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Immanuel Kant And The Categorical Imperative

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One of the most famous deontologists is Immanuel Kant who believes that one should act according to the Categorical Imperative. Acting in accordance to the Categorical Imperative means that you should do a right act with good will. This means you shouldn’t do something in conformity to duty. You should do something regardless of your desires. It should be of pure reason. You should do it because you know it is the right thing to do. That’s why in order for your act to be considered ethical, you need to know first that what you’re doing is right and of good will.

Kantian Ethics tells us to an act in accordance to “perfect duty” and not just in conformity to it. There is a difference between acting for the sake of duty and acting in conformity to duty. Both of them entails that you are acting because of duty but your motivations on doing this duty are different. Perfect Duty, doing duty for the sake of duty, needs you to act solely on duty and out of good will while Apparent Duty basis your actions on human inclinations. Acting, also, in perfect duty means you are doing something “without strings attached” based on the handouts. It means that you’re doing it without expecting positive reinforcements or something in return as opposed to duty in conformity where a person believes that following duty would bring them somewhere good.

Acting, also, in accordance to the Categorical Imperative means you act in accordance to its three maxims. The first Kantian Maxim is the Duty Maxim that one should “do duty for the sake of duty alone.” This means that you should act in accordance to good will, not on any other reasons including desire. One shouldn’t act in accordance to human inclination which is under the category o Hypothetical Imperative. Acting upon human inclinations means you are doing something for a reason other than it being a product of good will. Human Inclination can be manifested in three levels: emotional attachment, reciprocation, and fear of untoward experiences. Acting upon (1) emotional attachment means that you are doing something because your emotions told you to do it (e.g. giving your friends gifts because you are happy). The second is acting for (2) reciprocation which means that you are doing something expecting that they will do such things in return. This problematic mindset of expecting things in return can be reflected on Confucius’ Rule “Do not do unto others what you don’t want others do unto you.” It was just said that you shouldn’t do things for it to be reciprocated so this statement doesn’t abide by the relies set by Kant which is the reason why he created the Diamond Rule. It states that we should “do to others what is Right, having known it to be Right, even if others do not do the same thing to you.”

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The final level of manifestation is doing acts in (3) fear of untoward consequences which are prevalent on religions saying that we should do good thing so that we won’t go to a hell-like place where we will stay in eternal damnation. These three manifestations of human inclination directly explain why it in itself is an enemy of duty. Kant believes that you should do ethical acts in accordance to duty because if you do some actions based on these human inclinations, your motivation might be corrupt. If you give your friends gift when you’re happy, does that mean that you won’t do it when you’re not happy? If you help other people expecting them to help you in return, what if they tell you that they won’t do the same acts on you? Would you stop doing good thing on that person? Finally, if it’s proven that there are no consequences to your good actions, would you choose to be bad? That’s why we shouldn’t use human inclinations as a motivation of our actions because it in itself is an enemy of duty.

Back to the Kantian Maxims, the second one is the Universalizability Maxim which states that we should “act in such a way that we can always will our action to become universal law.” This coincide Kant’s Universality Axiom that’s basically about if one thing can be applies universally or all things in general. This can be more expounded as I go on with the second maxim. This maxim contains three “Universalizability Tests” that one should look through before commencing an act. The first test is the (1) Individual reverse test which begs to ask the question “what is this action is done to me instead?” This means that if you don’t want other people to do such actions on you, then don’t do it on other. This does not coincide with Confucius’ Silver Rule because this is a matter of testing, not an application of real life. The second is (2) Universal Application Test which tests of its rightness by imagining that all people of all time in all situations does it. Would it create chaos or would it maintain peace? We can use this test when talking about revenge. If all people would take revenge on all the people who have wronged them, it would make a chaotic world because the need for revenge would just circle around certain people and the fight will never end. Finally, the third test is the (3) Test of Non-contradiction which tests whether a particular act doesn’t contradict with a universally recognized law and value. White lies, in this case, fails this test because it contradicts the universal law of honestly and lying would create deception which can never be a good thing in any cases.

Kant’s last maxim is the Personhood, Existence and Intrinsic Humanity Maxim which puts importance and value on the three things stated. It is saying that we should “act in such a way that we treat ourselves and others as an end-in-itself and not as a mean-towards-our-end. This is the maxim that I love the most since it focuses on giving value towards us and the humanity. It tells us to respect the personhood of the person by treating them as person and not as an object. We are also taught to “not to pull the carpet off on the feet of others” which means that we, as humanity, would give the chance to each other to grow together with each of us. Finally, and the best thing about this maxim is how it tells us to practice valuing the free will and volition of a person. It states that saying yes does not equate to a free consent because a person can be manipulated or coerced to do so. A free consent is a permission to do an act without any external and internal force. That is basically what the third maxim is about.

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Immanuel Kant And The Categorical Imperative. (2022, February 18). Edubirdie. Retrieved March 21, 2023, from
“Immanuel Kant And The Categorical Imperative.” Edubirdie, 18 Feb. 2022,
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