The Humanness of Hume and Kant's Moral Theories

The empirical nature of science has allowed for its success in solving great human problems and in understanding the world around us. Real life data and observations lead to such findings, which only then can be translated into theory. A theory without data is merely a hypothesis waiting to be shown true through observation. If you start with a theory and then try to prove it, you are taking a biased position and setting out to complete an impossible task. Nothing can be proven in science, only accepted until shown otherwise. Immanuel Kant in his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals and David Hume in his An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals each take a very different approach in establishing their moral theory. Hume bases his theory on observations he makes of the society around him, while Kant instead establishes a theory based on his understanding of humanness and from this sets to prove his moral theory. Hume establishes a realistic theory explaining the morals of humans whereas Kant struggles to fit human morals into an idealistic model that he perceives.

Kant creates a beautiful moral theory only fit for the Gods, assuming you believe in a divinity to begin with. It is not difficult to like what Kant writes and imagine how such an extraordinary system might govern something as spiritually charged as moral theory. However, Kant commits the fatal flaw in presenting his moral theory. He takes the assumption that the potential to act on pure reason is innately a human characteristic and from this sets to prove his theory. Given this assumption, his argument is brilliantly made. However, he has no real basis for this argument. Kant even admits the limit of his assumption.

Reason would overstep all its limits if...

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...y can only be based on human action. It is important to understand why humans regard things as moral and Hume does an excellent job of explaining this based on observable human characteristics. This theory can then be used to judge the morality of questionable circumstances. A theory like Kant's lacks this quality. Since its basis is not observable it lacks the credibility for application. It does not apply to real world situations because it is not founded on real world data. It is simply an idealistic approach to morals. Although potentially very pleasing, Kant's ideas loses their own validity by straying from humanity and into divinity.

Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Trans. H.J. Paton, New York: Harper and Row, 1964, 127.

Hume, David. An Enquiry Concerning the Principles of Morals, trans. Schneewind, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1982, 72.

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