Essay: Is Kant's Moral Theories Align With Today's 21st Century Individualism?

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Kant and the 21st Century

Everything changes. There is no denying this constant truth in life. In fact, this is especially true for humanity. We change as individuals in terms of individual, personal development. We also change collectively as a society and culture, integrating new cultures and ideas as these are presented to us and made worthy of our time and attention. These changes are driven by a variety of external and internal factors. The question is whether the philosophies constructed during the 18th century can be applicable to the individualism experienced within society during the 21st century. To investigate this, Emmanuel Kant's moral philosophy can be investigated. While it may seem somewhat ambitious to apply an 18th century philosopher's ideas and ideals to the contemporary world, one might gain valuable insights from such an effort. The first and central question is then: Can the "empty self" cultivated in the decades after World War II and the self-actualization focus and drive of today fit into Kant's world, and vice versa? Kant acknowledges a collective morality. Today's worlds, however, is far more individualistic thank Kant may have ever acknowledged. On the strength of this, one might argue that Kant's philosophy is no longer applicable to the world of separate individuals we know today, unless his views are significantly modified to adhere to individuals and their choices.

Cushman (1990, p.599) argues that external influences, such as culture, the economy, and politics, have a far more prominent impact on the development of the self-concept held by individualism than may be supposed by those who would decontextualize this ideal. In this, for Cushman, individuality is also culturally driven, where each particular culture has a common understanding of how to "be human." By this argument, Cushman (1990, p. 599) makes the claim that there cannot be any universal theory about a common human self. Instead, there are several concepts of self, all of which are driven by external local factors, including the ethnicity within which one is born and lives.

In terms of Kant's theory then, one might cite this as one of the difficulties in terms of application. In his theory of morality, for example, Kant appears to make no distinction between or allowance for cultural individualities. Instead, his idea of individual choice and autonomy appears to be grounded in an assumption of a humanity that is far more uniform than the one we are experiencing today (Johnson, 2012).

Kant's idea of the "good will" can be cited as a case in point, for example. The philosopher assumes that the idea of "the moral good" is universal (Johnson, 2012). In other words, "good will," for Kant, means that the individual will choose to do only what is "morally worthy," which in turn is the reason for making such choices. For Kant, the moral worthiness of actions and using such morality as the ultimate goal of decision-making is a universal value system that is highly prized by all human beings (Johnson, 2012).

If one were to return to the ideas of individualism and culture, however, Cushman (1990, p. 599) clearly disagrees with Kant's "universal" ideal, especially in its capacity for relating to all human beings across the world and across time. Today, one might take this idea even further by arguing that individuals themselves can no longer be said to adhere even to the collective of a certain culture or country. This is an idea forwarded by Twenge (2006), who focuses on individuals and their sense of self today. According to Twenge, the individual today is so focused on the self and the pursuit of satisfaction for the self that morality plays a role only as far as it benefits or satisfies the individual. In other words, one of the manifestations of his is that, while the individual today experiences satisfaction in helping others via charity work, which is a morally laudable decision, this is only done as far as it does not interfere with the individual's schedule and desires (Twenge, 2006, p. 5).

According to Cushman, the emergence of individualism after World War II and beyond has created a sense of emptiness in the self,… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Is Kant's Moral Theories Align With Today's 21st Century Individualism?.  (2013, April 28).  Retrieved November 21, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/kant-moral-theories-align-today-21st/1594134

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"Is Kant's Moral Theories Align With Today's 21st Century Individualism?."  Essaytown.com.  April 28, 2013.  Accessed November 21, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/kant-moral-theories-align-today-21st/1594134.