Immanuel Kants Categorical Imperative

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Updated: Jan 27, 2019
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From our course readings and discussions, there is provided a general structure as to how principles and rules can be applied to actions as a practical guidance to produce the best outcomes’. The outcomes of individuals are often accompanied by comprehensive explanations as to what makes certain measures right or wrong. Historically, there have been variations in the framework for individual choices and end results, but nonetheless the core parts of morality of acts, agent, and reason prevail in philosophical discussion. In this essay, I will consider Immanuel Kant’s ethical framework of the categorical imperative’ and demonstrate its guidance through a moral problem. In specific, I present the moral problem of the cashier dilemma’ to exemplify how the categorical imperative would provide counsel for the persons involved and then critically evaluate the ethical guidance provided through the specific formulations of selfish inclination and intended maxim.

The cashier dilemma is as follows, imagine Anthony is offered a cashier position at a local gas station. Anthony refuses to sell or handle tobacco products because he feels that individuals who use tobacco products are controlled by their environment to do so unconsciously. In other words, tobacco users do not possess the full cognitive ability to act in their own best interests. He specifically refrains from selling tobacco products to cigarette smokers because they negatively impact the environment around them through second hand smoking. Is Anthony allowed to abstain from selling tobacco products to cigarette smokers due to his beliefs?

To answer the question previously posed, let’s examine the definition of the categorical imperative’ to apply it to the cashier dilemma. The categorical imperative, as presented by Kant, claims that individuals should “act only on that maxim which you can, at the same time, will as a universal law”. In other words, a person should act according to a rule that is practical for all individuals in any given situation. Kant emphasizes the formula of the end in itself’, which states that we should not take advantage of individuals or treat them as a means, but instead recognize human value and worth to where we treat each other fairly. The categorical imperative attempts to categorize moral actions by asking whether those very actions can be universalized in every circumstance and towards all agents. If these actions do not fulfill this criterion, then one is contradicting themselves by willing the action in the first place. It’s important to differentiate the categorical imperative from the golden’ rule as they are often confused with one another. The golden rule is merely a law that asks you to do unto others as they would do unto you’ or asks one to reciprocate just actions. The key difference is that the Golden rule confines and refers to one’s own actions whereas Kant’s categorical imperative seeks to exceed the rule by creating a general maxim or law from one’s own actions.

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Immanuel Kants Categorical Imperative. (2019, Jan 27). Retrieved from