held ourselves and all rational beings to the highest dignity and ideal–we could solve the worlds problems. Genocide, holocausts, war, epidemic infection, animal extinction, pollution of air and water: All would cease to exist. We can, therefore we must.


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