Are there absolute moral laws that we
have to follow regardless of
First we want to know what Kant has to
say about what moral rule we ought to
2 Types of Commands or
Hypothetical Imperatives – “If you desire
Y, then you ought to do X”
Hypothetical imperatives are conditioned on
your actually desiring some outcome.
The imperative only has motivational force if
you do desire the outcome that the action
Categorical Imperatives – “You ought to
do X”
Morality does not depend on our having
certain desires.
Categorical imperatives are commands that
we follow regardless of our personal end or
Fundamental Principle of Morality
is a Categorical Imperative
1. Act only according to that maxim by which you
can at the same time will that it should become
a universal law.
2. Act as though the maxim of your action were by
your will to become a universal law of nature.
3. Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your
own person or that of another, always as an end
and never as a means only.
Application of the C.I.
Application of the categorical imperative
results in moral rules that are absolute,
i.e., admit of no exceptions
Applied to the judgment of specific
actions: If action could become universal
law, then it is morally correct.
Examples: suicide; borrow money
knowing you can’t repay it; charity;
indolent man
Justification of the Categorical
1. Nothing is intrinsically good but a good
will: all other goods, such as happiness,
intellectual eminence are worthless or
positively evil when not combined with a
good will.
2. A good will is one that habitually wills
3. The rightness or wrongness of a volition
depends wholly on its motive.
Implication of the C. I.
Does not depend on consequences.
To do something right requires that we do
it for the right reason.
An action can have a proper outcome with
out it being moral. (Amoral, Immoral,
Moral actions)
Any action which is right or wrong in a
given situation must be wrong for any
rational being.
Primacy of Rationality in Kant’s
Because people have desires and goals, other things
have value for them – we give other things value.
Human beings are valuable in and of themselves.
They have their own “intrinsic worth” i.e., “dignity” that is
“above all price”
Value of human beings stems from the fact that they are
rational agents: free agents capable of making their own
decisions, setting goals and guiding their conduct by reason.
We cannot treat individuals as things because they are
the source of moral goodness.
To treat a person as an “end in themselves” means
respecting their rationality.
Problems with the Kantian
Anscomb: proper way to construct moral
Conflicts between absolute moral rules:
Dutch fisherman example.
Are all categorical imperatives actually
Mill’s criticism of Kantian ethics – Kant
himself is appealing to consequences in
evaluating which maxims to accept.
Kant on Retributive Justice
Punishment increases the amount of suffering in the
Punishment may be justified if it:
Helps prevent crime
Well designed punishment may help rehabilitate criminals
Utilitarian rationale is close to our current notions of
crime and punishment
“prison” = “correctional facility”
“guard” = “ corrections officer
educational programs/counseling/work
Punishment is acceptable because it is what the
criminal deserves.
Punishing prisoners as a way of preventing
crime is using people as a means to an end.
Rehabilitation is a violation of the autonomy
rights of the individual to choose what sort
person they want to be.
People should be punished simply because they
have committed a crime.
Punishment for crime should be proportional –
seriousness of the crime determines the penalty.
Justification of Punishment
1. We must treat people as an end-in-themselves
2. To treat someone as an end is to treat them as
a rational being
3. To treat someone as a rational being is to treat
a person as capable of reasoning about his or
her conduct and freely deciding what he or she
will do.
4. When we decide what to do to those who do
wrong to us we look to the categorical
imperative they have endorsed by their own