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Moral Being and Vicious Individual by Kant Essay

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Updated: Oct 14th, 2021

In our daily endeavours, we are constantly faced with decisions that beg for moral reasoning. We choose our friends according to our moral considerations. An analysis of an individual’s actions may inform our mental faculties about whether the individual is virtuous or vicious. But the actions can be studied in different perspectives depending on the moral philosophies of various scholars, one of them being Emmanuel Kant. According to Kant, moral requirements are based on a principle of rationality that he called Categorical Imperative (CI). Practical reasoning must indeed reveal that for individuals to be perceived as rational beings, they must be seen to conform to certain instrumental principles (Hare, p. 23). Immoral or vicious life must therefore constitute a violation of the categorical imperative – an action perceived as irrational. This essay aims at discussing if moral human beings can form personal friendships with individuals considered vicious based on Kant’s principle of a morally virtuous life.

In his own argument, Kant opined that a rational will must be perceived as free or autonomous in the sense that the individual must be allowed free will to author the law that binds the rational will. In other words, the categorical imperative, or the fundamental principle guiding the morality of an individual, should be nothing else apart from the principle of an autonomous will. Kant’s moral philosophy is therefore based on the conception of reason that is governed by passions rather than the concept of “human slave” (Kerner 11). Individuals must therefore be guided by the self-governing concept of reason in deciding about the moral rightness or wrongness of action as opposed to a universally held view.

According to Kant, virtue is defined as “the moral strength of a human being’s will in fulfilling his duty” (Jones, 2003). Accordingly, vice is defined as principled immorality. For a person to be perceived as virtuous, he must be evaluated on account of an existing moral duty. Virtues are perceived as explicable only in reference to a prior account of dutiful or moral behaviour, rather than treating behaviour traits as more basic than the notions of right or wrong (Kant 2002). In other words, individuals must never base their moral conduct on some pre-existing conditionalities of how society perceives good character but rather by their philosophical account of a rational agency. The overriding principle in Kant’s argument is that any moral being must be rational. In reference to the essay topic, the virtuous individual must consider the intentions of the relationship before embracing the vicious man. If the relationship is based on rational engagement based on ‘goodwill,’ then there will be no grounds to deny the friendship according to Kant’s moral philosophy. Kant’s view on virtue is radically different from Aristotle’s. In Nicomachean Ethics, Aristotle argued that repetition of good habits informs the virtues of an individual (Cox 2004). A virtuous and just man is produced by repeating just habits, while a vicious and unjust man is produced by doing the opposite. To Aristotle, virtue is just a habit, learnt out of constant repetition.

Kantian virtue ethics is rather centred on duty rather than good. An individual who relentlessly acts from duty is perceived as a moral person in Kantian moral ethics. The individual must never allow the expression of his emotions, partial attachments, or non-moral interests to inform his decisions but should rather pursue the relationship based on duty (Baron 56). However, the motive of duty is not the sole determinant of any action according to Kantian virtue ethics. An individual could still be perceived as virtuous without necessarily performing an action that shows moral worth. Individuals must never perform an act basically because it is required of them to do so. This serves to reinforce the assertion that a moral individual can establish a relationship with a vicious individual based on rationality and duty if the relationship does not expose the moral individual to acts that are considered immoral by his own rational thinking (Campbell, 1995). In the relationship, the individuals must never at any single moment be informed by self-interest, personal affection, non-moral interests, emotions, or compassion to one another.

In Groundwork, Kant aims at coming up with a philosophy or principle by which to base all our common moral judgements. Rational and moral human beings must therefore ask themselves the question of “What ought I to do” when faced with a choice of establishing a personal friendship with an individual who is at best considered vicious. Moral philosophy must therefore explain and characterize the many demands that moral decisions make on forms of human social interaction and human psychology (Lafollette 26). According to Kant, any moral decision must take into consideration the highest good and its relationship or association with the moral life. The highest good is often considered the ultimate end of human endeavour (Gaus, 2007).

It, therefore, follows that any relationship between a moral and vicious being must take into account the highest good that can be achievable by the initiator of the friendship. Kant presupposes virtue may, in fact, conflict with the state of wellbeing as it does not insure or facilitate the status (Herman, 1999). Based on his arguments, a virtuous individual could establish a personal relationship with a vicious person based on his own convictions rather than those put on the individual by society. Society can wrongly condemn an individual. Therefore it’s up to the virtuous individual to be guided by the concept of reason when deciding about the moral rightness or wrongness of the relationship. Individuals must therefore be guided by the self-governing concept of reason in deciding about the moral rightness or wrongness of action as opposed to a universally held view. A commensurate achievement of wellbeing and an unlimited amount of time to perfect ourselves are necessities required by reason to make formidable moral decisions (Johnson, 2008).

