Maxims: Duty to Moral Laws
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)
Deontology: the ethical view that moral value is determined by fulfilling
o Deon = Duty
o What we ought to do
Kant attempts to establish the universal reason and morality
Those laws and foundations are a “priori”
o A law that is a priori is one that we can be certain is true
independently of its application to actual experience
Priori = prior to experience
Moral ideals function as commands
Pure reason vs. Change
o Meta (good?)
o Normative (good behaviour?) o Application (abortion? Euthanasia?)
Top- down vs. Bottom-up
Kant uses a top-down approach (Normative Descriptive)
Moral / Immoral / Non-moral
o Intentions not a consequence
o The preeminent good, which we call moral, can therefore consist in
nothing else than the conception of law itself, which certainly is only
possible in a rational being.
o Apply reason
o Intentions through good will
o Good will = irreducible source of moral value
o If you do actions with good will, then it is the right thing to do
o Cannot use emotions to determine good and bad
o Good even if it fails
o Can be corrupted by inclinations
o Reason reigns in good will Imperatives create a sense of moral obligation what we ought to do
o Reason and will + Maxims (Proposition)
o Hypothetical (HI) + Categorical (CI)
o Hypothetical Imperative = If P then Q.
o Categorical Imperative = Example: Killing is wrong. These
statements do not need further justification. They are morally
obligated. No conditional or additional claims (P.)
Maxim: a moral law
Hypothetical Imperative: a moral maxim that does not express a value that
one should pursue independently, instead, the action being commanded by
the maxim is seen only as a means to something else
o If ___ then ___.
o If you want to be charitable, then you should help those less
fortunate than you.
o If you take that action then you will be charitable.
o Choose between freedom or moral character Categorical Imperative: a maxim that commands moral obligation
independent of experience or consequences. It is derived from pure reason
and always carries overriding value.
o Don’t exploit people. Do not treat people as a mere means. Don’t kill
o Command actions that are intrinsically good, not actions that are
good as a means to something else
o Do X.
o It is not optional
o Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will
that it should become a universal law.
o If you can’t universalize something, it is probably not the right thing
o Vigilante – not okay for parents to kill the killer of their child; not
okay for everyone to do that
Universal Law Test
o Assume the maxim is universal
o 1) Formulate your maxim o 2) Universalize (Assume that the maxim is universal)
o 3) Conceive of a world ruled by maxim
o 4) Can you rationally will it?
o If the answer is yes to #4, then your action is moral
o You can conceive of such a world but cannot rationalize it…
o Perfect duties: ones that I always must do
o Imperfect duties: ones that I may choose how and when to do
o Applicable to all rational agents
o A moral action is one that a rational person can consistently
universalize as a moral law
o What determines the moral value is whether it is logically consistent
for the action to be practiced by all women and men
o Telling the truth is the morally right thing to do = consistent with real
o Not telling the truth is the morally right thing to do = not consistent
o The belief that you are different/unique is an irrational belief
o Suicide is morally wrong = logically inconsistent Breaking a promise
o Is it okay for me to break a promise?
o Realistically, I am not in any position to pay my friend back but I need
their money. Why don’t I ask them to borrow money and promise to
pay them back?
o Maxim: When I need money, I will borrow it and promise to repay it
even though I know that I cannot do so.
o We cannot in fact will this, it will not past #3 because we cannot
conceive of a world of breaking a promise a promise would be
meaningless no value in promise and it disappears
o Can you conceive of a world where promises don’t exist? Fails #3
o Therefore, you have a perfect duty to keep your promises; that’s why
you keep them not because you hurt people, world collapse, etc.
Cannot have logical contradiction
o Maxim: When I need a printer, I will steal a printer if I come across
one in an empty room.
o Does not pass Kant’s test o Ther