Kantian Ethics

  • Created by: nelliott
  • Created on: 07-06-21 12:42

Who was Kant?

  • 1724 – 1804
  • German thinker from East Prussia (now Russia).
  • He spent his entire life in or around his home town.
  • One most influential philosophers in Western Philosophy.
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Deontological Ethics

  • Kant's theory is deontological and absolute
  • This is an act is deemed right or wrong independent of the consequences, and is done because one has as duty to do it.
  • An action good is when you do your ‘duty’.  
  • The motive is what makes an action good.
  • Consequences are unimportant!
  • Certain acts are always right or wrong -  it does not allow any exceptions to it’s rule and can be applied universally.
  • Deontological thinkers believe we should decide whether an action is right or wrong without considering its consequences 
  • e.g. The murder of an evil dictator for instance might bring some important benefits (e.g. an end to oppression) BUT it would still be an act of murder and therefore inherently wrong.
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Reason & Moral Law

  • Kant attached great importance on the human ability to reason = all humans have this ability. 
  • By using our reason, we can work out what our duty is.
  • Humans use their reason to access what Kant terms as the universal moral law – as this is objective, it applies to everyone.

“Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe … the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me.” Kant 1788  

  • Moral knowledge is gained by pure reason not by sense experience – this is in direct  contrast to utilitarianism which Kant rejected.
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The Two Types of Statement

Following the approach of logic and science, Kant believed there were two types of statement:

A priori analytic, for example 1+1=2, is true in itself but cannot be proven by seeing or observing something.

A posteriori synthetic, for example , ‘It is sunny today!’ – can be tested , can be true/false and can be proven by observation.

Moral statements were, for Kant, a priori synthetic - we cannot prove what someone should do just by seeing/observing the act (a priori) and they may or may not be true (synthetic). 

So, for Kant, to know for sure if a statement is right or wrong (e.g. murder is wrong) we can only appeal to our reason. We need a test or formula to help us to know what is right or wrong and we apply this test using our reason.

Only humans are rational beings and so only humans are moral beings.

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Good Will & Duty

  • The only thing that is totally and completely good without exception is a goodwill
  • Some things we think of as good could be used for bad purposes, therefore not absolutely good eg bravery.
  • Good will is the only ‘good’ that cannot be used for a bad purpose.  

“It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will” Kant 1785

“Good will shines forth like a precious jewel”

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Duty for Duty's Sake

  • Good will is to do one’s duty
  • One’s duty is to perform actions that are morally required- avoid actions that are morally forbidden
  • Why do we do our duty?
  • Because it’s our duty to do it!

= “Duty for duty’s sake”

e.g. A grouchy, mean person who helps begrudgingly out of duty is acting morally as they are acting on duty alone. Doing it because we must is morally better. Doing things because we want to, because it makes us feel better, is not acting morally as we are acting on inclination.

     EMOTIONS= BAD.     LOVE= BAD.       DUTY= GOOD.

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Summum Bonum

  • Kant believed that human beings seek an ultimate end – the supreme good.
  • He calls this the “summum bonum” – a state in which human virtue and happiness are united. 
  • For Kant, this state is impossible to reach in one lifetime.
  • Therefore we all must have immortal souls to succeed.
  • Kant rejected theological arguments for the existence of God but his ethical theory assumes immortality and God’s existence. 
  • For Kant, the afterlife and God must exist to provide an opportunity for reaching this supreme good.
  • So, for Kant, morality led to God.
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Three Postulates of Practical Reason

  • Postulate: a necessary assumption especially as a basis of an argument.
  • E.g. England will always be rubbish at games it invented.
  • We can POSTULATE the existence of God and the belief in immortality because despite being inclined towards good and doing one’s duty, this does not always lead to happiness in this world.
  • We can POSTULATE our freedom as we are aware of having to make a moral decision and if we were not free to make that decision there would be no decision to make. 
  • We can POSTULATE that there is an afterlife (immortality) where the Summum Bonum is achieved.
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