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Immanuel Kant's Theory Of Imperative And Action

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The ideology of following one’s heart and desires is a common saying that is taken upon people without thinking about the consequences that can come after. Can we really take action without caring what happens afterward? According to Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, this isn’t the brightest thing to do. “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Kant & Marino, 2010, pg. 189). Kant explains that before we take action the maxim should be examined, whether it be good or bad, and be asked if this is something that can be universalized for everyone else. One cannot simply carry out their actions without thinking about how it can affect things or others around them. Kant also mentions that some imperatives and duties correlate with the maxim that helps identify the right approach of taking action and the results that come after. The notion of autonomy and the Kingdom of Ends are considered as well in which affects the way on how we take action. If we examine our actions before we perform them, then we are sure to learn and practice goodwill.

Imperatives are commands or requests that we follow. Kant distinguishes between two types of imperatives in his writing. One of the imperatives is known as categorical. “Applying the categorical imperative should enable us to decide whether or not an act is morally permissible” (Kant & Marino, 2010, pg. 189). Whenever we take our personal reasons and try to implement them, we need to consider if this reason can be turned into a maxim or rule. This would mean that it would be ok for everyone to lie, and we would never hold true to anything anyone said. Allowing lying is not virtuous. “A moral maxim must be disconnected from the particular physical details surrounding its proposition and should be applicable to any rational being” (Shakil, 2013). A maxim should be permissible to one who is moral not involving any type of wrongdoing, and if they’re moral they are sure to be rational in decision making. If we take our personal reasons and act on them without considering the consequences that follow, we are not acting in a morally way. Categorical imperatives are seen more as moral obligations such as the Ten Commandments that we must follow. This type of maxim is not one to help us be righteous. The hypothetical imperative also doesn’t help people achieve an end because they want to avoid any type of frustration it comes with. Although, this doesn’t mean a person can be irrational, but rather they find satisfaction in having an end and not pursuing it. This is not seen as a moral imperative because it does not produce goodwill.

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In addition, we can take a look at another imperative known as practical. Practical imperative correlates with the categorical imperative because they both agree on that one cannot use others as a means to reach a certain end. We should treat others as ends and not as means. Instead, we ourselves are our own ends. We should not try to use others unjustifiably to attain a goal for ourselves or seek to take advantage. Every individual is to be treated equally in any kind of matter. If we have imperatives, then we are sure to have duties that follow within them. What is a duty? A duty is a moral obligation or responsibility (Merriam-Webster, 2019). Two types of duties are mentioned and distinguished in Kant’s writing. The first type is perfect duty, these are duties of justice that are seen as negative in which we should not perform certain actions. A perfect duty is a duty that should be done always by an individual. The second type of duty is imperfect duty, these are positive duties of virtue. They are permissible sometimes to perform a certain action. Imperfect duties are rarely done, but whenever they’re performed it should be done with some fulfillment. Whenever you perform a duty, it has to be done out of duty. You can ask yourself, what exactly is doing something out of duty? “For in this case we can readily distinguish whether the action which agrees with duty is done from duty, or from a selfish view” (Kant & Marino, 2010, pg. 195). According to Kant, one cannot just do something because they feel like they have to do it, instead, they do it because they know it is the right thing to do.

The Kingdom of Ends and the notion of autonomy can also be noted in Kant’s theories. They are what help form the basis of individuals to be rational. “So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as and end withal, never as means only” (Kant & Marino, 2010, pg. 224). When one is their own end, they do not use others as a means to obtain a certain end for themselves. Although, sometimes we have to use others as a means, but not in a bad way. For instance, if I am sick, I need to go see a doctor to feel better. The mean here would be the doctor, and the end is treating my sickness. This would be ok according to Kant. We need to remember though that the doctor as well is a rational being and should be viewed as an end and not just as a means. The notion of autonomy is the ability to set one’s ends and act on one’s interests. To be autonomous is to be self-governed. Your own actions are rightly yours and aren’t forced by anything external. We can look at the example of someone having a first-order desire of wearing sunglasses, this solely would be autonomous because it’s a desire you initially have. Though, that first-order desire can be interrupted by a second-order volition that you want to do after

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