Explain Kants Understanding of Universal Maxims Essay Sample

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Kant believed that to get to a universal maxim you must first do as God asks you to. He therefore believed in “duty for duty’s sake” He believed that the only acceptable reason for putting good will into action was a sense of duty. Good will + duty = a moral action. He defined an action of good will is only good when a person acts from a sense of

sense of good will. Foe example you should go and see your gran because it is your duty and not because you are being bribed by your mother. He said “Good will shines forth like a precious jewel” Kant also had a theory that “ought implies can” This comes into play in moral situations. It is like your conscience and it “taps” you on the shoulder to say “hey! You can help here” For example helping an elderly lady across the road.

You think “I ought to help her”, therefore you can help her and you should help her. This links in with Kant’s hypothetical imperative. This is when you must do something else to get your desired result. “If I want X, I must do Y” e.g. if I want to lose weight I must go on a diet. You can’t lose weight without doing something about it and that is the hypothetical imperative. It is a conditional “if” command. Then there is the categorical imperative. This is what helps you get a universal maxim. If the action in itself is presented as good then the imperative is categorical. However it is no desires or needs. “I ought to do such and such” e.g. “I ought to tell the truth” becomes “I should tell the truth” which becomes “I will tell the truth”. There are three principles of the categorical imperative:

1. Universalisation.

2. Treat human’s as ends in themselves.

3. Act as if you live in a kingdom of ends.

Universalisation means that the moral laws must be applied in all situations and to all people, at all times. If an action is right for one, it is right for everyone. E.g. telling the truth is right for everyone so everybody must tell the truth AT ALL TIMES. Treat human’s as ends in themselves means you should act in a way that you always treat humanity never simply as a means, but always as an end. It means not promoting one person’s happiness if that happiness prevents another’s happiness. Act as if you live in a kingdom of ends means you should act in a way that fits with being a member in a kingdom where everyone is treated as an end and not as a means. The principle which you act on should be one I can set down as a law in this society.

The categorical imperative tells us which actions are forbidden and which ones we should always do. It also helps us to find universal maxims. Universal maxims are rules that come from the categorical imperative that should be followed by everyone everywhere and at all times. Once we have established these rules we have been morally good. Therefore we should reach a summum bonum. Summum mean virtuous behaviour (moral acts) and bonum means happiness. A summum bonum is the supreme good according to Kant. We pursue this through moral behaviour. Following on from this approach, Kant postulated three things that were necessary for his theory to work, but which rationally must exist.

1. We must be free to be able to make decisions.

2. There must be immortality of our souls for us to be able to achieve the summum bonum.

3. God must exist in order to be a fair judge to bring us to the afterlife or not.

These three postulates lead to morality which then leads us to God. Therefore Kant’s idea of universal maxims is that if we follow the set of moral rules (universal maxims) and are always morally correct then we will achieve the summum bonum and this will lead us to God.

Universal maxims are of little use when applied to the issues of euthanasia (10).

Euthanasia (Greek, “pleasant death”) means helping with people’s death for some idea because they wanted you to. Euthanasia includes:

1. Actively causing death.

2. Aiding suicide.

3. Not interfering with a suicide.

On one hand universal maxims are of little use when applied to euthanasia. Everyone has nearly exactly the same ideas about morality and therefore killing is wrong so euthanasia is wrong. It is based on reason and people may not think it is the right reason to kill someone. It shows respect for human life and by killing or assisting someone into dying then you are not showing respect for human life. As there is one rule for everyone it would mean that euthanasia would be available to everyone at all times and people may abuse this and murder someone who did not want to die yet. As Kant believes you duty is to reach God through morality, then by killing someone neither of you are doing what is morally right and therefore will not reach God.

However there are many reasons that universal maxims could help reach a conclusion about euthanasia. Not everyone agrees that duty is the best motive. Putting your duty above everything else seems cold and inhuman, if someone wants to die, why shouldn’t they? There is no place for actions undertaken as a result of love or compassion which is wrong as every action we take involves love and compassion because we are human creatures. Also if we do constantly put duty above everything else it could lead to an outcome where the person suffers so much that you feel guilty and end up helping them anyway which you could get in trouble for. Also as Kant’s theory is deontological it only focuses on the action been taken but the outcome may be more important as the person could no longer be in pain. It is also human nature to consider the principles before acting. If our duty is influenced by upbringing and society we may have our view on Kant’s theory and are either really against it or love it either way if somebody we love is suffering and they want it to be stopped, we would all try and help them as much as we could as we have a lot of emotion inside of us which sometimes overrules our “duty”.

Overall universal maxims help everyone see that euthanasia could be right if the person is suffering a lot. However some people would think it is right and some people would think it is wrong. Fro Kant, however, it would always be wrong as “duty for duty’s sake” it is your duty to be ill and to die when God wants you to.

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