The Universal Law Formula of the Categorical Imperative Essay

The Universal Law Formula of the Categorical Imperative Essay

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The universal law formula of the categorical imperative ("the CI") is an unconditional moral law stating that one should “act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” A maxim is the motivating principle or reason for one’s actions. A moral act is an act by which its maxim can become universal law that would apply to all rational creatures. As a universal law, all rational creatures must act according to this maxim. The CI requires one to imagine a world where the maxim one wishes to act by becomes a universal law, in which all people must act according to this maxim. If one wills this maxim to become universal law that all rational creatures must follow, but there is a contradiction in conception or will, than this maxim cannot become universal law, and thus, the act is not morally permissible. A contradiction in conception occurs when by willing one’s maxim to become universal law, one is imagining a logically impossible world, for there is a contradiction in the very idea of every rational creature acting on this maxim. In contrast, a contradiction in will does not yield a logically impossible world, but there is a contradiction in willing what it is one proposes to do and in wanting the maxim to become universal law.
An example of the application of the CI states: A man wishes to deceive someone in order to get what he wants. This man is acting on a maxim that says, “In order to get what I want, I will deceive.” Under the CI, one must consider a world in which everyone acts on this maxim, by willing this maxim to become universal law. In a world where everyone deceives in order to get what they want, it would be impossible to deceive anyone. Since everyone is lying ...


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... to state, “one can deceive in order to get what one wants," acting out of this generalized maxim will prove to be morally incorrect and the CI would lead to the wrong conclusion. Therefore, because the CI may lead to the morally wrong conclusion, the CI proves itself to be a useless principle unless supplemented by the idea of generalization; but without a formal method describing how to generalize a maxim, the CI may lead to contradictory results, and thus, it cannot be used to determine whether an action is morally correct. Where the application of the CI leads to opposite conclusions from the same situation, there is a contradiction, and thus, the CI cannot be true. Therefore, Mill’s criticism is fair, for if one cannot decide whether an action is right or wrong under all circumstances, than the CI is an incomplete theory that cannot be applied in any situation.

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