Kantian Ethics - University of Alberta

Kantian Ethics
Accepting Responsibility
Kantian ethics was developed in a time vastly different from our own, it was the
age of enlightenment, and people were optimistic to the future. As to whether the beliefs
are relevant to fast-paced business world of today, I believe they do, to an extent, at least.
Opposition to Kant states that a good person should take no considerations of the results
of his actions. This argument is valid and will be addressed.
Kantian Ethics states that the primary concern of the morality of an action lies in
the reasons for taking those actions. If you take an action because you are inclined to do
so, then the action in question has no moral worth. It also states that to act morally, you
must act only in the way where the principle behind the action is what you would wish it
to be a universal law. Kant also states that you should treat all people as an end and not
merely as a means. That is not to say that you cannot treat people as a means, but you
must at the same time treat them as an end. These two statements are referred to as the
formulation of universal law, and the formulation of the kingdom of ends, respectively.
They are interpretations of a fundamental law, called the categorical imperative. This
categorical imperative is derive purely of reason, not experience, and must be followed in
order to act morally. The categorical imperative is a moral law which is binding on all
rational beings, as opposed to a hypothetical imperative, which has authority only if a
subjective condition is achieved.
An argument against Kant, a good person should take no consideration to the
results of his actions; brings to light the relevance of Kantian ethics is a post-modern
society. This argument exploits several misnomers. To say that an act that is accordance
with duty has no moral worth is not to say that it is immoral, or wrong. Acting from
inclination can produce results which are favourable for everyone, but they can also
produce results which are unfavourable for people as well. An act taken form duty,
assuming that the duty also complies with the formulation of universal law tends to
produce results favourable to everybody more often than actions which are taken from
inclination. If by acting from duty brings harm to a number of people who unjustly
deserved, than the duty that this action is taken from must be examined to see whether
that duty was formed capable of being willed to become universal law. If it fails to do so,
than this duty is false and must be rejected.
Kant examines the nature of doing accidental harm against doing wrong (Kant,
pg. 66-68) and states that “Therefore whoever tells a lie...must answer for the
consequences ...regardless...” (Kant pg.65) Therefore by acting from the imperative “do
not lie” you merely achieve innocence in the case of “lying to a murderer”, if you lie and
the murder is prevented, then there is nothing wrong with the case per se, but if you tell
the truth, and the murder happens, then you did nothing wrong, acted morally, but a bad
“accident” happened regardless. If you lie and the murder happens, then you are directly
responsible for the murder. Kant argues that lying, in whatever form or situation begins
deteriorating the foundation of society. It encourages making fraudulent business deals,
and should be avoided. I find this somewhat comical, given Kant’s view a religion
“necessity” for society, but ultimately unlikely to be true. Kant himself argues that while
god may not exist, the facility of the church is useful for the control of people, and
therefore condones this lie for the betterment of society. Thus his position that a lie
should be avoided at all costs something of a double standard. The maxim behind the
creation, if God truly does not exist, is built upon a lie, and therefore is merely in
accordance with duty. But the good that the church does in the world, aiding the needy,
etc. is undeniably better for mankind. Therefore it is maintained by the results of an
action, not necessarily the motives for the creation of the institute.
When an action is merely in accordance with duty, and not from duty, is it
therefore wrong to do it? I think not. The action may not have moral worth, but isn’t it
better to know you helped someone, especially if its not yourself, than to be a moral
person surrounded by the pain and misery of moral, but destructive actions. Is it the duty
of the soldier to kill the villagers, just because his orders say to? A person cannot commit
and terrible act and claim duty demanded this of them, they must be held responsible for
their actions.
Kant, Immanuel Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals original 1785 copyright 1993
Hackett Publishing Co.
Wikipedia, Immanuel Kant, accessed Nov. 1, 07, updated Nov 1, 07
Word count: 806 (excluding bibliography)
Daniel Spencer
Geoff Petrie
Section I
Kantian Ethics
Accepting Responsibility