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The Ethical Theory of Immanuel Kant

Introduction

German philosopher 1724-1804


As a deontologist he faces the question of how to arrive at a set of moral rules or principles which irrespective of
the circumstances in which they are applies, are acknowledged universally as valid
One of the last philosophers to construct a philosophical system covering the major philosophical issues
Spent his entire life in Konigsberg in East Prussia
Lived an abstract and mechanical life
Kant attaches importance to mans ability to reason
He wrote Critique of Pure Reason (1781) and Critique of Practical Reason (1788) which testify his belief that it is
mans rational faculty and his ability to think objectively
Kant says that if one person reasoning logically concludes that a particular argument is self-contradictory, then
another person going through the same argument and also reasoning logically will arrive at the same conclusion
and is true when we apply this to moral problems.
When two separate people are in the same position and come to the same conclusion. What is right for me, using
my reason, is right for everyone, using their reason

Good Will

If moral law is to be unconditionally and universally binding, it must contain something that is unconditionally and
universally good good in itself and the highest good
Kant discusses what good can be
Talents of the mind intelligence and judgement
Qualities of character like courage, resolution and perseverance
Gifts of fortune power, wealth and honour
Utilitarian suggestion of happiness
Kant rejects all these as they can make a situation morally worse and can on occasion create something thoroughly
bad and cannot be good without qualification
Being a good man means therefore having a good will
Goodness is not derived from results
It is not what an act accomplishes it is what the motive is
Good wills only motive is for the sake of duty

Categorical Imperative

An 'imperative' is something that one must do.

The categorical imperative says that we should act in ways that we can wish that every person would act. The way
he said that we should decide if we should do something is to us a maxim. A maxim is another way of saying what
we want to do and why we want to do it in one sentence. Then he says to see if it would make sense if everyone
had to do it.

If the maxim is "I will lie to get out of trouble", then that would not make sense because if everyone lied, we would
not ever know if what someone said was right.

Then it would not matter if you said anything because it would have no meaning.

The most important part about Kant's idea is that we should not worry about what happens after we make a choice,
because that does not make it right or wrong. Kant thought that another way of saying the same idea is to say that
we should treat other persons as persons and not as tools that can help us in some way.

Kant thought that this idea is the basis to treat other people in the right way.

Criticisms

Decreased importance over the years


Kant overlooks the fact that while all of us are rational, we do not have all the same desires and that not all of us
find the same situation intolerable
He says telling lies or breaking rules are always wrong as neither can be consistently universalised and if we did,
telling the truth and keeping promises would being collapsing
This also includes his no exceptions rule if no exceptions happen there will come a time when it is morally
impossible to make a decision
This applies to when duties conflict each other such as breaking a promise and telling a lie and Kants theory
offers no alternative to the situation

Theory of WD Ross Prima Facie Duties

Because of the fall downs of Kants theory, modern philosopher WD Ross (1877-1971) made amendments
Ross argues Kantian duties should not be taken as absolute duties but as duties which allow exceptions
He named them prima facie duties or duties at first sight
It is a conditional duty which can be overridden by a more compelling duty
never take a human life is a prima facie duty as it is not something that must always be done but should only be
done when it is not outweighed by another obligation or rule
Kant argues that in the situation of the drowning doctor and parent, it is up to the individual based on personal duty

Rule utilitarianism

The principle of utility dictates everyone should act and always act in accordance with a specific rule
Right action is determined not by the actions consequences but by the consequences of the rule under which that
action is performed

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