Kant was born in East Prussia. He taught philosophy at the University of Konigsberg. In a rather unconventional way, Kant might be described as religious. Certainly he was a Protestant, which meant for him, belief in God and belief in the immortality of the soul rested not on reason, but on faith.
Ontological Argument. Kant opposed Descartes over the Ontological Argument. “Existence” claimed Kant “could not be a predicate of a necessary being.” It added nothing meaningful to the concept. God could not be understood by reason alone.
Cosmological Argument. Kant opposed Aquinas’ Cosmological Argument on the grounds that it is our human reason that perceives everything as cause and effect. Cause and effect is a pattern that the mind imposes on contingent events. And to move beyond the phenomenal world and assume that there is an ultimate cause of everything seemed nonsense to Kant.
Moral Argument. Kant believed in the fairness of the universe. People wish for themselves only good. Kant believed that as everyone seeks it, it must be attainable, although in this life it doesn’t seem possible. To compensate for this, Kant believed that there must be a life after death where the summum bonum could be achieved. Therefore there must be a God who oversees the life after death. God then was a “postulate of practical morality.”
KANT AND MORALITY
Kant’s understanding of morality was DEONTOLOGICAL. The source of authority behind morality though was not God; it was human reason, supported by the individual’s awareness of right and wrong.
Kant argued that everyone is born with the ability to know right and wrong. It wasn’t taught. It doesn’t come from outside. We know it within ourselves. Put in Kant’s terms – moral demands are a priori because they are self-evident and they are synthetic because sometimes our moral choices may be made in error. a priori synthetic is normally an unheard of combination.
We perform a moral action through a sense of duty to our inner awareness. Duty lies at the heart of our personal sense of right and wrong. It must measure up to our own standard of good will.
- Actions performed out of sympathy are not morally right.
- Actions performed for show are not morally right.
- Actions performed for self-improvement are not morally right.
- An action which accidentally turned out right will not be rated as good.
- Only actions performed out of a sense of duty are right.
Suppose one is mistaken in one’s understanding of duty! Suppose my sense of right and wrong is not the same as yours?
Kant said something could only be declared to be right if what one decided to do in a particular situation could be expanded into a universal law. Out of that comes Kant’s understanding of the Categorical Imperative.
These are commands. Everyone is familiar with commands. It is usually called “doing as you are told.” Some commands are more serious than others and some have conditions applied to them.
These usually begin with an “if” clause or even “when”.
- If you are a good boy Father Christmas will bring you a present.
- When you have cleaned your room, you can go to the party.
- If you work hard you will pass your examination.
Kant was interest though in the CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
In ordinary life these are direct commands one does not ignore.
Notice there is no “if” or “when” clause.
Kant believed that a fully rational thinking person would follow these. Moral duties are categorical because they are performed out of a sense of duty.
FORMULATIONS OF THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
How does one recognize a moral act to be a categorical imperative?
Kant suggested three formulations, which if applied to an ethical course of action, would demonstrate whether it was morally correct or not.
1. Universal Law
“Act only according to that maxim by which you can, at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” In other words, would the action be good if everyone behaved in that way?
2. Humans as ends and not means
“Act that you treat humanity either in your own person or in the person of every other human being, never as a means, but always at the same time as an end”. Or in other words – don’t have a morality that simply uses people.
3. A kingdom of ends
“Act as if you were, through your maxim, a law making member of a kingdom of ends”. In other words – all people have personal rights and it is important to respect and preserve these. Your moral freedom must not infringe the personal freedom of another.
FINAL NOTE ON FREEDOM
Personal freedom was highly prized by Kant. It allowed someone to follow his or her personal sense of duty, but equally it had to be respectful of the freedom of others.
But note – If a person is not free, no blame can be attached if an immoral act is committed. Equally if one were being told what to do, then the person could not be relied upon to act morally.
- What Kant says is very simple. Everything is based on human reason, which is innate.
- The formulations of the categorical imperative are sensible guidelines.
- It clearly states the importance of duty over other considerations.
- It is a deontological theory and people know where they stand.
- He argued against consequentialism. He disliked the idea that some suffering might be all right if it promoted happiness for the majority.
- The idea is very abstract and general. They seem far removed from the moral problems people experience in their everyday lives.
- It does not help when a person is faced with two courses of action, each of which may seem to be right.
- People’s motives are seldom pure. People do not always act in accordance with reason.
- His refusal to accept “using people” as a means to an end would bring an end to stem cell research.