Essay Assignment #2
Kant: Grounding for Metaphysics and Morals
Immanuel Kant states that the only thing in this world that is “good without qualification” is the good will. He states the attributes of character such as intelligence, wit, and judgment are considered good but can be used for the wrong reasons. Kant also states that the attributes of good fortune such as health, power, riches, honor, that provide one happiness can also be used in the wrong way (7). In order to understand Kant’s view of moral rightness, one must understand that only a good will is unambiguously good without qualification, it is “good in itself”. To clarify, Kant states that “a good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing, i.e. it is good in itself” (7). To Kant, a good will is the only thing that gives action moral worth. Human beings were granted with reason not only to attain self-preservation and a state of happiness, but “its true function must be to produce a will which is not merely good as a mean to some further end, but it good in itself” (9). Human beings are called to exercise reason through duty to bring a universal good to all. This duty, living according to our highest reason, must be exercised through action that is beneficial and non-contradictory to all. Duty has three major qualifications for Kant. One must recognize that duty is good in itself when an action is performed out of the need of the completion of the duty itself, such as one who abstains from supporting a large restaurant corporation that inhumanely raise cattle or poultry, because he or she recognizes that it is a duty to not perpetuate unethical practice. Or one who carefully recycles their waste not because of the pleasure of being an enlightened “green” individual, but because of the recognition that it is “good in itself” to reuse products. The second qualifier of duty is that of inclination; an action that is performed in “accordance with duty” rather than performed “because they are impelled thereto by some other inclination”(10). The “maxim”, or the origin of motivation, that is present in action only has moral worth if it is free of self-interest and is acted upon with immediate inclination to perform universal duty. “The moral worth depends, therefore, not on the realization of the object of the action, but merely the principle of volition according to which, without regard to any objects of the faculty of desire, the action has been done” (13). When one’s action is in accordance with duty and is free from the “influence of inclination”, one’s maxim has moral content, furthering the importance of having a “good will”. The third qualification of duty according to Kant is as such: “Duty is the necessity of an action done out of respect for the law” (13). It is universally understood that any living thing can act out of instinct, but it is imperative for rational beings to recognize a moral law and act in accordance with it. An action that is performed from duty, excluding the “influence of inclination” and “every object of the will” that distracts from duty, reveres the law in the highest respect because “the pre-eminent good which is called moral can consist in nothing but the representation of the law in itself” (13). Past attempts to set morality on empirical understanding seems ignorant and foolish when the concept of an a priori foundation is established.
Kant believes that the general understanding of morality has rested upon of a faulty foundation of thought because “there is absolutely no possibility by means of experience to make out with complete certainty a single case in which the maxim of an action that may in other respect conform to duty” (19). In other words, It is impossible for us to determine universal morality from experience and circumstance because experience and circumstance of action...