Abortion and Kantian Ethics
By: marwa • 1,780 Words • May 18, 2010 • 2,922 Views
Abortion and Kantian Ethics
Abortion is one of the most controversial ethical issues because it concerns the taking of a human life. It is not something to be taken lightly because it is the termination of what could, potentially, become a human being. There are very many ways of looking at abortion, which make it hard to decide whether or not you are for it. This paper looks at abortion from a Kantian perspective. I will first start by briefly exposing Kant's theory called the Categorical Imperative. After this I will turn to a discussion of why abortion is immoral from a Kantian perspective. Finally, I will be giving my opinion about why Kant's theory cannot answer the complex dilemmas surrounding abortion.
Immanuel Kant - a German philosopher who is regarded one of the best philosophers of the 18th century and of all time - believed that human beings occupy a special place in creation and morality can be summed up in one ultimate principle, from which all our duties and obligations are derived. He called this principle: the Categorical Imperative. It is based on a standard of rationality and we are bound by it because of our rationality. According to the Categorical Imperative, to act morally is to act from motives that everyone, everywhere could live by (universality). Kant's theory is part of the Deontological ethics – "duty" or "obligation" based ethics - that focuses on the rightness or wrongness of intentions or motives behind action such as respect for rights, duties, or principles, as opposed to the rightness or wrongness of the consequences of those actions (Consequentialism). Kant believes you should never base your actions on the consequences because they are never that clear. To illustrate the point, one could imagine a madman with a gun intent on murdering a random member of the public. If, by chance, his target turns out to be an even more evil individual who was intending to slaughter thousands of innocent children, our first madman who ‘does good' by shooting him, however there is no doubt that this does not show good will which is for Kant the only thing in the world which can be considered entirely good.
The Categorical Imperative has two formulations. The first formulation (or first maxim) called the universal law formulation is based on the idea that a moral maxim must have universality: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can and at the same time will that it should become a universal law". Kant divides the duties imposed by this formulation into four subsets: Perfect and Imperfect duties and duties to ourselves and to others. According to his reasoning, we first have a perfect duty not to act by maxims that result in logical contradictions when we attempt to universalize them. Take for example the moral proposition "It is permissible to steal". If everyone were to steal then there would be no property left and the notion of stealing itself which presupposes the existence of property is meaningless. And so the proposition has logically negated itself. Not to steal is an example of a perfect duty to others. Second, we have an imperfect duty, which is the duty to act only by maxims that we would desire to be universalized. In simple words, imperfect duties are those duties in which the maxim of our action passes the first test of: "If everyone else were to do it, would I still be able to live in such a world?" but fails the second: "If everyone else were to do it, would I still want to live in such a world?". Take the example that Kant gives of a man who finds in himself a talent which could, by means of some cultivation, make him in many respects a useful man. But he prefers indulgence in pleasure to troubling himself with improving his fortunate natural gifts. It is clear that a system of nature could indeed exist in accordance with such a law but he can't possibly will that this should become a universal law of nature since any rational being would necessarily will that all his faculties should be developed, inasmuch as they are given to him for all sorts of possible purposes. To develop one's talents is thus an example of an imperfect duty to one's self.
The second formulation (or second maxim) is based on the grounds that rational nature exists as an end in itself meaning that every rational being exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will: "Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means to an end". This means that a human being is the most important factor in any moral equation. A human being can never be allowed to be the means by which a goal or purpose is achieved. The value of a human comes from their being a rational, reasonable being. The suffering of an individual person could never be justified