Phil – Kant Deontology Essay Sample

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Introduction of TOPIC

Immanuel Kant is one of the most important and influential philosophers of the Western world. Kant focused much of his work on developing ethical theories and fundamental moral principles. One of his most famous theories is deontology. Deontology is an approach to ethics that judges the morality of an action based on the action’s adherence to a set of rules. It states that one should act out of duty or obligation because rules are what essentially bind you to your social and communal duty to do good.

Kant argued that the only absolutely good thing is a good will. In Kant’s terms, a good will is a will that’s decisions are wholly determined by moral demands or as he often refers to this, by the Moral Law. Moreover, he argues that a dutiful action based out of motivations such as self-interest, self-preservation, or self-happiness, is an action that does not express a good will. For instance, if one’s actions were based on self-happiness, then his or her duty to perform that action may not have been done if it wasn’t for their selfish motivations. On the contrary, if one were to replace these selfish motivations with the motive of moral duty, the morality of the action would then express one’s determination to act dutifully under any circumstances. In our society, laws or rules of the state or city are what establish the rightful duties of citizens. Thus, if we do something because it if our lawful duty, our motivation is out of respect for the moral and legal code that makes it our duty.

Furthermore, Kantian ethics assesses actions by looking at the maxims of agents. According to Kant, the maxim must be accepted universally and if so the action is deemed to be morally good. If someone was acting on a bad maxim, for example ‘lying’, then their action is considered wrong regardless of the consequences. Although good intentions may possibly lead to bad consequences, Kant claims that a person has a good will when he or she acts out of respect for the moral law. People conscientiously act out of respect for the moral law when they purposely act in some specific way because they have a duty or obligation to do so. “Conscientious Kantians can work out whether they will be doing wrong by some act even

though they know that their foresight is limited and that they may cause some harm or fail to cause

some benefit. But they will not cause harms that they can foresee without this being reflected in their intentions. (Darwall, Elements of Moral Philosophy, 143)” Therefore, according to Kant the state of goodness and good will depends entirely on the moral ‘rightness’ of an intention or action.

On the contrary, Aristotle’s theory of Virtue Ethics differs greatly from Kant’s deontology in that it is an approach to ethics that emphasizes the character of the moral agent, rather than rules or consequences, as the key element of ethical thinking. Whereas deontology says that lying to solve a problem is always wrong, Virtue Ethics would focus less on lying in any particular instance and instead consider what a decision to tell a lie or not tell a lie says about one’s character and moral behavior. Virtues are often identified as desirable characteristics that the moral or virtuous person possesses. According to Virtue Ethics, embodying these virtues are what make somebody moral and one’s actions are a mere reflection of one’s inner morality.

There is less emphasis on the importance of motivation and intention involved in Virtue Ethics. As opposed to Deontology, Virtue Ethics is about a way of being that would cause the person exhibiting the virtue to make a certain “virtuous” choice consistently in each situation. Although there are many virtues, it is extremely important that each virtue is neither practiced in excess nor shortage. For example, an excess of courage is stupidity and foolishness while a shortage of courage is being a coward. Hence, each virtue is a mean between two corresponding vices.

Moreover, since Virtue Ethics places less of an emphasis on motivation and intention, an action is often performed based entirely upon the basis of virtues. Virtue, then, is of two sorts, virtue of thought and virtue of character. Virtue of thought arises and grows mostly from teaching, and hence needs experience and time. One point Aristotle makes is that what is natural cannot be changed by habituation. For example, a stone by nature moves downwards, and no amount of habituation could ever make it move upwards or change from one condition to another. Thus the virtues arise in us neither by nature nor against nature, but we are by nature able to acquire them and reach our complete perfection through habit. Essentially good virtues are derived from much experience and practice. A state of character arises from the repetition of similar activities. Therefore, we must display the right activities, since differences in these imply corresponding difference in the states. “It is not unimportant, then to acquire one sort of habit or another, right from our youth; rather, it is very important, indeed all-important… (Darwall, Elements of Moral Philosophy, 155)”

Finally, a virtue of character is a state intermediate between two extremes, and involving decision. Since there are three conditions arising in the soul: feelings, capacities, and states; virtue must be one and only one of these. Furthermore, since virtues are neither feelings nor capacities, the remaining possibility is that they are states. The virtue of a human being is the state that makes a human being good and makes him perform his function well. That being said, virtue is (a) a state that decides, (b) consisting in a mean, (c) the mean relative to us, (d) which is defined by reference to reason, (e) i.e., to the reason by reference to which the intelligent person would define it (Darwall, Elements of Moral Philosophy, 159). It is a mean between two vices, one of excess and one of deficiency. Some vices miss what is right because they are deficient, others because they are excessive, while virtue finds and chooses what is intermediate.

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