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People Should Always do Their Duty, How Kant Understood This Concept Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

“There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be regarded as good without qualification, except a good will”. Immanuel Kant explains how important “good will” is.

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) was a German born philosopher who lived in the Prussian city of K�nigsberg. His philosophy was influenced by German Pietism, which is a religion based on personal experience rather than proof- which is crucial in his ethical theory.

Different people would interpret the word “duty” in different ways. The Concise Oxford Dictionary alone lists 6 different definitions of the word and this could affect how people interpret how Kant thinks. The most common meaning is “a moral or legal obligation; a responsibility”. Already, this could cause some controversy. If we take “duty” to mean “a moral” “obligation”, then this follows with Kantian Ethics. This assumes that we can make our own decisions freely (one of Kant’s postulates for the Categorical Imperative). However, if “duty” means a “legal obligation”, then they are not free choices as we are making our decisions without free will and absolute choice.

Kantian ethics is a deontological theory. It is based on duty and what people ought to do, rather than the end consequences of an action (and therefore isn’t teleological). Immanuel Kant believed that to be morally good, someone has to do their duty and use good will in all their actions. Therefore his theory says that we should not use emotion in our moral judgements as it gets in the way of what we ought to do. We should combine good will and duty and this ought to always bring the best outcome.

Good Will is extremely important in Kantian Ethics. “There is no possibility of thinking anything in the world, or even out of it, which can be regarded as good without qualification, except a good will” (Kant). No quality that we possess, no talent, is intrinsically and universally good. Whilst “intelligence, wit” and “judgement” are all brilliant in most cases, they are automatically good. Someone could use their intelligence to hurt other people. Wit could be used to make fun of someone. You could be prejudice against different types of people. However, if you have “good will” and you are able to successfully apply this to all of your characteristics then they will be morally good.

Therefore, if a murderer asked us where a future victim was, and we knew, then we must tell them regardless of whether the victim is your enemy, your friend or a loved one. We should disregard emotion and stick to our duty, which in this case is to tell the truth. This is a potential weakness in Kant’s theory.

Furthermore, it is also important that good will is applied in way that means actions should not be selfish. If someone performs a seemingly good act so that it will eventually benefit them then this is not morally good. This is because Kantian Ethics is not a consequentialist (teleological) theory, so the end result should be disrega

rded. Moreover, if there is no inner-good, then the outer-good is irrelevant. This is summed up in a

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statement from Kant: “a good will is not good because of what it affects or accomplishes. It is good in itself”.

The Categorical Imperative is another key part to Kantian ethics. It helps us to understand which actions we ought to do, and which action we ought not to do. “All imperatives command either hypothetically or categorically…If the action would be good simply as a means to something else, then the imperative is hypothetical; but if the action is represented as good in itself…then the imperative is good.” From this we could say that Kant believed moral statements could be prescriptive. The actions that he is prescribing do not take into account the final result of an action; it is our duty to follow these laws that are set out as morally good.

The laws and rules should be universal and be applicable to everyone, everywhere. However, it is very difficult to come up with any moral rules that would always be correct. Would the rule: “it is wrong to kill” always be applicable in every situation? Of course not! Even though we recognise that “thou shall not kill” is a law we should all live by, there are situations when it would acceptable, such as self defence. Nevertheless, it is our duty to try to abide universal laws and rules. We should not use our emotion in our actions, as that clouds our judgements and leads us to the wrong decisions. It is perfectly acceptable to show emotion, but we must not use this to make our decisions. A good example of this is in Star Wars, when the Jedi aren’t meant to use emotion in their decisions as this will lead to evil.

In Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), Kant outlined the 5 different forms of the Categorical Imperative. Firstly there is the formula for the universal law. “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”. People should always aim to do their duty when the act follows the rules that apply universally (to everyone, everywhere). Secondly is the formula for the law of nature: “act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature”. This means that to do your duty, your actions should be able to follow a rule that could be classed as a universal law. Next is the formula of the end-in itself. “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 a means, but always at the same time as an end”. You should do your duty to humanity and never use someone else as a means to achieve something. Furthermore, you should understand, by considering “the will of every rational being as a will which makes universal law”, that every human being (who your actions affect) has a part in deciding universal law, so you need to consider other people’s feelings and beliefs. This is called the formula of autonomy. Finally, the formula of the Kingdom of Ends, which is making everyone abide by the same common laws.

The Categorical Imperative should not be confused with the Hypothetical Imperative. Although both were developed by Immanuel Kant, they are very different. The hypothetical imperative says that if we want “” to happen, then we should do “”. This gives you a choice whether or not you want to do something or not, and therefore this is not related to duty. Whereas, the categorical Imperative, tells you that you simply have to do “” and is telling you that you ought to do it- and so is related to duty. Furthermore, the Hypothetical Imperative is not related to moral issues- it could be “If you want to eat something, you should walk to the shop”. The Categorical Imperative is to do with ethical issues, so could be “you should always strive to protect human life”.

Kant also teaches about a-priori synthetic. This is statements of knowledge that we know without prior existence (opposite to a-posteriori). He tells us that through moral reasoning there are objective moral laws. We use our reasoning to predict what things may be like (a-priori synthetic).

Therefore, I conclude, that Immanuel Kant thinks that it is intrinsic to do one’s duty and that everyone should do their duty with good will and with inner good. Everyone should aim to achieve the Summum Bonum, which is do achieve their duty and bring happiness.


* Ethical Theory- Mel Thompson

* Ethical Studies- Robert Bowie

* Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten)- Immanuel Kant

* Answers.com:

* http://www.answers.com/topic/categorical-hypothetical-imperative

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