Kant’s Categorical Imperative
What is a categorical imperative? A categorical imperative is a moral obligation which is absolute and necessary in any moral situation and isn’t reliant on a singular person’s desires or wills. For Kant, categorical imperatives are the foundation for morality because they invoke “pure” reasons for our moral actions and decisions since each rational being reasons to act outside of their own personal desires or will which may cloud judgments or impose a biased verdict of the situation. Kant explains this by distinguishing two different kinds of imperatives; categorical and hypothetical. Obviously Kant is interested in categorical imperatives and uses this distinction to show the difference between them so that categorical imperatives come out stronger. As stated before, categorical imperatives according to Kant are moral obligations which are absolute and necessary in any moral situation and isn’t reliant on a particular person’s desires or purpose. He also says that categorical imperatives (obligations) are such if they are of a commanding or imposing nature. For example “Don’t murder!” is a categorical imperative which is binding to every rational person and forces a person to act of good will. Hypothetical imperatives on the other hand are obligations in which there is an end result of your action which is in turn a result of your personal desires our thoughts. An example of a hypothetical imperative is the statement “If you want to stay out of jail, then don’t murder”. Here, there is no sense of authority behind it; it doesn’t have any weight or value behind it. He further distinguishes that there are different types of imperatives which make us act or think the way that we do in a question of morality. These distinctions are imperatives of skill, imperatives of prudence, and imperatives of morality. Kant does recognize the imperatives of skill and prudence even though he doesn’t believe them to be intrinsically “good” or “of good will”. Imperatives of skill call for action and are a means to an end in which the end that the person is seeking isn’t the end result of happiness but something else. An example of this would be the duty to not smoke cigarettes in order to live a healthy lifestyle. Here, your end goal is to live a healthy lifestyle in order to avoid conditions associated with smoking. Imperatives of prudence also calls for action and is a means to an end but with the end result being a product of the person hoping to achieve happiness. For example, the duty to be polite and respectful so that others will do the same unto you and in turn you will be happy. Here, you are hoping to achieve the end of being happy by acting in a polite and respectful way. Imperatives of morality for Kant are totally different from those of prudence and skill. These duties do not have a specific means to an end but instead they represent a way of determining what to do because of what is morally right. These imperatives are the ones in which they are categorical since a rational being is one in which you are exposed to a situation in which you must determine what the right thing to do is and being a rational being, you choose the action which has good will which in turn means you are acting my duty due to respect and understanding of morality in general. For example the duty to not physically harm another person doesn’t have a specific end that will satisfy yourself but it is the morally right thing to do if you are a rational person who respects the wellbeing of yourself as well as others. How does he arrive at the conclusion that The Categorical Imperative is the “purest” way to reason your morals? He reasons that the only thing that is unconditionally good is the good will and that good will is an act of duty. For Kant, acting from your duty means not acting by your own desires and wills but for respect of morality in general. Looking at the Categorical Imperative...
Cited: The Holy Bible: King James Version. Dallas, TX: Brown Books Publishing, 2004.
Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge University Press. 2012. Print.
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