The Ethics Of Duty And Reason

Duty based ethics also are called Deontological ethics. The Greek word deon means duty or obligation. The main proponent of this ethical framework was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). It judges morality by examining the nature of actions and the will of agents rather than goals achieved. (Roughly, a deontological theory looks at inputs rather than outcomes.) One reason for the shift away from consequences to duties is that, in spite of our best efforts, we cannot control the future. We are praised or blamed for actions within our control, and that includes our willing, not our achieving.
Kant attempted to discover the rational principle that would stand as a categorical imperative grounding all other ethical judgments. The imperative would have to be categorical rather than hypothetical, or conditional, since true morality should not depend on our individual likes and dislikes or on our abilities and opportunities.
3 insights form the basis for Kants Ethical Theory. An action has moral worth if it is done for the sake of duty. (DUTY) An action is morally correct if its maxim can be willed as a universal law. (UNIVERSALIZABILITY) We should always treat humanity, whether in ourselves or other people, as an end in itself and never merely as means to an end. (RESPECT)
The Ethics of Duty:
Acting for the sake of duty is: acting without self-interest and acting without concern for consequences. Acting without inclination [downplays the role of compassion]
Before Kant ethics focused on the concept of “the good”, two questions were asked: What is “the good” and How do we attain it? There was no disagreement on the above two points. The only puzzle was why some people didnt aim at the good. [Plato said “ignorance”. Aristotle said weakness of will.]
In the Christian view, to act morally a person must see the act is right (i.e., it is commanded by GOD) and must do the act because they see it is right. For Kant, reason, not God, is the source of the moral law. We can rephrase the above as:
To act morally a person must see the act is right (i.e., it is commanded by REASON) and must do the act because they see it is right.
The “good will” and duty…
Kant made his famous statement that there is nothing in the world or even out of it that can be called good without qualification except a good will. Knowledge is good, but if used by a traitor in his treachery will prove bad because the traitor lacks good will. By good will, Kant cannot have meant a good desire or vague wish that may or may not lead to action but what he meant was the firm purpose and fixed desire to do something good. Kant believed that only a good will is morally valuable. A good will knows what its duty is (that is, the good will knows what reason commands it to do.) And the good will DOES the dutiful act because the good will is dutiful. Kant argues that some qualities are helpful to the good will, such as moderation, self-control are a MEANS to the end of a good will , but are not an end in themselves. The will is good through its willing alone. Even if the good will cannot carry out its intentions, it is good in itself. According to Kant we should not judge the good will by its “fruitfulness” = the consequences of its willing. The good will is to be judged by its motive alone.
Kants Ethics of Duty and Reason
Duty based ethics is also called Deontological ethics. The Greek word deon means duty or obligation. The main proponent of this ethical framework was the German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804). A deontological theory looks at actions rather than results.
Reason as the source of the moral law
Morality applies to all rational beings, and a moral action is defined as one that is determined by reason, not by our sensual impulses or particularities of culture or personality. The moral worth of an action is determined by its motive, or the reason behind the action, not by its consequences which are not subject to our reason We can determine the worth of the motive behind any given moral action by asking whether we could turn that motive into a universally applicable maxim. Reason is the same at all times and for all people, so morality too should be universal. We are praised or blamed for actions within our control, and that includes our willing, not our achieving.

