Why We Kant Accept This (Immanual Kant & the Moral Rules)

Ethics is not my strong suite. I’ve said this many times in my other posts. While the debated subjects in and of themselves are not too bad, the conclusions are what throw me off. Why? Because there are no conclusions. At the end of each chapter, it seems like the philosophers forgot how to properly end a story: “…and they lived happily ever after! The End.”

Instead, it ends more like, “…Based on all of these essays and theoretical accounts, no one knows whether they lived happily ever after or not; because the Guild of Important Philosophers cannot decide what it truly means to live ‘happily’ or ‘ever after. As for “The End,” no one can agree on what “the end” really is, or how it happens.” Am I the only one who is frustrated with answers like these? News flash, philosophers: I’m not taking a class to NOT learn anything!

There are no conclusions.

And, to answer the question to which you are simply dying for an answer: No, there is no real ‘Guild of Important Philosophers.’

This week’s lesson was on Immanuel Kant, who was a Prussian philosopher in the late 17th century. In our textbook, The Elements of Moral Philosophy by James Rachels, we follow his Categorical Imperative (CI), which is based on his supposition that there are a set of moral rules that we are to follow, no matter what. These are set by God, and it is my guess that they are based off of the Ten Commandments. He argues that because God made the rules, he will never put us in a position where the dilemma is whether to break one or the other.

The CI means that whether we follow the rules or not, there will be consequences. One situation, he describes, is that you passed by someone who tells you that there is a killer coming after him, and he is going home to hide from the killer. A few minutes later, the killer comes by and demands to know if you’ve seen his victim or know where he has gone. Do you tell the truth? On your part, it would easy to say that no, you would purposefully mislead the killer so that he would never find the man. But what if, Kant supposes, the man has decided to leave his home and make a run for it? Perhaps this forces him right into the killer’s path, the one you happened to send him on. If you had simply told the killer where the man had gone, he would have found the house empty. Either way – by falsifying information or telling the truth – you have helped the killer find his victim. As hard as it is to accept, Kant believes that telling the truth will always lead to the correct outcome.

 I believe in the Commandments, but I do not follow with Kant’s CI. It bothers me to say it (as it should), but when it comes to it, I will lie under certain circumstances. Sometimes, it is necessary to break the rules.

Categorical Imperative says we are to follow these rules, no matter what. Period. End of story.

So the discussion question was:  “Consider the following argument:

“The problem with Kant’s ethics is that silly or immoral maxims pass muster [become accepted] under the categorical imperative.”

What does this criticism mean?  Give an example of the kind of maxim that is being referred to.  Is this criticism right?  Why or why not?

My answer (with a few modifications for the internet):

“The criticism is correct, and simply because (going back to the argument about Ethical Subjectivism) when it comes to what should be morally accepted and what should not, people have different opinions and perspectives. One person saying that “It is okay to lie in order to keep the peace,” contradicts another person’s opinion of “It is never okay to lie.” When we make our opinion a universal truth, we assume that everyone else accepts this as a universal truth, as well.

A couple times in Chapter 9 [in James Rachels’ The Elements of Moral Philosophy, 7th Edition], Kant’s example is based on giving aid. Saying that we should always help those in need is already a maxim in itself (i.e., “You ought to help others, period.”). Nearly everyone would agree, on the surface. But consider this: perhaps you were walking through [a city] and a homeless man asks for a bit of money, but you have none to give. The rule is to help those in need, but you know you do not have the means. Therefore, you are denying that universal truth.

Or maybe you do have change available, but you know the man will spend it on alcohol, instead of using it for food or a new coat. In the short-term concept, yes, you would be helping him by giving him money; but do you give it to him, knowing it will not help him in the long run, by furthering his alcoholism? In this example, you would be assisting him in one way, but the other end of the problem would contradict your response.

The problem with Kant’s ethical theory is that it does not take into account people’s utility of good judgement. It does not explain that for every situation, there is a slightly different answer. People will generally say, “It is good to help those in need,” but we make a judgement call when doing so. We have to consider the situation in the short- and long-term run. There are no absolute moral rules, because different circumstances require alternate answers.”

As is the commonality, I say, “End Rant.”

What do you think? Is Kant’s Categorical Imperative sound? Let me know what you think in the comments.

BTW: Most of my posts have been about Ethics lately. I am working on some other posts, but if you get tired of it, just holler. I’m not one to write things on the fly and post them immediately. I am very thorough when it comes to my writing, especially in essays or blogs. That’s why it takes me a while to post anything.


2 thoughts on “Why We Kant Accept This (Immanual Kant & the Moral Rules)

  1. Kant is in the world of philosophy and so, he examines ethics from that perspective. Ethics can also be viewed from a more holistic perspective as tied to our ‘symbolic’ universe – the world we live in -, our stories, our sense of beauty, our knowledge and, whatever inspires us to do great ‘things’. I’ve tried in my work on ‘ethical dynamics’ to address your concerns…

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