Lecture 30: Utilitarian Theory

Lecture 33: Kantian Ethics Pt. I
Lecture objectives:
 To review the definition of “deontological”
 To define “good will”
 To distinguish categorical from hypothetical
 To identify the three formulations of the
Categorical Imperative
 To clarify the relationship between rationality,
autonomy, and freedom
Upcoming readings assignments:
1. Finish reading Kant, “Groundwork of the
Metaphysics of Morals” and complete your “sketch” of
the essential features of his approach
2. 27 Feb – O’Neill, “Kantian Approaches to Some
Famine Problems”
Portfolio assignment: Do you find O’Neill’s account
convincing? Briefly outline her argument, then
articulate carefully your answer to the question,
responding specifically to her argument.
3. 01 Mar – Aristotle, “Nicomachean Ethics”
Deontological theories:
 Some actions are intrinsically valuable or good not
as a function of their consequences
 There is something in the nature of some acts
which renders them obligatory, i.e., a moral duty
 These views tend to emphasize also the moral
worth and dignity of persons.
Kant is concerned here with establishing the conditions
or principles of practical reason oriented to properly
moral action.
Essential features of Kantian theory:
 Duties from Rules of Reason:
 an act is morally praiseworthy only if done neither
for self-interested reasons nor as the result of a
natural disposition, but rather from duty.
 The Categorical Imperative: Supreme principle of
morality (three formulations)
1. Formula of Universal Law: “Act only on that maxim
[principle of action] through which you can at the same time will
that it should become a universal law”
2. Formula of Humanity as an End in Itself: “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 at the same time as an end”
3. Formula of the Kingdom of Ends
Duties from Rules of Reason
 Kant is a rationalist and an objectivist.
 Moral principles are objective truths.
 Persons or rational beings have intrinsic moral
worth because of their rationality.
 An action is morally worthy only if performed by
an agent with a good will.
 An agent with a good will acts from duty, out
of respect for the moral law.
a) Good will:
 to will something is to be committed to its concrete
manifestation in action
There is a dual sense in which someone might be called
Good will
 will the good (to have goodwill)
 the will is good (to have a good will)
For Kant, to have a good will is precisely to will the
“A good will is not good because of what it effects or accomplishes
– because of its fitness for attaining some proposed good; it is good
through its willing alone – that is, good in itself.”
The mark of a good will is one that is rational and
hence is capable of identifying his/her duty and
choosing it for its own sake.
 An action that is motivated by duty, that is
done from duty, is rational and as rational, it is
1) The object of rationality is what is objectively
true, hence universalizable.
2) In virtue of the fact that we are all rational
beings, what is rational for one should be rational
for all, hence it is also universalizable.
b) What is a maxim?
 “a subjective principle of action”, which
prescribes what ought to be done
e.g., “When I need money, I will borrow it and
promise to pay it back, even though I know I cannot
do so.”
c) What is properly moral action?
 one for which the underlying maxim or
principle of action accords with the supreme principle
of morality, which he calls the Categorical Imperative.
Subjective maxim  objective moral law
The Categorical Imperative
a) Categorical vs. Hypothetical Imperatives
Hypothetical imperatives: non-moral “ought’s”
 the action is seen as a means to a particular
desirable end.
Categorical imperatives: moral “ought’s”
 The action is an end in itself in so far as it is
intrinsically valuable.
b) Formulations of the Categorical Imperative:
 Formula of Universal Law
“I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will
that my maxim should become a universal law.”
 The CI is used to test the consistency of rules
or maxims.
 test of logical/conceptual consistency
 test of volitional consistency
 Formula of Humanity as an End in itself
“no maxim which does not respect persons can be a moral law
valid for all men”.
 this follows specifically from the principle that
in virtue of being rational, the will of every
rational being is a “will which makes universal
 human beings are free
 freedom is the locus of our dignity
“Reason thus relates every maxim of the will, considered as
making universal law, to every other will and also to every action
towards oneself; it does so, not because of any further motive or
future advantage, but form the idea of the dignity of a rational
being who obeys no law other than that which he at the same time
enacts himself”.
 Formula of the Kingdom of Ends
 the “kingdom” of ends is a “systematic union of
different rational beings through common laws”
 ends = a) each of us as ends in ourselves and b)
ends which each of us may set for ourselves
 (a) is locus of dignity; (b) is locus of market
value and price.
Duties: Fourfold classification
 Duties to oneself vs. Duties to others
 Perfect duties vs. Imperfect duties
a) Perfect duties:
 must always be observed
 prescribe certain kinds of actions
 to violate these is morally blameworthy
 derived form requirement of logical
 e.g., duty not to lie, duty not to kill innocent
persons, duty to keep promises, duty not to
commit suicide
b) Imperfect duties:
 prescriptions concerning general ends
 fulfilling them is praiseworthy
 must be observed on some occasions, usually at
our discretion
 derived from requirement of consistency in willing
 e.g., duty to develop one’s talents, duty of
beneficence or charity
If there is a conflict, a perfect duty always overrides an
imperfect duty.