Understanding of Kant's Categorical Imperative

Immanuel Kant and John Mill were both widely recognized European philosophers in the late 17th and early 18th centuries. Kant is considered one of the most influential figures in modern western philosophy due to his works that mainly focus on ethics and aesthetics. John Mill is also an influential figure, but in historical classical liberalism, as for he contributed greatly to political and social theory. Written in 1785, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals is one of the first and most notable text written by Immanuel Kant, focusing on basic moral philosophy along with the theory of the priori, or pure intention behind an action. Kant also introduced a theory of his own, the categorical imperative, in this text, further supported by the priori. The classical piece Utilitarianism by John Mill drills down on the concept of utility, which is a pleasure that leads to one’s happiness. Mill explains the differences between certain types of pleasures and includes his own take on utility, the greater happiness principle. Utilitarianism emphasizes the importance of the goodness of the results after an action, stressing the moral factor. 

Grounding for the Metaphysics consists of three chapters along with a preface, that each focus on different examples of the priori theory. Kant emphasizes his theory of the categorical imperative, a new variation of the prior. To begin, a priori is pure philosophy, that occurs to us independent of experience, meaning they are natural thoughts. The basis of the categorical imperative is a priori theory. Kant’s definition for his new theory is a simple yet complex one. The categorical imperative states that one should “act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”. This statement simply means that one should act in a manner where everyone should act, in other words, if you do something that is considered moral, that action should be done by everyone because it is moral. Kant gives some examples of how the categorical imperative can be put into play. For example, he stated “Act in such a way as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of anyone else, always as an end and never merely as a means. He is saying that people have no obligation to commit suicide and it goes against the law of nature because if someone died, nature would not exist. This example shows that suicide cannot be part of the categorical imperative because it is not a moral and positive act that everyone should join in on. Another example would be littering. Kant’s theory has influence on mindset. If one thinks that littering is bad, then everyone else should also not litter, therefore making it a universal law as Kant has previously mentioned in Groundwork. The actions that become part of a universal law all have pure intention behind them compared to the actions that are not because they involve human greed or bad intentions.

Another explanation for the categorical imperative taken directly from the text is “act as though the maxim of your action were to become, through your will, a universal law of nature”. It is similar to the first explanation, discussing how there are rules as to how one must behave due to a duty based, moral obligation. Kant goes on to say how lying and false promises violate the categorical imperative. Lying is an action that can cause societies to fall apart and tear relationships, making it a terribly wrong action. One shouldn’t lie even if it is to avoid conflict between others, like a white lie, because the action is morally wrong in every aspect. Therefore, it should not be a universal law and should not be done by others. These universal laws Kant mentions are derived from the priori concepts that he first introduced in the preface of the text. They serve as a method of justification for his theory as a moral principle since the whole basis behind these actions that are made because of the categorical imperative are pure intentions. 

Overall all actions under the categorical imperative are moral actions that are supposed to be done with pure intention because then they will become part of the universal law. If the action has no pure intention behind it, it will not be a universal law or be something derived from the concepts of the categorical imperative.

07 July 2022
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