Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy

Custom Student Mr. Teacher ENG 1001-04 15 November 2016

Immanuel Kant’s Philosophy

If a billionaire were to leave behind all his fortune but makes a dying request to donate $1 million to his favourite football team when the same can be used for a better cause, what would one do? Donating it to charity would seem like the right thing to do, but the answer to it, according to Kant would be quite the opposite. Here, it’s not the consequences that determine the rightness of an action. Rightness is in accordance with morality. According to Immanuel Kant’s views, a supreme moral principle must entail an absolute necessity and should be done out of duty.

He believes that, only actions that emanate out of a sense of duty are moral actions and any act performed keeping one’s own self-interest in mind are, regarded as actions that are not born out of morality. For an example, consider a shopkeeper who is at the liberty of pricing his goods. He could over charge the customers and attain increased profits but that would be an act contrary to one’s morals. He could also choose to price his goods inexpensively, in order to increase the sales. However, in this case, he is acting is a way to ultimately benefit himself and not out of morality.

Morality ultimately rests not on sense, experience or feelings, but on reason. If the same shopkeeper, sets fair prices merely because it’s the right thing and not for the fear of getting caught, then he is fulfilling his duty to morality. Furthermore, Kant feels morality is something one ought to adhere to, unconditionally, that is, without doing so to gain any reward or merit. For example, if one senses the possibility of a robbery occurring, one must report it to the police out of a sense of duty as he is in a position to do so.

Then his action is a moral one. However, if he were to do so, with hopes of making the headlines and getting rewarded, then in this case, he acts out of self-interest and such an action is not considered a moral one. According to the Kantian philosophy, the one thing that’s good in itself, without qualification, is good will. He believes in the existence of an element of certain common sense in the foundation of moral law, which arises out of good will. Morality is valuable in its own right and not based on the fact that it has instrumental value.

All other intrinsic goods, moral or intellectual, can serve the vicious will and accord to evil deeds. They are only morally valuable, if accompanied by a good will. Honor can lead to pride. Not even success and happiness is good in themselves. Thus, a good will is good not in virtue of wanting to bring about happiness, but in virtue of wanting to obey the moral law. For Immanuel Kant, motive is the antecedent of all moral worth and not consequences. He argues that one must perform moral duty solely for its own sake i. e. , duty for duty’s sake.

Some conform to the moral duty they presume it in their own enlightened self-interest to be moral. Rightness of actions is determined by their accordance with morality. In order to decide order to decide whether an action was moral or not it is not enough for one to simply help the person in need, but their intention behind providing the aid has to be known. Even if one were to provide aid to someone in need out of a sense of compassion, it would not be considered a moral action according to Kant as it was motivated by emotion.

For example, a father playing baseball with his son, should do so out of a sense of duty and not because he loves him. For Kant, the only acceptable motive for a moral action was a sense of duty. The reason is that the consequences of an act are often beyond our control and hence cannot be used to gauge the morality of an action . For Kant, an unsuccessful attempted murder is as bad as a successful one because they had identical motives. It didn’t matter to Kant, if an act was act performed improperly or left unfinished.

For example, if a fire-fighter in an attempt to save a man from reducing into ashes, accidently gets him killed having performed the act erroneously, such an act would still be considered a moral one by Kant as the fire-fighter was carrying out his duty. Consider another illustration, Two soldiers volunteer to cross enemy lines to contact their allies on the other side. Both start off and do their best to get through the enemy area. One succeeds; the other doesn’t and is captured. But, aren’t they both morally praiseworthy?

The success of one in no way detracts from the goodness of the other. Kant considered the duties that instigate moral actions as absolute. For him, moral duties are said to have imperative nature and they were to be followed irrespective of the consequences. And this is termed as ‘Categorical imperatives or duty’ and this can be categorized into two: where in the examples of ‘Hypothetical’ duties included, “If you want a good job, get good education. ” Whereas, ‘Categorical Imperatives’ suggests the intrinsically right thing to do like, “Tell the truth.

” But Kant believed that, for an action to be moral, the motive behind the action and the principle underlying the action (maxim) must be universally applicable. For example, one is expected not to honk near hospitals, one must be kind to old and disabled etc. Categorical or unqualified as they recognize the imperial status of moral obligations, unlike Hypothetical. Any actions done in violation of Kantian theory would be considered immoral. Kant also persuades people not to view others as a means to an end and degrade the value of human life.

But to respect them for the person they are. For example, one should be polite to people they meet without anticipating any favour, in return. On the other hand, he feels all that choices should be autonomous as every single person is capable of reason. Our natural inclinations and influences shouldn’t limit our choices. This very briefly summarizes Immanuel Kant’s view on Morality. Kant’s views outline a clear structure of moral judgments but firstly, he fails to provide us with guidelines as to how go about taking rightful moral decisions when faced with tough situations.

For example, if one has to lie about a friend’s presence in order to save his life, to choose between speaking the truth and protecting the friend leaves one in a fix as the universal maxims seem to conflict each other. Further, Kant disregards the emotional aspect that is involved in everyday decision making process, by expecting people to alienate feelings like compassion, pity etc. He also seems to completely ignore the consequences of one’s actions, which is quite impractical when looked at, from a practical point of view.

Finally, there is no mention of how certain acts are clearly immoral while he strongly advocates the following of universally applicable maxims. As much as his views bear an influence, his principles find very little effectiveness and practical applicability in one’s daily life. Bibliography – BOOKS AND WEBSITES AND MORE – 1) Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy – plato. stanford. edu 2) Encyclopedia on Philosophy published by Macmillan. 3) Kant’s search for the Supreme Principle of Morality by Samuel J. Kirstein 4) Ethical theory of Immanuel Kant – bellevuecollege. edu.


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  • University/College: University of Chicago

  • Type of paper: Thesis/Dissertation Chapter

  • Date: 15 November 2016

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