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Immanuel Kant on Morals

Essay by review  •  December 1, 2010  •  Research Paper  •  1,982 Words (8 Pages)  •  1,396 Views

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Trying to understand Immanuel Kant's every notion and standing regarding morals seems a daunting, if not impossible task. One may struggle with Kant's distinct and radical nature when speaking of a Ð''supreme principle of morality' that the world should follow, as only one with rational beings would do to achieve a "kingdom of ends" (Kant 39-40). The struggle with this idea may exist because there does not seem to be a single definition of what exactly the "supreme principle" constitutes. Rather, Kant presents it more as an idea that can only be fully taken advantage of if an application process is followed (Kant 5). This process follows the basic framework of his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals book and is provided foundation by the concepts of autonomy, or self-decision, as well as freedom. It is a "principle" that relies on "maxim" and universality of reason and rational thought in the world. Once one understands how the above elements connect and intertwine in Kant's theory, they understand the application process much better. Whether understood fully or manipulated for better logic, at least some of Kant's moral views have stood the test of time. Looking at the works of a man like John Rawls can help one identify Kantian concepts, as they are applied to a more modernized viewpoint, as well as how some of these concepts are altered for a more logical role in later years.

The idea of a Ð''supreme principle of morality' would likely lead one to believe that society would have to do something "good", or proper, to achieve it. Along these lines, Kant points out that the only thing that is truly "good without qualification" is good will itself. (Kant 7). Kant appears to be saying here that "good will" is good no matter the outcome present, as the intention was good in the first place (7). This is precisely where Kant's moral philosophy begins to take shape, leading toward his Ð''categorical imperative' (Kant 9). The Ð''categorical imperative' that Kant would like the world to follow relies heavily on reason, which is another necessary basis for most, if not all, of Kant's moral arguments. An initial critic of Kant would likely have a problem with the fact that he excludes self-preservation and attainment of happiness from the category of what such reason is able to achieve (Kant 8-9). Yet, according to Kant, reason can only produce good will, which "Ð' not merely good as a means to some further end, but is good in itself," (Kant, 9). This is indeed Kant's basic idea of the Ð''categorical imperative'.

This Ð''categorical imperative' does not, alone in itself, bring about the Ð''supreme principle of morality' that Kant seeks to reach for a better world in the "kingdom of ends". It, rather, applies to our actions, which is how the concept of duty comes about. Kant makes three distinct and useful propositions on just what this "duty" constitutes in accordance with his philosophy. The first involves acting "from" duty, as one does something because they are motivated to do it. This opposes a person who would act in accordance with duty, but have no motivation to carry it out (Kant 12). The second involves an action done from duty having "Ð'...its moral worth", as it is done simply because it is the right thing to do in an a priori system, where logic comes from the rational that is not experienced, rather than the empirical that is (Kant 12-13). The third, and the most important, proposition for duty relating to the Ð''categorical imperative' in this argument deals with carrying out duty out of respect for the law (Kant 13). Kant exists a huge advocate of law, as it applies to moral thought. Behind every duty really exists a "maxim" or a universal law in terms of what should morally be done, which Kant is very keen about and which also relates back to the a priori concept that Kant holds the world accountable by. This, in connection, is exactly the categorical imperative, as Kant describes it as acting according to "Ð'...that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." (Kant 30). Kant also mentions that the categorical imperative "Ð' an a priori synthetic practical proposition," (Kant 29).

The connection between the categorical imperative and duty, as it works to move toward the Ð''supreme principle of morality' should be recognized, even if not completely understood at this point. Still, another important question remains. How does all this connect to autonomy? It would be useful to first understand the word "autonomy" in terms of what Kant meant by it. To be perfectly honest, Kant's Ð''principle' thus far may seem incredibly difficult for any normal human being to fulfill. However, an important fact involves Kant's seemingly trusting notion that people in the world are indeed capable of making rationally moral decisions with the power of the autonomy of their will (Kant 48). Kant stresses that people have a fundamental dignity in the fact that they exist in ends in themselves rather than "Ð'...a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will," (Kant 35). Earlier, a very similar "ends" proposition was considered to be the roll of good will in itself, drawing a distinct comparison to the point made here. In laymen's terms, Kant appears to be assured that every decision that a rational one independently wills creates a maxim for all others to follow based on "Ð' absolutely good will whose principle must be a categorical imperative," (Kant 48). Thus, we again see the connection back to the categorical imperative that Kant stresses, and have taken another step in understanding how Kant expects those in the world to apply it.

Once one has come this far in the understanding of Kant, the connection from autonomy to freedom in his theory becomes more elementarily understood, but at the same time, more refined for Kant's argument. This proves true in the fact that "freedom", as Kant would desire it to be, is not necessarily the common view of freedom held in today's world. Generally, a person may think of freedom as the ability to pursue or to carry out what they want to do to achieve or gain something for their own benefit. Contrarily, the Kantian view argues that freedom exists through the submission to moral law. He in fact states that "Ð'...a free will and a will subject to morals laws are one in the same," (Kant 49). This quote brings up an important, yet slightly confusing, idea that Kant only speaks of freedom



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