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Immanuel Kant's Theory Of Categorical Imperative

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The word deontology comes from the Greek word ‘deon’, which means ‘duty’. Which is why the name “duty-based ethics’ is associated with deontology. (Alexander & Moore, 2016). Deontology states that regardless of the outcome, one is morally obligated to act following a set of principles and rules. It requires people to follow their rules and do their duties. According to deontology, the correctness of action lies within itself, not in the consequences of the action. Actions can be morally obligatory irrespective of their consequences, these actions are called non-consequential. (Alexander & Moore, 2016).

Deontological ethics worry about the actions people undertake rather than the consequences of their actions. The rule states that one cannot justify an action by showing that it brought about good consequences. Deontology involves doing the right thing because it is the right thing to do. Any system that portrays a clear set of rules is a form of deontology which is where the name rule-based ethics was derived from. An example of a rule-based ethic is ‘The Ten Commandments’. You can argue that deontology is often opposed to consequentialism. Consequentialists identify the right action as the actions that produce the maximum number of good things. (Alexander & Moore, 2016). While deontologist acts the other way around in opposed. They consider what actions are right and proceed from there. Deontological theories argue that a person is doing something good if they are doing a morally right action. Consequentialism judges’ actions by their results while deontology deals with how you get the results, rather than the results you get.

A key figure of deontological ethics is the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (22 April 1724 – 12 February 1804). (Daniel et al, 2011, p158 -159). He created an ethical theory called Kantian ethical theory. The main objective of the Kantian Ethical Theory is to follow the rules set to live a moral life. Deontology believes that truly moral or ethical acts are not based on self-interest, but rather on a sense of duty to act on what is right and fair. According to the Kantian theory, one who follows deontological ethics should do the right thing, even if the right thing is causing more harm than good. For example, it is wrong to lie to someone even if the lie was told to save their life. This is where the topic for case study number seven would be implemented.

Kant based his theory around what he called ‘categorical imperative’. Categorical imperatives are our moral obligations, and Kant believed that they’re obtained from pure reason. Categorical imperative argues that all moral actions or inactions can be determined as necessary through reason. (Hill, 2005). It describes to ‘do unto others as you want them to do unto you’. The categorical imperative is designed to shift our perspective, to get us to see our behaviour in less imitate personal terms and thereby recognize some of its limitations. An example would be if someone is having an affair but keeping it away from their partner because they think it’s okay. However, the categorical imperative would be against it because you would also have to be equally acceptable for your partner to have an affair and not tell you. Kant believed that freedom isn’t an absence of government, a free society isn’t one that allows people more opportunity to do whatever they happen to fancy. It’s one that helps everyone become more reasonable. Kant argued, to determine what’s right, you must use reason and a sense of consideration for other people. Kant believed that proper, rational application of the categorical imperative will lead us to moral truth that is fixed and applicable to all moral agents. This means no God required.

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Kant’s view that moral rules apply to everyone equally sounds good and fair, but it can sometimes lead to some pretty counterintuitive results. For example, a woman names Susan is having dinner with her husband named Evan. Then a stranger knocks on the door and asks where Evan is, so he can shoot him. Susan’s impulse is to lie and say he isn’t at home to protect him. Using Kantian theory Susan can’t lie, not even to save Evan’s life. Kant’s reasoning is, let’s say she’s at the front door talking to the stranger. At the time, she thinks Evan is still at the dining, where she last saw him. But it turns out he was curious about the person at the door, so he went to check on her and heard the stranger making threats against him. Fearing for his life he proceeded to slip out the back door. Meanwhile, Susan, trying to save him, tells the stranger Evan isn’t there, even though she thinks he is. Based on her lie, the stranger leaves, and runs into tony as he rounds the corner heading away from the house and kills him. Had she told the truth, the stranger might have headed into the kitchen looking for Evan, which would have given Evan time to escape from the premises. By Kant’s reasoning, Susan is responsible for Evan’s death, because her lie caused it. Had she told the truth, only the murderer would have been responsible for any deaths that might have occurred.

According to Johnson and Cureton (2016) “…one of the most important projects of moral philosophy, for Kant, is to show that we, as rational agents, are bound by moral requirements and that fully rational agents would necessarily comply with them.” Kant took morality seriously, and he thought we should regardless of our religious beliefs or lack of religious beliefs. He knew that if we look to religion for our morality, we’re not going to get the same answer. He made a distinction between things we need to do morally, and things we need to do for other non-moral reasons. He identified that most of the time, whether we need to do something isn’t a moral choice, rather it depends on our desires. For example, if you desire wealth, then you need to work for it. If you desire knowledge, then you need to study for it. Immanuel Kant called these statements hypothetical imperatives. They are commands that one ought to follow if they want something. (Ewing, 1957, p 52). Kant viewed morality, not in terms of hypothetical imperative but terms of categorical imperatives. These commands must be followed regardless of your wants and desires.

This case study will be focusing on whether I tell Ricardo what Jenny did behind his back or whether I keep the promise made to my girlfriend. Using deontology as an ethical theory, the rule would be to not lie. But using Kantian ethics of perfect and imperfect duties, you shouldn’t break promises. So, by telling Ricardo, you are hereby breaking the promises you made to your girlfriend which is against the rule of deontology. Using the categorical imperative of the Kantian Ethical Theory, you would need to tell Ricardo about the affair, if he asks you if Jenny is cheating behind his back. Proper, rational application of the categorical imperative would lead us to moral truth. By not telling Ricardo about the affair, you are following the rule-based ethics to not break promises, which is part of the perfect duty of Kantian ethics. Therefore, you are obeying the deontological rule which believes that by acting under the duties, it is the right thing to do.

The theory that Kant developed is the precursor to many modern deontological theories. “Kant admits that his analytical arguments for the CI are inadequate on their own because the most they can show is that the CI is the supreme principle of morality if there is such a principle. Kant must, therefore, address the possibility that morality itself is an illusion by showing that the CI is an unconditional requirement of the reason that applies to us.” (Johnson & Cureton, 2016). Kant’s arguments may be unprovable, as he admits, but it does accord with our experience. Nonetheless, we humans are subject to dispositions, this sometimes makes us act in ways that could harm others or put them in danger. (Daniel et al, 2011, p 163). By following Kantian ethics to solve problems in my personal and professional life. I would need to follow the rule-based ethics of deontology, which is like the rules of the ten commandments. I would also need to implement the perfect and imperfect duties of Kantian theory.

In conclusion, according to Kant’s theory of perfect and imperfect duties, I made a perfect duty by promising to my girlfriend that I wouldn’t tell Ricardo. In the laws of Kantian ethics, it is wrong to lie, however, Ricardo did not ask me if Jenny is cheating on him. According to Kantian theory, the imperfect duty would be to tell Ricardo, because by telling him you are helping him. The perfect duty would be to keep the promise you made to your girlfriend to not tell Ricardo about Jenny.

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Immanuel Kant’s Theory Of Categorical Imperative. (2022, February 17). Edubirdie. Retrieved May 24, 2023, from
“Immanuel Kant’s Theory Of Categorical Imperative.” Edubirdie, 17 Feb. 2022,
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