Freedom and Morality in Kant's Ethics

Topics: Immanuel Kant, Morality, Categorical imperative Pages: 6 (2222 words) Published: October 5, 2007
Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals is an exploration and argument that seeks a universally binding first principle for morals. Kant presents an essay in which empirical observations and facts are not adequate to answer the question of, why be moral? Instead Kant relies on theoretical concepts, such as autonomy, morality, duty and goodwill to explain how necessity and causality are ordered. In this essay I will attempt to explain the Kantian connection between freedom and morality. In order to demonstrate the relationship between the Kantian notion of freedom and morality, I will first briefly summarize Kant's broader explanations of good will, duty and the categorical imperative. Kant begins his argument with the characterization of goodwill. According to Kant, goodwill is that which "is good only through its willing, i.e., it is good in itself." (395) For Kant, goodwill is independent of "what effects or accomplishes" (394) it has, and is separate from estimable characteristics and/or other gifts of fortune a person may have. The notion of ‘duty' arises when we examine what actions are morally good. Kant asserts that duty is the exercise of goodwill, that is, an action has moral worth only if the agent performs an act out of duty. However, this is not to say that an act done out of duty alone has moral worth. For Kant, moral duty is a universal law. Moral duty cannot be mitigated nor exaggerated by circumstance (otherwise it would not be a moral duty). However, Kant stipulates that moral duty can only apply to rational beings that have a will. Moreover, these rational beings must be able to recognize the moral laws that compel them to do their moral duty. For example, to use Professor Darwall's lecture example, if I hold an object three feet from the ground and then remove my hands from the object, then the object crashes to the floor, it was I, the agent, and not the object that committed an action. Obviously, inanimate objects do not possess a will, only I possess a will. Once Kant establishes that the manifestations of goodwill will accord with moral law, Kant presents the moral law. The moral law is the Categorical Imperative. The Categorical Imperative has four formulations. The Formula of Universal law which states: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." (421). The Formulation of the Ends in Itself, which states: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always the same time as an end and never simply as a means." (429) The formulation of Autonomy, which holds that the will not only follows the law, the will also makes the law. Lastly there is the Formula of the Kingdom of Ends, which is "A systematic union of different rational beings through common laws." (433). From these four formulations (which are reiterations of the Categorical imperative), Kant bases all moral duties as deriving from the Categorical Imperative. However, in order to establish that the Categorical Imperative, in all of its formulations, but especially the Kingdom of Ends, Kant needs to demonstrate how the autonomy of the will is free. First, Kant defines freedom as a property of causality for the rational will, "The will is a kind of causality belonging to living beings insofar as they are rational; freedom would be the property of this causality that makes it effective independent of any determination by alien causes." (446). This definition of freedom has several implications. Again, it seems that Kant returns to explore the notion of necessity and law, that is, freedom is a conduit to study the relationship between cause and effect (more on this later). Kant does not define freedom as a great liberator of obligation, allowing the freedom-laden agent with carte blanche to do as she pleases; instead Kant defines freedom only in terms of another universally binding concept. Kant boldly claims, "if...
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