The only acceptable motive for a moral action is that it should be done as a sense of moral duty. Is this a justifiable claim? Before it is possible to analyse whether the statement, The only acceptable motive for a moral action is that it should be done as a sense of moral duty, is a justifiable claim we must consider what ones moral duty is and if is it dependant or independent on the consequence of its action? For example we could state ones moral duty is never to lie. It is popularly believed that to lie is detrimental to ones own reputation and often causes emotional and social damage. But what if this principal causes damage itself.
Truth telling for a negative means can be just as harmful. Imagine you are told by a person fleeing from a murderer that he is going home to hide. Successively you are approached by the murderer demanding to know where that man went. Your moral duty would then oblige you to inform the murderer despite the possible fatal consequence. When studying the diverse issue of duty it is necessary to look at the view of the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) who stated, Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing wonder and awe the starry heaven above me and the moral law within me.
Kant understood the word ought to be generally used in non-moral way. For example, if you want to be better at school, you ought to study hard. The inclination of the ought implies that studying would be the correct moral path to take. However Kant stated that this is only relevant to the individuals desire to be better at school. Those who do not wish to do well at school need not study hard. Therefore it is a Hypothetical Imperative and the use of the word ought makes moral actions not universal. A hypothetical good act depends on the desire for a result teleogically rather than something good in itself.
From Kants perspective, morality had little to do with fulfilling ones desire for happiness, but was more to do with duty. He believed that to do ones duty was to follow a set of universal moral laws. As in the case of the murderer, it was ones duty to inform him where the victim was hiding. Kants views are referred to as The Categorical Imperative. This was an injunction, to be obeyed as a moral duty, regardless of an individuals impulse and self-interest. However what if an individuals impulse was to give to charity, would Kant condemn them because it wasnt out of a sense of duty?
This would be an unfair judgement as the person was doing good. In fact according to Kant their act would be immoral independent of the consequence. But perhaps if they also had the sense of duty and would give to charity even if they were unwilling they would be morally coherent. The rules by which the Categorical Imperative is constructed upon could be considered as Gods unconditional commands. They dont appeal to theological or even teleological considerations but adhere with a deontological argument from reason and rationality. The moral duties are followed because they are ends in themselves rather than some other ends.
Kant did appreciate the fact that humans have desires as they are not wholly rational. However the ability to reason can make them strive to follow their duty rather than impulse. However this doesnt mean ones inclination is necessarily wrong, only that it cannot determine their moral duty. In the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant argued that to be moral one must follow absolute rules. In this there can be no exceptions despite the consequence, as he stated that the only thing that is good without qualification is good will. Therefore one must act as if the maxim of their action was to become a universal law.
This is known as the Formula of Universal Law. Basically it is saying whatever moral decision you make you should be able to consider if it would be possible for everyone else to do the same, would it make rational sense? For if an act of good is universalised and then becomes contradictory then it is no longer morally valuable. The example given in the book Moral Problems was: Another finds himself driven to borrowing money because of need. He well knows that he will not be able to pay it back; but he sees to that he will get no loan unless he gives a firm promise to pay it back within a fixed time.
He is inclined to make such a promise; but he has still enough conscience to ask, It is not unlawful and contradictory to duty to get out of difficulties in this way? Supposing, however, he did resolve to do so, the maxim of his action would be: Whenever I believe myself to be short of money, I will borrow money and promise to pay it back, though I know that this will never be done. Now this principal of self-love or personal advantage is perhaps quite compatible with my own entire future welfare; only there remains the question, Is it right?
I therefore transform the demand of self-love into a universal law and frame my question thus: How would things stand if my maxim became a universal law? I then see straight away that this maxim can never rank as a universal law of nature and be self-consistent, but must necessarily contradict itself. For the universality of a law that everyone believing himself to be in need can make any promise he please with this intention not to keep it would make promising, and the very purpose of promising, itself impossible, since no one would believe he was being promised anything, but would laugh at utterance of this kind as empty shame.
However if an action when universalised is logical then it is ones duty to abide. These type of maxims are generally found in the Ten Commandments, for example, do not lie do not steal, etc. It is reasonable to apply these rules to everyone. Whilst not proving his belief directly, it is supported by numerous examples and is treated as something understood as being intrinsically morally valuable. It will therefore cause all other actions, which are regarded as good to be under the category of good will.
