Chapter  2:  Ethical Traditions   

Section 11. The Categorical Imperative

Immanuel  Kant

The Categorical Imperative Immanueal Kant An Ethics of Duty   

(NOTE:  You must read only those linked materials that are preceded by the capitalized word READ.)   

The Categorical Imperative is supposed to provide a way for us to evaluate moral actions and to make moral judgments. It is not a command to perform specific actions -- it does not say, "follow the 10 commandments", or "respect your elders". It is essentially "empty" -- it is simply formal procedure by which to evaluate any action about which might be morally relevant.

Since by nature (according to Kant) the moral law is universal and impartial and rational, the categorical is a way of formulating the criteria by which any action can pass the test of universality, impartiality, and rationality. That is its only function.

It has several forms or expressions and you need to know the first two . Kant believes that these two forms of the CI are, ultimately, equivalent, and that what one forbids the other forbids also. I suppose you might say that they are two ways of looking at the same "moral reality." How are these two forms related? How are they equivalent? Well, they are equivalent because that which makes human beings intrinsically valuable (this is the focus of the second expression of the CI) is reason and freedom, and it is precisely the demands of rationality (which is the precondition of freedom) that provide the criteria for evaluating moral actions in the first expression of the CI. In other words, it is because other people have (universal) reason and freedom that you should never treat them as merely means to your own ends, and it is that rationality which provides the criterion for evaluation found in the first expression of the CI.

Both forms of the CI are intended to be expressions of the common, ordinary moral sense that we (most of us, anyway) have that there are some actions that are simply wrong.

What is the relationship between the two forms of the Categorical Imperative?

An imperative is a command. "Close the door!" "Brush your teeth!" "Study hard!" "Don't forget to button your shirt." According to Kant, however, these commands are abbreviations.

  • "Close the door, so that your father can hear the game."
  • "Brush your teeth, so you don't get cavities."
  • "Study hard, so you can get a good job, and give your poor parents some peace."
  • "Don't forget to button your shirt, so your date doesn't think you're an idiot."


They are "hypothetical imperatives" -- Kant means that the commands depend upon the goals to be fulfilled. These are particular goals that depend upon personal situations, particular human goals and desires and dispositions. Hypothetical imperatives are commands that apply only in particular circumstances, for particular people who happen to have these desires, these goals.

The Categorical Imperative is universal and impartial -- universal because all people, in virtue of being rational, would act in precisely the same way, and impartial because their actions are not guided by their own biases, but because they respect the dignity and autonomy of every human being and do not put their own personal ambitions above the respect that others deserve.

Notice that the above is NOT a description of how everybody does behave -- as an ethical theory, it is concerned to describe how people ought to behave.

Kant is not condemning hypothetical imperatives. In fact, he agrees that these are the sorts of imperatives that we live by are hypothetical in nature. But they are not moral. (They are not immoral -- they are non-moral.)

What is the function of reason?

Reason has a lot of functions. It has a theoretical function (science, for example) and a practical function. We are interested in the practical function -- practical in the sense that reason determines (along with emotions and desires) human behavior and choice. But the practical function can be understood to have two parts -- as a "means-ends" function, and as the moral function. Kant, as it should be clear to you by now, does not equate moral reason with the calculative reason of the utilitarians or the egoists. But he does not condemn this side of practical reason, either. It has its proper place in human life, and it is an exceedingly important place. But calculation of means and ends must be supported with a different type of reasoning -- moral reasoning.

And how does this side of human reasoning work? What is it's nature?

Human reason is principally constituted by the search for universality and necessity. This conception of reason shows Kant to be deeply and profoundly influenced by the Enlightenment, and the Enlightenment's pursuit of natural science. For Kant, this search for "natural laws" in science is the crucial aspect, the constitutive element of rationality per se. And just as the discovery of universal laws is absolutely central to natural science, so is the search for universal laws central to human morality. It is this aspect of reason which is at the heart of the demand for impartiality and justice. When a Judge make his/her decision in applying the law, we hope and trust that s/he is not driven by his or her feelings, or passions, or biases, or ambitions. No, we want the Judge to be rational -- to put aside those personal attachments which might influence his or her ability to ignore such things as the color of your skin, or the shape of your body, or the spelling of your name, or the patterns of your clothing, or the length of your hair. What matters is the law. What matters is the Judge's unbiased reason.

