Immanuel Kant Essay
A. Kant’s ethical theory
Standard rationality is the major foundation of Kant’s ethical theory. Moral requirements are also associated with the standard rationality but this standard could be based on instrumental principles of rationality or based on the sui generis rational instinct. A conventional conformity could be achieved through the analysis of rationality with instrumental principles. Kant argued that conforming to instrumental and non-instrumental principles (“Categorical Imperative”) will both be justified to rationality (Kant’s Moral Philosophy 2004). Kant supported his arguments that being rational reflect free will, law of autonomous will. Each of us is accepted based on our self-governing reasons and gain equal respect from other people. According to him, the standard of rationality is the key foundation of moral requirements. Violation of such rule is thereby irrational.
Kant believed that a “good will” is the highest notion of being such ‘good person’, or ‘a person of good will’ (Kant’s Moral Philosophy 2004). There are no other qualifications of being ‘good’ other than ‘good will’. Basically, the notion of ‘good will’ is the possession of a will that is consistent and on the basis with the notion of the moral law. A person of good will is the one who make decisions, do good things in such a way that he/she told to be morally and taking moral considerations
According to Kant, the outcome for search for the inherent and fundamental ‘good’ was not inherently good. Happiness and pleasure could be the result from most evil acts. In fact, he use the term good to describe the ‘good will’ – the resolution in accordance with duty. He believed that reason would give individuals to work out what one’s duty was.
Kant also criticized the notion that we are free. According to him, we can’t be described as free if our actions are just circling around a defined boundary. He also stressed that following the belief that god and life is existing, morality would make no sense.
The principle that one should act in accordance with such truths was criticized by Kant for this principle says that we would perform these actions of which it is true that they are right and ought to be performed. Wolff’s principle tells that actions must be performed if it falls under the concept ‘to be done’.
Autonomy and Heteronomy
In philosophical perspective, autonomy refers when a person/individual acts by himself/herself based from his/her internal drives, needs and ideals while heteronomy is defined when an individual acts based upon outside forces and responsibilities. According to Kant, “Autonomous agents” acts to what their instinct tell them (Kant’s Moral Philosophy 2004). In addition, they act in accordance with the categorical imperative of willing what is “univerzable” to be known and consistent with moral law.
“Heteronomous agents” think first to the possible consequences of their actions as affected by their environment (Kant’s Moral Philosophy 2004). They derive principles of actions from outside by putting into consideration the consequences of their action or the perception of others towards one thing or object. In a narrow perspective (person), autonomy reflects to selecting right decisions for one-self. In broader sense (political perspective), autonomy reflects the right of self-determination (Kant’s Moral Philosophy 2004). A heteronomous will lies its rules of actions that have been legislated externally to it while autonomous will is completely self-legislating.
Kant’s Categorical Imperative
Kant is known form his theory called the ‘categorical imperative’ rooted from the idea of duty. According to him, categorical imperative is a principle that is essentially and fundamentally legitimate; universally good to him and to others; it requires to comply with when the situation is associated with the moral law. His theory is the fundamental foundation at the basis of all our moral values and duties. If we observe, it coined the word “imperative.” His theory is an imperative for it is a command. It informs and commands us to exercise our wills in a particular way, and not performing the opposite of the theory.
Kant distinguished another form of ‘oughts’ other than our moral duties. This principle is so called “hypothetical imperative” (Kant’s Moral Philosophy 2004) which is being based on a quite different kind of principle. Like categorical imperative, hypothetical imperative is also a command that also applies to us in virtue of having a good will. However, it is not simply a virtue for we have need of to exercising our wills. Hence, this theory is a command in a conditional form.
Kant listed three formulation of the categorical imperative which he believed to be almost equivalent – Formula of Universal Law (First Formulation), Formula of the End in Itself Second Formulation), and Formula of Autonomy (Third Formulation). The Formula of Universal Law simply states that the maxim should be selected. A supreme law guides this formulation – to do deeds in harmony with that maxim. The first formulation is interpreted as “universality test” having five steps: (1) finding the agent’s maxim; (2) putting oneself in a parallel circumstance on the real world agent followed that maxim; (3) decide on contradictions; (4) if there’s contradiction, acting on that maxim is not permissible in the real world, and (5) if there’s no contradiction, acting on that maxim is allowed.
The second formulation simply says to respect for humanity. Don’t put an end to a certain situation by doing bad deeds just to serve as a getaway. According to him, we must all act accordingly to every rational being and to place restrictions on the acts we adopt on the search of our ends, do not accept it.
Kant enumerated two kinds of imperative – hypothetical and categorical. Hypothetical imperative requires an immediate action because it is a necessity and a requirement. In example, if I am hungry, then I must eat something. Categorical imperative refers to an unmodified, categorical prerequisite that is both a requirement and justified.
In Kant’s hypothetical imperative, he believed that it would not be accepted. Hypothetical moral systems cannot be as bases for moral judgments since imperatives are subjective. What is morally accepted in an individual may not be absolutely true for others. Consequently, the categorical imperative was presented as an option to the inconsistency of hypothetical imperative (Kant’s Moral Philosophy 2004).
Categorical Imperative: Autonomous Ethical Choice
The foundation of Kant’s theory states that human wills are self-directed. He believed that we could understand and justify moral requirements if we could be self-governing. Freedom is not merely consisting of any law that everyone is liberated to perform a certain actions. However, freedom is consisting of a law in such a way that this law, in some sense, would allow individuals for one’s own making. The idea of freedom as autonomy is where a person has laid down laws where he has also the decisive authority.
Kant explains that free will is naturally inexplicable. A rational person would base his/her decisions on reasons and justifications of his/her act. Categorical Imperative is met when a person justified his/her acts. Thus, reflecting to autonomous ethical choice of a person. With our free will and/or autonomous ethical choices, we act on it objectively.
B. Kant’s Ethical Theory: An Analysis
For me, I support Kant’s theory on ethical decision-making. Kant pointed-out, we cannot exceed to the limitations of our thinking. Based from our line of reasoning, we justified things objectively. We make decisions based on our understanding. I think these statements are true and absolute. Kant’s argued that categorical imperative must reflect on our free will. He argued that instrumental and non-instrumental principles are necessary to meet the categorical imperatives. General facts may or may not be true for a person who do not understand its concepts or understand it on the other perspective. Good will responds to the universal moral law and we follow these laws according to our autonomous acts. We accept humanity, rational agency as represented by our understanding.
Subject: Immanuel Kant,
University/College: University of Chicago
Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter
Date: 14 February 2017
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