He defines this statement with further examples that include the notion of moral worth of the good will is unaffected by its ability. For example, a will that is good and accomplishes many good deeds is no better than one that is powerless in achieving its aims. Again, Kant doesnt support this statement but merely appreciates it as if it were fact through definition. It is therefore hard to dispute or argue against, since any man has the right to use his own words to name his own thoughts. Also, it would seem unfair for me to argue epistemologically with a translation of someones work from another language.
As stated in the title of this essay Kant believed the first proposition of morality is that an action must be done from duty in order to have any moral worth. This is also to say that an action has no moral worth if done because of inclination even if the outcome of the action corresponds with duty, or with a good will. Restated, he is saying that a persons maxim for an action has no moral content unless an action is done from duty. This perplexed to me as incorrect and so I decided to break his argument down and analyse it against what I believe contains moral worth.
To all actions there can be two distinguishable characteristics. First, an action is either done from duty, or against duty. And secondly, an action is either done because of inclination, or despite the inclination. Through permutation, there immediately appear to be four distinct kinds of action: 1. An action done against duty and ones inclination 2. An action done against duty because of ones inclination 3. An action done from duty because of ones inclination 4. An action done from duty despite ones inclination.
Through Kants beliefs he would reject the first two as morally wrong, which is agreeable as long as duty is defined, but he has done something curious with the latter two. He repeatedly exemplifies the fourth one as the model of a morally valuable action, but he considers all instance of the third one as not morally valuable because of his first proposition of morality- that the maxim of an action done from inclination has no moral value. Therefore the person how acts out pure rationality in following duty is morally good, whether or not the consequence of the action is.
I must object to the reasoning of his analysis of the last two statements. How can a person be moral correct by following their duty if their will tells them otherwise? Surely they are being forced into something they dont appreciate. Being good to them is a task and therefore only the consequence of the action is good rather than the motive. Surely one who strives for good out of inclination would have more of a sense of morality? One of the first things Kant considered as a duty was that we should never lie.
However as I have already shown in the murderer example, sometimes truth telling can be just as harmful as lying. However Kant believed that lying was deontologically bad i. e. immoral despite the consequences. However we must consider, why is lying bad in itself? Why should it be the duty of all man not to lie? Kant would say that in considering lying, one must ponder whether the maxim of the action could become a universal law. Therefore isnt Kant looking at morality from a teleological perspective, for one must consider the consequence of lying in order to be able to universalise truth telling?
In Kants Categorical Imperative he is really using a Hypothetical Imperative on a larger scale. Universalising is always moving toward the teleological as it is always considering the consequence. I believe that lying is bad because it is contradictory to things that are good in themselves, that is truth and knowledge. However Kant says that these are not valuable without good will, but I say they must have some intrinsic value or else human as thinking beings cannot have any ability to do good.
Again, this brings up Kants statement that a good will is not good because of its ability, but only in and of itself. But if this was true, and no good wills ever accomplished anything good, what would be the purpose of good will? Kant even says later that we should cultivate and make use of ones talents as a sense of duty. However, surely the ability of a good will to do good is one of its talents. I am not saying that a good will is not valuable in itself, Im merely highlighting the fact that it cannot stand alone in being the only thing of moral value.
Along stating one should follow their moral duty, Kant also discussed how we should treat people as a duty. This form of the argument is known as the Formula of an Ends in Itself. This basically addresses the issue that we must handle people with respect they deserve. It is almost following the saying in the bible, do as you would be done by. According to Kant we shouldnt treat people as if they were a means to an end because each and everyone of us are ends in ourselves, which is why humans are holy.
This theory is also known as the Practical Imperative, Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always as an ends. The argument promotes equality in every case and implies that we must stick to it as ones duty. Some criticise this principle as they believe we have to treat all people as means e. g. teacher are means to teach, waitresses are means to serve. However Kant believed that even if we do use people as means we should also treat them as ends.
But then again is this also an area for critique as Kant is judging the situation teleogically by considering the consequence. The final part of Kants Categorical Imperative is given the title, Formula of the Kingdom of ends. It states that: Every rational being must so act as if he were by his maxims in every case legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends. In this case it is stressing the need for community and everyone deserving equal respect. Therefore as the community it could be said the statement in the title is a justifiable claim in order to avoid chaos and stay in accordance to morality.
