Kant's Moral Principles

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Kant's Moral Principles

In the Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals, the author, Immanuel Kant, tries to form a base by rejecting all ethical theories that are connected to consequences, and then focusing on our ethical motivations and actions. Kant wants to derive good characters out of contingently right actions. He believes that everything is contingent (everything can have good or bad worth, depending on how it is used). So he is trying to find the supreme principal of morality in all his reasoning. Kant also believes that an action is right or wrong based solely on the reason by which it was performed. However, a Utilitarian, like John Mill, would reject Kant’s reasoning of originating good characters out of actions alone, and instead argue that if an action has bad consequences, then the action was morally wrong.

Kant believes that an action has moral worth only if it is done out of respect for our moral code. He names this moral action a ‘duty.’ Kant also believes that in determining the moral worth of an action, we need to look at the maxim by which it was performed. So, we need to look at one’s reason for doing an action to determine if it is a duty. If the reason for performing the action is justified, then the action is a duty. However, Kant says there are two different types of reasons for performing an action.

Kant calls these reasons ‘imperatives.’ The first reason for performing an action, the hypothetical imperative, is based on consequences and on our personal preferences. They are also contingent, meaning that they can be good or bad depending on how they are used. People choose to perform a given action because of the hypothetical imperative. The second reason for performing an action according to Kant is called the categorical imperative. These are not based on our preferences, don’t deal with consequences of an action, and are derived a priori. They are completely separate from hypothetical imperatives. We all have knowledge of categorical imperatives before experiencing them first. They are kind of a second nature for us, which needs to be recognized according to Kant. These are the most important reason for performing an action. These imperatives also have the characteristics that Kant needs in order to make his point that all of our moral principals are categorical, have absolute authority, and are independent o...

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...t hope to predict the outcome of any given situation. It is impossible; there is no such thing as seeing the future. So by making a false promise to your friend, you have still done the morally wrong action, even though it will most likely save them some suffering. It did indeed take away their choices, so they can’t act in a way they want to act (going to class). I happen to agree with Kant’s idea here. I think that no matter what the consequences are, performing the right action is always the right thing to do.

Overall I think that Kant has better arguments because they are directed at the individual, not at society in whole. I also agree that the moral worth of actions is determined by the motivating principal of the action, not by the consequences, like John Mill. So I am a deontologist, for the most part. However, I also agree with some of the things that Mill has to say. So is there a way that we can combine the ideas of Mill and Kant together in order to form a perfect society in which everybody is happy? I don’t know the answer to this question, but we should all strive to do so, and we should start by respecting each other’s autonomy and treating others as ends.
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