Home » Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals

Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals

In his publication, Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant supplies his readers with a thesis that claims morality can be derived from the principle of the categorical imperative. The strongest argument to support his thesis is the difference between actions in accordance with duty and actions in accordance from duty. To setup his thesis, Kant first draws a distinction between empirical and “a priori” concepts. Empirical concepts are ideas we reach from our experiences in the world.

On the other hand and in contrast, “a priori” concepts are ideas we reach as an end point of reasoning prior to or apart from any experience of how things occur in the world. Kant then claims that moral actions are supposed done for the reason of morality alone. This train of thought leads to the conclusion that an understanding of morality must be based on “a priori” concepts of reason. Truly moral ideas are then universally valid if and only if they are based on “a priori” concepts.

From this idea of “a priori” concepts, Kant begins his thesis with the notion that the only thing in the world that is a qualified good is the “good will”, even if its efforts bring about a not necessarily good result. A “good will” is good because of the willing that is involved. Two main implications arise with this idea of the “good will”. The first implication is moral actions cannot have impure motivations. There are many impure motivations but Kant tends to focus mainly on the motives of the pursuit of happiness and self-preservation. Second, moral actions cannot be based on the speculations of the probable results.

This action is not good in itself but good because it brought about a more desirable outcome. Thus, Kant arrives at the conclusion that for an action to be considered to have genuine moral worth its motive must be that of dutifulness to moral law. In Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant lays out three propositions about duty. The first is the will is a morally good action if it is done in accordance from duty, as opposed to an action done in accordance with duty. The second proposition is that actions are judged by the “maxim” or principle that was the motivation behind the action.

If someone undertakes an action with the only motivation being that of a sense of duty, they are following a valid “a priori” action. On the other hand if they decide to undertake an action in order to bring about a desired result, then their motivation is one that is beyond mere duty. Kant’s third proposition then explains that is not the respect for the power of the law but rather it is the moral motivation of an individual who acknowledges that the law is an imperative of reason that trumps our other interests. The will, as Kant describes, is of practical reason.

A rational being is an individual who has the capacity to execute their behavior by the conceptions of laws. This discipline of action is also known as the will. Our judgment that advises us on our action is known as an imperative or a command to act on a certain motive. An imperative can be either hypothetical or categorical. In the hypothetical imperative one acknowledges an action as right or necessary if it is a manner in which to obtain or achieve a certain goal. As such you would act on an action if a previous circumstance has taken place.

These types of actions come from our previous experiences and counsel us to a way in which our desires can be achieved. Thus, an action cannot be held universally valid at all times if its goal is to acquire some objective of desire under a certain set of conditions. If the goal is ultimately happiness, we are unable to set any universally hypothetical imperatives for happiness. This is because the definition of happiness differs from person to person. One man’s happiness can very well be another man’s misery.

As Kant explains, a binding moral law then cannot be equivalent or parallel to a hypothetical imperative. Pure reason comes from the ability to consider neither a motivating condition accompanying another nor its intended results. With that, we then need to find a principle with universal validity or a principle that is valid no matter what issue is being considered. “A priori” principles of reason are the only principles that fit this standard on which a judgment or decision may be based. Hence, Immanuel Kant formulates that a moral imperative is one that is an unconditional or categorical imperative.

A categorical imperative is our moral consciousness to do our duty because we ought to do our duty instead of pursuing our own desires attached to the duty. Such an imperative is driven by pure reason. Because we exclude our desires or maxims, we need only to focus on the form of our imperative. The form needs to be universally applicable or valid for all rational beings to follow.

Thus, Kant gives us only one categorical imperative and it is “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant pg. ). This universal law of morality states that we should act in such a way that we could will the maxim of our action to become universally applicable. This should be used as the criterion to determine whether or not a maxim is morally valid. Before we are able to apply a maxim to this categorical imperative, it is required that the maxim first, be fit to be a law of nature and second, is based on a notion that all actions have ends. The second pertains to the idea that men and women are ends in themselves.

No maxim that does not impose or imply respect as a necessary accompaniment for men and women can be a moral law valid for everyone. Third, we must see every rational being as able to make universal laws. Last, the maxim requires the moral agent to act as a lawgiving member of all persons. From these points, two important ideas arise. The ideas deal with the autonomy of the will and dignity of the individual. Each person is essentially their own lawmaker, obeying the laws that they give themselves as a rational being.

A person is not bound to a law by fear or hope of some reward, but freely bound to it by their lawgiving ability. This moral will is autonomous. Autonomy, which means self-law, is the only way Kant believes an individual to achieve the ultimate freedom. If an individual obeys laws from some other lawgiver, such as God and government, because of fear of punishment or hope of reward, he or she is not truly free. I feel the strongest objection to this thesis is Kant does not take enough consideration to human beings natural emotions.

I believe his thesis weighs to heavily on mere reason alone without any emphasis on the emotional component of our morality. Kant’s perception that morality is a chore neglects the fact that by performing actions from duty individuals can obtain a somewhat subtle level of personal gratification from partaking in such acts that are not generally enjoyable to execute. I am not thoroughly convinced that if you are able to gain some happiness and reward from an action that is not generally alluring.

The strengths of my personal view rely on the possibility of achieving a feeling of reward by completing an obligation. I feel there is an importance of doing something with a smile on your face. If you are unhappy to perform a moral action it will to reveal outwardly or make apparent that your heart is elsewhere, thus, tainting the action. However, if you perform these tasks seeking a somewhat level of enjoyment others will notice that you truly care about what it is you are doing and perceive the action to be a notable one.

The weakness is obviously that you will be more probable to engage and look to engage in more actions that will give you this appeal and instant gratification. This is not an ideal situation because placing a slight neglect to a duty or obligation that you might not find appeal in defeats the purpose of completing all of the obligations set for us to go through with. Kant’s thesis has strength in the fact that the universal law seems closely related to the golden rule, which is do on to others as you would have others do on to you. With a statement as such it is awfully arduous to not perform a moral action.

The weakness still lies in the fact Kant takes little to no consideration to humans’ natural emotions and feelings. Leading a moral life does not have to be a melancholy life, one in which you are bound to an endless amount of duties that you can seek no joy in. Whether or not Kant intended to make morality seem like torture, it appears it comes off in this manner. Kant’s overall view of morality appears near flawless. If there was a manner in which he could have incorporated a leeway for some emotions, I feel his thesis is in actuality how each individual should lead his or her life.

Cite This Work

To export a reference to this essay please select a referencing style below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Leave a Comment