(1) Explain Kant’s moral theory. Explain and critique Kant’s response to “The Nazis Objection. ” Immanuel Kant is one of the most respected and studied philosopher of all time and is known for his basic yet in-depth moral theories and the belief that morality stems not from divine command or cultural conditioning but from reasoning and human freedom. His straight forward beliefs come from his very strict Lutheran upbringing which consisted of universal rights and universal wrongs with no exceptions
He believed his moral laws to be universal and applied to every being including God, spirits and extraterrestrials. His ethics made him a leading figure in deontology which judges people on their actions, not the consequences of their actions, as morally significant. And actions are only as good as their intent to be morally permissible. Kant introduced two commandments of reason, called imperatives, from which all obligations and duties arise.
The first imperative is called a hypothetical imperative which Kant describes as, “the practical necessity of a possible action as means to another end”(Kant, p. 327). This means if you want “A” then you must do “B”, such as if you want people to think you a thief, then you shouldn’t steal. This imperative is dependent upon our wants and goals which are ultimately rooted in self interest. The second imperative, which Kant bases the majority of his moral theory on, is called a categorical imperative which has no “if” in it and is a concrete universal law.
Kant defines this imperative as “an action that is objectively necessary in itself without reference to any purpose”(Kant, p. 327). The categorical imperative of the example listed above would simply be “don’t steal”, because it against moral law. These imperatives rule out all self interest and are very blunt to what is right. Kant’s moral laws are laws that apply to everyone and everything without question. All things that should be done are required by moral law and all things that should not be done are forbidden by moral law.
The method of determining these moral laws can be derived by what Kant describes as the only real categorical imperative in which he tells people to “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will, a universal law of nature(Kant, p. 328). This makes the reasoning of a moral obligation or action a very simple process. You must simply ask if your action can be made into a universal moral law and if it cannot then you must not do it. And if they answer is yes, then that means that the action can or should be performed by every being in the universe with no grey areas or exceptions to the rule.
One example Kant uses is a man who is seriously depressed and debating with the thought of ending his own life. Kant describes his maxim as “from self-love I adopt it as a principle to shorten my life when its longer duration Is likely to spread more evil than satisfaction(Kant, p. 328). ” Even though he may think he is doing a good thing for the world out of self-love, a universal law to destroy life could not exist. One major argument against Kant’s moral theory where a grey area is obviously present is whether or not it is okay to lie under the right circumstances.
The main objection here is called the Nazi objection which asks that if you lived in Nazi Germany during the 1930’s and officers were at your door asking if you were harboring any Jews; would it then be morally permissible to lie because if you told the truth, the Jews would be killed? According to Kant’s moral theory you must tell the officers where you are hiding them, but after the Nazis go after the Jews, it then becomes your moral obligation to help the Jews from being killed which turns into a huge contradiction(Furman).
If we listened to Kant in this situation, the owner of the house as well as the Jews would both be murdered and the moral right that you tried to accomplish would be wrong. Therefore, Kant’s theory is false and it is okay to lie as long as your reason is to preserve a higher duty such as the duty to preserve human life. While Kant’s moral theory does have a fantastic base for many ethical issues and moral issues, his theory runs into problems because of its absoluteness.
Another example of this is the moral dilemma that would occur if you have made two separate commitments and are somehow only able to fulfill one of them because of unforeseen circumstances(Furman). Kant leaves no instruction on how to deal with this situation because you are breaking a promise when you fulfill one but not the other. The solution would be to use your intuition and reasoning and make a decision on the importance of each commitment. So although his theory does provide good rules to live by, it Is too restricted to become fully accepted.