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3 insights form the basis for Kants Ethical Theory. An action has moral worth if it is done for the sake of duty. (DUTY) An action is morally correct if its maxim can be willed as a universal law. (UNIVERSALIZABILITY) We should always treat humanity, whether in ourselves or other people, as an end in itself and never merely as means to an end. (RESPECT)
The Ethics of Duty:
Acting for the sake of duty is: acting without self-interest and acting without concern for consequences. Acting without inclination [downplays the role of compassion]
Before Kant, ethics focused on the concept of “the good”, two questions were asked: What is “the good” and How do we attain it? There was no disagreement on the above two points. The only puzzle was why some people didnt aim at the good. [Plato said “ignorance”. Aristotle said weakness of will.
In the Christian view, to act morally a person must see the act is right (i.e., it is commanded by GOD) and must do the act because they see it is right. For Kant, reason, not God, is the source of the moral law. We can rephrase the above as:
To act morally a person must see the act is right (i.e., it is commanded by REASON) and must do the act because they see it is right.
The “good will” and duty…
Kant made his famous statement that there is nothing in the world or even out of it that can be called good without qualification except a good will. Qualities of character (wit, intelligence, courage, etc.) or qualities of good fortune (wealth, status, good health) may be used to either good or bad purposes. Knowledge is good, but if used by a traitor in his treachery will prove bad because the traitor lacks good will. By good will, Kant does not mean just a desire or vague wish that may or may not lead to action but what he meant was the firm purpose and fixed desire to do something good. Kant believed that only a good will is morally valuable. A good will knows what its duty is (that is, the good will knows what reason commands it to do.). Kant argues that some qualities are helpful to the good will, such as moderation, self-control are a MEANS to (achieve) a good will. A good will is intrinsically good–even if its efforts fail to bring about positive results.The good will is to be judged by its motive alone.
Morality is based in the concept of freedom, or autonomy. Someone with a free or autonomous will does not simply act but is able to reflect and decide whether to act in a given way. This act of deliberation distinguishes an autonomous will from a heteronomous will dictated by outside desires.
Kant concludes that the true function of reason is to produce a will that is good.
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The “Good Will” and Duty
If someone accidentally tell the truth. It is not enough that the act is INTENDED: If someone is moved by a sudden feeling of pity, the act is still without moral value.
The Motive of Duty
It is nearly impossible to find examples of pure moral actions. Nearly every action we observe can be attributed to some interest or motivation other than pure morality. This should not discourage us, for moral principles come from reason, not from experience. Indeed, moral principles could not come from experience, for all experiences depend on particular circumstances, whereas moral principles must have absolute validity,
First, actions are genuinely good when they are undertaken for the sake of duty alone. People may act in conformity with duty out of some interest or compulsion other than duty. For example, a grocer has a duty to offer a fair price to all customers, if he performs this duty, not solely out of a sense of duty, but rather because of the competition compels him to offer the lowest possible price, its not out of sense of duty. Similarly, all people have a duty to help others in distress, yet many people may help others not out of a sense of duty, but rather because it gives them pleasure to spread happiness to other people. A person who feels no philanthropic inclination, but who nonetheless works to help others because he or she recognizes that it is a duty to do so.
The “Categorical Imperative”
Since specific interests, circumstances, and consequences cannot be considered, the moral “law” must be a general formula that is applicable in all situation Rather than commanding specific actions, it must express the principle that actions should be undertaken with pure motives, without consideration of consequences, and out of pure reverence for the law. The formula that meets these criteria is the following: we should act in such a way that we could want the maxim (the motivating principle) of our action to become a universal law.
Kant is known for his theory that there is a single moral obligation, which he called the “Categorical Imperative”, and is derived from the concept of duty. Categorical imperatives are rational principles that are intrinsically valid; they are good in and of themselves; they must be obeyed in all, and by all, situations and The imperative is not hypothetical, or conditional, (which asserts, do such-and-such if you want to achieve such-and-such result. There are no ifs in moral action.
One fundamental principle of logic is the principle of non-contradiction: statements don’t make sense if they contradict themselves. Kant’s moral law is based on this principle of non-contradiction. If you lie but expect other people to believe you, you contradict yourself.
Four examples demonstrate how common notions of duty conform to the categorical imperative. First, people have a duty not to commit suicide, because it cannot be a law of nature for all people to kill themselves; if everyone died, nature itself would cease to exist. Second, people have a duty to borrow money only if they have the intention of paying it back, because if everyone failed to pay their debts no one would ever lend money. Third, people have a duty to cultivate their talents, because if everyone spent their life in idleness no one would benefit from human capacities. Fourth, people have a duty to assist others in need, because if all of us were heartless then none of us could find assistance in times of need.
In each of these cases as in all cases where people neglect their duties, individuals are involved in a contradiction
The Second Formulation of the Categorical Imperative
We should respect all human beings impartially.
Because human beings exist as ends in themselves we should never use them as mere means. Kants argument is based on our rationality. Deception about true motives,profiting at another persons expense,Undermining a persons chance to make an informed choice.
Kant believed that there are higher principles that are present in every time, every culture and every situation. When faced with an ethical dilemma, he believes that we should ask ourselves, To whom I owe a duty and what duty I owe them?
Kants theory has been criticized in the following ways:
1. Some philosophers have argued that in practice our moral beliefs are based on intuitions, not on reason. Hegel pointed out that moral beliefs can never be unconditional because moral questions must be resolved in the context of the society in which we live.
2. Regarding duty for the sake of duty, Kant says that inclination to do it can never be morally good. But most people think that they deserve praise for their acts ,as it is a motivating factor. Good man ought to feel inclined to acts of pity, sympathy and generosity rather than doing such acts as a matter of very displeasing and unpleasant duty.
3. The categorical imperative yields only absolutes. Actions either pass or fail with no allowance for a “gray area.” Moreover, the rigid lines are often drawn in unlikely places. For example, lying is always wrong–even the “polite lie.”
Even the man who tells a lie, in order to save the lives of others, may not will that lying should become the universal custom and yet he may be convinced that, in his own special circumstances, to tell a lie was the best possible course. In existing economic and social conditions, the refusal to repay borrowed money is something that ordinary debtors may very reasonably wish to be universalized. For this, they would escape from the whole economic system, in which they are entangled in difficulties and the social reformer may agree with them. No teacher of philosophy could wish that every other person should become a teacher of philosophy like himself
4. Although Kants good will is the willing which leads to good actions, this is not always the case. The act of willing of a charitable man to give alms to a beggar maybe good, but if results in the beggar getting drunk and getting run over by a car in his drunken state, the action, as a whole can hardly be described as goodso it is not just the abstract process of willing which mattersconsequences, too, matter.
5. Dont use people as mere means. We are still constantly using people as mere means; a porter for carrying luggage, a maid for doing household work, a teacher as a means of educating ourselves
SparkNotes Editors. SparkNote on Immanuel Kant (17241804). SparkNotes LLC. 2005. http://www.sparknotes.com/philosophy/kant/ (accessed January 27, 2011).
 

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