Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) is a renowned Germany philosopher whose ethical theory remains influential up to today. The theory is founded on deontological perspective; therefore, a moral act is understood to have moral value without considering its outcomes. According to Kant emotions like compassion and pity are extraneous to morality. He further argues that correct moral decision cannot be anchored on fulfilling our desires or feelings. Kant ethical arguments counter those of moral relativism. Moral relativists argued that moral act is dependent on the culture or the situation in which the action takes place. Moral relativists are thus opposed to the universal moral law (Barrow & Gossman, 2017).
Kant’s ethical theory is mainly concerned with the study of the human reasoning. His ideas were answering to the rationalists and empiricists. The empiricists argued that all human knowledge is obtained through experience. On the other hand, rationalists argued that it is possible for a human person to comprehend the entire world through reasoning only. Kant was of the view that the two approaches failed to address the epistemological question adequately. He was however inclined towards rationalists viewpoint. Kant argued that knowledge of the cosmos can only be acquired through senses and depending on how the cosmos appear to us. He further argues that human mind is unable to know the exact reality of the cosmos as experienced. The reason for not knowing the true reality of the world is because the human mind has inbuilt categories. Despite arguing that methodical knowledge is meant for our perceptions and experience, he affirms that categories of the human mind are objective (Clewis, 2017). Therefore, the human person can trust their reasoning to distinguish between wrong and right. According to Kant, therefore, an individual has the ability to judge all moral declarations as either wrong or right because all moral declarations are a priori imitation deprived of experience.
Kant’s comprehension of duty and good will establishes the foundation for his ethical theory. Kant, thus, perceives “good will” as the only relevant concept in moral decisions, despite of what one desires. Good will has a single purpose which is to fulfill the duty. Hence, will have the ability to apply pure practical reason and communicate what ‘ought’ to be done because it is in control. Kant asserts that duty should be performed for its own sake and not to derive pleasure for self or others. For instance, it is a duty to for every individual to assist the less fortunate than themselves by donating to charity; however, no individual should do so in order to derive pleasure or joy or feel good about themselves. Such act is moral only if it is executed purely for duty sake and not propelled by emotions (Clewis, 2017).
Similarly, the categorical imperative is an essential constituent of the Kant’s ethical theory. Kant distinguishes categorical imperative from hypothetical imperative. Kant explains that hypothetical imperative is utilized to achieve an immediate goal. For instance, if a politician wants to be liked in some developing countries, they ought to be generous with money to the electorate. Conversely, categorical imperative entails no reference at the end; they are moral decrees that do not rely on any benefit. Hence, the decrees do not contain any “ifs” or “ought to.” They are universal moral rules which apply to all people because they are founded on the a priori law of reason (Clewis, 2017). Kant argues that the morality of an action can be tested by use of three fundamental categorical imperative formulations. First, individuals should act according to the maxim they want enacted as a universal law. Therefore, if it is unethical for others to act as you did in a similar circumstance, then it is unethical for you too. For example, if a man or a woman makes wedding vows knowing too well that he/she will not be faithful to the vows, yet the fellow breaking the wedding vows want all married couples to remain faithful to their wedding vows as a universal law. Kant would perceive such action as universally wrong because it cannot become a universal principle.
The second measure, Kant argues should be founded on that all human beings should be treated as an end in themselves and not as a means. This implies that no single individual who should be used by the other for selfish gain. Kant understanding inspires this insight that all people are independent rational beings and no individual who has the right behave as if they were superior to other people. Hence, to be moral, all individuals must be valued equally. The third measure, Kant argues that each individual should act as if every other person was an “end” and free, as well as self-ruling agent (Barrow & Gossman, 2017). Individual actions should thus be aligned to the maxim which enhances harmony in a potential kingdom of ends. Every person, therefore, has a duty not to act by principles that are inconsistent with the effort to unify them. The understating that people are independent rational beings does not imply that each individual has the right to decide their morality. However, it means that each individual has the ability to utilize pure practical reason to determine what is right.
- Barrow, J. M., & Gossman, W. G. (2017). Deontology.
- Clewis, R. R. (2017). Does Kantian Ethics Condone Mood and Cognitive Enhancement?. Neuroethics, 1-13.