This paper will examine the conflict between Kant’s moral theory (his categorical imperative) and Kierkegaard’s notion of faith. It will defend Kant’s claim against Kierkegaard’s theory that faith is not a legitimate reason to disregards morality. The reason of why Kant’s ideas are preferable to me is that the categorical imperative allows to define what actions are obligatory and which ones should be forbidden and to choose the way that is more correct and not contradictory to moral norms and society.
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Immanuel Kant is considered to be one of the greatest and the most famous German philosophers of the 18th century. He created a truly widespread theory that influences society even now. His moral theory and his categorical imperative remain one of the central philosophical concepts of all the times. In 1785, this great philosopher introduced Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals.
One of the purposes of this work was to help people get a clear understanding of what moral principles are all about in order to avert possible distractions. Lots of people may say that Kant’s ideas are something that is really hard to comprehend. However, his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals is not that difficult to analyze in comparison to the works of some other philosophers.
Kant’s moral theory is based on the concept of good will. Moral knowledge is something that has lots of powers and should be a prior for all humankind. Without any doubts, Kant’s moral theory is rather complex, but at the heart of this theory, the only principle may be found; it is the categorical imperative. The idea of the categorical imperative lies in the fact that one may determine someone’s duty and decide what principles are proper and which ones are not.
“The imperative thus says which action possible by me would be good, and represents a practical rule in relation to a will that does not straightaway do an action just because it is good, partly because the subject does not always know that it is good, partly because, even if he knows this, his maxims could still be opposed to the objective principles of a practical reason.” (Kant and Gregor, 1998)
According to Kant, a maxim is one of the guiding principles of any action. With the help of maxims, people get a clear understanding of what should be done, and even how these things need to be done. Immanuel Kant was one of those believers, who proved that any person has the right to make choices. Freedom and reasons of actions are the two things, which distinguish people from animals, and we should lose this characteristic.
People just have to be free in order to be ready to perform all our duties. If people do not believe that they have enough freedom, they cannot be able to complete their duties, this is why the verb “have to” may be changed into “can or cannot”. People should give promises only in cases they are absolutely sure about their words and may keep them. Otherwise, if the words are not kept, and human promises are false, human life turns out to be senseless and all the beliefs are not true.
Søren Aabye Kierkegaard is another philosopher, who offered his ideas concerning faith, duties, and responsibility. In comparison to Kant’s rationalism, Kierkegaard is regarded to be an absurd thinker, who believes in subjectivism of ethics. In fact, Kierkegaard was one of the Kant’s followers.
He used Kant’s ideas as a basis for his own inquiry of faith. Kierkegaard’s Fear and Trembling is one of the best examples, which demonstrate his grounding on Kant’s ideas and standpoints. This Danish philosopher and, at the same time, a devoted theologian tries to prove that faith is not a simple formula, but something that people should reach only after certain divine inquiries are satisfied.
According to Kierkegaard, faith is a kind of leap to the absurd. People should trust upon something and believe in it. However, this something cannot possible be. This is why Kierkegaard’s notion of faith may be considered as rather paradoxical.
“A paradox enters in and a humble courage is required to grasp the whole of the temporal by virtue of the absurd, and this is the courage of faith. By faith Abraham did not renounce his claim upon Isaac, but by faith he got Isaac.” (Kierkegaard, 2008)
In this story about Abraham, Kierkegaard introduces this character as someone, who does not want to accept universal ethical principles in order to demonstrate his devotion to God. Abraham’s faith makes him break all those ethical norms; and this is what create an absurd line in the story.
Of course, it is quite possible to find some points in Kierkegaard’s story to admire. However, his extremism and idea that personal promise to the divine is the only thing that may glorify God cannot be considered as the most absurd things inherent to people. Kierkegaard does not show how exactly human belief in God may be absurd. He uses the word ‘absurd’ so many times, however, does not catch its uniqueness and make it an ordinary word.
This is why the faith, presented by Kierkegaard, may be called as the paradoxical nature of faith. This philosopher does not have any reservation about dealing with the things he calls absurd. However, at the same time, faith seems to be an eminently paradox, where a person tries to isolate him/herself in the sphere that is much higher than a universe.
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After I compare the ideas of two philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Søren Kierkegaard concerning human’s faith and duty, it turns out to be rather easy to take one certain position and explain the choice. People truly believe that God is absolute. He has enough powers to control any situation and be fair.
Both Kant and Kierkegaard present lots of arguments in order to prove their points of view. Their arguments also have certain drawbacks, but Kant’s position and his rational belief provides us, ordinary people, with better opportunity to understand deeper the relations between religion and ethics.
Kierkegaard’s notion of faith may be considered as a bit weak because it is based on the principle of divine revelation and the idea that clear interaction between ethics and faith may be hardly found out at all. Without any doubts, people just cannot leave without a thought that something may control their lives somehow and show the necessary ways out. However, the idea of the right of choice is crucial indeed.
We should take certain actions and believe in the things, which will not hurt other people and destroy their future. People should be free and, at the same time, have something to believe in. However, all those believes should not stay on the way to clear understanding of this life and its essence. People are unique creatures, who have a wonderful opportunity to choose.
This is what Kant tells about in his work. His universalism and ethical system are clearly detached from human relations and their abilities in accordance with moral principles, which are inherent to all people. This is why interaction that happens between humans and the experience they get play a very important role and help to realize that freedom is much more significant than faith and any other concepts offered by different philosophers.
Kant’s moral theory is rather deontological: human actions may be considered as right ones only in virtue of their real motives. These motives should be derived from duties, people promise to complete. According to Kant, people should think and choose taking into consideration their faith and moral principles, which are also called maxims.
Kierkegaard has another, not less interesting position about human’s duties and faith, however, his ideas turn out to be rather absurd and face numerous drawbacks. Of course, the theories presented by either Kierkegaard or Kant are quite inadequate: they neglect the idea of interpersonal relations and do not pay too much attention that such interactions may be rather important for formulation of moral issues.
This is why Kant’s ideas are closer to society and may be fixed in accordance with new preferences and interests. People always have a chance to perform the functions of responsible agents, but it remains crucially important to consider moral principles, which are obtained by society.
Kant, I. & Gregor, M. J. (1998). Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge University Press.
Kierkegaard, S. (2008). Fear and Trembling. Wilder Publications.