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Kant3 What was Kant’s point about moral worth?

RESPECT for the moral law is the good will’s motive and the basis of moral worth (Not utility, self-interest, pleasure, etc.) Duty is the necessity of an action executed FROM RESPECT FOR LAW. (391) (The above is the last bit needed to finish up answering number 4 of test questions.) Imperatives: Imperfect rational beings (us) are subject to imperatives/ought statements. Hypothetical Imperative (396): Says an action ought to be done for some purpose (as a means to an end) HI’s take the following form: “If you wish to accomplish X then you must do Y.” e.g. “If you want to buy a car, then you must save your money.” These are imperatives that are not universally applicable. The ends they aim at are not universally required of people—not everyone wants to buy a car. 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.” So, the imperative is conditional, and therefore not universally applicable. Contrasted with: Categorical Imperative: Says an action is good and ought to be done: Without reference to any other purpose, Not as a means to another end. e.g. “You ought not to make a deceitful promise.” (392) Does not allow the person to choose the opposite at her own liking, (as do HI’s). CI’s are necessary, unconditional, and universal. Moral obligation must be based upon a categorical imperative.

Notice then, why Kant realizes that morality, if it is to be grounded at all, cannot be grounded in hypothetical imperatives. 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. So, take another hypothetical imperative, “If you want this job, then you need to wear a tie.” Notice that the parts of the conditional statement that makes up the imperative are only contextually relevant, and therefore have nothing to say to a great many people. After all, it is not necessarily true, nor even actually true that everyone wants to buy a car or get a job. So, neither will the means of attaining those things be incumbent on all people. You see, various hypothetical imperatives are going to be applicable in various contexts, and just plain irrelevant in others. You see, Kant regards moral principles by their very nature as being universal in nature. So, if moral principles are to be grounded in something, they cannot be grounded in something contingent (like hypothetical imperatives). If they were, then there could be no such thing as obligation. (So, if morality is to be grounded at all, it must be grounded in Categorical imperatives….imperatives that are not merely contextually based, but rather hold in all situations.) Kant now goes on to give his first formulation of what he considers to be the supreme principle of morality, or what has come to be called FUL. FUL: The Universal Law Formulation of the Categorical Imperative: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (397) So, let’s put FUL to work and see what it tells us when engaged in certain questions of moral deliberation. Consider the question of whether it is 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.

So, let’s take the question: May I make a deceitful promise to escape from difficulty? 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.