Emanuel Kant and his Theory of Ethical Dilemma

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Emanuel Kant and his Theory of Ethical Dilemma essay

There are several theories that try to expound how we ought to behave as human beings; moral absolutism is one of them. Immanuel Kant is accredited for coming up with this theory. Moral Absolutism is a non-consequentialist theory of morality that postulates that there are absolute moral standards against which morality is judged. It proposes that regardless of the context, an action is either right or wrong and thus moral or immoral. Immanuel Kant stated that the supreme principle of morality to be “Categorical Imperative”. Kant described the Categorical Imperative as an unconditional, rationally essential principle, which all human beings need to adhere to in spite of all inclinations, or desires one experience. According to Kant, acting ethically comprises of treating humanity as an end rather than a means to another end. Therefore, we should act as if our actions were the universal law. Consequently, everyone one of us should act the way he thinks others should act.

According to Kant’s theory, all moral obligations are justified by the principle of Categorical Imperative meaning that immoral deeds are irrational since they are a violation of the CI. Kant backed philosophers such as Aquinas, Locke, and Hobbes who argued that moral obligations were based on rationality standards. For Hobbes, the standards of rationality were contributory principles of rationality for the satisfaction of individual desires while for Aquinas and Locke the standards of rationality were external rational principles that could be discovered by reason. Kant’s position was based on his doctrine that rational will must be considered as free or autonomous from the viewpoint of being the author of the law binding the will. Thus, the key principle of being morally right, the Categorical Imperative, is the law of self-governing will. Kant’s moral philosophy, therefore, is based on self-governing reason in all human beings that makes every person of equal worth and serving equal respect.

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Immanuel Kant formulated ethical dilemma theories on deciding whether an act is right or wrong in the case of a moral dilemma. Kant believed that a mortal action should be of good will and made up of duty, without duty then action cannot be termed as being morally good. It states that ‘acts are immoral if the rules that would authorize them cannot be made into rules for all human beings to follow’. Therefore, before making a moral decision, one should ask themselves ‘which rule is authorizing them to act’ and second, ‘is the rule universal, should everyone follow it?’ If a rule cannot be applied to all human beings, then the rule is immoral. Another important element of Kant’s categorical imperative principle is that it should not be ‘self-contradictory.’ He gave an example of killing and argued out that despite people regarding some forms of murder as moral, they are self-contradictory since they would not be applied to everyone. The contradictory nature, therefore, renders killing immoral, as it cannot be universalized. Kant gives three important Maxims which are referred to as “The Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals” this tests how morally acceptable action is.

Kant’s most significant ideas in morality and ethics philosophy are recorded in the ‘Groundwork’ previously ‘The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals’ which later he modified and developed in his works such as Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, The Metaphysics of Morals, and The Critique of Practical Reason. Immanuel Kant’s moral philosophy is regarded as key non-consequentialist ethical systems. According to the non-consequentialist philosophical systems, “a good will is not good because of what it accomplishes but because of its fitness for attaining a proposed end. It is thus good through its willing. If the good will does not accomplish anything through its utmost efforts, it remains a good will”. Kant explains that a good will is that will that chooses to do a certain deed since it an act that is dictated by duty, and to duty, we must comply. Kant refers to these duties or rules that dictate what we ought to do as ‘imperatives.’

Kant’s ‘Duty Ethics’ comprises several maxims; the categorical imperative establishing morality by reasoning alone, duty than inclination, and the good will the practical imperative, these principles create an airtight moral philosophy that many critics have found difficult to tack away. This is because Kant establishes that there are absolute moral rules that can be instituted by pure reason; that one should obey these rules out of a sense of duty, and that all human beings are unique individuals and should be treated with respect and not used as a means to an end for another person’s purpose.

Kant’s first principle was the good will; he stipulated that there was nothing better in itself than a good will. He described ‘will’ as the exceptional ability in humans to act according to the set moral and ethical rules irrespective of the consequences of doing so or our interests. In his first Maxim, he states that one should always act in a way that his action is accepted to be a universal law. This is interpreted to mean that one should only do something if it can be universalized or it is something acceptable that anyone can do. He argues that this maxim was important in upholding morality and that that it was important in maintaining harmony in a society. When everyone behaves in a way that is accepted universally then it is highly unlikely that arguments or disagreements would arise.

The second principle, ‘establishing morality by reasoning alone’ Kant established as a very significant human attribute, second in importance only to good will. Kant argued that it was quite possible create valid and absolute ethical and rules on the grounds of reasoning only, not by referencing supernatural beings or from empirical research, but by the same logical thinking which stipulates particular irrefutable in logics and Math such as ‘all triangles are three-sided ’ and ‘no circle is a square’. Kant proposed that absolute moral truths must first be logically consistent and not self-contradictory. Second, all moral truths must be universal, that is, all absolute truths must be applied to everything without exceptions. The statement, ‘All triangles are three-sided’ illustrates this condition. In his second maxims, he states, “Act so that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in that of another, always as an end and never merely as means.” In this maxim, Kant was stating that one needs to value every single person and we should not use other people to gain something.

