Immanuel Kant’s Duty Theory
There are numerous philosophies and arguments covering the issue of morality. Each philosophy differs as fellow thinkers argue and critique on every theory that arises. Be it Kant or Rousseau, there is definitely a distinction in their perceptions. I can’t help but feel lost rather than fulfilled when I tried studying famous philosophers’ views in search for clarifications. Nevertheless, I was able to come across one philosopher whose duty theory not only came close with my views but also challenged some: Immanuel Kant.
Kant proposed the theory of Categorical Imperative which is duty-bound. He believed that an act should be done because the act itself is moral and not because it would produce the desired consequence. He does not support the idea of “The end justifies the means.” Rather, it should be the other way around.
I find Kant’s Categorical Imperative or deontological theory as the closest to the principle I live by because I also believe that morality is based on the root of an act. An act is moral if it qualifies as a good act in accordance to what Kant considered as maxims. For example, the Ten Commandments are a type of maxim that consists of actions which are considered good and moral. The fifth commandment “You shall not steal” is an absolute maxim which, if done otherwise under any circumstances, is considered immoral. No matter how desirable the consequences are, it is still not a moral act. The act of stealing is not good in nature, so it must be avoided under any circumstances. Even if the situation is a matter of life and death, it is still our duty to act in accordance to what is right and not in regard to the consequence. That is the reason why Kant’s deontological theory is entirely in contrast with Consequentialism.
However, there are certain points concerning Kant’s theory that does not meet some of my opinion as his views seem too ideal and absolute. There are various instances when the consideration of the consequences is highly beneficial for the greater good. There are times when a moral act should also take into account the number of people who would benefit from it, which is what utilitarianism expresses. Thus, if we act based on duty solely regardless of the outcome, I think that would be considered narrow-mindedness. I came to this conclusion because I consider Kant’s Categorical Imperative to be too limited as if every rule is absolute.
Here is one common scenario: What if the situation is self-defense? How would one justify Kant’s claim in a situation where a woman was threatened by a rapist at gunpoint? The victim struggled as she defended herself, but the rapist threatened to kill her or her family. Suddenly, for some reason, the woman was able to get a hold of his gun and the rapist tried to take it back. So they brawled with the gun and when the woman saw an opportunity to point it in his chest, she pulled the trigger.
In the woman’s decision, how can Kant resolve it with a moral act? She just saved herself and probably her family from grave danger. If she did not fight back or kill him, it could have been the other way around—with her or her family dead. This kind of circumstances really leaves me confused about the way I should define a good act, and it also challenges Kant’s theory of duty. If we are to implement it in our society today considering the issues with regard to self-defense, euthanasia, white lies, etc., it may not always be beneficial for the majority.
Does this make my philosophy about morality a combination of all three philosophies mentioned in this essay? They might present distinct views about morality, but it is a good thing that they presented their opinions for everyone to critique. That way, we can relate our own perception, take some bits of theirs, eliminate the fallacies, and think about ways to develop it.