Kant was a deontologist actions are right and wrong in themselves



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Kantian Ethics

  • Kant was a deontologist – actions are right and wrong in themselves.

  • He does not worry about consequences or circumstances in his moral thinking: if something is wrong it is wrong in all situations, regardless of the outcome.

The Moral Law –

Duty and Good Will–

  • Kant’s theory is deontological because it is based on duty.

  • The highest form of good is good will.

  • To have good will is to do your duty.

  • To do your duty is to perform actions that are morally required, and to avoid actions that are morally forbidden.

  • To act morally is to do your duty.

  • Your duty is to obey the moral law.

  • We should not allow ourselves to be side-tracked by our emotions or inclination.

  • It is not our duty to do things we are unable to do. The fact that we ought to do something implies that the act is possible. ‘Ought’ implies ‘can’. If someone says they ‘ought to do something’ they are implying they ‘can do something’.

  • So moral statements are prescriptive – they prescribe an action.

  • To perform an action based on the consequences is an act of self-interest and is not a morally good action e.g. whilst to tell the truth is a good action, to tell the truth because it is in our best interest to do so is not a morally good action. Motive is extremely important for Kant. We cannot do our duty because of the consequences if we want to be good moral agents – we must do it for duty itself.

  • Duty is good in itself.

  • Key example – [highlights a negative of Kantian theory] if a murderer was pursuing a friend who was hiding in your house and the murderer asked you if they were there, according to Kant it is your duty to be honest so you must tell them they are there. This would likely lead to your friend being murdered. But to lie to prevent this would be morally wrong because you are acting based on consequence and not obeying you duty to tell the truth.

Point for discussion – is doing your duty regardless of the consequences truly acting morally? Consider the friend murderer example along with other hypothetical situations.


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