Kantian Ethics

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One of the beautiful things about Kantian ethics is that it is based on the individual. The individual can decide if their actions are worth doing to another person by weighing if the person would want the action done to them. The Kantian point of view is completely different from the Utilitarian point of view because the Kantian point of view deals with the individual, whereas the Utilitarian point of view deals with the group and the needs of the group. When you hear the words “basic human rights” or the word “right,” normally that responds to the individual, and rights in many cases are from the Kantian viewpoint. For instance, when a police officer responds to someone in need, they are responding from a Kantian viewpoint – the rights of an individual. We have extended the Kantian point of view to cover animals as well. When you hear the term “animal rights”, it’s referring to the individual animal and the right of that animal as a living being. What did you do to receive Kantian rights? The answer is – be born. That is all you had to do. Kantian rights theory has a harder time being acknowledged in some collective group and tribal societies. Kantianism is best used where there have been long periods of peace, a practice of respect, of tolerance and understanding. Kantian rights tend to dissolve in warlike conditions. Kant provides an example of a nonconsequentialist approach to ethics. He believed that moral rules could be known on the basis of reason alone, and said that we do not need to know the likely results of an action to judge it morally.

  Kant said that nothing was good in itself except for a good will. By will he meant the ability to act from principle; only when we act from a sense of duty does our act have moral worth. We determine our duty by the categorical imperative. An example of good will would be to use the “Golden Rule,” do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Kant uses this to say that a person’s actions are reflected in their actions toward another person. As a person intends to do good to another person, that makes his effort fit within the categorical imperative. Kant believed that there was one command that was binding on all rational agents—the categorical imperative, that says that we must always act so that the maxim of our action can be consistently willed to be universal law. By maxim, Kant meant the principle or rule that people formulate to determine their conduct. If a maxim could not be universally applied without contradiction then it would not pass the test of the categorical imperative, and hence could not lead to a moral act. By contrast, a hypothetical imperative is one that tells us what to do if we desire a particular outcome. Let’s look at universal acceptability. We could look at the categorical imperative as enjoining us to prescribe moral laws for everyone; such laws must have universal acceptability. There are laws that are the same across all cultures, and this would be an example of universal acceptability. For instance, stealing is wrong across all cultures. Murder is wrong across all cultures. Robbing is wrong across all cultures. Universal acceptance across all cultures is very similar to the Hammurabi codes for society. As early as 1790 B.C. Hammurabi made written codes for his society that were spread throughout the region and adopted by many societies. It is these laws that in many cases offer the framework for universal acceptance across the globe as we know it today.   As rational creatures, Kant held that we should always treat other rational creatures as ends in themselves, and never merely as a means. This leads to the second formulation of the categorical imperative: One must always act so as to treat rational humanity as ends in themselves, and never as mere means. It is an interesting point that many people can describe themselves as either a giver or a taker. In theory, the takers use the givers for...
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