Catagorical Imperative The only acceptable motive for a moral action is that it should be done as a sense of moral duty. Is this a justifiable claim? Before it is possible to analyse whether the statement, The only acceptable motive for a moral action is that it should be done as a sense of moral duty, is a justifiable claim we must consider what ones moral duty is and if is it dependant or independent on the consequence of its action? For example we could state ones moral duty is never to lie. It is popularly believed that to lie is detrimental to ones own reputation and often causes emotional and social damage. But what if this principal causes damage itself. Truth telling for a negative means can be just as harmful.
Imagine you are told by a person fleeing from a murderer that he is going home to hide. Successively you are approached by the murderer demanding to know where that man went. Your moral duty would then oblige you to inform the murderer despite the possible fatal consequence. When studying the diverse issue of duty it is necessary to look at the view of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who stated, Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me. Kant understood the word ought to be generally used in non-moral way. For example, if you want to be better at school, you ought to study hard.
The inclination of the ought implies that studying would be the correct moral path to take. However Kant stated that this is only relevant to the individuals desire to be better at school. Those who do not wish to do well at school need not study hard. Therefore it is a Hypothetical Imperative and the use of the word ought makes moral actions not universal. A hypothetical good act depends on the desire for a result teleogically rather than something good in itself.
From Kants perspective, morality had little to do with fulfilling ones desire for happiness, but was more to do with duty. He believed that to do ones duty was to follow a set of universal moral laws. As in the case of the murderer, it was ones duty to inform him where the victim was hiding. Kants views are referred to as The Categorical Imperative. This was an injunction, to be obeyed as a moral duty, regardless of an individuals impulse and self-interest.
However what if an individuals impulse was to give to charity, would Kant condemn them because it wasnt out of a sense of duty? This would be an unfair judgement as the person was doing good. In fact according to Kant their act would be immoral independent of the consequence. But perhaps if they also had the sense of duty and would give to charity even if they were unwilling they would be morally coherent. The rules by which the Categorical Imperative is constructed upon could be considered as Gods unconditional commands. They dont appeal to theological or even teleological considerations but adhere with a deontological argument from reason and rationality. The moral duties are followed because they are ends in themselves rather than some other ends.
Kant did appreciate the fact that humans have desires as they are not wholly rational. However the ability to reason can make them strive to follow their duty rather than impulse. However this doesnt mean ones inclination is necessarily wrong, only that it cannot determine their moral duty. In the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant argued that to be moral one must follow absolute rules. In this there can be no exceptions despite the consequence, as he stated that the only thing that is good without qualification is good will. Therefore one must act as if the maxim of their action was to become a universal law.
This is known as the Formula of Universal Law. Basically it is saying whatever moral decision you make you should be able to consider if it would be possible for everyone else to do the same, would it make rational sense? For if an act of good is universalised and then becomes contradictory then it is no longer morally valuable. The example given in the book Moral Problems was: Another finds himself driven to borrowing money because of need. He well knows that he will not be able to pay it back; but he sees to that he will get no loan unless he gives a firm promise to pay it back within a fixed time. He is inclined to make such a promise; but he has still enough conscience to ask, It is not unlawful and contradictory to duty to get out of difficulties in this way? Supposing, however, he did resolve to do so, the maxim of his action would be: Whenever I believe myself to be short of money, I will borrow money and promise to pay it back, though I know that this will never be done. Now this principal of self-love or personal advantage is perhaps quite compatible with my own entire future welfare; only there remains the question, Is it right? I therefore transform the demand of self-love into a universal law and frame my question thus: How would things stand if my maxim became a universal law? I then see straight away that this maxim can never rank as a universal law of nature and be self-consistent, but must necessarily contradict itself. For the universality of a law that everyone believing himself to be in need can make any promise he please with this intention not to keep it would make promising, and the very purpose of promising, itself impossible, since no one would believe he was being promised anything, but would laugh at utterance of this kind as empty shame.
However if an action when universalised is logical then it is ones duty to abide. These type of maxims are generally found in the Ten Commandments, for example, do not lie do not steal, etc. It is reasonable to apply these rules to everyone. Whilst not proving his belief directly, it is supported by numerous examples and is treated as something understood as being intrinsically morally valuable. It will therefore cause all other actions, which are regarded as good to be under the category of good will. He defines this statement with further examples that include the notion of moral worth of the good will is unaffected by its ability.
For example, a will that is good and accomplishes many good deeds is no better than one that is powerless in achieving its aims. Again, Kant doesnt support this statement but merely appreciates it as if it were fact through definition. It is therefore hard to dispute or argue against, since any man has the right to use his own words to name his own thoughts. Also, it would seem unfair for me to argue epistemologically with a translation of someones work from another language. As stated in the title of this essay Kant believed the first proposition of morality is that an action must be done from duty in order to have any moral worth. This is also to say that an action has no moral worth if done because of inclination even if the outcome of the action corresponds with duty, or with a good will.
Restated, he is saying that a persons maxim for an action has no moral content unless an action is done from duty. This perplexed to me as incorrect and so I decided to break his argument down and analyse it against what I believe contains moral worth. To all actions there can be two distinguishable characteristics. First, an action is either done from duty, or against duty. And secondly, an action is either done because of inclination, or despite the inclination.
Through permutation, there immediately appear to be four distinct kinds of action: 1. An action done against duty and ones inclination 2. An action done against duty because of ones inclination 3. An action done from duty because of ones inclination 4. An action done from duty despite ones inclination.
Through Kants beliefs he would reject the first two as morally wrong, which is agreeable as long as duty is defined, but he has done something curious with the latter two. He repeatedly exemplifies the fourth one as the model of a morally valuable action, but he considers all instance of the third one as not morally valuable because of his first proposition of morality- that the maxim of an action done from inclination has no moral value. Therefore the person how acts out pure rationality in following duty is morally good, whether or not the consequence of the action is. I must object to the reasoning of his analysis of the last two statements. How can a person be moral correct by following their duty if their will tells them otherwise? Surely they are being forced into something they dont appreciate. Being good to them is a task and therefore only the consequence of the action is good rather than the motive.
Surely one who strives for good out of inclination would have more of a sense of morality? One of the first things Kant considered as a duty was that we should never lie. However as I have already shown in the murderer example, sometimes truth telling can be just as harmful as lying. However Kant believed th …