Kant and Happiness for the Philosopher Essay

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Kant and Happiness

For the philosopher Kant, happiness is something that is rather ambiguous -- that is, happiness is not black or white, but rather, many different shades of grey, depending on the person. In very simple terms, he believed that happiness is basically getting what one wants. His ethical system was presented in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (Kant 2009) where seeking universal and supreme principle of morality was his focus. It should be noted that Kant does not discuss actual 'happiness' to a great extent because happiness was not the foundation of his ethical system. This is in contrast to many ethical systems, including Mill's, where happiness is the aim of morality. However, happiness still is an important part of Kant's ethics, yet, because of his belief that happiness is about getting what one wants, it is easy to see happiness as being powerless in its function as a foundation for morality. Getting what one wants could prevent other individuals from getting what they want, so it seems highly improbably that everyone could be happy. So if morality is defined in terms of happiness, not every person can be moral. Thus it can be reasoned that morality cannot possibly be defined in terms of happiness. Also, Kant thought that people do not know what will make them happy. Therefore, the concept of happiness is indeterminate because everyone desires it, yet they cannot say what it is that they really want.Download full Download Microsoft Word File
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TOPIC: Essay on Kant and Happiness for the Philosopher Kant, Assignment

Kant has used the example of someone who is looking for wealth because he believes that it will make her happy, only to discover that this quest actually results in unhappiness because of certain aspects that come along with it (e.g., greed, envy, etc.). Another example he uses is a person who seeks out knowledge, only to come to find that that there are so many things that were hidden from him before his pursuit. As human beings, it is impossible for us to know what kind of actions will bring us happiness and what kind of actions will bring us unhappiness. For us to know would require that we be all-knowing (i.e., essentially, like God). The best thing we can do (and this will be discussed later) is to learn from one's own experiences.

The universal moral law, which he named the 'categorical imperative,' was found as a basic law that can apply to multifaceted and shifting circumstances. Imperative is a command, forcing certain actions, and there are various types of imperatives. Kant came up with the hypothetical imperative as opposition to moral or categorical ones. A hypothetical imperative is an imperative that is formed in conditional form and focuses on the final outcome. In the case of happiness, the imperative is that a person knows certain actions will bring her a desirable result (i.e., happiness) and so she acts accordingly. For example, "if I clean my room, change my sheets, and put away my clean clothes, my mother will give me a reward." This means that the desire to be happy is not of great value and it cannot be the measure for morality. This is a more hypothetical imperative (as opposed to a moral one) and these types of imperatives cannot contain universal truths because they are based on subjective thoughts. Therefore, according to Kant's reasoning, there cannot be any general happiness (an antithesis to Mill's theories on general happiness) because people desire different things and they comprehend happiness in different ways. Hypothetical imperatives are defined by personal taste and choice and cannot be called a universal moral principle (2009). Happiness cannot be considered a basis for morality, according to Kant, because the way or means to happiness cannot be truly known.

For Kant, there is no determining whether an action is good or right simply based on one's happiness. Kant said that good or bad actions can be performed to achieve the worse or better result and this puts a person in the position of moral dilemma where choosing good for one's self can hurt other people and vice versa. The actions that we do undertake after these considerations are what Kant calls moral actions. Moral actions are thus the actions where reason is responsible for the action itself and where we take the happiness of others into consideration when making our final decision on what one will do. This means that one has to think about one's self and about others and can then make a final decision on how to act. Kant believed that humans must follow universal moral law and "act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law" (Kant 2009).

According to Kant, human beings are incapable of reasoning happiness to its principle. Happiness is indefinite, and while every individual wishes for happiness, he or she can never truly know his or her true wishes and wills. Kant thought that instead of actively seeking out happiness, the moral law constructed by reason is really what a person should actively be seeking (i.e., the categorical imperative). These principles make up morality and this gives a person pure reason. This pure reason makes us choose certain actions, which brings good to others or help people improve themselves.

He defines happiness as the rational being's consciousness of the agreeableness of life, which without disruption accompanies his whole existence. Man, as a rational being, has certain needs and he has desires to fulfill those needs. Therefore, a conscious being with needs necessarily desires happiness, which can be defined as the satisfaction of those needs. For Kant, happiness is not inherently good because even being worthy of happiness requires that one possess a good will. More simply stated, happiness can be attained when one lives a life that is guided by reason.

All people seek happiness and, first and foremost, is their own happiness. Everyone has certain inclinations to seek out happiness, however, Kant thought that one would run into major conflict if they simply tried to follow those inclinations. Despite all this rhetoric, Kant also argued that there is no real possibility of moral perfection in this life and that very few individuals deserve the happiness that they are lucky enough to enjoy.

Happiness is both too indefinite and too empirical to serve as grounds for moral obligation. Every individual has different tastes, interests and goals in life. In other words, what makes one person happy will not make another person necessarily happy. Everyone has different experiences and experiences are necessary in the pursuit of happiness. That being said, just because one thinks that something may make him or her happy, it will not necessarily make him or her happy. Kant believes that it is impossible for one to know if a priori (ideas one reaches by reasoning) before an action will be conducive to one's happiness. The desire for one's own happiness cannot serve as a motivator to determine our will to do the is or that action. One's own desire to be happy cannot be completely known. Happiness is not good without qualification. For Kant, the only thing that is good without qualification is good will.

Kant said that the only non-moral end that we must will by 'natural necessity' is one's own happiness. Any imperative that applied to one because one's willing his or her own happiness is an assertoric imperative. However, rationality can issue no imperative if the end is indeterminate, and happiness is an indeterminate end. One could say that to be happy, one should work hard in their jobs to secure financial stability, take care of one's health by eating right and going to the gym, take care of one's relationships -- nurturing them and making them fruitful, these are not genuine commands. There are some individuals who can be happy without these, and whether one could be happy without them is -- perhaps doubtful -- an open question.

The utilitarian philosopher, Mill, is quite famous for his theories on happiness and stand in direct opposition to Kant's theories on happiness and morality. Kant's theories on happiness, as illustrated, are based purely on rational thinking, while Mill is more guided by the principle of pleasure when it comes to happiness. In his work, Utilitarianism, Mill (2010) offers the first principle of morality, which helps one to distinguish between what is right and what is wrong: "actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness; wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness. By happiness is intended pleasure and the absence of pain; by unhappiness, pain and the privation of pleasure" (2010).

Happiness it the only real thing that one desires, fundamentally speaking, not just for the sake of other things. Because happiness is the only true value, happiness can distinguish moral principles in the society. Mill thought that people do not always value things as the means to reach happiness; rather, they value them for their own sakes. Thus, valuing… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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