Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who lived between 1724–1804. His work and philosophical ideas reflect his time and historical epoch. In his philosophical works, he discusses and analyses moral rules and principles of ethics and moral judgment. Ideas and concepts discussed in this work became a ground of deontological ethics and philosophy. Professional duties are owed to and by all members of the professional community. As Kant states, each rational person should be treated as an end and not as a means to an end. By virtue of their admission to the professionals have the right to expect treatment as unique talents and have assumed the duty to treat other professionals in a like manner. Kant believes that in itself there is nothing good except a goodwill, and only when a person acts from duty do the person’s actions have moral worth. Kant gives a special attention to the autonomy of reason and the moral law. He also believes that every rational creature has inherent worth; therefore, a rational person will always act to treat himself and other individuals as ends in himself.
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During the period of Enlightenment, metaphysical ideology and views were the core of Kant’s works and ideas; Kant states that the moral demands of a situation may coincide with what a person should like to do, but frequently they do not. Personal desires are part of the situation and may have to be taken into account in determining what the moral demands of the situation are. “A few Enlightenment voices, however, did criticize the European empires on moral grounds, especially the European conquest of the Americas, the treatment of Native Americans, and the enslavement of Africans on the two American continents”. Once a person knows what the situation demands of him morally, he cannot alter the situation. It is because a moral situation makes demands upon people in this way that the conception of a moral law has grown up the primary concept of legal rules. Applied to modern business practice, these laws underline professional people should respect one another as persons–as peers in the community. Kant writes: “the will of an intelligence is free, its autonomy, as the essential formal condition of its determination, is a necessary consequence”.
With respect to Kant’s ideas, both the categorical imperative and the practical imperative can clash with human welfare and even prescribe actions that lead to human suffering such as cuisine. In this situation, the strict Kantian would commit suicide reasoning that the action of continuing a life without purpose is wrong per se and that any perceived consequences should not be considered. “The mind itself generates these categories. In other words, the human mind perceives the world as it does because of its own internal mental categories”. Kant’s point of view is vulnerable to this criticism but is subject to the weakness of answering the question of the source of the prima facie duties and whether there might be more prima facie duties. In other words, the moral agent might reasonably ask why he/she should accept the decision of suicide as his own and evaluate the consequences of these moral actions. Kant reminds that in order “to prove that morality is no mere creation of the brain” people must show that a use of practical reason is possible; that is, they must show that practical reason of itself can provide a motive to action. The most famous works written by Kant are Thoughts on the True Estimation of Vital Forces, A New Explanation of the First Principles of Metaphysical Knowledge Monadologia Physica, Attempt to Introduce the Concept of Negative Magnitudes into Philosophy, Essay on the Illness of the Head, Critique of Pure Reason, etc.
Kant states that the action of the person is determined by some power other than himself. In a moral situation there is nothing that corresponds to the external influence of the rule and its sanction. The moral person is called upon to discover what his duty is for himself, and then to do it because it is his duty. This does not mean that the person can arbitrarily invent or create his duties. Kant underlines that the objective demands of the situation by an examination and testing of that situation. In seeking to determine what his duty is, he may remind himself of moral rules which may have a primary importance and indicate the general direction in which his duty is likely to lie.
Kant states that it is unlikely that it will be his duty to break a promise, but in some situations a more urgent moral claim may appear which will necessitate the breaking of a promise. “Reason would overstep all its bounds if it undertook to explain how pure reason can be practical, which would be exactly the same problem as to explain how freedom is possible”. Kant underlines that autonomy of the will is involved in morality. When people do an action which they ought to do because we ought to do it, their actions cannot be adequately ‘explained’ by the laws. When a person is faced with an action which he ought to do, when he stands under an obligation, then he is in the position of an observer. In terms of practical reason, people must adopt the standpoint of the doer in every situation. Kant wants to portray that in making a practical application of his principle was to show that if the will is to be morally good, then in its acts of volition all interest is changed.
There is something in the contents of the moral act that gives it greater significance to the average man than any conception of beauty. For Kant, the moral act is something more than a momentary event in the changing experience of the agent. It is liable to be repeated and must therefore partake of certain enduring properties that have already appeared in his perceptions. Whether by the influence of private reflection or of public imitation, all moral behavior is described in terms of general concepts. In either case, the presence and authority of memory signify that the act is not a detached and unrelated fact of consciousness but a type of behavior embodying the fixed tendencies of the agent. The “causes” which excite loyal support are utterly different in moral tone and intellectual values. The totem for the one and the superb devotion to truth or honor for the other represent the wide diversity of causes. Yet the essential meaning is the same. Loyalty is a universal concept created by the fundamental needs of moral living. It has the same right to independent status as the more physical appetites of hunger, thirst, and sex impulse, or the primitive emotions of love, hate, and anger. Whatever is incessantly repeated has universal and objective character, and loyal adhesion to a cause belongs to that class. individual may deduce that the cardinal virtues – justice, courage, temperance–are primarily the fruits of repeated action, understood and approved by the reflective mind as necessary and veracious expressions of the native properties of mankind.
A new factor is introduced, called by such terms as duty, sense of right, moral authority, dictate of reason, conscience. It implies that the concepts of loyalty, veracity, justice, should be deliberately incorporated into our manner of thought. Individuals have a situation very different from that which confronts the artist or the logician. Individual should never suggest to the one that he ought to strive for the representation of beauty or to the other that he ought to deduce nothing but true conclusions from his authentic argument. To neither of these is a choice open; they can do but one thing. The moral actor, on the other hand, faces two contradictory courses, and the conviction that he ought to take one rather than the other comes to him with overwhelming authority. He may decline to obey the command, but he cannot alter its terms. So insistent is this urge as recorded in history, in drama, and in the transactions of the individual mind that individuals are bound to reckon with it in any study of moral phenomena. In addition, the universal quality rests not alone in the perpetuity of the sense of obligation but also in the imperative tone it gives to every type of action. Loyalty is a fine moral virtue, but individual must examine critically the ends to which its zeal is to be directed. In addition to the materials which underlie moral effort, there is the problem of an adequate explanation of the object which effort has in view and the suitable means for reaching it. The theory of ethical values demands careful consideration. Typical solutions have been suggested in ancient and modern speculation, and these must be analyzed with sympathetic attention in order to formulate a workable system. In sum, Kant is sure that individual cannot justify the adoption of the rule of inclination instead of reason; and he thinks that, even though individual makes the exception for ourselves, individuals only confirm the universality of the categorical imperative as a law of reason. It is possible to apply the moral rule in the same way to the other duties; for example, giving a deceitful promise to pay when people know that individual cannot fulfill it, declining to develop a natural talent, and refusing to aid a neighbor in distress.
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Kagan, D. et al. The Western Heritage, Prentice Hall; 10 edition, 2009.
Kant, I. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. translated by Thomas Kingsmill
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Stuckenberg, J. The Life of Immanuel Kant. General Books LLC, 2009.
Wood, A.W. Kantian Ethics. Cambridge University Press; 1 edition, 2007.