So it is in ethics as it is in law. The Categorical Imperative is devised by Kant to provide a formulation by which we can apply our human reason to determine the right, the rational thing to do -- that is our duty.

Kant’s links

http://comp.uark.edu/~rlee/semiau96/kantlink.html

For Kant the basis for a Theory of the Good lies in the intention or the will.  Those acts are morally praiseworthy that are done out of a sense of duty rather than for the consequences that are expected, particularly the consequences to self.  The only thing GOOD about the act is the WILL, the GOOD WILL.  That will is to do our DUTY.  What is our duty?  It is our duty to act in such a manner that we would want everyone else to act in a similar manner in similar circumstances towards all other people.

Kant expressed this as the Categorical Imperative. 

Act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were a universal law. 

For Kant the GOOD involves the Principle of Universalizability!  

Kant argues that there can be four formulations of this principle:

The Formula of the Law of Nature: "Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature."

The Formula of the End 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."

The Formula of Autonomy: "So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims."

The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends: "So act as if you were through your maxims a law-making member of a kingdom of ends." 

Never treat a person as a means to an end.

Persons are always ends in themselves.  We must never use or exploit anyone for whatever purpose. 

Kant in his Critique of Practical Reason wanted to find a basis for ethics that would be based on reason and not on a faith in a god or in some cold calculation of utility that might permit people to be used for the benefit of the majority.  Kant thought carefully about what it is that all humans would find reasonable as a guide for human conduct.  People think it wrong to kill, lie, steal, and break promises.  Why is this so.  Kant arrives at the idea that humans think these acts wrong because they cannot will that others would do these things because it would mean the end of civilized life, perhaps even the life of the actor contemplating the right way to behave.  One can not will that people lie all the time for that would mean the end to human communications if we could not trust what was said to be true most, if not all, of the time.  Kant thought that there would be perfect and imperfect duties. 

Perfect Duty is that which we are all obliged to do all of the time. 

e.g., no killing, no physically harming others, no lies, no theft, no breaking promises 

Imperfect Duties are those which we should do as often as possible but can not be expected to do always.         e.g., be charitable, loving,

COMPLETE OVERVIEW of KANT and the ETHICS of DUTY

Categorical Imperative Catholic Encyclopedia  http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03432a.htm

On Probabilities of Determining Maxims of Volition:
 
Moral Responsibility in Applying the Categorical Imperative
 
by David R. Jenkins 

http://home.earthlink.net/~dave_jenkins/kant/dj_ci.html 

Glossary of Kant’s terms

http://www.hkbu.edu.hk/~ppp/ksp1/KSPglos.html 

The Categorical Imperative is NOT the Golden Rule

Kant’s Deontology is presented in his  Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals

Kant in his Critique of Practical Reason wanted to find a basis for ethics that would be based on reason and not on a faith in a god or in some cold calculation of utility that might permit people to be used for the benefit of the majority.  Kant thought carefully about what it is that all humans would find reasonable as a guide for human conduct.  People think it wrong to kill, lie, steal, and break promises.  Why is this so.  Kant arrives at the idea that humans think these acts wrong because they cannot will that others would do these things because it would mean the end of civilized life, perhaps even the life of the actor contemplating the right way to behave.  One can not will that people lie all the time for that would mean the end to human communications if we could not trust what was said to be true most, if not all, of the time.  Kant thought that there would be perfect and imperfect duties. 

