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Objections To The First Formulation Of Kant's Categorical Imperative

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Deontology is the ethical view that some actions are morally forbidden or permitted regardless of consequences. One of the most influential deontological philosophers in history is Immanuel Kant who developed the idea of the Categorical Imperative. Kant believed that the only thing of intrinsic moral worth is a good will. Kant says in his work Morality and Rationality "The good will is not good because of what it effects or accomplishes or because of it's adequacy to achieve some proposed end; it is good only because of it's willing, i.e., it is good of itself". A maxim is the generalized rule that characterizes the motives for a person's actions. For Kant, a will that is good is one that is acting by the maxim of doing the right thing because it is right thing to do. The moral worth of an action is determined by whether or not it was acted upon out of respect for the moral law, or the Categorical Imperative. Imperatives in general imply something we ought to do however there is a distinction between categorical imperatives and hypothetical imperatives. Hypothetical imperatives are obligatory so long as we desire X. If we desire X we ought to do Y. However, categorical imperatives are not subject to conditions. The Categorical Imperative is universally binding to all rational creatures because they are rational. Kant proposes three formulations the Categorical Imperative in his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Moral, the Universal Law formulation, Humanity or End in Itself formulation, and Kingdom of Ends formulation. In this essay, the viablity of the Universal Law formulation is tested by discussing two objections to it, mainly the idea that the moral laws are too absolute and the existence of false positives and false negatives.

The first formulation of the Categorical Imperative is defined by Kant to "act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law". Good moral actions are those of which are motivated by maxims which can be consistently willed that it's generalized form be a universal law of nature. These maxims are otherwise known as universilizable maxims. Maxims can then be put through the Categorical Imerative test to determine their universilisablility and thus the premissability the maxim. To test a maxim we must ask ourselves whether we can consistently will for a maxim to be obeyed by everyone all the time. If we can, then the act is permissible

but if we will inconsistently then the maxim is not universalisable and the act is forbidden. There are two ways to we can will inconsistently, either the generalized maxim is logically impossible or that what we will contradicts another of our wills. An example of a maxim which would not pass the Categorical Imperative test would be : "Whenever anyone wants money they will make a false promise, borrow the money and never pay the lender back." This generalized maxim cannot be universalized because it is self defeating for if it was adopted by everyone no one would lend out money. If there is no one that will give you money, there will be no false promises that can be made and hence the maxim cannot be universalized. Another example of a maxim that does not pass the Categorical Imperative test is : "Whenever anyone is better off than others, they will never give to the less fortunate". This maxim in itself does not contradict itself but it cannot be consistently willed. If the agent was to imagine himself at that moment to be a homeless person they would will that others who are better off would aid him. However this second will is in direct contradiction of his previous will. In this way, the agent is engaging in inconsistent willing and thus the maxim cannot be universalized. An example of a maxim which passes the Categorical Imperative test is never tell a lie. The generalised maxim would be: "Whenever anyone is asked a question, they will always tell the whole truth". This maxim can be willed consistently, for there is no self-defeating element in the maxim itself and there is no contradiction with any other will one might have. Everyone would want the truth from the person they asked a question to. Hence it is moral obligation to consistently

tell the truth.

In opposition to the first formualation of the Categorical Imperative, Benjamin Constant proposed the famous example called the Case of the Inquiring Murderer which showed that the moral laws of Kant are too absolute. In this hypothetical situation, someone is trying to escape a murderer and tells you that he is going to hide in his house. After the fleeing man has left, the murderer on the way to the first man's house stops and asks you where the first man has gone. You personally believe that if you tell the truth or remain silent, the murderer will kill the man. Most people would be morally compelled to tell a lie to save the first man's life. Yet in kantian ethics, telling a lie is in direct violation of the Categorical imperative. Kant personally responded to this objection by saying there is no way anyone could know with complete certainty what will happen in the future. Whether you tell the truth or not may not result in the death of the man. The best policy for Kant is to avoid the know evil of telling a lie and accept the consequences. Even if there are bad consequences it is not our fault if we did not tell a lie because we have done our moral duty according to the Categorical Imperative. Kants counter-argument is not all that convincing. However



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