Kantian Ethics: Strength & Weaknesses

I have recently updated this table so not all strengths and weaknesses are discussed in the above video.



1. Creates a distinction between duty and inclination. Inclination is may be because something benefits us but morality is something above that it is about duty.

1. No rules if two duties conflict e.g. our duty to make other happy and our duty not use an embryo for genetic research even though genetic research makes people happy. Strangely Kant would argue in this situation one duty must not be a true duty. Furthermore, it can impractical in terms of trying to fufil all duties e.g. the duty to care for all patients equally in a hospital faced with a fixed budget.

2. Makes justice impartial because you cannot promote happiness if that happiness undermines another happiness. This is also a criticism of utilitarianism.

2. Personalised rules can not exist as they cannot be universalised. (Could also be a strength)

3. Humans are given intrinsic worth, dignity and respect. Demonstrates that humans have rights.

3. No allowance for compassion or sympathy.

4. We are equal individuals unlike some forms of Christian ethics which suggests that if you do not follow the Lord Jesus Christ you are not equal to other people.

4. What is more important consequences and people or actions? e.g.. man with axe example.

5. Easy to follow with a clear criteria because it is based on innate human reason. More importantly gives us answers which arguably other theories like Situation Ethics do not.

5. Kant’s second formulation of the categorical imperative can be difficult to use in terms of world politics. For example, we cannot scarifice the few at war for the sake of many.

6. People generally do have the same idea about morality.

6. Kant’s deontological theory of ethics is in fact vague. The reason being no two moral situations are the same hence can one maxim fill both situations. No. Is murder the same as self-defence, suicide, abortion?

7. People recognise the idea of duty as a part of being human.

7. The theory only works if everyone agrees with it which is clearly not true. For Natural Law or Virtue Theory to work one doesn’t need everyone to work.

8. It is wholly secular which means it does not rely on the assumption that there is a God unlike Natural Law which if the existence of God is rejected then so is Natural Law.

8. It commits a Naturalistic Fallacy according to G.E.Moore. One cannot derive an ought from an is i.e. can ought really imply can?

9. Is it really universal can everyone really be classified a rational moral agent?

10. Kant argues that happiness is the by-product of morality not the intention behind it – is this suggestion really logical – why would you follow it then?

11. Not everyone is capable of ration decision-making hence theory is not universal.

Kantian Ethics

Kantian Ethics is summarised in the video tutorial below:



The strengths & weaknesses of the theory can be summarised as follows:

Strengths and weaknesses to Kant’s deontological theory of ethics

  1. The clear distinction between ‘emotions’ and ‘duty’ is important, it ensures that decisions are made out of something more than ‘urges of the moment’. For example, if you see someone hurt on the street, rather than acting just out of compassion, it is better to act of duty. This is gives something extra to the action taken.
  2. The theory can be applied to everyone, regardless of culture, race, religion etc.
  3. The appeal to innate human reason establishes a clear criteria for what constitutes a moral action. This makes it easier to deduce right actions to take.
  4. It respects human life without exception. Kant’s deontological of theory goes against suicide, abortion, murder etc. Even killing out of love is seen as unmoral.
  5. This respect in time demonstrates that human beings have rights e.g. they have a right to be told the truth.
  6. It is wholly secular which means it does not rely on the assumption that there is a God.
  1. It works only if everyone agrees to it especially when fulfilling the maxim of Kingdom of Ends.
  2. There can be conflicts of duty e.g. we have a duty to protect human life as well as we have duty not to lie but what if lying is the only way to save someone’s life? Kant’s reply to this criticism is interesting, he says that there is no such thing as a conflict in duty we need to identify which one of the two is not a duty.
  3. Kant’s theory falls into making a naturalistic fallacy – can ‘ought’ really imply ‘can’ and if this fails so does Kant’s ethical system.
  4. Can we really say that the action itself is really more important than the consequences?
  5. Does this theory really apply to everyone – what if someone is not capable of rational decision- making like a baby or someone with a disability.
  6. There is not a mutual consensus between everyone tat ‘my duty in one situation is my duty in every situation’
  7. Can this theory really be used in real life e.g. to be moral does everyone really need to try and fulfill their potential or give others happiness, can they not just be happy in themselves without causing others harm.
  8. Is Kant correct in saying that happiness is a by-product of leading a moral life not the intention behind it.
  9. For Kant, ‘rationality’ is extremely important, but just following the above point is it really realistic for Kant to overlook ‘fellowship’ because emotions, concerns, hopes etc are not part of his moral equation. I mean after all we are mortals.
  10. Obviously, for some theist the fact that God is excluded from the moral exclusion is a definite negative.