What Kant Means by a Categorical Imperative as Opposed to a Hypothetical Term Paper

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Categorical Imperative

Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative is a moral rule that holds that decisions should be made on the basis of what we ought to do and on acting in the way we would want to become an absolute rule. Such a decision still requires judgment and choice and so may lead to different decisions for different people. The rule might be absolute for Kant or for any given individual but might not be absolute for all. What one sees as justice might not be justice for all, and the person being judged in particular may not see justice in a given decision.

Indeed, Kant himself says we can will to lie, though he also says we cannot will a universal law of lying. However, doing the first in effect achieves the second as far as the individual is concerned because he or she is to act in a way that means his or her own action serves as a universal. On a society-wide level, this would not lead to an absolute or to the assurance of justice. Other systems as well might lead to justice for all if all could agree on the parameters of justice and on the means for making a decision on the issue, but in reality, such agreement is not possible. Utilitarianism would find justice in achieving the greatest good for the greatest number, for instance, but achieving this requires making a decision as to what is the greatest good for the greatest number. There may indeed be a level of justice that does just that, that achieves the greatest good for the greatest number. Achieving justice in the world requires knowing what this optimum is, and human perception and decision-making once more requires the perfect application of the ethical concept, which human limitations prevent in practice.Buy full Download Microsoft Word File paper
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Term Paper on What Kant Means by a Categorical Imperative as Opposed to a Hypothetical Imperative Assignment

Kant makes a distinction between hypothetical and categorical imperatives. There are actually three kinds of imperatives which correspond to three kinds of action. Those actions that are prescribed to attain a certain end are not prescribed as actions which should be performed for their own sake, and therefore they are hypothetical imperatives. If the end in sight is not one that everyone would wish, it is a problematic hypothetical imperative. Kant seeks a moral imperative, and he rejects all hypothetical imperatives as qualifying to be moral imperatives. He says that all imperatives command either hypothetically or categorically, with the first representing " the practical necessity of some possible action as a means for attaining something else that one does or might want." The categorical imperative, however, would represent an action that is objectively necessary in itself, without no reference to any another end.

The categorical imperative therefore must be the moral imperative. The categorical imperative commands that the maxims serving as our principles of volition conform to universal law, and the statement Kant makes about always acting so that your maxim should become universal law is the categorical imperative. The imperative stands as a criterion for judging the morality of principles of conduct. Kant sees the practical or moral law as universal, and all principles of conduct must also involve this universality if they are to be considered moral. The categorical imperative, like the moral act, has no objective, no end.

This contrasts with the utilitarian emphasis on consequences. The utilitarian approach of necessity must consider ends. Utilitarianism tests means by reference to ends and determines whether an action is moral by its outcome, at least to a degree. Human behavior is seen in terms of human nature and the various things the human being wants and needs. Interaction in society is intended to produce the answers to those needs. Different utilitarian thinkers may envision the objective differently, some considering the greater good for the greater number as the key, and others considering consequences for the individual and not for society as a whole. The utilitarian sees human actions as inviolate unless they impinge on the rights of others, and society as well cannot impinge on the rights of the individual even to harm himself as long as there is no harm to others. This is a very different test of behavior than that proposed by Kant, who sees the rational mind as developing universals and as judging behavior on whether or not it will become universal.

Kant describes the categorical imperative as one which immediately commands a certain conduct without having as its condition any other purpose to be attained by it: This is why the imperative is categorical, because it has no concern with the result of th action to be taken it is concerned only with the form of the action and with the principle from which that action follows; without regard for the consequences. For Kant, such an imperative is by definition morality. The laws of morality are prescriptive, being the laws of what ought to be true.

Kant would reject the consequences-directed Utilitarianism, and he considers an aspect of this when he notes that it is not easy to give a determinate concept of happiness. For the utilitarian, happiness may be the consequence desired and sought, and the greatest good for the greatest number os often defined in terms of maximizing happiness. Kant rejects this object because it is not clearly definable. Kant says that the reason for this is because all of the elements belonging to the concept of happiness are empirical and must be borrowed from experience. Different things bring happiness to different people, and the person wanting happiness may not be able to frame what he wants in precise terms.

Kant seeks a purely rational measure of morality given the fact that human nature makes it impossible to define certain terms or to determine what objects they might encompass. This is aside from the question of whether one can consider ends in Human behavior as measures of moral worth, for Kant is saying that the ends themselves cannot even be clearly and universally defined. In any case, they would involve hypothetical imperatives, which he has already rejected. He rejects the utilitarian idea of happiness because it is a subjective state which is acquired by certain actions but which is itself distinct from those actions. Kant seeks a supreme and universal moral imperative, and this cannot derive from subjective states or teleological arguments.

The moral imperative Kant seeks must command actions as good in themselves and at all times and places. There must be universality in the command and in the volition that recognizes the command. Kant sees man as a rational being, capable of obeying the categorical imperative. In some sense, though, there is a question about why this is so. That is, even though Kant rejects ends as a test, ends must play some role, even if it is only that the end is to behave in a moral fashion. The categorical imperative stands as a call for obedience as an end in itself, with the individual recognizing the need to perform so that his or her actions become universals. That in itself is an objective, or at least performs as an objective, the specific objective being to achieve a moral life. If a moral life were equated with happiness, Kant's objectives would be much diminished.

While Kant says he has no concerns with outcome, he does in at least one sense because he wants actions taken as if they will become universal law. That would certainly be an outcome, so there is at least this one goal involved in the categorical imperative and in making moral judgments. For Kant, the will that acts for the sake of duty is the good will. Kant makes recourse to a conception of God in order to explain this, noting that the will of God is a good will, but that it… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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