Kant's notion of the good will and the categorical imperative are very briefly sketched">
 

 

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Philosophy 302: Ethics
Immanuel Kant, "Act In Accordance with Universal Law"

Abstract:  Kant's notion of the good will and the categorical imperative are very briefly sketched

1. According to Kant, what is the only good-in-itself? Why is this so? Is it a necessary condition for happiness?

2. Does Kant believe that you judge an action by its consequences? Might I have good will but do evil things through ignorance? 

3. Does Kant believe reason is inimical to good choices? Explain his view of the relation between the good will and reason.

4. Why is it selfish for a prudent merchant not to overcharge a child? How does he distinguish between an action done for the sake of duty and an action done in accordance with duty?

5. Why according to Kant is there no moral worth in taking delight in helping others? Would it really be of higher moral worth to do one's duty grudgingly?

6. Explain how not keeping a promise cannot be done in accordance with the categorical imperative. How do you think Kant distinguishes between a maxim and a universal law?

7. Explain what it means to make a maxim a universal law? Can you think of an action which is morally correct that cannot be universalized?


1. According to Kant, what is the only good-in-itself? Why is this so? Is it a necessary condition for happiness?

The good will is the only good without qualification. The good will is a will that acts for the sake of duty, as a "good-in-itself."

If the purpose of life were just to achieve happiness, then we would all seek pleasure and gratification and hope that it would lead to happiness.  The problem is that happiness is not totally within our power to achieve;  to a large extent, happiness is a matter of luck.

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2. Does Kant believe that you judge an action by its consequences? Might I have good will but do evil things through ignorance? 

Duty is the necessity of acting out of reverence for universal law. Moral value is essentially established by the intention of the person acting.

Ethics, then, is not based on consequences, as it is, for example in utilitarianism. The consequences of our decisions are beyond our control.

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3. Does Kant believe reason is inimical to good choices? Explain his view of the relation between the good will and reason.

Hypothetical Imperative: a conditional maxim based on relative means/ends in the everyday world or every-day circumstances. The goal is not based on pure reason alone but usually upon desires. E.g., "If you want to be confident, then study hard."

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4. Why is it selfish for a prudent merchant not to overcharge a child? How does he distinguish between an action done for the sake of duty and an action done in accordance with duty?

The class of actions in accordance with duty must be distinguished from the class of actions performed for the sake of duty.

Kant believes only actions performed for the sake of duty have moral worth. He seems to suggest that the greater one's disinclination to act for the sake of duty, the greater the moral worth of the action.

If one performs an action by inclination, then that action  has no moral worth

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5. Why according to Kant is there no moral worth in taking delight in helping others? Would it really be of higher moral worth to do one's duty grudgingly?

He seems to suggest that the greater one's disinclination to act for the sake of duty, the greater the moral worth of the action.

If one performs an action by inclination, then that action  has no moral worth

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6. Explain how not keeping a promise cannot be done in accordance with the categorical imperative. How do you think Kant distinguishes between a maxim and a universal law?

Maxim: a particular directive, a subjective principle of volition (a principle upon which you act). The nature of the maxim upon which an action is based is the manner in which intentions are expressed.

Categorical Imperative: a rule stating what ought to be done based upon pure reason alone and not contingent upon sensible desires.  "I am never to act otherwise than to will that my maxim should become universal law."

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7. Explain what it means to make a maxim a universal law? Can you think of an action which is morally correct that cannot be universalized?

 

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Recommended Sources

Kant's Ethics:  Reason and freedom, the duality of the human situation, duty, and the good will from the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

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