The other being the categorical imperative stated in Kant’s words as: “Act as if the maxim (principle) of your action were to become through your will a general natural law.” (2) The categorical imperative is based on a thought experiment: you have to imagine what the world would be like if everyone else acted on that principle. If such a world is conceivable to you, and you would be willing to live in it, then it is morally permissible. To be moral, Kant believes that the maxim must be universalizable, that is to say, if everyone could act on it. In addition, the maxim must be reversible, that is, if you are willing to have everyone act on it.(2) An example of Kant’s categorical imperative is of one who borrows money, knowing he cannot pay the loan back, promises to pay it back. He argues that it is not universalizable nor is it reversible (you could not will all to act on that maxim). Consequently, says Kant, you cannot act on it. The categorical imperative is similar to the Golden Rule, which states,” Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” However, the thought experiment is different: put yourself in the other person’s shoes and decide whether you would want them to do to you what you are about to do to them. If you would be willing to have that done to you, then it is moral. The difference between the categorical imperative and the Golden Rule is that the categorical imperative focuses on the principle, rather than the people, involved. Kant’s theory also avoids utilitarianism, which would permit lying, murder, stealing, and the like, if it produces happiness. His theory is for capital punishment (2). Kant writes: Even if a civil society resolved to dissolve itself with the consent of all its members- as might be supposed in the case of a people inhabiting an island resolving to separate and scatter through the whole world- the last murder lying in prison ought to be executed before the resolution was carried out. This ought to be done in order that every one may realize the desert of his deeds, and that blood guiltiness may not remain on the people; for otherwise they will all be regarded as a public violation of justice.(6) There are certain exceptions to Kant’s categorical imperative, these exist in our duties as human beings. For example, if we promised to meet someone at a specific time and in doing so many innocent people would die. Therefore, he wrote “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity’ never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.” He called this the, categorical imperative II. This is the idea that what makes an action right is if it treats people as ends in themselves and not merely as means.
The decision to the right action is a two-step process: 1. Determine whether the principle to be acted on is universalizable and reversible, and 2. Determine that it treats everyone as ends in themselves, not merely as a means. If the action passes both tests, it is then morally permissible. (2) The second categorical imperative was written because, under the premise of the first version, it would be morally permissible to kill many people. An example of this would be the slaughter of the Jewish community in so far as the holocaust was concerned. Using the first categorical imperative you could justify the killings under the premise that a nazi would be willing to have himself killed if he were Jewish (reversible) and if he is willing to have everyone act in the same manner (universalizable). However with the inception of the categorical imperative II, this would not be permissible because it would be using the Jewish people as a means, and therefore not admissible. (2) The insight behind the second categorical imperative is that all people are inherently valuable. The value stems from the fact that they are self-conscious, rational, and free. These ideas are an outcome of the Critique of Practical Reason (1788). This freedom was not regard as the lawless freedom of anarchy, but rather as the freedom of self-government, the freedom to consciously obey the laws of the universe as revealed by reason. Kant’s ideal world would consist of reason that would “bind every law giver to make his laws in such a way that they could have sprung from the united will of an entire people, and to regard every subject, in so for as he wishes to be a citizen, on the basis of whether he has conformed to that will.”(4) Kant’s influence on modern times is evident throughout Europe and much of western thought. His philosophy, particularly as developed by G.W.F. Hegel, was the backbone of which the structure of Marxism was built. Johann Fichte, a pupil of Kant, rejected his teacher’s division of the world into objective and subjective parts and developed an idealistic philosophy of his own that had a great influence on the 19th-century socialists. One of Kant’s successors at the University of Konigsberg, J.F. Herbart, incorporated some of Kant’s ideas in his system of education. (4) Conclusion: I believe Kant to be a revolutionary thinker because of what he brought to the world of philosophy, the power of human reason to think objects a priori. Although I find certain ideals I am conflicted with in his work.
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