Ethical theories – 3

DSCF1777 copyThis article is the summary of an extensive study and research done by Shri Verghese Pamplani. This is for those who are interested to know the facts and truths on which Christian Philosophy was founded. Shri Verghese Mathew Pamplani (75), originally from Kerala, is an enthusiastic reader and a gifted writer, who lives in UK now. He began his career as a teacher but ended up as Deputy General Manager in Reserve Bank of India – Trivandrum. By temperament, he is agnostic; his extensive reading has helped him to reinforce his thinking and beliefs.  Joseph Mattappally (Asso. Editor)

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Ethical theories – 3

Varghese6. Kant and Moral Choice

Aquinas’ sense of Natural Law, the Utilitarians’ weighing of the expected results of an action and considering the obligations of an implied contract and agreement made between people attempted to establish some objective basis for moral claims .

Immanuel Kant (1724‐1804)

Kant argued that we all know what it is have a sense of moral obligation – to believe that there is something we ought to do irrespective of the consequences it may have for us. For Kant the key issue is is how to discover a rational basis for one’s sense of duty and from that to devise a principle by which one could distinguish between right and wrong.

He did not look at the world and ask if freedom and moral choice were possible . Instead he started with the experience of moral choice and then sought to find its implications. Kant saw clearly that where empirical evidence was concerned there would be no certainty. He also realised that one could never argue logically from an “is” to an “ought”. For facts show what is , not ought to be. He wanted to find a new starting point for morality,a starting point that was not depend on anything as ambiguous as evidence. He found this starting point in the idea of a “goodwill”. He wants to place the “goodwill” at the very centre of ethics and in doing so he was to go beyond anything that had been written before. In many ways Kant represents a turning point in ethics – after his work it became impossible to ignore the active role of the person who behaves morally; morality is not to be found “out there” in evidence we can analyse,nor in results we may try to predict, but only in the exercise of freedom and goodwill in an action.

Kant was influenced by science and by the gathering and assessment of empirical evidence. Indeed the impetus behind his Copernican revolution was the attempt to reconcile the ambiguity in empirical evidence. He was concerned by Hume’s argument that one cannot rationally move from an ‘is’ to an ‘ought’. From it he concluded that morality cannot be based on the evidence of senses. He was also convinced that people had an inherent sense of right and wrong and was influenced by Rousseau’s positive view of human nature.

Freedom, God and immortality.

Kant argued that in obeying a moral command ,not doing something because it suits us or because we enjoy it or because we are likely benefit from it in the in the long run but simply because we feel that it is our duty and that it is right to do it.

In his Critique of Pure Reason ( 1781) Kant distinguished between things a. we experience them (phenomena) and things as the are in themselves (noumena). In the world of e e phenomena everything is totally determined simply because our minds seek reasons every thing that happens. We impose causality upon our experience, it is the only way I which we can make sense out of it. Kant holds that we can be both phenomenally conditioned and noumenally free. According to Kant one should act as if there were a God even if God cannot be proved . One acts to fulfil one’s own moral imperative as though God had commanded it without attachment to the result of action. Acting morally has become an end in itself. If a person beliefs in God behaving morally could be seen as a way to achieve by gaining His approval. On the other hand Kant wants moral,development to be free from all considerations of consequences

The will

Kant’s ethics start with the experience of moral choice. It is therefore an exercise of the will. To behave in a kindly way in dealing with others is to express a goodwill towards them. For Kant it is the will that is the agent of creating value and of illustrating the pure practical reason.” The Doctrine of Virtue” Kant follows Aristotle in seeing virtue as human excellence. What counts for a person to do his or her duty is not mere obedience,but a goodwill. Having a goodwill is an attitude rather than simply a way a way of behaving. What we do is merely working and of our virtues. In choosing to act morally Oneida exercising an inner freedom in following a sense of purpose.

Kant sees self development of virtues as its own reward and ethics,action springing from the pure practical reason,is the sole means of bringing this about. The intention of one’s morality is to set aside all ego‐cent redness and move towards an unconditional and universal sympathy. Although he acknowledge evil Kant does not see it as a separate power influencing one’s choices or frustrating the working out of the good. Rather he sees as a muting or failure to acknowledge and respond to the moral law. Due to our conditioning or circumstances we may be dominated by ego‐centredness,and this means that our moral choices will fail the test of the categorical imperative since they will be based on self‐ interest.

Absolute or relative

Moral choices can be related to the society and particularly to the established values of the society which they are made. All ethical theories based on contract carry with them the values of those who enter the contract .Axiological,ethics is specifically the study of values underlie moral choice. A key question for ethics is whether all moral issues are culturally conditioned and actions judged right or wrong with reference to the underlying values or whether there is some way of getting beneath the cultural diversity and touching some absolute standard. It this of course that Kant has attempted to do with the concept of the categorical imperative. It focuses on the sense of moral obligation without reference to to the consequences of an action nor yet to the social or cultural matrix of values within which it is experienced.

Just as within his theory of knowledge Kant saw the mind as having an active role determining how we are to understand sense perceptions so in the are of morality in the mind is active in pursuit of its highest goals and only in the light of these does it evaluate sense perceptions in terms of the expected results of action.
In the end Kant’s ethical theory comes down to individual integrity. What counts morally is that one should be able to justify what one does rationally and universalise the maxim that lies behind it.

But does that provides with an absolute set of moral values or one that is relative to its cultural setting? The answer could seem to be that for each individual the moral demand is absolute in that it is not depended upon an assessment of facts or predicted consequences. But since no two people is will have exactly the same “goodwill” will experience moral demands differently it means that,in practise, there will be aside variety of actual ethical practice. Viewed from the outside there will be variety ; viewed from the perspective of the moral subject all may be applying the same principles.In the end morality depends on values and it was Kant who recognised that values are something we impose on experience, not something we can discover within experience.

The for Kant is ‘autonomy’. If the intention is right then one will act on the whims of one’s senses but with autonomy. But the principles of one’s action comes from practical reason alone,they are not imposed on from outside.

It is difficult to overemphasise the importance the importance of Kant for the whole development of ethics from his day through to the twentieth century . With Kant the human reason and stand supreme. Man takes his rational stand and no longer looks outside himself for outside himself for external guarantors of moral rectitude. GOD BECOMES A POSTULATE OF PURE PRACTICAL REASON PART OF THE STRUCTURE WITHIN WHICH THE MIND WORKS.It is a short step from this point to start to see the whole of moral as something that is to be created by the human will and imposed on the external world or even philosophy in which human meaning and purpose plays the central role. As we look at Nietzsche and later at existentialism we are examining philosophical ideas which look back to the contribution of Kant. His was a Copernican revolution indeed,from the on values are seen generated by man,not encountered by him.

Summary List

Kant wanted reason to prevail over the ambiguities of inclination and experience. He therefore sought a moral,principle that would be universally applicable. It was to be a principle based on theoretical reasoning but on pure practical reason which is our rational will.

He saw morality as involved only with those situations where a person acts out of a sense of duty. To do something good simply because one enjoys doing it is not itself moral. Morality is always a matter of conscious choice.
He was therefore concerned with duty for duty’s sake irrespective of the results of carrying it out.

Kant’s categorical imperative states that for one’s action to be morally good one should be able to will that it should become a universal law of nature. In other words a choice is moral only if it can be universalisable without contradiction.
For Kant morality is outside the realm of nature. The good will is concerned about duty for the sake of duty,and it cannot be supported by facts about the world,only by our own experience of a moral challenge. 


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