|Explain the place of duty within Kantian Ethics
Author: Like-In-My-Dream PM
ETHICS -- EXPLANATION question -- Explain the place of duty within Kantian Ethics -- This is an essay I wrote for my A-level Ethics class -- I recieved an A for this Piece.Rated: Fiction K - English - Words: 1,132 - Reviews: 2 - Published: 01-26-09 - Status: Complete - id: 2627050
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I figure that everyone wants help with their school work sometimes, as do I, so I decided to post some of my essays that I have written in the past for my philosophy and ethics course that I got full marks on.
PLEASE DO NOT copy this word for word as that would be plagerism, but I have found that looking back over these past essays and summarising the main points was very useful when it came to revision of all the arguments.
The essay question you are working on will most likely not be this exact question so copying it exactly will not help in the slightest except to make you look like an idiot.
Hope this is useful to all you aspiring philosophers out there :)
Explain the place of duty within Kantian Ethics
Kantian ethics is a method of interpreting what one 'ought' to do, which was devised by Immanuel Kant – it is a duty-based theory and therefore, duty has a huge part to play within it. Kantian Ethics is an absolutist theory therefore suppresses any chance of exception through circumstances or outcome, but believes solely that the maxim of duty is the most important factor, if not the only factor in making a moral decision.
For Kant, a moral action is not based upon feelings, inclination, or on the possibility of reward or positive outcome. Instead, a moral action is one based on a sense of "this is what I ought to do". To use an example, helping an old woman across the street because you pity her is NOT a moral act, neither is it moral if you do it purely because you want to impress someone, the only way that it is a moral thing to do is if you do it out of a sense of duty because you can say to yourself 'I ought to help the elderly'. According to Kant this is the only thing that matters when deciding whether or not to do something, because motive is the most important factor in Kantian ethics, it is possible for an action to have negative consequences while still being a moral act:
"A good will shines like a jewel, even if bad luck foils the outcome."
- - Kant
Kant believed strongly in two worlds – the phenomenal world (animals) and the noumenal world (God and angels). Kantin ethics rejects intuition and feelings because these are attributes of our animal selves which are incapable when it comes to moral decisions, however, reason is held above everything in Kantin ethics because that is a quality of the angels, animals have pure instinct where God and angels have pure reason. Kant believed that humans are in a state in between, we have both sets of attributes, however we should aspire to be more like angels and suppress our animalistic side, and this is where duty becomes key. Working out what our duty is, is the result of pure reason through the categorical imperative, and therefore, because duty is pure reason, it is intrinsically good.
The categorical imperative is extremely important when it comes to deciding what is morally right and therefore deciding what it is your duty to do. It is the only way, Kant believed, to be sure that an action is morally good. Kant defined two imperatives the first being the hypothetical imperative which compels action in a certain circumstance: "if I want to be clean, I must wash." A categorical imperative, on the other hand, is an absolute, unconditional requirement that is authoritative in all circumstances, both required and justified as an end 'in itself'. It works under this formulation: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
If, once generalized, your action no longer makes any sense because it contradicts itself, then it is wrong to use that maxim as a basis for action. This first rule works for something like a promise: "I would will it that I can break a promise when it suits me" if this were made universal, nobody would ever trust a promise therefore the definition of a promise would lose all meaning. If needed, you can also use test two: If the generalized version makes sense, then ask whether you would choose to live in a world where it was followed by everyone (Kingdom of Ends). If not, do not act on that maxim.
When outlining Kant's argument for deciding an action's moral worth, it is made clear that duty plays a very important and central part in Kantian ethics and that without it, Kant's theories would make little or no sense.
At no point in Kant's argument does he contradict himself and say that his categorical imperative – the device which shows which actions are intrinsically good by employing the rule that: if you could will it to be a universal law, it is good – therefore in a straightforward situation, you could apply Kant's method of 'duty above everything else'. However, there rises a problem when you can find yourself in a situation where your duties may clash. An example of this is would be: If you were hiding Jewish fugitives in your house in the time of the holocaust and soldiers came to your door and asked you where they are, you would have a problem because the categorical imperative of 'tell the truth' would contradict another categorical imperative 'help those in need'.
In this case, and in many other situations that people come up against in every day life, what can possibly be the correct course of action when two of your duties directly contradict each other? Kant believed that you must decide through reasoning which is the most important imperative to adhere to, but under no circumstances are you to throw the idea of duties away and motivate your decision purely on emotions or on a whim, because when you do this you give in to your animalistic side.
To conclude, duty is a vital part of Kantin ethics as it gives people a solid reason to do good – because it is their duty to do so. The only thing, in my opinion, that is more important than duty in Kant's ethics is reason. Without reason, the entire point of duty would be void; the thing that makes the sense of duty important is that it is based on (godlike) reason, and on nothing else. Everything other aspect of this theory is centred around duty and reason – the categorical imperative helps you determine duty through reason, you become closer to your godlike self through acting dutifully following moral law in this way, and you are able to suppress the animalistic tendencies through duty and reason as well.