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ETHICAL TEACHING OF IMMANUEL KANT

Reason for Kant is not the terminal point in life, rather it leads to the cultivation of the
good will. This means that, for Kant, in order to live in accordance with laws of reason, one must
live in accordance with the laws of nature. He says this because it is a common understanding
since the time Plato that by nature, man is a rational being. Therefore, it follows that to live in
reason is to live in nature. But, what is the connection between reason and will?
Kant posits his claim that reason is capable of influencing the will. According to Kant,
the will is the determining factor of the righteousness of human conduct. Therefore, the will
should be a good will. Says he: Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it
which can be good without qualification, except a good will.
Thus, a good will is one that acts for the sake of duty. The philosopher did not deny that
we have intelligence, wit, judgment, courage, and other natural mental talents. But for Kant, all
these can be used to promote evil. The pundit the same thing as power, honor, wealth, and riches.
Although these can give man happiness, without good will, however, all these will lead man to a
bad and mischievous life. If this happens, man is not living a moral life.
For the celebrated German thinker, motive determines the moral quality of an act and not
the consequences of the act. He contends that it is the intention behind our facts that matter and
not the consequences our acts bear. Because of this, Kant claims that the motive in moral facts
cannot be happiness, pleasure, God, or religion, but the duty. The measure of the good motive or
will or intention is in the context of duty. From this standpoint, Kantian morality can be qualified
as an Ethics of Duty; and as such it excludes pleasure, happiness, and God. Therefore, man
should never act morally because man wants to be pleased or to be happy with his actions nor
should man act morally because there is God who will reward his good actions in the afterlife,
but man should act morally because it is his duty.
Kant teaches that the categorical imperative is founded on two principles, namely: The
Principle of Universality and the Principle of Humanity. The Principle of Universality is
constructed by Kant in this way: “Act only on that maxim whereby you can, at the same time,
will that it should become a universal law.” Kant states further that the imperative of duty may
be expressed thus: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal
law of nature.
The principle of Humanity is, however, constructed by Kant in this way: “So act as to
treat humanity whether in your person or in that of another never as means but always as an
end.”
In the first principle rests Kant’s demand that man should perform only those actions that
have universal repercussions. Therefore, one should not perform acts that cannot be
universalized. Kant contends that suicide (which is nothing else but if done can lead to the
extinction of mankind) and not paying debts are actions that cannot both become universal. In
the Principle of Universality, Kant argues that one, before doing act, should first of all ask if the
action which one wants others to do. If not, it is not universally acceptable.
In the second principle rests Kant’s emphasis on the dignity of the human person. He
writes:
“Now I say: man, and generally any rational being, exists as an end in himself, not
merely as a means to be arbitrary used by this or that will, but all his actions, whether
they concern himself or other rational beings, must be always regarded at the same time
as an end.
In sum, Kant espouses a morality which is founded on the autonomy of man’s rational
nature as shown in the context of duty as the moral ought or (to use his own term) categorical
imperative. With this, reason acts naturally by influencing the will to be a good will. As reason
establishes a good will, good will in turn functions as it acts for duty’s sake. Duty, he defines, is
obedience, reverence, or respect for the moral law.
DIALECTICAL EHICS
Dialectical theory upholds is that man’s will is man’s supreme faculty. The values taught
in this theory are the dignity and autonomy of man. These are the values emphasized by Hegel
when he claims that the State only subordinates man; the State does not create man. These same
values are emphasized by Marx in his claim that man is not an individual but social and
communal. In Marxism, no individual person has dignity of his own, for his nature is collective
and communal. For Marx, man, particular the working man, the proletariat, should establish an
autonomy by struggling for liberation from the chains of poverty brought about by the capitalist.
To do this, the proletariat should establish relatedness to his fellowman to his fellowman and
make himself productive, for in doing this he also tries to establish a relation to nature.
Kant, in his own manner of thinking, also stresses the value of human dignity. Hegel, on
other hand, argues that the moral obligation lies in the universal will. He argues that this
universal will is present in every man and is embodied. In the customs, traditions, and laws of
society.
Now, the question is: Is the ought in Dialectical Ethics patterned after the Natural Moral
Law? Hegel’s, Marx’s, and Kant’s answers are all in the negative. Common to the three is the
claim that every individual man must construct his own moral laws. Kant says man can do it in
terms of intuition. For Hegel, the moral norms come from the law of the state and since it is man
that makes the law, man, then, is the maker of moral law.
The virtues that are found in Dialectical Ethics are propriety (as claimed by Hegel), due
recognition of man’s dignity (as claimed by Kant), and creativity, productivity, and relatedness
to others (as claimed by Marx).