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Chapter 1- Ethical Theories- Immanuel Kant: Categorical Imperative March 1, 2009

Filed under: itethic — hikaru011 @ 2:52 pm

Otsuka Hikaru


Book: Contemporary Moral Problems

Book Review: Chapter 1- Ethical Theories– Immanuel Kant: Categorical Imperative

Library Reference: N/A

Internet Reference: N/A

Learning Expectation:

  • I expect to learn the categorical imperative
  • Good will
  • Good will and its result


“Kant believes that our moral duty can be formulated in one supreme rule, the categorical imperative, from which all our duties can be derived, Although he says that there is just one rule, he gives different versions of it, and two of them seem to be distinct, He arrives at the supreme rule or rules by considering the nature of the good will and duty.”

“The end justifies the means.”

“I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.”

Book Review:

Good will, for me, means the strength or the courage in doing the right things. It is your clean purpose in anything that you do. According to the reading, intelligence, wit and like any other talents are without a doubt good and desirable. But these can be also harmful and bad when the will is not good. For example, if you are rich, surely, wealth and fame is a desirable thing. If you use your money to harm other people, or if you use it for a bad purpose, the will is not considered good. In other words, you did not properly use the gifts given to you. The book also says that the Good will is not good because of what are the effects or accomplishments, but because of its fitness in attaining some proposed end, it is good through its willing alone. It means that the end justifies the mean. For me, we can understand this by this example: When a person works hard so that he buy a house, by working hard he harm no people, I think we can consider this as good will. The mean itself is considered good since he did not make any mistakes and did not harm others when he was still in the process.

According to wikipedia, Kant says that human beings occupy a special place in creation, and morality can be summed up in one ultimate commandment of reason, or imperative, from which all duties and obligations derive. He defined an imperative as any proposition that declares a certain action to be necessary. The categorical imperative or the reading focuses on the maxim or the universal law. For example, we don’t hurt others because we know that hurting others is bad. Our reason is a universal law. Universal law is a common law that we are all aware of.

Integrative Questions:

  1. Who discussed the concept of Categorical Imperative?
  2. What is categorical Imperative?
  3. What does the “end justifies the means” says?
  4. What is a universal law?
  5. What is a good will?

What I have learned:

I have learned about the Good will. All the things that we have, like wealth, wit, and the like, can give us happiness, but these things can be also extremely bad if our will is not good. The universal law is a law that we all know or common to us.

Review Questions:

  1. Explain Kant’s account of the good will.

“It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world or even out if it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except goodwill.”

Our action speaks for itself. Even if we don’t fulfill our mission, what we control is the will behind our actions. The outcome or the result of our action is not the morality; rather the way we do it is how we can measure morality.

  1. Distinguish between hypothetical and categorical imperatives.

Hypothetical imperative requires a certain action is a given situation. A categorical imperative you should do what you must or need to do.

3. State the first formulation of the categorical imperative (using the notion of a universal law), and explain how Kant uses this rule to derive some specific duties toward self and others.

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

The universal law serves the will as its principle.

4. State the second version of the categorical imperative (using the language of means and end) and explain it.

“The end justifies the mean”

For me, this means that the result of what you do is defends or defines the mean on how you do an action.

Discussion Questions

1. Are the two versions of the categorical imperative just different expressions of one basic rule, or are they two different rules? Defend your view.

No, because it shares the same concept, the concept of good will.

2. Kant claims that an action that is not done from the motive of duty has no moral worth. Do you agree or not? If not, give some counterexample.

No. It is common for us to do things that are not are duty and I believe that we don’t consider these things immoral.

3. Some commentators think that the categorical imperative (particularly the first formulation) can be used to justify no moral or immoral actions. Is this a good criticism?



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