Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher at the heart of a movement known as the Enlightenment. He reacted against the evangelical Lutheran Pietism of his schooling, with its emphasis on religious devotion and biblical literalism. He valued reason independent of revelation or emotion, though he did imbibe his parents’ values (they were harness- makers) of ‘hard work, honesty and independence’.
Kant’s Ethical theory is an example of a deontological moral theory–according to these theories, the rightness or wrongness of actions does not depend on their consequences but on whether they fulfill our duty.
Kant?s Argument to support his Ethical theory:
1) There is a purpose for the existence of things, that is the world is ordered and has ultimate principles.
2) Happiness is for the lesser creatures not gifted with rationality.
3) Because we are rational we are capable of something beyond mere happiness.
4) That ability to be rational allows us to discern right from wrong apart from considerations of pleasure or happiness.
Kant’s belief that humans are responsible for their actions and could do otherwise than they do is not provable,he terms it instead a postulate of practical reasoning.
Kant argues for the existence of a priori knowledge. This is a kind of knowledge that does not depend on our experience of the world. He links a priori knowledge with our ability to reason, to think rationally and logically. The purpose of the Critique was to examine whether human reason is capable of achieving a priori knowledge, and, if so, how and to what extent. He wanted to avoid the pitfalls of teleological thinking, so that our knowledge of the world, and our moral decision making, would be on a ?rm basis and could not be faulted. He makes the distinction between a priori and a posteriori knowledge. A priori knowledge is the knowledge we gain from our ability to reason, and a posteriori knowledge is what we learn through our experience of the world.
Kant’s view of reason possesses intellectual virtues such as integrity, truth telling, honest and fair dealing and consistency of word and deed. So the Good Will sets motives centre- stage in moral reasoning.
Strengths of Kant’s ethics
1. Kant’s system is logical and based on the use of the innate ability of all humans to reason.
2. Every human being, just by being human, has the ability to make valid and objective moral decisions.
3. The Categorical Imperative provides a clear and unambiguous method for testing the validity of proposed moral actions.
4. The Categorical Imperative produces moral rules that apply to everyone at all times, thus simplifying moral decision- making.
5. Kant says that the moral value of an action is based on the nature of the action itself, not on any of its potential consequences.
6. Kant’s system does away with any special pleading or vested interests, as it is based not on feelings or emotions but on reason. Bias towards family members or national interests, therefore, is avoided.
7. Kant sees all humans as having value and dignity as they have the innate ability to reason. This means that things like paedophilia or the subjugation of women are automatically outlawed. In putting reason before desires, he emphasises the dignity of man compared with beasts.
8. All people should be treated equally, so that the view of a poor person is just as important as that of a rich one.
9. Kant’s ethics is independent of any external authority, like God. It works simply on the basis that all people have the ability to reason.
10. It ensures that each individual takes part in moral decision- making by ensuring they are autonomous and free to make rational decisions.
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