Analysis Of The Categorical Imperative And The Problem Of Truth

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The Categorical Imperative and the Problem of Truth
Kant’s argues that his Categorical Imperative (CI) or, more properly, his multiple versions of the CI are universal in the sense that they apply to everyone at all times. If the CI actually is universal in this sense, it fulfills one of the major traits necessary for a moral principle (Pojman 7). The vagueness of the CI, however, makes its universalizability hard to assess. To simplify the issue, this paper will examine Kant’s response to Benjamin Constant’s objections to telling a murderer the truth. That examination will expose how the CI falls short of its claim as a universal principle through inevitable contradiction and, working from Kant’s own strategy of consequence-based reasoning,
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Kant argues that a lie makes you potentially liable for the consequences or your lie, while truth telling cannot be punished (“Lie” 2). Part of what makes this argument so odd is that it seems to argue for truth telling on consequentialist grounds, rather than the pure obligation to duty he claimed to be the source of moral action. Essentially, he’s saying to tell the truth so you won’t be prosecuted. By justifying in this way, he also opens the door for judging the CI on similar contingent…show more content…
Michael J. Sandel makes such an argument by suggesting that misleading truths meet the requirements of the CI and the perfect duty to tell the truth (133). He also notes that Kant himself employed such a strategy when giving a promise not to write anything more that criticized Christianity (134). This position leaves much to be desired.
Although it does appear to conform to the letter of the CI and the duty to truth telling, it does so by effectively gutting the intended spirit of the CI. The apparent maxim this position generate is, “Perform a verbal end-run around moral laws you find inconvenient.” It seems doubtful that such a maxim could survive rigorous scrutiny under the CI’s universalization test.
The categorical imperative cannot be applied universally by all people in all situations. As the analysis of the murderer asking about an intended victim shows, the person answering the question will be forced to violate the categorical imperative with a lie or the truth to the murderer. By employing Kant’s own strategy of consequence-based reasoning in terms of law, it becomes equally apparent that the CI does not universalize across different legal systems without requiring maxims that cannot survive the universalization
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