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Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)





















Introduction

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who is said to be one of history's most influential thinkers. He was born in 1724 in Königsberg, a city in Russia, which is now called Kaliningrad. Kant spent the majority of his life as a University professor, and he was in his late fifties before he began his work that would later give him his historical reputation[1]. Kant is best known for his metaphysical and epistemological theories, and his deontological moral theory[2]. He discusses his deontological perspective of ethics in his work, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals[3].

Deontological Moral Theory

Kant’s deontological moral theory “stressed the absolute or ‘exceptionless’ nature of moral rules, together with the irrelevance of consequences or feelings in the assessment of moral judgments" [4] . Kant’s work was based on his disagreement with the perspective of Scottish philosopher, David Hume, who “viewed moral judgments as expressions of a special kind of ‘moral sense’ or ‘sentiment’ [5] . Kant disagreed with Hume and argued that morality is not concerned with expressing our personal feelings, but that reason is the basis of morality[6].

The Categorical Imperative

Kant argued that a standard of rationality is the basis of our moral requirements, which he called the categorical imperative [7]. The categorical imperative was the main aspect of Kant’s moral theory, and is the fundamental basis of the moral judgments we make[8].

Kant’s formulations of categorical imperative are three requirements of decision-making that must be made for decisions to be deemed ethical. According to Kant’s first formulation, individuals must “act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature”[9] . This explains that individuals must act in a way that they will accept all other individuals to act, if they were in a similar situation.

According to Kant’s second formulation, we should never use others, and we should respect them as individuals. The emphasis of the second formulation is “on the intrinsic worth and dignity of rational creatures”[10] . Kant believed that we must treat others with the same respect as we treat ourselves, and act on reasons that are made for ourselves.

The third, and final formulation is similar to the second. It requires that “we treat others as autonomous agents, capable of self-directed, rational action” [11]. Kant argues that having dignity and worth comes from having the ability to use our capacity to make moral decisions that are not based on our person desires and interests [12].

From Kant’s perspective, each of the formulations must be met or our moral obligation is to “refrain from acting on [our] personal maxim” [13].

References

[1]. Immanuel Kant Biography. (n.d.) Retrieved October 1, 2009 from: http://biographybase.com/biography/Kant_Immanuel.html

[2], [4], [5], [6]. Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: an introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: Broadview Press, Ltd., p.173

[3]. Kant, I. (1964). Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals. New York: Harper and Row.

[7]. Johnson, R. (2008). Kant's Moral Philosophy. Retrieved September 30, 2009 from: http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/, ¶ 1

[8]. Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: an introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: Broadview Press, Ltd., p.174

[9]. Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: an introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: Broadview Press, Ltd., p.177

[10]. Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: an introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: Broadview Press, Ltd., p. 182

[11], [12]. Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: an introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: Broadview Press, Ltd., p. 184

[13]. Waluchow, W. (2003). The dimensions of ethics: an introduction to ethical theory. Peterborough: Broadview Press, Ltd., p. 185