Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) had an interesting ethical system for reasoning.
It is based on a belief that the reason is the final authority for morality. In Kant?s eyes reason is directly correlated with morals and ideals. Actions of any sort, he believed, must be undertaken from a sense of duty dictated by reason, and no action performed for appropriateness or solely in obedience to law or custom can be regarded as moral.
A moral act is an act done for the “right” reasons. Kant would argue that to make a promise for the wrong reason is not moral you might as well not make the promise. You must have a duty code inside of you or it will not come through in your actions otherwise. Our reasoning ability will always allow us to know what our duty is.
Kant described two types of common commands given by reason: the hypothetical imperative, which dictates a given course of action to reach a specific end; and the categorical imperative, which dictates a course of action that must be followed because of its rightness and necessity. The categorical imperative is the basis of morality and was stated by Kant in these words: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will and general natural law.” Therefore, before proceeding to act, you must decide what rule you would be following if you were to act, whether you are willing for that rule to be followed by everyone all over. If you are willing to universalize the act, it must be moral; if you are not, then the act is morally impermissible.
Kant believes that moral rules have no exceptions. Therefore, it is wrong to kill in all situations, even those of self-defense. This belief comes from the Universal Law theory.
Since we would never want murder to become a universal law, then it must be not moral in all situations. Kant believes killing could never be universal, therefore it is wrong in each and every situation. There are never any extenuating circumstances, such as self-defense. The act is either wrong or right, based on his universality law. For example, giving money to a beggar just to get him to leave you alone would be judged not moral by Kant because it was done for the wrong reason.
With Kant?s belief in mind; if the consequence of immoral behavior were dealt with in a legal structure, people would be prosecuted for EVERYTHING since there are no extenuating circumstances. Kant’s categorical imperative is a tri-dynamic statement of philosophical thought:(1) “So act that the maxim of your will could always hold at the same time as a principle establishing universal law.”(2) “Act so as to treat humanity, whether in your own person in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.'(3) “Act according to the maxims if a universally legislative member of a merely potential kingdom of ends.” In other words, Kant argues that particular action requires conscious thought of the rule governing the action. Whether if everyone should follow that rule, and if the rule is acceptable for universal action, it should be adopted. If the rule is unacceptable, then it should be rejected. In order to understand whether or not an action follows Kant’s “categorical imperative,” we must prescribe those norms that we wish to be universal laws.
These norms are created through value judgments based on issues of justice between persons or groups (nations, etc.) of persons. Kant’s theories discuss the ethical questions that determine impartial consideration of conflicting interest in issues of justice.
Kant also states that because we must believe that all things develop to their fullest capacity, then we can theorize in summary, through cognitive processes we can create communities, based on moral (ethical) action towards every person, thereby creating universal ethics throughout the community or “republic”. With that in mind, it appears that Kant makes statements that assume all people within like “republics” can achieve a level of cognition equal to one another, for without that equanimity of cognition and judgment, then the conflict issues cannot be rationalized through creation of universal law. The statement that all people can achieve a similar level of cognition seems preposterous in our modern world cognition in the sense of like thought. Because we need the principles of Kant’s categorically designed thought and action to have universal acceptance; we must be willing to accept the undesirable psychological deviants within the “republic.” If we can’t accept that a person?s cognition is capable of universability, then we must dominate that person by removing them from the republic. This in itself contradicts Kant’s theory because in order to end domination, we must yield to and follow our cognitive thought and this cannot be done because the deviant doesn’t achieve the same level of cognition as the rest of the republic. This example seems to point out a flaw in Kant?s reasoning and his belief of achieving similar or same ethical norms to follow.
We must make the judgment on whether or not universal ethics is possible. I believe that a bit of universability exists in certain social mores and norms throughout the world; don’t kill your neighbor, be kind to animals, incest is wrong, etc. yet, individual perception of the world by people prevents the possibility of an all-encompassing universal code of ethics.
Furthermore, we have no way, to prove that our principles based on perception can be rationally applied. Because of this inability to prove rational application of perception and thus moral principle based on that perception, we are unable to demonstrate the rational justification of any universal principle or ethic. Application of the principles is central to creating universal ethics, yet it seems that we cannot prove rational application of the principles and thus fall short of gaining universal consensus on what those should be. To Kant, these principles can be made applicable through his transcendental arguments, but there remains the fact that he agreed sensory (and thus transcendental) experience couldn?t be accepted as empirical givens. This leaves the sensory or transcendental experience open to interpretation. Empirical evidence creates responses that can be repealed time and again with identical or nearly identical results. Kant does make arguments for empirical thought in his, “The Postulates of Empirical Thought” Section of the book Critique of Pure Reason, but his questions of an event “what became of that?” and “What brought that about?” fail to argue concisely about real and logical possibilities. Because of his lack of definite statement, Kant fails to prove through his empirical thought arguments that empirical thought or action can be universal.
Kant followed his book, Critique of Pure Reason, with Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in which he argues at length on moral judgment, practical reasoning and the like. Without having read the book in its entirety, it seems that Kant provides example upon example on the possibility of universal ethics. People attempt to describe good based on virtuous thought.
Virtuous thought supposes that a virtuous person has a fairly explicit conception of what is called happiness. Kant?s perception skews the person’s thought because each person perceives an event (whatever the event may be) differently. It is this difference in what people perceive that creates opposing viewpoints on “good” whether virtuous or not. Any attempt to provide a universal ethic to the community is impeded by the community itself. Not only was it an impossible task in Kant’s time, but it is still impossible todayBibliography: