Kant's Ethics of Duty and Freedom

Immanuel Kant told the world about his thoughts in the field of moral philosophy with his three well-known works: Groundwork of metaphysic morals, Metaphysics of morals and Critique of practical reason (Höffe, 1994). Some of the major critiques he had on the previous ethical theories can be summed up in two major points. Firstly, he had objections over the non-universality of pervious ethical theories and secondly his opposition was on their teleological nature. He was of the view that ethics is something that is supposed to be universal and can be applied into to all situations. That morality does not exist that which changes from every situation to situation and person to person. Moreover, he thought that there is no right way of doing a wrong thing as advocated by the teleological theories of that time. He was of the view that if an action is immoral then it is immoral; no matter whatever the consequences are (Kant, 2005).

His ethical theories also had two very important concepts of “autonomy” and “heteronomy”. According to Kant, Autonomy is complete freedom and freewill of making ethical decisions (Höffe, 1994). More importantly, autonomous decisions are independent of any external stimulus, variables or pressure and they are truly intrinsic. However, heteronomy is the opposite of autonomy, where an individual is motivated by external factors and is not self-driven in making his decisions.

Immanuel Kant also came up with the concepts of “Categorical imperative” and “hypothetical imperative” (Kant, 2005). His concept of categorical imperative is based on his basic assumption that humans are rational and are free to make rational choices. There human beings have the ability to rationalize their actions and check, whether it is consistent with the categorical imperative. The principle of categorical imperative of Kant revolves around his three maxims. The first one states, “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant, Pluhar & Kitcher, 1996). Immanuel Kant says in his second maxim that “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end” (Kant, Pluhar & Kitcher, 1996). He also adds in the form of his third maxim that “Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends” (Kant, Pluhar & Kitcher, 1996). For example, if an employee is considering that lying in front of his boss. Although lying in that particular situation would not do much damage and will save his job as well but with the principle of categorical imperative it would be important to consider the fact that would lying be the best option in every situation for every one? Moreover, would he ethically recommend lying as universal approach? Lastly, he would consider that would he lie even if he neglects the ends and considers the act as an end in itself (Kant, 2005).

Quite understandably, all the above-mentioned maxims of Kant’s theory are intrinsic and internal and while making a categorical imperative ethical decision, an individual does not face any external pressures. Therefore, the ethical theory of Kant goes with autonomy, free will, self-driven and self-motivated part. Moreover, all these maxims of categorical imperative are questions that one would ask from his self while getting into a rational process for deciding the status of his actions as immoral or moral. Therefore, for Kant ethical decisions are based on autonomy and one’s personal thoughts and rational.

At the end of this paper, I would like to state that I disagree to Kant’s ethical theory and this disagreement is mainly based on its deontological nature. Deontological ethical theories believe that “ends never justify means” and an ideal ethical theory should be universal in nature. In adherence to this ethical theory, killing people for self-defense is unethical since killing is unethical. In this complicated world, the ethicalness of any action should be based on its consequences because different actions in different situations lead to different consequences. There just cannot be a universal ethical theory. Various philosophers like Jeremy Bentham, John Stuart Mill, Henry Sidgwick and Peter Singer hold the same opinions.

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