Kant Deontology: ethical systems that are based on duties or obligations are deontological systems Deontology involves the

denial of consequentialism: the consequences of an action have nothing to do with its moral relevance. Instead, it is the motive underlying an action that matters; the motive must be that the action is done with regard to duty. [A] A good will and the concept of duty The will, for Kant, is the ability to act in accordance with a law. Our actions do not always result in the outcomes we’d like them to result in, so our actions can only be good if circumstances co-operate. This is why Kant says that only a good will can be “considered good without limitations” – we can control our will and so act in accordance with a moral law (when we do, our will is good). All other things that we normally call good (e.g. understanding, wit, judgment, power, riches, honor) are only good if they are accompanied by a good will. If they are not accompanied by a good will, all of these things can be used for bad ends (goals). Because of this, Kant says that “a good will seems to constitute the indispensable condition even of worthiness to be happy” (p. 354). A good will is not good because of what it attains or accomplishes, but because of what it is. Even if, due to circumstances beyond our control, we are not able to act on our will, a good will “like a jewel…would still shine by itself, as something that has its full worth in itself” (p. 355). Kant says that we can understand more about the meaning of “a good will” if we understand the concept of duty. - actions in accordance with duty (can be self-seeking) - VS - actions motivated by duty We have to do the right thing for the right reason (and the right reason is that it is the right thing to do…). Note that Mill explicitly denies this (drowning man example). [C] The categorical imperative Imperatives can be either hypothetical or categorical - A hypothetical imperative is only necessary if you want to achieve a certain end (e.g. if you want to do well, you have to study) - A categorical imperative “represent[s] an action as objectively necessary of itself, without reference to another end” (p. 359). Kant says that there is one (and only one) categorical imperative (though Kant gives several versions of it):

Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. (Formulation 1) Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature. (Formulation 2) It is our duty to follow the categorical imperative But following the categorical imperative is a pretty abstract command, so Kant follows with some examples of specific duties that are required by the categorical imperative 1. 2. 3. 4. suicide example promise-keeping example example of developing your talents example of helping those in need

He says that the first two examples are examples of “perfect duties” – they specify things that we should not do. Note that Kant says that we can’t because if we willed each of those acts to become universal laws, we would be willing something impossible. For example, if we could will that everyone broke their promises when it suited them, then the idea of making promises would make not make sense any longer. The second two examples are examples of imperfect duties. These duties are duties to do something, and are less clear-cut than the prohibitions given in imperfect duties. We may want to develop our talents, but it’s not entirely clear how best to go about that. Also, there may be limits to our imperfect duties; we have an imperfect duty to assist others in need, but this doesn’t mean that we always and constantly have to do so. [C] The third formulation The third formulation of the categorical imperative seems to be very different from the other two: So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means. (p. 362). For Kant, the fact that human beings are rational creatures is very important. He says that: “Everything in nature works in accordance with laws. Only a rational being has the capacity to act in accordance with the representation of laws – that is, in accordance with principles – or has a will” (p. 359). Because we’re rational, we can be aware of the laws that we follow and, in the case of moral laws, choose whether or not to follow them. But because human beings are rational, we have moral duties toward them. Only rational beings can be “ends in themselves.” We can use, for example, inanimate objects, or living things that aren’t as means to an end – I can break eggs in order to make an omelet, or cut down trees in order to build a house. But we can’t use people (only) as means to an end…we have to treat them as beings that have their own moral worth.

Kant conclude by going through the same four examples, above, and showing how this formulation of the categorical imperative applies to them. Study questions 1. What is deontology? 2. How is deontology different from consequentialism? 3. Why does Kant say that a good will is the only thing that is “good without limit”? 4. Explain the difference between actions that are motivated by duty and those that are simply in accord with duty. 5. What is the difference between a hypothetical imperative and a categorical imperative? 6. What is Kant’s categorical imperative (either the first or the second formulation)? 7. What is a perfect duty? Give an example. 8. What is an imperfect duty? Give an example. 9. What is the third formulation of the categorical imperative? 10. What does it mean to treat someone as means to an end?

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