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An Analysis Of Kant’S Concepts Of The Good Will, Duty And Morality

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In Immanuel Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant argues that we should focus on determining whether we are worthy of happiness before we concern ourselves with our happiness in the world. In the following short essay, I first describe his belief that the good will is worthy of happiness; I then explore the concept that our actions must be done from duty to be moral and explain how to ensure that our actions are dutiful; finally, I provide an example of a moral dilemma to tie these concepts to a healthcare setting while using Kant’s theories to determine a moral course of action.

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According to Kant, the only thing that is unambiguously good is the good will. This is because the good will is good regardless of whether it produces a positive result. For example, if you help someone cross the street, but the person you were helping is involved in an accident, are you morally to blame? Kant argues that you are not to blame, because regardless of the outcome, your intentions were good. The good will is unlike qualities of character or good fortune—such as intelligence or status—which can be used for harm and are therefore not good in themselves. The good will, however, is intrinsically good; it is good in all instances and under all circumstances. Kant wants us to focus on the will of the person who is trying to achieve happiness, not whether he/she appears happy. If the person’s will is not good, even if he/she appears to be flourishing, we can never say that the person is living a happy life because we are focusing on the results and not the intention. The good will is therefore worthy of happiness, because it is good in itself and disregards results and focuses purely on the person’s intentions behind their actions. Throughout Kant’s work, there is an emphasis on the importance that our actions be done from duty. A dutiful action is one that is motivated solely on the good will.

For example, a woman who has no philanthropic inclination, but still feels it is her duty to help the poor. This action, although theoretical, is a case of a dutiful action with no influence from the woman’s interests or compulsions. This action is therefore genuinely good and moral because it is undertaken for the sake of duty alone. Actions like the previous example can not be known to exist in reality, however. It is impossible to know whether someone is performing a purely dutiful action because it is impossible to know their thoughts and intentions. It may even be difficult for that person to know if they, themself, are acting solely out of duty. Kant provides a more realistic example of a shopkeeper who feels a sense of duty to offer a fair price to all customers, but is also motivated by competition with other shopkeepers to keep his prices as low as possible. This action is not genuinely good or moral because it is not just motivated by duty, but by external influences as well. In order to make sure our actions are dutiful, then, we must think about why we are doing the action and whether this action is universal. Kant provides three principles for determining whether our actions are dutiful and moral. The first principle asserts that an action must be done from duty to have moral worth, which I’ve discussed in the previous paragraphs.

The second principle states: “An action that is done from duty doesn’t get its moral value from the purpose that’s to be achieved through it but from the maxim that it involves, giving the reason why the person acts thus. ”1 This means that in order for an action to be dutiful, its maxim—the motivating principle or reason for doing a particular action—must be the source of its morality, not the purpose that it brings about. The third principle claims: “To have a duty is to be required to act in a certain way out of respect for law. ”

This basically means that an action is dutiful if it has the proper attitude towards the universal principle behind it. From these principles, we can deduct that actions cannot have moral worth if they are undertaken for the outcome of happiness because the maxim behind the action is influenced by a tendency towards individual rewards. Since good actions are not determined by results or tendencies, the only way to determine whether an action is good and dutiful is by testing that the maxim would make sense if it were applied to everyone under every circumstance. In other words, we need to test whether the action accords with universal law. To explore this concept of universality in depth, let’s look at a possible scenario in a healthcare setting. A physician has prescribed the wrong medication to her patient. This medication is not harmful to the patient, but the physician realizes her mistake and must now decide whether to inform the patient of the mistake or simply move forward with a more appropriate treatment. According to Kant’s theory of universality, the moral action in this scenario has to be one that is universal regardless of situation or circumstance. Therefore, this scenario must be rephrased as the following: A physician has made a mistake and must decide whether to inform the patient.

We can’t consider that in this case the mistake was harmless, because it cannot be a moral action if it isn’t universally true regardless of circumstance. Not informing the patient of a mistake is a form of lying by omission, but why is lying wrong? This can be explained through Kant’s rule that every human being should be treated as an end in themself, rather than a means to some end. When a person lies, they are using the person they are lying to as a means to get what they want. In our healthcare scenario, if the physician chooses to lie, she is using her patient as a means to avoid embarrassment, protect her career, save time, or any combination of these ends. The moral action in this scenario, then, is to inform the patient of the mistake, regardless of whether it was harmless or harmful.

According to Kant, the good will is worthy of happiness because it is intrinsically good; it disregards results and focuses purely on the intentions or maxim of the action. He claims that in order for our actions to be good, they must be done solely out of duty with no influence from interests or compulsions, and that to ensure our actions are dutiful, we can follow his three principles of morality. These principles can be applied to the healthcare environment to aid clinicians in determining the moral action.

18 March 2020

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