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What is Kantian Ethics?

A deontological argument that is absolutists, in which argues that we should always do good, honesty should be a universal law, that we must keep promises; our action is what matters, not the intention.


Who presented this theory?

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)


Who was Kant?

A rationalist. He believed that reason is the cause for how we can analyse the world and create moral maxims.


Definition of Maxims:

Principles or rules.


What did Kant believe about moral statements?

That they are not like normal statements that are either a priori or a posteriori, synthetic.


Kant on Good Will and Duty: Good Will:

-To keep promises as a universal law.
-Always follow the universal principles.
-Good will/intention are the most important.
-If you were told to do good, then it is clear that your anticipation is to receive a reward.


Kant on Good Will and Duty: Duty:

-Something is only good when it carries a duty.
"To do good to others where one can, is a duty".
-Those who do good because they get a sense of inner pleasure by spreading joy, are not truly moral.


Example of Duty:

A duty to strive self-perfection and the well-being of others.


What does Kant believe about intentions and emotions?

-Kant believes that the right or wrongness of the action is the action itself, and not in its consequences.
-Kant believes that emotions are irrelevant.


How is Kantian ethics an absolutist theory?

-Because it doesn't take account of ones intention, only their action.
-It is a universal law.
-Always follows a set of rules.


Why is Kantian ethics a priori, synthetic?

Because they are knowable through reason, not experience.


Categorical Imperatives:

-Unconditional commands, based on reason not emotions.
-"You ought to tell the truth".
-For Kant, moral knowledge = categorical imperatives.
If telling the truth is morally right, we should always tell the truth.
EXAMPLE: shocking dress, means we should tell the truth, even at the cost of hurting another.


What are the Three Principles or Formulae in Categorical Imperative?

There are three forms of categorical imperatives:
1. The universal law of nature. Or principle of universalisation.
2. The end in itself. Or principle of priority.
3.The kingdom of ends.


The universal law of nature:

-Kant argues that we should only act that maxim that we are willing to follow as a law, and have that law apply for everyone.
- EXAMPLE: If I wanted to steal from my neighbour, that means my neighbour could steal from me, to make it moral.


The end in itself:

We should treat others how we would want to be treated.


The Kingdom of ends:

We should behave as if we were living in heaven.


Categorical Critique: Benjamin Constant:

In 1979, the French philosopher, argued that the duty of always telling the truth would make any society impossible. And that we might need to lie or tell a white lie for good motives.


Kant's Axe murder Critique:

Kant: "It would be a crime to tell a murderer who had asked whether our friend, who is being pressed by the murderer had taken refuge in our house"
Constant: "No one has a right to a truth that harms others".
Kant: "A lie ALWAYS harms someone".


Hypothetical Imperatives:

-What we must do to achieve a particular goal. There is no requirements to follow this, but it is how we should act if we wish to achieve something: it has the character of "if" and "then".
-"You ought to tell the truth if no- one is hurt by it".



1) Freedom.
2) Immorality.



-Our duty is to unite with things that give us happiness.
-Doing the right thing can bring one to their downfall.
-We may achieve our summon bonum in the afterlife. Heaven.
- Kant thought that human beings had the opportunity for endless improvement, or endless striving for improvement beyond death.
-Humans are immortal.



-Kant saw that we may individually suffer in order to do the right thing.
-God had ensured that the world was arranged correctly, so that the highest good was at the end.
- Christian thinkers believe that Kant places too much moral authority on the power of human reason, rather than biblical revelation.
- If there is an afterlife, then there needs to be a God to provide and crown us with the Summon Bonum


(supreme good) :

-Freedom = the freewill to choose the moral law over our instinct or desire.
-Rational creatures are free, whereas principles are universalised.
-We must maintain our freedom as it is the highest degree in life.



-Its is universal so that everyone is treated equally and given an equal value.
-Promotes good will, benefits the society.
-Reinforces the idea that we should speak of the truth, regardless of how crude the situation seems.
-Reminds the people that the good action may cause the most suffering, but the end result will be better.



-It doesn't take account of any particular duty that we may have for certain people (e.g. family).
-It does not account for times when two absolutes clash.
-Disqualifies concept of human freewill.
-The three categorical imperatives seem unrealistic for a creation who reinforces the movement of arrogance and selfishness. Hypothetically the categorical imperatives could work in an ideal world. However, realistically no one would compromise.