Categorical Imperative by Immanuel Kant

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Could you imagine if everyone in the world had no desire to follow moral laws? How awful would society be if it came to that? It would be extremely difficult to live a happy, full life if morality did not exist. A man by the name of Immanuel Kant developed a moral theory based on prior knowledge. He has found that the world is a better place when we live by the golden rule, or follow categorical imperative. But, how do we do that?

Well, it stems from good will that fulfills our duty. Kant’s basis for what is good or bad, or what is right from wrong, is knowing that we as human beings, are free, sensible people who shall be granted the respect from other such beings. Kant decided that morality is not determined by how our world is, but how it should be. This however, is based merely on the establishment of reason. Reason, nonetheless, is not to fulfill the individual’s needs, but rather being the fulfillment of a good will. Kant believes that the one thing that is absolutely good is good will, and good will is the one thing that can be good in and of itself.

An individual acts from a good will when their actions are done because they think it is their duty to act from a feeling of moral obligation. More than not, we as humans act on things due to our inclinations. However, we have the capabilities to act purely from moral motives. To Kant, when one chooses to act on something merely from the goodness of their hearts, it adds good morality to our world. Sometimes it may be a little tough to decide what action is right. Kant believes that our duty will be quite obvious when the time comes. When we are faced with moral dilemmas, it can be worked out by using Kant’s principle called categorical imperative.

This is when we have to take a step back and ask ourselves if this is how we would want others to act towards other people. If the action within itself is not good then it more than likely should not be done. Hence the golden rule! Treat everyone how you, yourself would want to be treated. Ultimately, categorical imperative can be developed by reason. In the end, we all have a deep respect for moral law and we do these things from a point of duty to fulfill ourselves as sensible beings.

Now if we continue with the mindset of Kant, how would the death penalty be approached? Based on Kantian ethics I have drawn a few conclusions on what he might have thought about the death penalty. Kantian ethics are powered by the will to follow the law, along with locating the good within these structures that one abides to.

The death penalty is enforced upon those who convicted a capital crime. The death penalty is clearly a big deal. I mean, ending a person’s life is not something that can be easily decided. Kant believed heavily in the law, responsibility, and duty. According to Kant, a state nor society can exist without laws. When a crime is committed, it is by default, a violation of laws. I believe Kant thinks that the death penalty is morally acceptable because it prevents any future criminal behavior. Like I mentioned before, we are rational beings and all have duties of our own. These duties that we have, come from a need to respect the law. Kant believes all things in nature work according to laws, therefore it supports the belief that everyone should be following the law. So those who violate the law should very well be punished.

Categorical imperative plays a part by the principles and methods that each law holds and how each citizen follows it. Therefore when a crime is committed, according to Kant, moral actions much be examined. In other words, the death penalty must not be done just by a person’s inclination. The punishment cannot be done out of social benefit. For example, if society wanted a person dead, the state would then have to act out of reason. The state cannot conform to society’s desires to satisfy their wants. They must go forth only if the criminal’s actions were against the law in a nonmoral way. For Kant, the death penalty is morally necessary. It helps to prevent a disruption in the safety of society.

Like mentioned before, it is important that the death penalty is bestowed on an individual that is deserving of it. Things such as murder and treason are big cases in which the end result is the death penalty. If criminals are not penalized accordingly, the person handling the case becomes an accomplice. Even more so, an individual that is punished just for society’s benefit could ultimately end up with punishing an innocent person (this is why it is important for the state to pay no mind to society’s desires). It would then no longer be a crime but a benefit. The term punishment would lose it’s meaning because crime would not longer be the basis of the word.

So in relation to Kant’s thoughts, if under the right circumstance, the death penalty is a justifiable action. I believe Kant would provide logical reasons to undergo the death penalty. Kant’s reasoning behind the death penalty would be driven from his respect for the system. Although the death penalty takes away a person’s live, it helps ensure the safety of society and brings about a just society.


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Categorical Imperative by Immanuel Kant. (2021, Jul 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/categorical-imperative-by-immanuel-kant/



What are the 4 categorical imperatives?
The four categorical imperatives are: 1. Do what you think is right, regardless of the consequences. 2. Do what will bring about the greatest good for the greatest number of people. 3. Do what will promote your own happiness. 4. Do what will prevent you from causing harm to others.
What is a categorical imperative example?
A categorical imperative is an unconditional moral obligation, and therefore not contingent upon any ulterior motive or circumstance. So, for example, it would be wrong to murder someone, even if doing so would result in some greater good.
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