Kantian Ethics: Strength & Weaknesses

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

Strengths

Weaknesses

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 Revision Quiz

Questions (answers below)

1. What Century did Immanual Kant formulate his ethical theory and what nationality was Kant?

 

2. What quote can be used to sum up his theory?

3. Distinguish between the categorical and hypothetical imperative and give examples.

4. Why is the moral law, according to Kant, categorical?

5. How many formulations does he give of the categorical imperative, what are they and why does Kant give them?

6. Explain the formulations of the categorical imperative – what do they mean?

7. How many example of the first formulation are they? and what are they?

8. What is the distinction between duty and inclination?

9. By doing our duty what do we achieve?

10. Give 3 strengths and weaknesses of Kantian Ethics.

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1. 18th C and he was German.

2. ‘Two things, above all others, fill the mind with ever increasing awe and wonder: the starry heavens above and the moral law within”

3. The Hypothetical Imperative looks to an outcome e.g. ‘Do your revision and you will get an A’ and the Categorical Imperative is an absolute command which does not look to an outcome e.g. ‘Do your revision’.

4. Because it was hypothetical it would not be universal – so if it said be moral so you can go to heaven it would be changeable and not universal as some people may not wish to go to heaven.

5. Three: (i) Universalisability (ii) Means to an end and (iii) Kingdom of ends – these are three ways given to understand the same moral law – categorical imperative.

6. Universalisability – only commit to an action that if the rest of the world did would be logical and sustainable. Means to an end – do not use people as a mere means to an end, rather you should respect and give then the same respect you give yourself. Kingdom of ends – if as a lawmaker of the world you could put your action into legislation then the action is moral. 

7. 4 – 2 are perfect duties (contradiction in conception) – do not commit suicide and do not commit false-promising and 2 are imperfect duties (contradiction in the will) – fulfil your own potential and gives others happiness.

8. Duty is what we ought to do and inclination is what we want to do (they don’t always conflict).

9. Goodwill because we eliminate selfish interests.

10. See post on strengths & weaknesses.