Immanuel Kant’s Moral Philosophy

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According to Kant nothing in this world that is observable or purely rational is good apart from a good will. Every trait or possession of power that one could have; intelligence, physical strength, wealth, honor. These all may be desirable, but only good if attached to a good will. He reasons that power, in all forms, can lead to pride and presumption and “if there is not a good will to correct the influence of these on the mind, and with this also to rectify the whole principle of acting, and adapt it to its end (Kant 151),” then an impartial being could not be happy.

He attributes one’s ability to be happy with the ability to counter act selfishness. Kant wanted to define the good and what constitutes it. In his method he looked for a priori principles, or reasons that are rational, logical truths, in order to come to what he called his categorical imperatives. The categorical imperatives set forth are as follows: To act in ways that you could reason everyone should act, treat every individual person as an end in themselves, instead of a means to an end, and although not explicitly put by Kant, act as a rational, universal, law giver (Johnson 4). One reasoning is this: if the good is a priori, then it must be good for all people, in all times.

If this is true then if we are to act according to this good, to act ethically, we must act as though we are equal sharers of this good with all other people. If this is true, then we are bound to a set of principles or a law that does not allow for one individual to take this good from other persons. “Put in a nutshell, Kant’s argument is that the very idea of a categorically (morally) commanding norm presupposes the existence of something in the world that has absolute value (Schönecker 83).” Here is where we can attribute equal dignity to every person. Kant reasons that nothing can have value unless there is present a valuer.

Because without a valuer there can be no value, there is infinite value in the valuer (Johnson 1). After defining the law Kant goes on to categorize the volition and its parts. He classifies 3 kinds of wills: the noumenal will, which is the law and desire of all of humanity, regardless of decisions that go against the moral law. The practical will, which is the will that denies itself in order to keep the law out of duty, and the holy will which does not make or desire to make decisions against the moral law (Johnson 2). From this Kant gives the two aspects of volition. Maxims are the subjective decisions of the will and the practical law is the objective rational part of volition (Kant 159).

So, how should one act? To Kant acting out of duty rather than inclination is what he deems to have moral worth. He goes on to say “an action done from duty must wholly exclude the influence of inclination, and with it every object of the will, so that nothing remains which can determine the will except objectively the law, and subjectively pure respect for this practical law, and consequently the maxim that I should follow this law even to the thwarting of all my inclinations (Kant 159).” He is deeming an actions moral worth not by its outcome but by its preeminent. If we are to act in a moral way it must be from looking towards reason over desire, this is the source of moral worth.

Kant is quoted from, Kant’s Ethics, saying, “actions in harmony with the first [jus, law external, law in the narrower sense] are legal, while actions in harmony with the last [law absolute, the supreme principle of ethics] are moral (qtd. In Edmunds 2).” What is being compared here is a maxim of the volition to an act of volition based solely on the law. Both are legal. So, when it is said to treat people as ends in themselves, it does not specify that they cannot also be treated as a means to an end. If an individual wanted to sell something to another individual, it would be within the bounds of the law if they are treated as both the end and a means to another end. That would be a maxim of a practical will because it does not fall completely into treating a person just as a means.

Furthering this is said, “if an agent uses another, she does not use him merely as a means if he gives his voluntary, informed consent to her use of him. To fix ideas let us say that the consent of the person being used is voluntary only if he is not being coerced into giving it and informed only if he understands how he is being used and to what purpose(s) (Kerstein 5).”

Kant puts Because the standard for moral worth goes beyond the external outcomes that actions produce, to the motivations behind them, it promotes integrity in social interactions. Say someone sells another person a car that seems to be in perfect condition to both the seller and the buyer. By chance, as soon as the buyer drives away, the radiator springs a leek and must be replaced. In this transaction neither the buyer nor the seller was acting immorally.

Say in another scenario, the seller knew the car was about to breakdown yet sold it anyway, that would be immoral according to the categorical imperative. The seller was not treating the buyer as an end, they were simply using them as a mean to money. On the grander scale, this produces a society that values honesty. The seller cannot morally cheat the buyer. Nor can a customer take something from the seller without offering something in return, in order to treat the seller as an end. There is seemingly a flaw in this logic if held to wholly.

Works Cited

  1. Edmunds, James. “KANT’S ETHICS.” The Journal of Speculative Philosophy, vol. 5, no. 1, 1871, pp. 27–37. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/25665737. Accessed 25 Feb. 2020.
  2. Johnson, Robert, and Adam Cureton. “Kant’s Moral Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 7 July 2016, plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/.
  3. Kant, Immanuel, and Allen W. Wood. Basic Writings of Kant. Translated by Max Müller and Thomas K Abbot, Modern Library, 2001.
  4. Kerstein, Samuel. “Treating Persons as Means.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 13 Apr. 2019, plato.stanford.edu/entries/persons-means/.
  5. Pasternack, Lawrence, and Courtney Fugate. “Kant’s Philosophy of Religion.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 6 Feb. 2020, plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-religion/.
  6. Rauscher, Frederick. “Kant’s Social and Political Philosophy.” Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Stanford University, 1 Sept. 2016, plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-social-political/.
  7. Schönecker, Dieter, and Elke E. Schmidt. ‘Kant’s Ground-Thesis. on Dignity and Value in the Groundwork.’ Journal of Value Inquiry, vol. 52, no. 1, 2018, pp. 81-95. ProQuest, https://ezp.tccd.edu/login?url=https://search.proquest.com/docview/2015656738?accountid=7079, doi:http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10790-017-9603-z.

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Immanuel Kant’s Moral Philosophy. (2021, Jul 30). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/immanuel-kants-moral-philosophy/

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