Perfect Duty is that which we are all obliged to do all of the time. 

e.g., no killing, no physically harming others, no lies, no theft, no breaking promises 

Imperfect Duties are those which we should do as often as possible but can not be expected to do always.         e.g., be charitable, loving,

COMPLETE OVERVIEW of KANT and the ETHICS of DUTY

READ: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Immanuel_Kant#Moral_philosophy

READ: http://ethics.sandiego.edu/theories/Kant/index.asp

Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

 http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/k/kantmeta.htm#Kant's%20Ethics

  http://www.iep.utm.edu/k/kantmeta.htm#H8

: http://www.philosophypages.com/hy/5i.htm

The Categorical Imperative in the Twentieth Century

Categorical Imperative

Catholic Encyclopedia

http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/03432a.htm

The Categorical Imperative is NOT the Golden Rule

With the Golden rule you are to:   Act as you would have others act towards you. 

The Golden Rule Around the World

The same essential golden rule has been taught by all the major religions (and philosophies) of the world going back approximately 3500 years.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------

HINDUISM (Vedic religion from c. 13th century BC)

Do not to others what ye do not wish done to yourself...

--This is the whole Dharma, heed it well.

The Mahabarata, cited in Das, 1955, p. 398.

ZOROASTRIANISM (c. 12th century BC)

Human nature is good only when it does not do unto another whatever is not good for its own self.

Dadistan-i-Dinik, 94:5; in Müller, chapter 94, vol 18, 1882, p. 269.

BUDDHISM (c. 6th century BC)

Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.

   Udanavargu, 5:18, Tibetan Dhammapada, 1983.

JUDAISM (c. 10th? century BC)

What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor; that is the entire Torah; the rest is commentary; go learn it.

Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat 31a, as cited in Glatzer, 1969, p. 197.

JAINISM (c. 6th century BC)

In happiness and suffering, in joy and grief,

regard all creatures as you would regard your own self.

Yoga-Sastra, cited in Bull, 1969, p. 92.

CHRISTIANITY (c. 1st century AD)

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.

Luke 6:13

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you.    Matthew 7:12

CONFUCIANISM (c. 6th century BC)

     Do not do to others what you do not want done to yourself.

Confucius, Analects, 15:23, 6:28; Mahabharara, 5:1517,

in Confucius, The Analects, 1992.

ISLAM (c. 7th century AD)

No one of you is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself.

The Sunnah (from the Hadith), publ. 1975.

SIKHISM (c. 15th century AD)

Be not estranged from another for, in every heart, Pervades the Lord.

Sri Guru Granth Sahib, in Singh (trans.) 1963, p. 250.

 

Gregory IX to French bishops concerning the attitude of Christians towards the Jews:

"Est autem Judćis a Christianis exhibenda benignitas, quam Christianis in Paganismo existentibus cupimus exhiberi"

(Christians must show towards Jews the same good will which we desire to be shown to Christians in pagan lands)

In a Brief dated 6 April, 1233

BAHÁ'Í (c. 19th century AD)

Ascribe not to any soul that which thou wouldst not have ascribed to thee, and say not that which thou doest not. This is my command unto thee, do thou observe it.

     Bahá'u'lláh, The Hidden Words, Arabic 29

 

Why should willingness to be on the receiving end of like action make it permissible? If masochists are willing to suffer others' sadism, would that make sadism right? More generally, can acceptance of being on the receiving end of like action legitimate anything?

Kant's improvement on the golden rule, the Categorical Imperative:

Act as you would want all other people to act towards all other people.

Act according to the maxim that you would wish all other rational people to follow, as if it were a universal law.  

The difference is this.  With the Golden rule a masochist or a sadist would be justified in causing or receiving pain.  This is not what the Kantian Principle would support. 

From Don Berkich:

" Some  make the mistake of thinking that the First Formulation of the Categorical Imperative is but a badly worded version of the Biblical "Golden Rule"--Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Nothing could be further from the truth.

The Golden Rule, as Kant well knew, is a deeply misguided ethical principle. To see this, consider the following somewhat salacious example.

The Horny Martin Example

 

 

 

 
Suppose that Martin is 20 year-old college student. Suppose further that Martin has never been out on a date. The woman of his dreams finally agrees to go out with him. So Martin gets all dressed up and takes her out to a nice dinner, after which they drive up to Lookout Point. And...

 

 
Martin does unto others as he would have done unto himself,

 
with disastrous consequences.