So far I have mainly explained why people would find the title statement a justifiable claim, along side but a few of the arguments against. However there have been many more problems and inconsistencies found within the structure of Kants claims. Firstly there is the vast problem of the conflicting moral duties. For example one duty may be never to lie and another never to allow an innocent man to be murdered. Therefore where does your duty lie in the example I gave for the questioning murderer at the start of this essay?
Another example is of a plane crashing in the Andes. Many passengers survive. However, no rescue comes and food rapidly runs out. In this extreme situation, facing death by starvation, they consider it their duty to eat the flesh of those who didnt survive. Clearly eating the dead would be considered immoral as it is treating the deceased purely as a means, but survival should also be a duty. For this reason it is a hard decision to make. Each situation is different which leads us to situation ethics, an incoherent attitude in Kants rigid imperative argument.
An attempt to make a hierarchy of duties has been made by W. D. Ross in The Right and the Good. However this still means we must choose one duty over another and therefore ignore some of the duties according to the situation. Again this is going against the fundamental principal of Kants ethics. So what is the solution? Clearly from just these two examples out of a number of scenarios show people cannot act purely on reason. Choices are made through a process of consideration and complex influences. Each situation is unique, along with the human behaviour in the circumstance.
However perhaps we could act on a maxim which you could universalise a law for people in the exact same situation. But this was not the way in which Kant presented his argument. This is a great debatable issue for the liability of Kants argument and therefore the justifiable nature of this essay titles claim. The few people who do accept the theory without interpretation are conscious objectors, but in general most people would accept variations of the rules. When considering the universalisation of a moral action Kant doesnt take into account the various temperaments and situations of people.
The sadist may wish to universalise sadism and it cannot be considered as irrational through Kants definition. We could also say a diabetic has to inject insulin everyday. It is right for him to do so and his duty, therefore should be universalised. This is also not illogical through the line of Kants argument but absurd through the general perspective. F. Copleston and R. Walker suggested that the Categorical Imperative was far too vague. For although the formulations are clear, the imperative itself has no content. Therefore, is everything that can be universalised a moral duty?
For example you must always start walking with your left foot clearly has no moral relevance even though it can be a universal law. Therefore it could be said that Kant has not completed his argument. He has provided a test for morals but never defined what a moral is. Therefore how can we have set duties? Along side the criticisms of the statement, many merits have been found. Firstly it firmly establishes the reign of reason, elevates the dignity of man through his subjection into sensible reasoning forbidding from self-interest: and upholds morality against the highest authority.
Kant is also taking into account the Principle of Justice by suggesting you can not punish the innocent because it would be beneficial to a majority as a utilitarian may say, but by doing your duty you will suffice to equality of man. Everyone will also be treated well as they will be considered an ends rather than a means. Therefore no one is being use for a selfish purpose. Kants theory could be considered as ethically valuable as it makes a clear distinction between duty and inclination. Just because someone is inclined to act in a certain manner, it is not necessarily their duty to follow it as it may be immoral.
Therefore by following ones duty, they have a good will and are better person by considering the community rather than satisfying their selfish desires. Their moral freedom will be the judge to do the correct thing. Credit is given to the theory, as it is considerate of motives. A person may try hard to be moral but not succeed. However they will not become an immoral person if it subscribed to their duty. This will give people the drive to try as they can not lose out. However it almost makes the successful acts nonsensical and almost pointless as they are no better than the failures.
Because the theory is reliant on reason some presume that it is more logical and trust worthy. When feelings and emotions are included in a moral decision a person can be driven to make an unethical choice. Reason is also more consistent and reliable than an emotional based decision. The most important part of the imperative is that we are able to universalise the law as moral laws applicable to all mankind without the individuals self interest and emotional involvement. If the law is not universal then it can contain no moral worth, for it is inconsistent.
Through my analysis of Kants argument I have discussed the possible justifiable qualities of the claim: The only acceptable motive for a moral action is that it should be done as a sense of moral duty. However along with its advantages there are also the disadvantages. I believe that the claim is far too rigid and takes away all worth in morality for it is no longer a good deed but a law. But like with every line of argument it is up to the individual to decide how the weigh up the argument but I myself believe it to be too contradictory to be liable.