NE203 Lecture Six – Fall 2007
(DUTY BASED ETHICS)
Objectivist not Relativist
- Kantian Ethics or Kantianism as it is sometimes
referred to is one of the most important and influential ethical theories in the
Western Tradition. It is also an objectivist and absolutist moral theory, meaning
that it asserts that there are universal and eternal moral principles, principles that
are independent of time, place and circumstance.
Intentions not Consequences
– Kantian Ethics is a non-consequentialist and
deontological (from the Greek word for obligation) theory of ethics. According to
Kantian Ethics, an act is judged right or wrong based upon the intentions of the
individual who performed it. If the individual acted
solely and exclusively from
, that is, the individual acted with the sole and exclusive intent of fulfilling his
moral duty and obligation for the sake of that moral duty and obligation, the act is
right regardless of the consequences. Consequences, according to Kantian Ethics,
are irrelevant in determining the moral worth of an act.
Reason not Experience
- Kantian Ethics is rationalist not empiricist. What this
means is that morality, i.e., the moral laws that bind us all, according to Kant, are
discovered through reason and reason alone. Morality is not something that we
create and it is not something that is based upon experience. Rather, morality, like
mathematics and logic is something independent and objective that human beings
discover through reason and indeed is based upon reason.
Freedom not Servitude
– At the heart of Kant’s moral theory is the notion of
freedom, specifically, individual freedom. For when the individual follows the
moral law, i.e., follows the dictates of reason, he frees himself from his
inclinations, emotions and appetites. As Rousseau once said, “the impulse of
appetite is slavery.” Furthermore, the individual, according to Kant, whether king
or commoner is able to understand and impose the moral law on himself. In that
way, the individual frees himself from entrenched hierarchies and authorities.
Thus, Kant’s moral theory is one that emphasizes the equality and liberty of all
and why Kant is considered such a pivotal figure of the Enlightenment.