Friendships develop out of commonsense ideas, mutually shared by individuals. To Kant, basic common sense ideas are facilitated by the perception that ‘good will’ can be the only good thing considered in any moral arrangement without any qualification (Hursthouse 2008). This, therefore, means that any moral being is allowed by Kant’s moral reasoning to enter into a relationship with an individual based on the goodwill of the individual rather than the vicious nature he is known of by society. The vicious nature may be imposed on the individual by society, just like society imposes such phrases as ‘good natured’ and ‘well-intended.’ Goodwill is not in any way associated with such terms and is closely related to the concept of ‘an individual of good will’ or a ‘good individual’ (Jones, 2003). The overriding concept of what makes an individual virtuous is his possession of a certain will that is predetermined by the moral law. A virtuous individual is one who acts and makes decisions perceived to be morally worthy, notwithstanding the fact that his moral considerations guide his behaviour conclusively (Keela, 2008). Consequently, a vicious individual cannot be guided by any moral considerations and hence cannot be in pursuit of goodwill.

As moral agents, human beings are supposed to be autonomous and rational. They must be allowed the freedom to make the choice of who to interact with based on reason. In this perspective, a moral being is allowed to establish a personal relationship with a vicious person based on reason. As a rational being, the individual must be able to judge by his own free will whether the relationship will be morally based on his categorical imperative (Jones, 2006). According to Kant, apart from the goodwill – that which is ultimately conceived to be good without any qualifications whatsoever – other human characteristics have value only when viewed under certain conditions to decode if they are good or evil (Hinman, 2006). As such, what is viewed as evil or vicious by one individual may not necessarily be viewed as such by another individual. Therefore, the individual involved has been left with the leeway to decide if the actions of his partner constitute vicious actions based on reason or are mere labels put on the individual by society. Even if his actions are vicious by any standards, the relationship should be guided by the intentions and rationality of the moral being towards the friendship. If the rationality is genuine enough to satisfy the desires and needs of the moral being, then the friendship should proceed without being scrutinized in regard to other moral considerations.

By extension, Kant’s virtue ethics is deontological by the very fact that actions are perceived as morally right or wrong based on their motives (Kerner, p. 35). For example, let’s assume that the moral being has been lonely and wants someone to fill the friendship gap. In his endeavour to find a friend, the moral being bounces on the vicious being and develops a personal relationship with him. According to Kant, such a relationship is blessed at least morally by the fact that it was informed by a genuine motive that arose out of a genuine duty to find companionship. Besides the vicious nature of the other individual, the action of establishing a personal relationship is morally right, according to Kant, basically because the moral being is determined to act in accordance with the duty of finding a companion. In his duty, the moral being has overcome emotions, self-interests, and obvious bodily desires to act in that particular way. To Kant, this is a ‘Maxim’ or a general desire to act in accordance with one’s duty. This encourages Kant to argue that “duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law.” If practical reason would will a particular action to be universal law, then such an action is morally right (Kemerling, 2001).

According to Kant, individuals must always act based on a principle that they can take a particular action to become universal law if it is informed by goodwill (Lafollette 57). This is the principle of universality and does not in any way curtail the establishment of a personal relationship between a moral being and a perceived vicious individual. Agents must act in a specific manner that everyone else may act in the future. Virtue is a purposive, as well as a settled disposition (Davison, 2006; Athonassoulis, 2006). It requires an affirmation on the part of the actor as well as a conscious choice. Based on this argument, the moral being would want to establish a relationship based on his free will, rationality, and the genuine need of what the friendship would be able to achieve. The nature of the other person doesn’t really matter as Kantian virtue ethics is virtually self-centred in its approach of considering the perceived moral duty (Hare, p. 21). If the moral duty of the moral being would be satisfied by his interaction with the vicious being, then the morally right thing to do is to establish a relationship regardless of the perceived wrong deeds of the other agent. In Kantian virtue ethics, the moral wrongs of the vicious being do not in any way influences the friendship if the moral duty of the initiator is being met.

The above observation forms a credible criticism of Kantian virtue ethics. Morality must be a discipline that ought to talk about other people, not about our own (Kerner, p. 34). According to this objection, virtue ethics is self-centred because it is concerned with the agent’s own character, without really considering if others have their own characters. In the scenario given, it has been aptly explained that the moral being can enter into any form of relationship based on the principle that he will satisfy his own rational thinking and own duty towards the relationship. It does not in any way give the second actor (vicious being) any opportunity for his duty to be revealed in the relationship. But morality should not be viewed under that perspective since it deals with individual actions to the extent that it affects other individuals (Baron, p. 27). The vicious nature of the other person must affect the type of relationship established no matter how we may want to concentrate on the set goals and duties of the virtuous being in the relationship. Despite the fact that a relationship can be established between the two agents, it is vehemently clear that Kantian virtue ethics seems to be uniquely fascinated by the acquisition of virtues in conjunction with an agent’s own flourishing and wellbeing while being inconsiderate to the wellbeing of other agents (Davison, 2006).

A more general objection is the tendency of the Kantian virtue ethics to treat the concept of well-being as a master value in itself, thereby implying all other things are valuable to the extent that they contribute to the concept of well-being (Hare, p. 59). But Tim Scanlon objects to the assertion, arguing that well-being is more of self-interest rather than a good in itself. Furthermore, one does not need to compare himself with others to evaluate his well-being (Kerner, p. 67; Athonassoulis, 2006). These are valid criticisms of Kantian virtue ethics. But in all due respect, Kant’s argument about a morally virtuous life cannot be underestimated. His argument is used by many people to inform the virtue of their characters and behaviours in all relationships that they engage in.


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