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Immanuel Kant - Metaphysics of Morals

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In his publication, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant supplies his readers with a thesis that claims morality can be derived from the principle of the categorical imperative. The strongest argument to support his thesis is the difference between actions in accordance with duty and actions in accordance from duty. To setup his thesis, Kant first draws a distinction between empirical and "a priori" concepts. Empirical concepts are ideas we reach from our experiences in the world. On the other hand and in contrast, "a priori" concepts are ideas we reach as an end point of reasoning prior to or apart from any experience of how things occur in the world. Kant then claims that moral actions are supposed done for the reason of morality alone. This train of thought leads to the conclusion that an understanding of morality must be based on "a priori" concepts of reason. Truly moral ideas are then universally valid if and only if they are based on "a priori" concepts.

From this idea of "a priori" concepts, Kant begins his thesis with the notion that the only thing in the world that is a qualified good is the "good will", even if its efforts bring about a not necessarily good result. A "good will" is good because of the willing that is involved. Two main implications arise with this idea of the "good will". The first implication is moral actions cannot have impure motivations. There are many impure motivations but Kant tends to focus mainly on the motives of the pursuit of happiness and self-preservation. Second, moral actions cannot be based on the speculations of the probable results. This action is not good in itself but good because it brought about a more desirable outcome. Thus, Kant arrives at the conclusion that for an action to be considered to have genuine moral worth its motive must be that of dutifulness to moral law.

In Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant lays out three propositions about duty. The first is the will is a morally good action if it is done in accordance from duty, as opposed to an action done in accordance with duty.

The second proposition is that actions are judged by the "maxim" or principle that was the motivation behind the action. If someone undertakes an action with the only motivation being that of a sense of duty, they are following a valid "a priori" action. On the other hand if they decide to undertake an action in order to bring about a desired result, then their motivation is one that is beyond mere duty. Kant's third proposition then explains that is not the respect for the power of the law but rather it is the moral motivation of an individual who acknowledges that the law is an imperative of reason that trumps our other interests.

The will, as Kant describes, is of practical reason. A rational being is an individual who has the capacity to execute their behavior by the conceptions of laws. This discipline of action is also known as the will. Our judgment that advises us on our action is known as an imperative or a command to act on a certain motive. An imperative can be either hypothetical or categorical. In the hypothetical imperative one acknowledges an action as right or necessary if it is a manner in which to obtain or achieve a certain goal. As such you would act on an action if a previous circumstance has taken place. These types of actions come from our previous experiences and counsel us to a way in which our desires can be achieved. Thus, an action cannot be held universally valid at all times if its goal is to acquire some objective of desire under a certain set of conditions. If the goal is ultimately happiness, we are unable to set any universally hypothetical imperatives for happiness. This is because the definition of happiness differs from person to person. One man's happiness can very well be another man's misery. As Kant explains, a binding moral law then cannot be equivalent or parallel to a hypothetical imperative.

Pure reason comes from the ability to consider neither a motivating condition accompanying another nor its intended results. With that, we then need to find a principle with universal validity or a principle that is valid no matter what issue is being considered. "A priori" principles of reason are the only principles that fit this standard on which a judgment or decision may be based. Hence, Immanuel Kant formulates that a moral imperative is one that is an unconditional or categorical imperative. A categorical imperative is our moral consciousness to do our duty because we ought to do our duty instead of pursuing our own desires attached to the duty. Such an imperative is driven by pure reason. Because we exclude our desires or maxims, we need only to focus on the form of our imperative. The form needs to be universally applicable or valid for all rational beings to follow. Thus, Kant gives us only one categorical imperative and it is "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law" (Kant pg.38). This universal law of morality states that we should act in such a way that we could will the maxim of our action to become universally applicable. This should be used as the criterion to determine whether or not a maxim is morally valid.

Before we are able to apply a maxim to this categorical imperative, it is required that



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