Deontology and Kantian Ethics

March 12, 2019 | Author: Abigail Muscat | Category: Immanuel Kant, Reason, Morality, Propositional Attitudes, Metaphysics
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A powerpoint I made about deontology for advanced level philosophy...


Deontology and Kantian Ethics

Kant‟s ethics As we have already seen, Kant‟s two main concerns were „the starry heavens above‟ and „the moral law within‟ and how to reconcile the two  He divided his work into two; those having to do with two kinds of human reason: practical reason and pure reason. When considering his work on metaphysics and epistemology, we were dealing with pure reason. When examining his ethics, we will deal the practical aspect of human reason 

Kant wanted to create an ethics that was: “a completely isolated metaphysic of morals which is not mixed with any theology or physics or metaphysics”  In his ethics he seeks to establish the a priori principles by which we make moral  judgements, he wishes to establish the fundamental principle of action which underpins all decision-making 

Unlike Aristotle, Plato and Aquinas; Kant was not concerned with some „good for humans‟ but with the fundamental principles that guide our actions While Kant agreed with the likes of Aristotle and Aquinas that morality should be based on rationality, he couldn‟t agree with Aquinas in basing his ethics on natural theology As we have said before, Kant believed that God‟s existence cannot be proven or disproved scientifically BUT he did believe that God‟s existence, like human freedom, was a postulate of practical reason This means that even though God can‟t be proved, people should act as though God exists

Why Deontology? Deon comes from the Greek word for „duty‟, in this way Kant‟s ethics is deontological, meaning that it stresses duty or obligation  The greatest task that human beings can achieve is attaining „good will‟. A good will is not good because of the effects it accomplishes, but it is good through willing alone  A good will is fostered by a human acting rationally and eliminating those inclinations and desires which tend to undermine rational decision-making. 

Freedom 

The development of the good will depends upon one assumption: that human beings are free. If we were not free then we could not be moral agents able to choose between right and wrong and talk of morality would be pointless.

Two kinds of moral imperative There are two kinds of moral imperative according to Kant, the hypothetical and the categorical  A moral imperative is a command under which human beings act  The hypothetical: hypothetical imperatives are imperatives with an „if‟ that are directed towards a particular goal and have a particular motive for example „If I want my wife to love me, I have to remember her birthday‟. These commands are arrived at with the exercise of pure reason 

Two kinds of moral imperatives The categorical: By contrast, categorical imperatives are not based on an „if‟. (in other  words they are not conditional), they are not directed towards an end and are motiveless  Moral duties are categorical because they should be followed for their own sake only, not for any other reason. Categorical imperatives are arrived at through practical reason and they are understood as a basis for action 

Why should I do my duty? For Kant, there is no answer to this question other  than „because it is your duty‟. Good should be done for its sake only, a motive demeans the good will  While human beings are not fully rational, we can strive to become so. Acting along with the demands of reason is acting along with the dictates of duty  A categorical imperative is one that excludes selfinterest and would be one that any fully rational agent,(whether human or not)s would follow 

Separating inclinations and motives from duty It is not the action or the consequences of the action which determine its goodness, but rather  the goodness of the intention, motive or reason lying behind the action  For example: If a businessman is honest, this is not enough to classify him as good. If he is being honest because it suits him, or because he feels like it then he is not acting morally. Irrelevant of all the good consequences that can arise from such honest action. 

What are moral commands based upon? Many people would agree with Kant that the command „thou shalt not kill‟ is a categorical imperative (therefore universally applicable) but Kant believed that even this basic imperative is based upon more general rules  The three more general commands that Kant identifies are the following: 


Act as if the maxim of your action was to become through your will a universal law of nature (Formula of the Law of Nature/Universality)


Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person, or in the person of any other, never simply as means but always at the same time as an end (Formula of the End in Itself)


So act as if you were through your maxims, a lawmaking member of a kingdom of ends (Formula of the Kingdom of Ends)

God God is largely peripheral for Kant although God is needed to underwrite Kant‟s trust in the fairness of the universe-particularly the idea that after death, the virtuous and vice-ridden will be treated appropriately.  In this way Kant largely reduces religion to ethics. To be holy is to be moral. Religion is only valuable as a way of helping people to lead a moral life.  Kant regarded philosophy as superior to theology because it did not make unsupported claims based on faith. Kant believed that religion had to operate within the bounds of reason alone 

God According to Kant‟s standards, Jesus was the perfect exemplar of the morally good life.  However Kant considered human beings and human reason to have moral autonomy. That is, human beings did not need to depend upon the will of God to tell them what is morally right and wrong 

Revision Could it ever be morally right, according to Kant, to torture one person in order to get information which would save the lives of a large group?  Describe the difference between a hypothetical and a categorical imperative. On what grounds might someone reject an imperative that was claimed to be categorical?  On Kant‟s view, should the moral principles of intelligent green spiders differ from the moral principles of human beings?  What place does God have in Kant‟s philosophy? 

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