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The Categorical Imperative of Immanuel Kant's Philosophy

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The Categorical Imperative

Of Immanuel Kant's Philosophy

What would you do if you saw a little old lady with a cane walking slowly across a busy street without remembering to look both ways? Most people would answer that they would run out into the street to save her. However, why would these people do this? The rescuer may have not had any relation whatsoever to the little old lady, yet they still decide to risk their life for her. Was it because of basic, natural instinct? Did the rescuer just instantly react to what he/she saw and just let his reaction take over his body? On the other hand, did the rescuer think very quickly using reasoning about what he was going to do about the situation? Was he thinking that he should do this because it will make him feel better since he saved someone's life, in turn making him a hero? Or did he do this action for the sake of morality alone? These things might not seem be thought about by someone in times of those kinds of situations, but they are whether you realize it or not. In Immanuel Kant's work, entitled Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, he talks about why the will and freedom are central in order to make a moral decision or commit a moral action, and how the categorical imperative governs an individual's actions.

Everybody that breathes in oxygen has a will. A will is some type of motivation, whether it is good or bad, to commit some type of action. The type of action one commits depends on the type of will, or desire, the person has. Kant believes that the one thing in the world that is unambiguously good is the "good will." Even if this good will fails to bring about positive, or good, results, it is still considered good since its' motivation was good. Because of this, Kant believes that in order to commit a true moral action, one must not do it in order to achieve some thing or some outcome. Instead, one should do it for the sake of the moral law itself.

One might think that a good will is easy to obtain since all one has to do is just do it for the moral law in itself and nothing else. However, in order to do this, one must have complete freedom. By this, Kant does not mean freedom to do anything we want, or freedom from oppression, or anything like that. On the other hand, Kant implies that we need to have complete freedom in the sense that we are free from all external determinations. He believes that it is impossible for someone to commit a moral duty if that person already has prior external knowledge about it. This is because the person will not be reasoning on his own about his action, rather he/she will be using the reasoning of another person who has already done such an action. In addition, reason, to Kant, is the function that will bring about a will that is good in itself, as opposed to good for some particular purpose.

In Kant's eyes, reason is directly correlated with morals and ideals. Actions of any sort, he believed, must be undertaken from a sense of duty dictated by reason, and no action performed for appropriateness or solely in obedience to law or custom can be regarded as moral. A moral act is an act done for the "right" reasons. Kant would argue that to make a promise for the wrong reason is not moral so you might as well not make the promise. One must have a duty code inside of themselves or it will not come through in their actions otherwise. Ones reasoning ability will always allow he/she to know what their duty is. Kant described two types of common commands given by reason: the hypothetical imperative, which dictates a given course of action to reach a specific end; and the categorical imperative, which dictates a course of action that must be followed because of its rightness and necessity.

The categorical imperative is the basis of morality and was stated by Kant in these words: "Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will and general natural law." (pg. 16) Therefore, before proceeding to act, you must decide what rule you would be following if you were to act, whether you are willing for that rule to be followed by everyone all over. If you are willing to universalize the act, it must be moral; if you are not, then the act is morally impermissible. Kant believes that moral rules have no exceptions. Therefore, it is wrong to kill in all situations, even those of self-defense. Since we would never want murder to become a universal law, then it must be not moral in all situations. Kant believes killing could never be universal; therefore, it is wrong in every situation. There are never any extenuating circumstances, such as self-defense. The act is either wrong or right, based on his universality law. For example, giving money to a beggar just to get him to leave you alone would be judged

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