Because the same result cannot be obtained by application of the Categorical Imperative, it follows that the Golden Rule and the Categorical Imperative are not extensionally equivalent. "

The Categorical Imperative is NOT the Golden Rule

Glossary of Kant’s terms

http://www.hkbu.edu.hk/~ppp/ksp1/KSPglos.html 

PROBLEMS WITH KANT”S THEORY  

1. The theory applies only to rational agents.  It would not apply to non-humans or to humans who are not rational, e.g., humans with brain malfunctioning, illness or persistent vegetative coma.  

2. The theory cannot resolve conflicts between duties:

a.     between two perfect duties

b.     between a perfect duty and an imperfect duty  

How would a person resolve a conflict between two perfect duties such as never tell a lie and avoid harming someone?  What if telling the truth were to harm someone?

How would you resolve the conflict between the perfect duty, say to keep a promise to pick your friend up with you auto at a certain time, and an imperfect duty, say to stop on the way to pick up your friend in order to give CPR to someone, a stranger, and save that stranger’s life? 

3. A clever person could phrase the maxim to be universalized in such a manner as to permit almost anything.  By placing qualifiers on the maxim or peculiar definitions on terms a clever actor could satisfy the categorical imperative and yet be acting in a manner otherwise not consistent with it. 

What if someone were to promise to be faithful to his mate and not have sex with another woman.  Then that person engages in oral and anal forms of physical interaction leading to orgasm and yet thinks that the promise was not broken because the meaning of “sex” did not include those forms of interaction.

Kant links    http://comp.uark.edu/~rlee/semiau96/kantlink.html

·         Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals  www.stolaf.edu/people/huff/classes/GoodnEvil/Readings/kantgw.pdf

·         http://web.archive.org/web/20000306100558/http://www.siu.edu/~philos/faculty/Manfredi/intro/kantianism.html

·       Kant at Faith.net  http://pirate.shu.edu/~mckenndo/ethics-Kant-A%20Christian%20View.htm

·         The Ethics of Duty http://web.archive.org/web/20010605011422/http://ethics.acusd.edu/e2/ChapterSix.html

·         What is the best way to live? –Kant http://web.archive.org/web/19981207054759/http://web.mit.edu/wedgwood/www/bwl-kant-1.html

·         What is the best way to live? Kant http://web.archive.org/web/19990129074144/http://web.mit.edu/wedgwood/www/bwl-kant-2.html

·         A Critique of the Kantian Ethics  http://home.sprynet.com/~owl1/kant1.htm

·         Critique of Kant  http://web.archive.org/web/19990204011933/http://www.abdn.ac.uk/~src068/artikel.html/andreas.html

·         Kant, Immanuel: The Critique of Practical Reason  http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/kant/critique-practical-reason.pdf

·         Kant, Immanuel: The Critique of Pure Reason  http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/kant/critique-pure-reason6x9.pdf

·         Kant, Immanuel: Fundamental Principles  http://www2.hn.psu.edu/faculty/jmanis/kant/Metaphysic-Morals.pdf

IEP Duties and Deontology -http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/d/duties.htm
Categorical Imperative -http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/c/catimper.htm
German Idealism -http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/g/germidea.htm
Kant, Immanuel -- Metaphysics -http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/k/kantmeta.htm
A Priori http://www.utm.edu/research/iep/a/apriori.htm
The Ethics of Duty: Immanuel Kant heinmann's chapter on Kant -http://ethics.acusd.edu/e2/ChapterSix.html
Kant VPhilosophy 433, History of Ethics by Darwall, Winter 1998
-http://www-personal.umich.edu/~sdarwall/433k598.txt
A Critique of the Kantian Ethics by Michael Huemer Spring, 1993 -http://www.rci.rutgers.edu/~owl/kant1.html
. Critique of Kant in Schopenhauer's Thesis: On the Basis of Morality Copyright © 1996 Andreas Wißmiller
-http://www.abdn.ac.uk/~src068/artikel.html/andreas.html#critique

VIDEOS:  http://ethics.sandiego.edu/video/catalogue/kant.asp

There are other theories.  We shall move on to examine them.

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