Kant's Moral Ethics

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In his Groundwork, German philosopher Immanuel Kant seeks to ground the metaphysics of morals in concepts of pure reason. Central to his work is “the categorical imperative,” that is, the formal procedure by which all rational beings may evaluate the moral worth of an action on the basis of its universalizability. In this essay, I will examine Kant’s ethic, specifically the categorical imperative, and assess the problems that arise within it. The fundamental basis of Kant’s moral philosophy appears to exist in opposition to those of other moral theories, namely consequentialism and teleologicalism. For Kant, the moral worth of an action lies in the intention of its actor, rather than its consequences or ability to produce happiness. He states …show more content…
He explains that moral actions must be performed “from duty,” as actions done from duty are driven by the good will alone. Duty, as such, “is the necessity of an action from respect for the [moral] law” (page 16). According to Kant, this moral law is a law of pure reason, inherent to all rational beings.
Having provided the basis for his theory, Kant states that “there is nothing left over except the universal lawfulness of the action in general which alone is to serve the will as its principle, i.e., I ought never to conduct myself except so that I could also will that my maxim become a universal law” (page 18). In other words, universal conformity is the only conceivable basis of an action’s moral worth. Thus, Kant presents the concept of imperatives.
Imperatives, Kant says, are “objective principles” that the will must act upon to be in accordance with universal conformity to the moral laws. There are two types of imperatives: hypothetical and categorical. Hypothetical imperatives conditionally demand the performance of an action for the sake of some other end or purpose, whereas categorical imperatives must be done for their own sake. Kant summarizes: “if the action were good merely as a means to something else, then the imperative is hypothetical; if it is represented as good in itself, hence necessary, as the principle of the will, in a will that in itself accords with reason, then it is categorical” (page

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