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Kant’s Formalism Theory

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Kant's Formalism Theory

The theories of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher, have had an impact on the formulation and shaping of ethics today. Immanuel Kant graced this earth from 1724 to 1804. During his eighty year life time, he formulated many interesting ideas regarding ethical conduct and motivation.

Kant is strictly a non-consequentialist philosopher, which means that he believes that a person's choices should have nothing to do with the desired outcome, but instead mankind simply goes about doing good because it is morally correct. Kant theorizes that moral reasoning is not based on factual knowledge and that reason by itself can reveal the basic principles of morality. Ideas contemplated and developed and theorized by Kant include the concepts of good will, the categorical imperative, universal acceptability, and humanity as an end rather than a means. These non-consequential concepts have made a remarkable impression on current ethical views.

According to Kant, the only good thing in the world is "good will." Other things might be desirable, but their ethical merit is only measured by an individual's good will. (Shaw, 65) As used by Kant, the term "will" is referred to as in individual's ability to act from principle. For example, if an individual performs a good deed motivated by anything other than the simple goodness of the deed, the individual is not necessarily a "moral" person. One's moral worth is determined by as one acts out of duty. Kant's ethics is known as "formalism" because of the formal and very rigid conception of duty. In order to define and develop one's sense of duty, Kant developed the next component of his theory: the categorical imperative.

In essence, the categorical imperative states that what is fair to one must be fair to all. As worded by William H. Shaw, "an act is morally right if and only if we can will it to become a universal law of conduct." Kant, who relied heavily on logic, insists that moral rules must by categorical rather than hypothetical. Hypothetical laws take on the "if....then" form of action. If you want to reach a specific goal, then you will accomplish these tasks. On the other hand, categorical laws apply to everyone. Regardless of goals or desired outcome, the categorical imperative commands unconditionally. (Shaw, 67)

Kant developed another idea which exemplifies that of the categorical imperative. The principle of universal acceptability states that as rational, moral beings, individuals are bound by logic and its demands. Because logic is consistent, individuals all live by the same moral

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