Deontology is the ethical view that some actions are morally forbidden or permitted regardless of consequences. One of the most influential deontological philosophers in history is Immanuel Kant who developed the idea of the Categorical Imperative. Kant believed that the only thing of intrinsic moral worth is a good will. Kant says in his work Morality and Rationality “The good will is not good because of what it affects or accomplishes or because of it’s adequacy to achieve some proposed end; it is good only because of it’s willing, i.e., it is good of itself”. A maxim is the generalized rule that characterizes the motives for a person’s actions. For Kant, a will that is good is one that is acting by the maxim of doing the right thing because it is right thing to do. The moral worth of an action is determined by whether or not it was acted upon out of respect for the moral law, or the Categorical Imperative. Imperatives in general imply something we ought to do however there is a distinction between categorical imperatives and hypothetical imperatives. Hypothetical imperatives are obligatory so long as we desire X. If we desire X we ought to do Y. However, categorical imperatives are not subject to conditions. The Categorical Imperative is universally binding to all rational creatures because they are rational. Kant proposes three formulations the Categorical Imperative in his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Moral, the Universal Law formulation, Humanity or End in Itself formulation, and Kingdom of Ends formulation. In this essay, the viablity of the Universal Law formulation is tested by discussing two objections to it, mainly the idea that the moral laws are too absolute and the existence of false positives and false negatives.
The first formulation of the Categorical Imperative is defined by Kant to "act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”. Good moral actions are those of which are motivated by maxims which can be consistently willed that it’s generalized form be a universal law of nature. These maxims are otherwise known as universilizable maxims. Maxims can then be put through the Categorical Imerative test to determine their universilisablility and thus the premissability the maxim. To test a maxim we must ask ourselves whether we can consi...
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... Therefore the action of removing all your money from the bank when there is a stock market downturn is immoral according to the first formulation of the Categorical Imperative. The fact that a person cannot withdraw their money from a bank because of moral restraints shows that there are some serious problems with the moral theory at work.
The first formulation of the Categorical Imperative “act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” seems at face value viable. Nevertheless the lack of guidelines to determine which maxim should be used to describe an action causes problems with the consistency of the Universal Law formulation. Moreover, the abundance of false positives and false negatives suggests a deep problem with the first formulation of the Categorical Imperative that may not be fixable.
1) Feldman, Fred. ‘Kantian Ethics’ in [EBQ] James P Sterba (ed) Ethics: the Big Questions, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1998, 185-198.
2) Kant, Immanuel. ‘Morality and Rationality’ in [MPS] 410-429.
3) Rachels, James. The Elements of Moral Philosophy fourth edition. NewYork: McGraw-Hill, 2003.
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