Immanuel Kant’s work on metaphysics and categorical imperative.
In the eighteenth century, there was a prominent German thinker and philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who was recognized for bringing together the principle seeds of modern moral philosophy and the interlinked relationship between virtue, rationalism, ethics and the practice of free will (Rauscher, 158). This philosopher argued that the moral necessities are based on a standard of reasonableness that he called the categorical imperative. He further noted that the immorality is regarded as irrational since it violates the categorical imperative (Allen 184). He also noted that the categorical imperative is not an instrumental principle and the conformity to it is conformity to the moral requirements which is significant to the rational agency. This conclusion was supported by the notion that, a rational will must be regarded as independent or unrestricted (Rauscher 478). The most important principle of the categorical imperative is the law of autonomous will. Kant also agreed with his predecessors who argued that an investigation of useful reason will disclose the need for the rational to adhere to the instrumental principles. The ability of each individual to have self control provided a chance of regarding each person valuable and thus the justification of earning equal respect with the others(Rauscher 478).
In all of his writings, Kant does not agree with the traditional theories of morality at all. He does not agree with the traditional theory such as the virtue theory which bases the morality on good character traits and the consequentiality theory which base morality on the results of actions. Instead, this philosopher argues that moral actions are based on an absolute principle of morality which is objective, balanced and freely chosen and which is generally the categorical imperative (Allen 184). Kant explains why only the categorical imperative can be the possible standard of moral obligation and not the traditional theories of morality. The philosopher notes that morality is based only on willful decisions (Rauscher 478). He notes that a human being makes a decision willingly by selecting one course of action from among several possible courses of action available, for example, one can choose to sleep instead of exercising in order to keep fit. The particular decision that a person chooses to make is influenced by many factors such as laziness, direct emotional satisfaction, or what is considered as the best in the long run. The will to carry out an activity is dependent on rational considerations as opposed to subjective considerations such as an individual’s emotion (Rauscher 482). This is because morality entails things that are important to an individual and only rational considerations can produce necessity.
Kant notes that the only principle that influences the will to do something must be the single principle of obligation since only principles can be rational considerations (Allen 186). Additionally the principle must be a command since morality entails a command for an individual to perform a particular action the way he or she does (Allen 186). Finally, the principle cannot be the one that appeals to the results of an action such as the satisfaction one would derive from sleeping as opposed exercising, since appeals to consequences involve emotional considerations. Thus the only principle which fulfills these requirements is the categorical imperative which requires all our actions Allen 186). Morality then consists of those actions that adapt to the categorical imperative and a person is said to be moral if he or she chooses those actions that agree with categorical imperative (Rauscher, 486).
Kant further notes that imperatives in general are commands that determine a particular course of action that an individual must take such as one must seek permission to be away from his or her place of work before being absent. He shows that hypothetical imperatives are commands that are dependent on an individual preference for a particular end result and they are stated in a conditional form for example if one wants to lose weight, he or she must work out through exercising (Budick 482). In this case the command to work out depends on an individual’s previous preference keeping fit. Thus in order to achieve that particular outcome this person must take a particular course of action that is to work out. Problematic hypothetical imperatives involve regulations of skillfulness based on choices that vary from one person to the other person for example the different career paths that different individuals choose to follow (Budick 484). The assertoric imperatives involve rules of caution and they are based on the choice that every person has to be happy. The hypothetical imperatives are not moral imperatives since the commands so involved are based on subjective considerations that are not absolute in that for an individual to achieve something he or she must act in a particular manner (Allen 184). In contrast, a categorical imperative is an absolute command which is not based on subjective considerations such as individuals must treat each other with respect. Thus the highest principle of morality is the categorical imperative as it is not dependent on an individual’s preferences but it is rather a command that an individual must act in a particular manner.
Morality according to Kant entails that an individual must possess the goodwill to conduct an action. In order to develop the idea of good will, the concept of duty has to be set before an individual (Allen 184). According to Allen people must put before themselves the concept of duty which contains the goodwill to do something without any limitation (13).Actions that are already felt as, not in line with the duty are not taken into consideration as they are always in conflict with the duty. Actions that actually conform to duty are also set aside since human beings perform them because they are driven to them through another inclination. Thus, the action in conformity with the duty should be done from duty and not from need to fulfill once needs. Thus an action has moral worth if it was made from the duty. Finally duty is the necessity of an action from respect for the law (Allen 184) .In Kant’s ethics responsibility is tied not to social expectations or laws but to rationality since it is what an individual would do if he or she were fully rational (Allen 184).Thus this is a reasonable constraint on moral agency and decision making in that an individual had to have the goodwill to perform some duty and the action undertaken must lead to morality.
The situation of the inquiring murderer was one of the challenges that Kant’s philosophy of truth faced in that in case there is a murderer and there is a person who knows where the victim is, then he or she must show the murderer the location of the victim. This will show how truthful this person is. Kant argued that truth is morality and it must be applied in all situation and applied subconsciously (Rauscher 490).To save the victim this individual must tell not tell the truth to the murderer (Budick 488). The categorical imperative requires truthfulness and in this case an individual must deny to tell the murderer the truth so as to save the victim. This scenario can only be applied in accordance with the laws of my country if it is applied subconsciously. The victim can only be saved if the murderer is denied the truth and thus not conform to Kant’s categorical imperative.
Rationality whether practical or theoretical always consists in the ability to evaluate beliefs and acts with an aim of finding gout if they meet the relevant standards and to alter peoples beliefs and acts in light of those evaluations. Morality considers on their merits all reasons for acting (Allen163).Morality is also concerned with the reasons for acting the way we act. Finally morality motivates us by appealing to our conception of which an individual is (Budick 510).
Rauscher, Frederick. “Kant’s Moral Anti-Realism.” Journal of the History of Philosophy 40.4 (2002): 477-499. Print.
Budick, S. “Kant’s Miltonic Test of Talent: The Presence of “When I Consider” In the Groundwork Of The Metaphysics Of Morals.” Modern Language Quarterly 61.3 (2000): 481-518. Print.
Allen, W. ”Backgrounds of Metaphysics of Morals.’’1.3(2002): 3-184