Kant had a different ethical system which was based on reason. According to Kant reason was the fundamental authority in determining morality. All humans possess the ability to reason, and out of this ability comes two basic commands: the hypothetical imperative and the categorical imperative. In focusing on the categorical imperative, in this essay I will reveal the underlying relationship between reason and duty. The categorical imperative suggests that a course of action must be followed because of its rightness and necessity.
The course of action taken can also be reasoned by its ability to be seen as a universal law. Universal laws have been deemed as unconditional commands that are binding to everyone at all times. Kant believed that individuals have a freedom to consciously obey the laws of the universe as they are revealed in accordance to our ability to reason. Kant goes a step further to suggest that our actions should be driven by a sense of duty that is dictated by reason. What does it mean to act out of duty?
Kant says that this means that we should act out of respect for the moral law. The moral law can be directly related to the categorical imperative. How can we accomplish the task of acting out of duty? We must first recognize and have an understanding of what the moral law is, then a sense of duty should become the motive for our actions. Finally our actions should be compelled by doing what is morally right; which is considered doing what we can will to be a universal law to be followed by all.
Moral laws can also be defined as universal laws. Kant’s theory can be defended on several premises. First, all individuals do have a duty to what is right, whether they act accordingly or not. All citizens are held to a duty to uphold the laws, if there was no duty then laws would not exist. Morality coincides with being loyal to the laws, being a disciplined person, and living an orderly life. These essentials are all present in Kant’s perception of duty. Another key strength to the theory is the concentration on motivation.
The motive for which an individual acts has more validity then the unknown consequences that lie ahead. According to Kant we are motivated by our duty, and we know that motivation comes from an internal source. Motive provides substance to personal decisions and choices that are made. In order to feel a duty to react or act in a certain manner, an individual uses internal reasoning when making decisions. As moral agents who have the ability to reason Kant’s theory is right on the target. We will consciously make decisions by the things or factors that we are motivated by.
I feel that it is safe to say that most people actions are guided by motives whether they are morally correct or not. Utilitarians on the other hand would disagree with Kant on several points. Utilitarians would argue that actions should be decided by the consequences they would produce. Remember that utilitarians believe in the good for the greatest number. In an argument against Kant’s theory, they would say that the categorical imperative can not be used as a tool to measure morality.
Doing what one will ultimately will as a universal law can not guarantee the a positive for the majority. In their argument against Kantian ethical theories they would probably state that Kant does not leave room for ill will to be addressed. A person who has bad or ill intentions, would act in a manner in which they would want others to follow. This position would leave room for immorality to be introduced, and it would ultimately not serve the general purpose of supporting the rule of sustaining good for the greater number of individuals.
Secondly, utilitarians would argue that down playing the importance of consequences would create an even greater injustice to society. People’s actions should be gauged by the consequences they produce. Consequences are the end result to the means. Kant and his beliefs do not factor in the turmoil that will result from negative decisions that are made. The gauge for measuring happiness would be determined by the affect of the consequences in the eyes of a utilitarian. Thirdly, utilitarians would attack Kant on his reasoning part of the theory.
According to utilitarians there is no compelling reason that the prohibition against certain actions should hold without exceptions. Utilitarianism will allow for circumstances of different situations to be factored into the consequences. Therefore, Kant’s theory of no exceptions, will not encompass total reasoning. Reasoning alone can not prevent certain actions from taking place. Especially when the good of the greatest doesn’t factor in the decision making process. Reasoning is an internal personal choice.