u04lecture - Kantian Deontology In the previous unit we...

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Kantian Deontology In the previous unit we considered the question of whether or not anticipated consequences should be a motivating factor in determining whether or not an action, or a purported moral rule, is right or wrong. In this unit we will be looking at the views of the Eighteenth Century German Philosopher, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), and his theory of Ethics, also known as Kantian Deontology. In this unit, we will be considering Kant’s theory as a means of determining to what degree intentions play a role in determining moral action, and whether or not duty to absolute moral laws ‘trumps’ any consideration for consequences as the motivating factor for determining whether an action is right or wrong. To fully appreciate Kant’s theory of Ethics, it is helpful to have some understanding of his theory of knowledge. According to Kant, some kinds of knowledge are available to us a priori , or without resorting to experience for our judgments, to determine whether or not something is true (in opposed to a posteriori knowledge, which does require experience for our judgments). Kant also believed that a priori knowledge could be either analytic, a judgment made by dissecting a concept, or synthetic, a judgment made by discovering a universal rule of experience. Thus examples of an analytic a priori judgment would be ‘2 + 2 = 4’; ‘all bachelors are unmarried men’, and so on. Examples of synthetic a priori knowledge would be ‘all events have a cause’, ‘the interior angles of a triangle are equal to 180 degrees’, and ‘water boils at 212 degrees Fahrenheit at sea level’. For Kant, a priori knowledge, whether analytic or synthetic, is necessarily true (Kant’s most significant contribution to the theory of knowledge is actually his argument for the possibility of synthetic a priori knowledge, but that’s another class). Kant’s account of synthetic a priori knowledge had to with the notion that there were such things as ‘basic facts’ about the world, which though we discover through experience are nevertheless necessary and therefore universal. Included among the basic facts of the world are ‘moral facts’, or principles, that apply to our experience but not contingent upon this or that particular situation. In addition to believing that there were such things as basic moral facts, Kant also believed that human beings have a will by means of which we carry out actions. And
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among the things in human that are good, the only thing that is good without qualification is a ‘good will’. That is, even though we might think that money, power, and prestige are good things, without the wisdom to know what to do with them, they may just as easily lead to evil as they can to the benefit of oneself or others. Likewise, virtues such as kindness, or beneficence are of no value unless they are motivated by good will (recall from the last unit my saving of my enemy from drowning). However, a good will is good without qualification, and what makes a good will ‘good’, is our reasons or intentions for
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u04lecture - Kantian Deontology In the previous unit we...

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