Kant's Formulations Research Proposal

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"To tell the truth is a duty, but is a duty only with regard to one who has a right to the truth. But no one has a right to a truth that harms others" (Immanuel Kant, "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals")

In "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals," Immanuel Kant develops his thesis that claims morality can be derived from the principle of the categorical imperative. The strongest argument to support his thesis is the difference between actions in accordance with duty, and actions in accordance from duty. To setup his thesis, Kant first draws a distinction between empirical and "a priori" concepts. Empirical concepts are ideas we reach from our experiences in the world. In contrast, "a priori" concepts are ideas we reach prior to, or apart from any experience of how things occur in the world. Kant claims that moral actions must be based on "a priori" concepts of reason, and that they are universally valid, only if they are based on "a priori" concepts. He develops a philosophical system based exclusively on reason. "Reason's function is to bring a will that is good in itself, as opposed to good for some particular purpose"(Flikschuh, 2000).

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Kant presents three propositions about duty. First, is the will that is a morally good action if it is done in accordance from duty? Second, is that actions are judged by the "maxim" or principle that was the motivation behind the action. Third, explains that is not the respect for the law, but rather it is the moral motivation of an individual who recognizes that the law is an imperative of reason that goes beyond our other interests. The will is of practical reason. One acts by the conceptions of laws. The discipline of action is a will. Our action based on our judgment is defined an imperative or a command to act on a certain motive (Ibid).

Research Proposal on Kant's Formulations Assignment

An imperative can be either hypothetical or categorical. In the hypothetical imperative one acts in a certain way if one will obtain or achieve a certain goal, based on a previous circumstance. Thus, this type of action cannot be universally valid at all times. The categorical imperative is acting being necessary without any intended results; it has motivation and respect for law. One performs its duty instead of pursuing its own desires or maxims. " Act according to maxims which you can at the same time have for their object themselves as universal laws" (Kant, 2008, p. 42).

Kant assumes that duty and good will are synonymous, but it is morality, which motivates both. Therefore, if lying is contrary to duty, as defined by Kant, it can't be an example of an act of good will. Actions cannot only be considered as the means to one person's end, but must satisfy the criteria of being a universal end, which ensures goodness for all, not merely for one. Human nature is inclined to act out of a sense of duty, which is the assumption that it is the proper means to an end. Doing so does gives one a feeling of happiness, and is therefore, perceived as good. Emotions play an important role in these perceptions, which Kant quite ignored. He didn't trust emotions, because he believed that they were too ever changing to be relied upon. But the major problem with much of his philosophy is that it is too abstract. Perceptions can change, and so can the concepts of right and wrong, depending upon the situation. Lying in certain instances might be wrong, but Kant does not conclusively prove that it is always wrong. If a lie preserves a human life, or even if its attempt to achieve this desirable end is unsuccessful, how can it be realistically regarded as contrary to one's moral duty? Kant's categorical imperative appears unable to provide an undisputed answer to that question.

"To tell the truth is a duty, but is a duty only with regard to one who has a right to the truth. But no one has a right to a truth that harms others" (Ibid, p. 64).

Two rubrics of utilitarianism emerge from the Kantian critique of morality and knowledge; Act Utilitarianism and Rule Utilitarianism. Essentially, Act Utilitarianism is the view that the morally right action is the one that will yield the highest amount of social utility under the conditions in place. Act Utilitarianism considered only the results or consequences of that single act. In contrast, Rule Utilitarianism defines the more optimal moral stance of society as the ethical code that would yield the highest amount of utility based on compliance with that particular society's mores. It considers the consequences that result in following a rule of conduct. Act Utilitarianism thus measures the consequences of a single "act," while Rule Utilitarianism measures the consequences of the act as if were repeated over time as a "rule." For the utilitarian model, nothing is right or wrong in and of itself -- it all depends on the consequences -- it is the results that matter, not the cause. The idea, then, especially behind Rule Utilitarianism, is that there are always alternatives in any situation -- humans calculate the utility by adopting a course (rule) that provides the greatest utility in the long run if it were followed every time that particular situation arose (Mulgan, 2007).

In brief, our essay regarding Kant, utilitarianism, and Nestle deals with the sales and marketing of baby milk formula in developing nations. In poorer regions, companies like Nestle take advantage of the poor and uneducated by using questionable tactics to market their product in areas in which children would be healthier and have a better chance of survival if fed breast-milk. Since Nestle controls about 40% of the worldwide infant formula market, it has often been singled out for legal action, criticism, and boycotts due to unethical and irresponsible marketing.

Like most issues, this is neither simple, nor one sided. As to the question of whether Nestle has acted responsibly and in good faith, the answer is quite utilitarian -- it depends. In a capitalistic society, a company has the responsibility to aggressively market its product and maximize the profits for shareholders. As long as the product or service is not actively harmful, Nestle has the obligation to do whatever it can to sell its product. The product itself is not poisonous; it has few problems in the First World. In fact, the reason it is controversial in the Third World is because of the inherent lack of technology available for sterilization and refrigeration. Nestle, too, is publicly acting in a moral standard by agreeing to help educate, to minimize its aggressive gift-marketing program and to provide more information on the benefits of breast-feeding.

It is the consequential nature of the problem that becomes central to the ethical dilemma. It is not the formula itself that is dangerous in the developing world; it is the combination of the consequence of using the formula but, because of constraints, using it incorrectly. If Nestle gives the formula free to hospitals, provides adequate education in the vernacular language, then their belief is that they have acted ethically by providing a service, not forcing its use, but simply creating a market. This technique is much like both the soft drink and cigarette manufacturers who gave millions of dollars in products to U.S. military personnel during World War II, thus creating both a market and an addiction once the war was over. Strictly speaking, it is not unethical to create a market if one provides individual decision making on the use of the product or service.

However, looking at the situation from a total consequential nature -- it is the way the product is being used and what the overall consequences are that matters; not the intent. The intent may be one of simply sales and marketing, the ethics may be positive (education, etc.), but what happens based on the empirical evidence is that the fewer mothers who breast-feed, the more infant mortality rises; this is a fact, and a consequence of Nestle, and others' actions. However, even if Nestle led the market and chose not to sell its products, the consequences would still be the same, since other manufacturers would likely move in to fill the vacuum.

Looking at the scenario using the philosophical precepts of Kant and utilitarianism, we find:

Nestle's actions are done in accordance with their mandate to be profitable, create a return on investment, and grow the business in accordance with their mandate.

Nestle's actions, judged by the motivation behind the action, are moral because the formula is fine if directions are properly followed. It is not the responsibility of a multi-national corporation to provide adequate utility services in every country to which it markets.

However, simply because Nestle is respecting the law, since it is likely that Nestle privately accepts that it is doing harm, there are negative consequences to the actions.

From a utilitarian perspective, the… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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