Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) witnessed the beginning phases of the utilitarian philosophy,
found that philosophy deficient because of its neglect, among other things, of moral duty.
Kant’s theory is a version of what is called duty theory or deontologism
Kant acknowledged that our lives are full of imperatives based on our own situations and
If we want to advance at work, then it is imperative that we keep our
promises; if we are concerned about our friends’ happiness, then it is imperative that we
not talk about them behind their backs.
But this type of hypothetical imperative
tells us we ought to do(or ought not to do) something in order to achieve such and such a
result, is not a moral
imperative, Kant argued.
Keeping a promise so we’ll get a solid
reputation is neither morally praiseworthy nor morally blameworthy, he said.
For our act
to be morally praiseworthy, it must be done, not for the sake of some objective, but
it is right
Our action is morally praiseworthy, only if we do it because it
is right to keep our promises.
A moral imperative is unconditional
prescribes an action, not for the sake of some result, but simply because that action is our
It follows from this philosophy that when it comes to evaluating an action morally, what
counts is not the result or consequences of the action, as utilitarianism maintains, but the
intention (motive) from which it is done.
And the morally best intention, indeed in
Kant’s opinion the only truly morally praiseworthy intention, is that according to which
you do something just because it is your moral duty.
Kant answered the question, how can we tell what our moral duty is? as follows:
Suppose you are considering some course of action—say, whether to borrow some
money you need very badly.
But suppose that you know can’t pay back the loan.
morally permissible for you to borrow money under such circumstances? Kant said to do
First, find the
(principle of action) involved in what you want to do.
case it would be “Every time I’m in need of money, I’ll go to my friends and promise I’ll