In contemporary society, morality binds all rational beings, and their actions are considered moral only if they emanate from reason and not sensual inclinations (Atwell 44). The moral quality of an action is determined by the motive or intention for its performance. Therefore, the consequences of an action have little to do with its morality because the intention behind it is the most important. A quick way to determine whether an action is moral is to find out whether the intention that motivated the action can be considered as part of universal law. According to Kant, this act of aligning a motive to a universal law in order to determine its morality is known as categorical imperative (Hill 56).
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He held that individuals should align their motives with universal laws in order to make their actions moral. He added that the only basis for performing morally valuable actions is through strict observance and respect for Moral Law and acting from a sense of duty and not human inclination (Wood 45). Kant’s argument is very convincing and I agree with it fully.
Kant on Moral worth
Kant maintained that in order for an action to possess moral worth, it needs to be motivated by a sense of duty or by respect for the Moral Law that is incontrovertible (Hill 59). According to Kant, good will is the only good that does not need qualification because many other aspects of human nature possess value only under specific conditions (Wood 46). For instance, certain features of human nature can be used for either good or evil. Therefore, their value is dependent on why they are used. On the contrary, good-will is intrinsically good and valuable because it is not affected in any way by external factors such as the consequences that emanate from human actions. Kant’s moral theory therefore reiterates that actions can be termed as good or bad based on the motives behind them. Motives originate either from a sense of duty or human inclination (Atwell 48).
For instance, an example of a moral action is one which a person performs from a sense of duty even though human inclinations persuade him/her to act otherwise for greater personal gains. The ultimate principle of morality according to Kant is the need to perform from duty and not in accordance with duty. His theory suggests that an action has great moral worth if performed from a sense of duty and not from any form of human inclination.
I am convinced and agree with Kant that in order for an action to have moral value, then it has to be performed from a sense of duty and not from nay human inclination. People value their own moral goodness and will go to great lengths to protect it. It is difficult for an individual to forfeit their moral goodness in order to obtain something else they desire or crave. If that happens, then the value of the other qualities that they posses such as courage, generosity, and patience are diminished. For instance, it is easy to forfeit acting courageously if that calls fro the individual to propagate injustice (Stratton-Lake 73).
In this case, the duty of propagating justice in human interaction overshadows the need to act courageously. In any situation that involves the interaction of two or more human values, the duty of maintaining one’s moral goodness usually wins. On the other hand, if an action requires one to be witty and at the same time act cruelly, then it is better to forfeit being witty in order to avoid promoting cruelty. I agree with Kant that the act of forfeiting being witty has great moral value because it is in accordance with Moral Law. Every action requires the individual to determine its moral value based on its relationship to the duty of acting in accordance with Moral Law (Hill 61).
I am also convinced by Kant’s view of what it takes for an act to have moral worth because possessing and maintaining one’s moral goodness is the most important standard that governs human action (Stratton-Lake 82). For instance, pleasure, joy, and happiness are worth having only if their possession does not require an individual to contravene or lose their moral convictions (Kerstein 31). Therefore, the value of a good will is primarily determined based on its alignment with Moral law and not with its alignment to some desired outcomes. If a good will is aimed at attaining certain desired outcomes, then its moral value is greatly diminished by the motive alone (McCarty 41).
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The motive weakens its intrinsic goodness, which is the main requirement for it to have moral value. The intrinsic goodness of a good will implies that it is not important to consider whether it attains certain valuable ends for individuals or for other people because its value is independent of external outcomes (Kerstein 38). Therefore, an action is morally valuable because it aligns with moral law and not because it affords the individual or other people great pleasures or outcomes.
Kant’s argument has been strongly criticized by philosophers who do not subscribe to his idea that values such as sympathy, benevolence, and empathy can lack moral value if they are not based on duty to Moral Law. If an action is not motivated by a sense of duty then the individual has other desired outcomes or ends that are aligned with self-interest (McCarty 54). In that case, the motive to attain certain ends diminishes the moral value of the action. I agree with Kant that the most important aspect of an action is the motive and not the consequences it produces. For instance, an individual can perform an act of kindness towards someone suffering or undergoing a tough time. This situation can be evaluated from two perspectives based on why the individual performed the act of kindness.
First, may be the individual expected a form of remuneration for helping the other person. Second, may be the individual acted with kindness because he recognized his duty to propagate kindness by being a part of the universe. The second perspective gives the action great moral worthwhile the first one diminishes its moral worth even though both had the same outcome. It is possible for people to practice empathy, compassion, and benevolence for selfish ends in which case their actions posses no moral value (McCarty 64). I agree with Kant because people can use the aforementioned human values to do evil or attain selfish outcomes.
They act in certain ways not because they want to help but because they want to gain in some way. On the other hand, people can possess qualities such as courage, discipline resoluteness, and prudence and still not be good because of a lack of good will. For instance, a courageous and resolute murderer is not good and most of his actions have no moral value because they emanate from an inclination to harm people or attain selfish ends. On the other hand, the actions of an instructor who teaches students because of the need to earn a paycheck have no moral value because they are motivated by a human inclination.
Kant’s moral theory places great emphasis on the importance of intention when evaluating the moral value of actions. Kant’s argument is very convincing and I fully agree with it. First, it is an ac of selflessness for an individual to act without expecting any outcome that will bring personal advantages. Secondly, if the motive is aligned with Moral Law, then the outcome is highly likely to be positive and beneficial to oneself o others. Kant observed that actions possess moral value based on the motive behind them and not the consequences that result from them. An action lacks moral value if the doer acts expecting certain desired outcomes.
The motivation for all actions should be based on good will and not on the possible attainment of certain ends. The intrinsic goodness of a good will implies that the consequences of an action are not important. The action is morally valuable because it does not need any external factor to qualify or validate it. Kant’s argument on the importance of motive in determining the moral value of an action is correct and valid even though it has been highly criticized by other philosophical schools of thought.
Atwell, John. Ends and Principles in Kant’s Moral Thought. New York: Springer Science & Business Media, 2012. Print.
Hill, Thomas. Human Welfare and Moral Worth: Kantian Perspectives. New York: Clarendon Press, 2002. Print.
Kerstein, Samuel. Kant’s Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality. London: Cambridge University Press, 2002. Print.
McCarty, Richard. Kant’s Theory of Action. New York: OUP Oxford, 2009. Print.
Stratton-lake, Philip. Kant, Duty and Moral Worth. New York: Routledge, 2005. Print.
Wood, Allen. Kantian Ethics. London: Cambridge University Press, 2007. Print.