First Lecture on Kantís Ethics with Questions for the Lecture

Philosoph 101: Dr. William O'Meara

Questions for Kant Material

1. What is the beginning point of Kant in his reflections on ethics? Para. 1

2. What are the similarities and differences between the moral law and the laws of nature for Kant? Para. 2.

3. Why does Kant say that the good will is the only thing good without qualification? Para. 3.

4. Define and exemplify the following terms: hypothetical imperative, categorical imperative. Para. 4.

5. How does Kant define happiness? Why is the desire for happiness necessary? Para. 5.

6. How does Aristotle use the desire for happiness as the basis for ethics? Explain and exemplify. Para. 5.

7. Does Kant agree with Aristotle that the end of happiness is necessarily desired? Para. 6.

8. Does Kant believe that the means to happiness can be clearly known? Give his examples which make his point. Quotation in para. 6.

9. In what way would Aristotle agree with Kant about the means to happiness? Para 6.

10. Since happiness or goals which are the object of desire cannot be the basis of the moral law for Kant, the moral law cannot be based on what the person desires, but on _________(complete)

11. There are two ways in which an object or goal can be willed: (complete)

12. As a rational being Kant affirms that a human person should act in a self-consistent way, that is, in a way that would not be self-contradictory. How does Kant apply this demand for self-consistency to treating oneself one way but treating others another way? That is, is such action self-consistent?

13. What is wrong with being inconsistent in my treatment of myself and others?

14. It an individual claims value for himself only as a male, then he is probably a male chauvinist who does not respect women but who dons or should respect all men simply because they are males. Similarly, if an individual claims value for himself as a person, as a rational and free being, then logically he should value simply because ____(explain using para. 7 of course)_________.

15. Consequently, the better formulation of the moral law is:

16. The Universalization Requirement for moral action for Kant is:

Lecture on The Ethics of Kant

Paragraph 1: The beginning point of Kant is his assumption that all human beings experience a moral law which is universal, the same for all rational beings, and necessary, that is obligatory for all to obey. Kant believes that there are common experiences in which people become aware that no one should murder another human being for personal gain, for example. Kant is saying that everyone should avoid such killing, no matter what they feel. In other words, it is a universal, obligatory law.

Paragraph 2: Kant reveals this beginning point in a famous quotation from the conclusion of one of his writings in moral philosophy: "Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe, the oftener and more steadily we reflect on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me." Just as Kant views the heavens in the light of Newtonian physics, so also he views moral experience. In Newtonian physics, the laws are universal and obligatory. For example, for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction. Every action must have an equal and opposite reaction. In moral experience, the laws are universal and obligatory. Every rational being is obligated to avoid murder, of course, moral obligation differs from physical obligation. A rock which hits another rock must have an opposite and equal reaction: There is no choice about the matter. But a man can choose to murder another, although morally he ought not to do so.

Paragraph 3: Kant again reveals his starting point when he writes: "Nothing in the world--indeed nothing even beyond the world--can possibly be conceived-which could be called-good without qualification except a good will. n By a good will, Kant is not referring to good Intentions or to a wish for good but to the free will of a rational being that strives with all its ability to obey the moral law, the law which is universal and necessary. Only such a will is unqualifiedly good: such a will is the only thing good without qualification. All other aspects of a rational being such as mind, temperament, health, are good but not without qualification. The mind can be very good in planning a bank robbery, but it is not good without qualification for it is being used for an evil end. So also with health and temperament. One could misuse one's calm disposition and health in pulling off the bank robbery. Only the morally good will is good without qualification. The will which obeys a universal and obligatory moral law is unconditionally good.

Paragraph 4: Kant describes the moral law in his technical terms as a categorical imperative as opposed to a hypothetical imperative. A hypothetical imperative is a conditional command: if one desires an end such as going to New York, then one ought to take an appropriate means. A categorical imperative is an unconditional command: no matter what one desires, one ought to do something, for example, no matter how I feel about someone, I ought not to murder that person, I ought to value that person's life. In the light of this distinction, Kant is saying that the moral law is experienced as a categorical imperative.


