Teleology, an explanation of phenomena by the purpose they serve rather than postulated causes, has found its place in the construction of many systems of morality such as John Stuart Mill’s theory of Utilitarianism. In teleological approaches to morality, questions of right and wrong, or the notion what an individual ought to do, are determined by the consequences of a given action. One thinker to reject this idea of consequentialism was Immanuel Kant. In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant endeavors to establish a system of ethics that has no trace of the empirical nature of utilitarianism. To him, “the moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect expected from it and so too does not lie in any principle of
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This is due to the fact that a good will is good unconditionally, or good in itself. There are many other qualities, such as talents of the mind, that he recognizes to be good, however, “they have no inner unconditional worth but always presuppose a good will, which limits the esteem one otherwise rightly has for them and does not permit their being taken as absolutely good” (50). A good will, on the other hand, neither loses or gains value in its utility; it alone will be good no matter what context it exists in. While a good will does have the aim of producing results, it is not evaluated on the basis of these results, but rather has a value that is intrinsic to it. This discussion of the will provides the basis for Kant’s resentment of teleology, for the will is responsible for determining all of our actions, but its goodness is in no way attributable to the circumstances it encounters.
From this discussion of the will, it is clear that Kant’s idea of morality relies on concepts that are good in themselves, not as a result of their relation to any variety of circumstances. A proper ethical system is based upon objective actions that are good in themselves as ends, not upon actions that are willed as a means to an end. He outlines this belief in his discussion of imperatives, which are, “formulae expressing the relation of objective laws of volition to the subjective imperfection of the will of this or that rational being” (67).