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Kantian Moral Theory in a Nutshell Essay

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Updated: May 13th, 2022

Introduction

In his “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals”, Kant assumes that the good will is good in itself and should not be evaluated from the perspective of results it brings. Instead, the good will is a virtue once it appears in the person as a good intent or righteous motive. Even if one’s goals are not achieved, the good will encourages the person to act better in their daily life (Kant, p.196). In order to explain his argument, it is also necessary to look at the notion of will the philosophers presents: the will refers to human ability to act according to certain principles or laws, and due to the fact that only rational beings are capable of comprehending the idea of law, then practical reason to great extent enables the development of will. In certain cases individuals display deviant behavior which violates certain objective laws, but is dictated by the personal principles which belong to the realm of reason (Kant, p.197). The good will is good in itself since it is driven by the concept of the good and the willingness to act lawfully rather than by the fear of breaking certain laws or rules. The holy will is described as the set of human motives and incentives, which do not contradict to laws, i.e. the holy will excludes obligations, but implies the existence of moral duty and the desire for realizing it. Thus, the difference between the will and the holy will consists in the fact that the latter is not driven by imperatives or objective obligations which the person believes they must abide.

Main body

Imperatives, from Kant’s perspective, can be defined as objective obligations to which one feels they must be committed. Kant notes that imperatives always imply certain constraints, as they also represent the subjective understanding of objective laws which one cannot break. The relationship between the will and imperative is described in the following way: imperatives formulate rules for the will if the subject fails to do certain actions because they are good, i.e. the imperative identifies and formulates the conducts which are good thus determining the direction of the will. The hypothetical imperative is a commandment or instruction which presents certain action as necessary judging from the results it might bring about. There are two types of hypothetical imperatives: imperatives of skill, which explain how certain goal can be attainted; and those of prudence, which instruct about the means of reaching perfect happiness. Hypothetical imperatives focus on the end of the action and are composed of the following elements:

  1. The concept of the result;
  2. Description of steps needed to accomplish the task.

As the hypothetical imperative can be to great extent subjective and serve one’s personal interests, it can inform about the ways of achieving physical contentment, or pleasure and whether certain action might potentially make the person happier. The categorical imperative refers to the commandment of the necessity of action without reference to its end. The categorical imperative has the following structure:

  1. Setting a maxim;
  2. Imagining the world in which everyone observed this maxim;
  3. Imagining oneself acting according with this rule;
  4. Deciding whether this state of affairs is still desirable.

The practical good can be viewed as the precondition to the development of categorical imperative, as the former actually drives human will on the basis of reasons, which are valid and realistic for each rational being.

The means, in Kant’s view, refers to the set of things or objects used to reach certain end. The existence of absolute worth, which cannot be compared to any other existence in terms of value, is believed to be the end in itself. Kant states that human being is the end in itself as it cannot be replaced or substituted by any other end; therefore, there is no goal for which humans can serve as a means. The belief that the rational creature is the end in itself is actually how each person subjectively perceives and understands their existence, and due to the fact that individuals are intrinsically equal, there is an objective commandment that everyone should be treated as the end in itself.

The difference between dignity and price consists in the fact that the former, as opposed to the latter, has a worthy equivalent, i.e. a certain inanimate object can be replaced by a thing of the equal price, whereas there is nothing which can be compared to dignity in terms of its value. As dignity has its own worth, which cannot even be fully estimated, it can be classified as the objective end, similarly to human existence. Dignity is a mental construct which refers to the perception of one’s own life as the end in itself, so “humanity as an end” formulation of the categorical imperative also reflect the need for protecting human dignity or treating the person’s life in the way this person treats it by themselves.

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