Clarify the key features of a deontological theory of ethics (categorical imperative). To what extent if any do the weaknesses outweigh the strengths? Free essay! Download now
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Clarify the key features of a deontological theory of ethics (categorical imperative). To what extent if any do the weaknesses outweigh the strengths?
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DescriptionBasis of catagorical imperatives inclusing strengths and overall conclusion.
The categorical imperative, like all other deontological theories, is concerned with actions and not the consequences of an act; therefore if an act is deemed wrong, then it is wrong in all circumstances. This approach differs to teleological theories e.g. utilitarianism, which look at the consequences of an action to see its moral value; exactly what Kant was acting against.
Moral statements are categorical (absolute) as they prescribe actions irrespective of the result. The categorical imperative, derived from Kant, helps to show which acts are compulsory and which acts are forbidden. Kant stated that it was prescribed, so it would tell us what moral behaviour entailed.
Kant identified the difference between a categorical imperative and a hypothetical imperative. A hypothetical imperative does not prescribe or demand any action and is conditional. E.g. ‘if I want something then I must do what needs to be done in order to make it happen.’ For Kant, moral imperatives being categorical meant that there were no references to desires or needs. He also said that hypothetical imperative’s compelled an action under a particular circumstance, something humans ‘might do’ whereas the categorical imperative devotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that exerts its authority in all circumstances and is both required and justified as an end in itself.
The categorical imperative consists of three principles which are, universal law, treating humans as ends to themselves, and acting as if you live in the kingdom of ends. The principle of universal moral law in the categorical imperative is that moral laws must be applied in all situations; therefore if an action is right for one person then it is right for all people and vice versa. Kant said, ‘for an act to be morally valid, the agent (or person performing the act) must not carry out the action unless he believes that, in the same situation, all people should act in the same way.’ He said that to allow exceptions would affect society. He used the explanation of telling lies, where although they may be effective in getting us out of troubles, the lie will always hurt someone. This could be either the liar or mankind as the universal moral law would be violated. He said that if everyone acted in this way, society would be in a bad state.
Kant’s second principle was, ‘so act that you treat humanity, both in your own person and in the person of every other human being.’ So, you can’t treat people as a means to an en. Humans are rational and are the highest point of creation, therefore they demand unique treatment. He added that humans could not be exploited or enslaved by each other. He said that there could never be any use of individuals for the sake of many people. In the case of utilitarianism this would be acceptable, by sacrificing a few for the greater good of many.
The final principle is, ‘act as if you were through your maxim, a law-making member of the kingdom of ends.’ Kant stated that people couldn’t act on rule that assumed others do not treat people as ends. For example the rule ‘I lie so others may lie,’ would not be permissible, as if rules like this were engaged then society would become intolerable.
Kant also mentioned the importance of duty. He said that an imperfect duty was an act derived only by maxims that humans desire to be universalized, and imperfect duty he concluded, was not as strong as a prefect duty, but still however morally binding. A perfect duty is where humans do not act by maxims, which would otherwise result in logical contradictions when attempted to be universalized.
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