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A) Kant maintains that if an action is in accordance with duty, then that action has real moral worth. B) Kant further maintains that, giving to the needy is an action in accordance with duty. C) Therefore, according to Kant, the act of giving to the poor has real moral worth. 2. Part 1: Kant distinguishes between hypothetical and categorical imperatives. Explain this distinction and why Kant claims that moral obligation must be based upon a categorical imperative. Part 2: Kant gives us the “Universal Law Formulation of the Categorical Imperative” (FUL) and tells us that its application demonstrates that choosing to make lying promises and choosing not to be benevolent (e.g. giving to the needy) results in a contradiction. Explain what FUL is, and how its application shows that choosing to make lying promises and choosing not to be benevolent leads to a contradiction.
Answers: 1. Recall that there is a twofold criteria for an argument to be sound: It must be valid, and its premises must be true. In this argument premise A makes a false statement. Kant recognizes that there are actions in accordance with duty that have no moral worth. We saw two such examples in our second and third philanthropists (The shopkeeper and the sympathetic neighbor). 2. Part 1: Kant recognizes that as imperfect beings, (as opposed to a perfect rational being) we are the types of agents that are subject to imperatives. Imperatives are commands or “ought” statements. They are the legislative practice of the will of an imperfect rational agent. Unlike a perfect rational agent, i.e. a being with an absolutely holy will (viz. God) we do not we do not always necessarily do what is morally right. Thus arises our need for imperatives to legislate our actions. (Now we distinguish between hypothetical and categorical imperatives. First, we work on defining hypothetical imperatives) After noting that we are subject to imperatives, Kant distinguishes between two types of imperatives: hypothetical and categorical imperatives. Hypothetical imperatives state that an action is to be done for some other purpose, i.e. as a means to an end. Thus, hypothetical imperatives usually take the following form: “If you wish to accomplish X then you must do Y.” One can fill in the values of X and Y with all sorts of things. For example, “If I wish to purchase a car, then I ought to save some money.” Something obvious, and yet very important to Kant’s project is to note that all such imperatives are not universally applicable. Notice that the “ought” part of the statement is linked to what is expressed in the antecedent: “If you want a car, then you must save your money.” Because the antecedents in such statements are based on transient desires, the imperatives contained in the consequents are not universally required of people—not everyone wants to buy a car. Thus, such imperatives (indeed, all hypothetical imperatives) are conditional, and therefore not universally applicable. (Now we work on getting clear about categorical imperatives). Kant contrasts hypothetical imperatives with “categorical imperatives.” Categorical imperatives state that an action is good and ought to be done without reference to any other purpose. Therefore, unlike hypothetical imperatives, categorical imperatives are not commanded as a means to accomplishing some other end. Further, unlike hypothetical imperatives, which are subject to transient desires, categorical imperatives do not allow a person to ignore them at her own liking. Categorical imperatives are necessary, unconditional, and universal. As such, they are applicable to all people at all times. (Now we apply the distinction we just made) Kant holds that the reason that morality, if it is to be grounded at all, cannot be grounded in hypothetical imperatives. For, hypothetical imperatives are applicable or “binding” based on contingencies. Those contingencies rest in the various things that people desire and the ends that they pursue. Therefore, hypothetical imperatives are only contextually relevant, and therefore have nothing to say to a great many people. Thus, various hypothetical imperatives are going to be applicable in various contexts, and just plain irrelevant in others. But moral commands, by their very nature, must be universal. So, if moral principles are to be grounded in something, they cannot be grounded in something contingent (like hypothetical imperatives). Any attempt to ground morality in contingencies
will make moral obligation impossible. Obligation must transcend context, and hold in all situations, i.e. it must hold categorically. Only a categorical imperative will meet this requirement. (And that ought to pretty much take care of part 1. Now we move on to part 2.) Part 2. After showing that morality must be based on a categorical imperative, Kant proceeds to give his first formulation of what he considers to be the supreme principle of morality. This is Kant’s Formulation of Universal Law or the categorical imperative, otherwise known as FUL. FUL states: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (Now we’ve stated FUL. Next we go on to put it to work.) Kant believes that the application of FUL will yield the requisite conditions for adjudicating moral disputes. For example, consider the question of whether one is morally permitted to make deceitful promises. Kant realizes that our intuitions say “no,” but he wants to go further and actually show you how prohibitions against lying are grounded in reason. Thus, we turn to the question: May I make a deceitful promise to escape from difficulty? START AGAIN HERE!!!!!!!!! Again, FUL tells us that we are to act according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. So, let’s see what this looks like. Universalization: (U) It is a universal law of nature that everyone in need of money borrows money and promises to repay the loan, knowing he shall never do so. My Maxim: (M) “When I believe myself to be in need of money, I will borrow money and promise to pay it back although I know I shall never do so.” (398) Can I will (M) and (U) at the same time? NO! Willing such a maxim would lead to a contradiction. Contradiction: such a universal law “would make the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it thereby impossible; no one would believe what was promised him…” (398). You see, it is impossible to rationally will such a maxim that allows for deceitful promises, because once one conceives of the maxim as a universal law, the very notion of promising becomes incoherent and impossible. Here we end up with what is called a “Contradiction in Conception” You see, if the very concept of promising is to hold meaning, it could not possibly be a universal law that EVERYONE always makes “promises” with the intent of not keeping them.
You might recognize that what is going on here is similar to asking “What if everyone did that?” Or the command: “Do unto others… as you would have them do unto you.” But this is NOT the same as saying: “Would I like the consequences if I did…” Nor “Would I like the consequences if everyone…” (These are psychological appeals) Rather, “Is it possible to will that everyone…” (This is a rational appeal) A GOOD WILL is a will whose principle is always to act only upon universalizable maxims. (Regardless of any other inclinations for or against.)
Now we consider whether or not one has any obligation to be benevolent at all toward other people. So, we consider the case of non-benevolence. Non-benevolence: Universalization: (U) It is a universal law of nature that people never contribute anything to others in need. My maxim: (unspecified) (M) When others are in need, I will contribute nothing to them. Can I will (M) and (U) at the same time? Contradiction: “It is impossible to will that such a principle [(U)] should hold everywhere as a law of nature. For a will which resolved this would contradict itself, since instances can often arise in which one would need…and in which he would have robbed himself, by such a law of nature…of all hope of aid.” (398) Here we have what has come to be called a contradiction in will. What Kant is pointing out is that any maxim that, when universalized makes it a law of nature that people contribute nothing to each others’ needs will result in a contradiction. And this contradiction is a contradiction in will. It is a contradiction in which the will stands at odds with itself.
On the one hand, one is willing that all persons not contribute to helping each other. But, the very will that wills this resides in a person who will be ill affected by it. For, this person too may perhaps be in need at some time, and would be willing that they themselves not be assisted in their need. But clearly persons in need do wish to be assisted by others.
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