The categorical imperative, which is third principle of Kant’s philosophy. It states that ‘acts are immoral or not right if the rules that would allow them cannot be made into rules for all human beings to adhere to.’ Therefore, before making a moral decision, one should ask themselves ‘which rule is authorizing them to act’ and second, ‘is the rule universal, should everyone follow it?’ If a rule cannot be applied to all human beings, then the rule is immoral. Another important element of Kant’s categorical imperative principle is that it should not be ‘self-contradictory.’ He gave an example of killing and argued out that despite people regarding some forms of murder as moral, they are self-contradictory since they would not be applied to everyone. The contradictory nature, therefore, renders killing immoral, as it cannot be universalized.

The fourth principle of Kant’s moral philosophy is the ‘practical imperative principle’ that states that humans being should not be used as a means for another persons purpose or end. It states that human beings are unique, and should be equally and fairly treated, morally speaking. This principle refutes the ‘cost-benefit analyses’ that may occur when regarding two human lives. This principle may work in the medical field, in scenarios of human experiments for research and development. Kant’s theory, therefore, opposes experiments on other humans ‘for the good of humanity.’ Kant states that a human being cannot be used as a means to an end and despite the positive results that may accrue ‘sacrificing’ the individual for the rest of humanity, the action is immoral. Hence, the case where 100 babies are experimented on for the sake of a million other babies is immoral. However, if the baby were experimented on only because the medics thought that this would save him and at the same time provide doctors with information for future cases, then that would be a moral action.

The fifth principle of Kant’s moral philosophy is ‘duty rather than inclination.’ Kant stated that inclinations are emotional and irrational, and therefore following them would be wrong since we would be acting on a whim rather than from a sense of duty. All human beings are inclined to act in specific ways unique to them. For instance; being gentle to animals and children, giving alms to the less fortunate, staying in bed rather than going to school on a cold day, stealing or taking bribes. Therefore, since inclinations are unreliable, and they could be moral or immoral, then human beings must force themselves to act morally based on a sense of duty. Kant further added that an act should only be considered moral if it is done purely out of obligation rather than inclination. Many critics regard this as a very harsh approach, but it only serves to show the emphasis on the significance of duty in morality.

In the modern day, Kant’s does not apply to most situations due to its absolutist nature. It sets absolutist rules and has no method of applying to the exceptions. For instance, the theory does not vary the rightness or wrongness of an act despite the context. Lying is considered universally wrong, and therefore, the Kantian approach holds lying as immoral. The theory does not consider outcomes but means. Therefore, lying about the whereabouts of an innocent civilian from tyrannical and dictatorial army officers would be regarded as immoral by Kant’s universal morality theory. However, for the consequentialist approach, lying is not wrong if it has positive outcomes for instance; saving an innocent person’s life. Due to this, the Universal morality theory is not a widely applied theory in contemporary life, since there are exceptions to almost every moral rule. Murder, stealing, invasion of privacy and lying can be allowed in specific instances.

Kant’s theory has been criticized for allowing deeds that render the world a less pleasant place. Kant’s philosophy does not consider the consequences of an action but rather the action itself. However, in the world we are living in, good deeds do not always lead to positive outcomes, and neither do bad acts bring about adverse consequences. Therefore, applying non-consequentialist in everything does not make the world a better place. This theory is also abstract in that; it does not explain what particular actions are right and in what situations, rendering it less applicable to day-to-day life. Some critics claim that the theory is unrealistic since human beings rarely act purely out of a sense of duty. In many instances, human beings perform certain deeds expecting of something in return. Moreover, Kant’s theory is difficult to actualize since it has no place for personal relations and love but instead states that one should instead act out of a cold feeling-duty. Many critics have refuted this reasoning since human beings are prone to feelings of love and attachment. Therefore, despite the Kantian theory of duty and universal morality being stable, it does not wholly apply to today’s modern world.

Kant’s theory has been criticized for allowing deeds that render the world a less pleasant place. Kant’s philosophy does not consider the consequences of action but rather the action itself. However, in the world we are living in, good deeds do not always lead to positive outcomes, and neither do bad acts bring about adverse consequences. Therefore, applying non-consequentialist in everything does not make the world a better place. This theory is also abstract in that; it does not explain what particular actions are right and in what situations, rendering it less applicable to day-to-day life. Some critics claim that the theory is unrealistic since human beings rarely act purely out of a sense of duty. In many instances, human beings perform certain deeds expecting of something in return. Moreover, Kant’s theory is difficult to actualize since it has no place for personal relations and love but instead states that one should instead act out of a cold feeling-duty. Many critics have refuted this reasoning since human beings are prone to feelings of love and attachment. Therefore, despite the Kantian theory of duty and universal morality being stable, it does not wholly apply to today’s modern world.

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Emanuel Kant and His Theory of Ethical Dilemma. (2022, Jun 28). Retrieved from https://papersowl.com/examples/emanuel-kant-and-his-theory-of-ethical-dilemma/