Moral Philosophy: The Categorical Imperative, By Immanuel Kant
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 that: “There is nothing it is possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only a good will” (page 9). In other words, the good will is the only thing that can be good without exception, therefore, it is “the highest good” (page 12).
Kant expands our understanding of the good will in analyzing the concept of duty. 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…