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The Doctrine of Negative Responsibility Essay

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State and explain the two major versions, or formulations, of Kant’s categorical imperative.

The first formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative can be discussed as the formulation of the universal law. According to it, the individuals should act in such a way that the maxim of their action could be related to the universal law of morality. In other words, people should act according to the moral principles which are universally accepted, and their actions can be considered as the moral laws. The second formulation accentuates the meaning of humanity. Individuals should always respect each other during their interactions with concentrating on the principles of humanity.

Aristotle maintains that there are two cases in which one should, in striving to be virtuous, tend more toward one extreme of “deficiency” or “excess” than toward the other. What are these two cases, and what is Aristotle’s reasoning?

Aristotle states that, while trying to be virtuous, an individual tends to choose between two extremes. One of them represents an excess of a particular passion when the other one represents its deficiency. The person should always try to follow the mean between these extremes, but there are also situations when the principles of justice should be stated, and an individual can present more courage or bravery than it is necessary in order to support the idea of justice and save the peace.

Explain the reasoning behind Kant’s distinction between “subjective” and “objective” ends and the consequences of this distinction for his moral theory. Kant differentiates between subjective and objective ends which can be determined as the personal self-preservation and the global humanity. According to Kant, objective knowledge and the principle of humanity depend on the rational reasoning. Subjective reasoning or self-preservation means that individual can be self-centered. Thus, the person’s following only his subjective vision and possible acting against the moral standards of society can contradict to the principles of objectivity and humanity on which the social development and moral laws should depend.

Explain the doctrine of negative responsibility and discuss some of the objections that have been raised against it.

All the actions have good and wrong consequences. The Doctrine of Negative Responsibility states that people are responsible for their choice to act or not when they can predict the consequences of their actions. However, opponents of the Doctrine focus on the problem that not all the effects of the actions can be predictable. Nevertheless, it is stated in the Doctrine that individuals are responsible for all their actions, in spite of the positive or negative character of their consequences. It is an individual’s choice not to act when it is impossible to predict the positive consequences.

What is the principle of beneficence? What advantages, according to Frankena, does the principle of beneficence have over the principle of utility?

According to Frankena, beneficence as a principle means the moral obligation of making the good for the other people and promoting their welfare with preventing any harm. In general, beneficence depends on providing good actions and pleasures to make the other people’s life happier. However, there is also the principle of utility which is based on making the good, but it has the quantitative nature. That is why the impossibility of making the absolute good can be measured and not be considered as the good. Frankena accentuates the advantage of the principle of beneficence which is in the fact that beneficence is not measured in any numbers, but it is considered according to its positive character and orientation to the good.

How does Aristotle define virtue (an accurate paraphrase will do)? What kinds of virtue does Aristotle distinguish, and what are the differences between them? How, according to the Nicomachean Ethics, do we acquire the virtues? According to Aristotle, a virtue is the balance between two extremes of the personal thoughts and behavior, and the virtuous life leads to the happy life. When a person knows this ‘golden mean’ he or she develops definite virtues which can be moral and intellectual. Moral virtues depend on the individual’s emotions when intellectual virtues depend on the human wisdom. Moreover, according to The Nicomachean Ethics, persons’ virtues are based on the human voluntary nature. Thus, people acquire the virtues because of their desire and will which stimulate the motivation to live the virtuous life.

In “Famine, Affluence, and Morality”, Peter Singer proposes “strong” and “moderate” versions of a basic moral principle that he defends. What are the two versions of this principle? Why does Singer claim that geographical distance is irrelevant to the duties entailed by this principle (in either of its forms)? Singer’s principle of famine relief is presented in two forms. It is stated in the strong version that people should prevent the bad things while sacrificing something that can be considered as the comparable moral significance (Pojman & Tramel, 2009). The moderate version of the principle makes accents on the fact that people should prevent negative things, and they also sacrifice anything morally significant without paying attention to the principle of comparability. In this case, the geographical distance is irrelevant because of the developed technologies which can reduce the significance of this factor.

What, for Kant, makes the “good will” good?

According to Kant, the principle of the good will is based on the individual’s rational or logical nature. Thus, Kant states that a rational being with the good will never makes harm or acts wrongly because of his level of rationality on which depends his moral duty. That is why the good will is based on rationality which is close to Kant’s idea of morality and duty. The rationality and orientation to the universal moral laws make the good will absolutely good.

What are Frankena’s grounds for maintaining that “we cannot be satisfied with the principle of utility as our sole basic standard of right and wrong in morality”?

The principle of utility depends on the quantitative results of the people’s good or bad actions. According to the principle of utility, the good and morality can be measured in definite numbers. However, the human ideas of the good, right actions, and the nature of morality have the abstract character. That is why this principle cannot be discussed as satisfying for people to analyze the level of the good.

Select two of Kant’s examples of maxims which violate the categorical imperative and explain the nature of the contradiction to which they give rise.

Kant’s examples of maxims which can be discussed as the example of generosity and the example of the false promise are based on the principles of the categorical imperative. If a person acts in such a way, he or she acts according to the universal law. However, these examples can also violate the categorical imperative because those bad things which a person allows to himself should be allowed to the other individuals according to the principle of maxims.

What is Aristotelian Mean? Why does Aristotle call it the “relative”, rather that the “numerical” mean? What is its relation to virtue?

Aristotelian notion of a mean is close to his vision of the human virtue. Thus, the mean is the balance between two extremes which should be found by an individual in order to live the virtuous and happy life. This mean can be rather relative than numerical because it is difficult to measure this balance in numbers. The Aristotelian mean exists as the human understanding of the virtuous and moral nature of his actions. Following the extremes leads to vices when following the ‘golden mean’ leads to virtues.

What are the two general types of imperatives that Kant identifies and what distinguishes them from each other?

The two types of Kant’s imperatives are the hypothetical imperative and categorical imperative. The hypothetical imperative is related to the definite situation, and it can be not followed as the universal law. Thus, hypothetical imperatives are often limited by the fringes of the context. Categorical imperatives accentuate the moral rules which should be followed universally, in spite of the situation, and it is a human duty to live according to the categorical imperatives.

What is virtue ethics? That is, what views or theses distinguish the ethical systems that fall under this heading?

Virtue ethics is based on virtues or the personal moral character as the stimulation for the further human actions. Thus, an individual acts morally because of his developed virtues and his understanding of the balance between the moral extremes. The principles of virtue ethics proclaimed by Aristotle are opposed to the principles of the deontological and consequential ethics which depend on duties, rules, and the action’s consequences as the major factors.


Pojman, L., & Tramel, P. (2009). Moral philosophy: A reader. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company.

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