Monday, June 28, 2010

Categorical Imperative

(Unconditional necessity)- Your action must not only be good, it ought to right. 

  • The central philosophical concept in the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant
  • Introduced in Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals,
  • A way of evaluating motivations for action.
  • According to Kant, human beings occupy a special place in creation, and morality can be summed up in one ultimate commandment of reason, or imperative, from which all duties and obligations derive. He defined an imperative as any proposition that declares a certain action (or inaction) to be necessary.

1)  A hypothetical imperative compels action in a given circumstance: if I wish to satisfy my thirst, I must drink something.
2)  A categorical imperative, on the other hand, denotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that asserts its authority in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end in itself. It is best known in its first formulation:
"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
3)  A Utilitarianism  - idea that moral worth of an  is determined by its outcome. E.g. Killing one to save ten is a good action. It Concerns with maximizing greatest good for the greatest number of people.

Hypothetical- based on Subjective Considerations
Categorical- Objective and Universal

  • Kant argued, hypothetical moral systems cannot persuade moral action or be regarded as bases for moral judgments against others, because the imperatives on which they are based rely too heavily on subjective considerations.
  • He presented a deontological moral system (approach to ethics that judges the morality of an action based on the action's adherence to a rule or rules), based on the demands of the categorical imperative, as an alternative.

Nature of the concept

The concept of the categorical imperative is a syllogism- logical appeal is a kind of logical argument in which one proposition (the conclusion) is inferred from two others (the premises) of a certain form.
1)      The first premise is that a person acts morally if his or her conduct would, without condition, be the "right" conduct for any person in similar circumstances. It should involve no contradictions. (The "First Maxim").  It means, your action should be a universal law.  “When you do something, you must make sure that you want everybody else to do the same if they are in the same situation.”

2)      The second premise is that conduct is "right" if it treats others as ends in themselves and not as means to an end (the "Second Maxim").  – “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.”

-          We must not exploit other people to our own advantage or to achieve something. (Above case). Because every man is an end in himself. Also, you must not exploit yourself as a mere means to achieve something.

3)      The conclusion is that a person acts morally when he or she acts as if his or her conduct was establishing a universal law governing others in similar circumstances (the "Third Maxim").
-          Your action should show if you were a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends. As if you are making a law of conduct.
-          We ought to act only by maxims that would harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends. You ought to act in such a way that the forthcoming actions emulate the same action of yours.

Distinction between Right and Good
-          Kant, in the moral philosophy of Categorical Imperative, argued that your actions mustn’t only be good; they ought to be right action.
-          You doing good action means only enriching yourself but you doing right action means you are helping out the world.
-          Kant considered the 'right' superior to the 'good'; to him, the 'good' was morally irrelevant.
-           In Kant's view, a person cannot decide whether conduct is 'right,' or moral, through empirical means. Such judgments must be reached a priori, using pure practical reason.
-          That is to say human as a rational being cannot decide right or wrong through any type of inclination (senses, impulses, stimulus, logics etc.). But they are determined by pure will and pure conscience that are inherent to all humans.
-          The ability to distinguish between right and wrong is inherent in human reason. Everybody knows what is wrong and right, not because we have learned it but because it is born in the mind.
-          According to Kant, everybody has “practical reason” that is the ‘intelligence’ that gives us the capacity to discern what is right and what is wrong in every case.  


Moral duty
Categorical Imperative applies that you shouldn’t do a job or chose an action because ethics says so or you actions are immensely based on ethical grounds but is should be your moral duty to perform it. Your performance should always be your moral duty not only your duty.  So, here, Kant also reduces ethics to duty.

-          Kant's categorical imperative implies that what is right for one is right for all: “Act only that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
-          Categorical Imperative applies to all people in all societies at all times.

Kant means that the moral law is ‘categorical’ or that it applies to all situations. It is, moreover, ‘imperative,’ which means it is commanding and therefore absolutely authoritative

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