Paragraph 5: Kant defines happiness as the "rational being's consciousness of the agreeableness of life which without interruption accompanies his whole existence. n He argues that man as a rational being which has certain lacks or needs necessarily desires to fulfill those needs. - Hence, a conscious being with needs necessarily desires happiness, the satisfaction of those needs. On this point both Kant and Aristotle would agree. Aristotle used the desire for happiness as the basis of his ethics. As a rational being with the desire, with the need to think, man can only be happy by thinking through his life and choosing in accord with a well thought out life. The virtue of wisdom and the other virtues such as temperance and courage and justice and friendship enable a person to live the well examined life, a life in which all one's needs are satisfied in as harmonious a way as possible.

Paragraph 6: Kant agrees with Aristotle that the end of happiness is necessarily desired but argues that the means to happiness cannot be clearly known and hence cannot serve as the basis of a moral law. The means to happiness cannot be clearly known. He writes:

Does a man really want riches in order to be happy? Perhaps his riches might cause him much anxiety, envy of others, and other sorrows. Does a man want knowledge and discernment. Perhaps knowledge might prove to be only an eye so much the sharper to show him so much the more fearfully the evils that are now concealed from him and that cannot be avoided. Does a man really want a long life in order to be happy? Who guarantees to him that lt. would not be a long misery? In short, man is unable in any specific case to determine with certainty what would make him truly happy because to do so he would have to be omniscient. All that reflection can do is suggest various counsels such as temperance, prudence, and courtesy which do on the average promote well-being or happiness and satisfaction.

Reflection upon happiness cannot give an unconditional command which man would experience as a moral obligation. Aristotle would agree that reflection upon happiness can only suggest good habits, habits which must be prudential guide lines, not mathematical absolutes. But Kant believes that the ambiguity in defining personal happiness makes it unsuitable as a bases for morality. Since happiness or goals which are the object of desire cannot be the basis of the moral law, the moral law is based not on what the person desires, namely, happiness (since we cannot avoid wanting to be happy), but on the way in which the person wills what he desires. There are two ways in which an objective or goal can be willed: either selfishly (for oneself as an exception) or unselfishly (anyone in these circumstances should do the same). As a rational being, pangs reason obliges him, argues Kant, to act in a self-consistent way. If I say to myself that I will act in a specific way towards others although I would not want others to act that way towards me, Kant would say that such a maxim of the will is not self-consistent, but is irrational and immoral. For I am treating myself as a rational being in a way different than I am treating other rational beings. If I ask what is wrong with being inconsistent in my treatment of myself and others, Kant would reply that there is something in every human being that makes him resist and resent being treated as a thing instead of a person. Just as I as a reflective and therefore free being resent being treated as unreflective and unfroze, so also do all other persons as reflective and free beings resent being treated as things. When I claim for myself a dignity as a reflective and free being I am thereby asserting to claim dignity. Therefore inconsistency in the way I would treat myself and others in effect destroys any rational claim I make for myself as someone valuable for my own sake. If I can deny to others their value for their own sake in the maxims of my actions, then I am logically denying to myself any right to claim value for my own self as rational and free. Consequently the best formulation of the basic value or moral law is: "So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end, never as means only. "


Kant argues that a universal moral law cannot be based on the concept of happiness, that is, on the concept of the emotional fulfillment of the individual because everyone defines happiness in a different way for himself. Kant bases moral law simply on man's rationality and argues that persons cannot be considered qualitatively as situation ethics so considers them. He argues that persons must be considered qualitatively and th Categorical Imperative at the basic moral principle is: "So act as to treat humanity whether in thine own person or in that of any other in every case as an end, never as means only. Kant argues for this principle in the following way: since one's rationality and freedom make it possible for one to be a person, every person should respect others as much as he respects himself. A moral person would will that similar agents could do similar acts in similar circumstances.