Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)

  • Kant was one of the most influential philosophers of Europe, and is widely considered to be the last major thinker of the Enlightenment. He had a major impact on Romantic and Idealistic philosophies of the 19th century.
  • In his own life, Kant was known to be an eccentric who worked almost all of the time.Heinrich Heine wrote that “The life story of Immanuel Kant is hard to describe, because he had neither a life nor a story.”
  • He was known to wear the same clothes every day, and kept such regular time that it was rumored that the housewives of his town set their clocks by his daily walks.
  • He was also a strong influence for Hegel.
  • Kant is primarily known for transcendental idealism-that we bring innate forms and concepts to the raw experience of the world, which would otherwise be unknowable. We perceive the world by means of our senses, and therefore the thing-in-itself cannot be known.

Deontology Versus Consequentialism. Oh, and Aretaism

  • Deontology is the view that morality either forbids or permits action.
  • Consequentialism holds that the rightness or wrongness of an act depends on the consequences of the act, and therefore the circumstances under which it is performed.
  • John Rawls explains that the difference between the two is understood when you consider that what actions are right and what things are good are at least partially independent.
  • Under deontology, individuals are bound by constraints (such as the requirement not to lie), but are also given options (such as the right not to give to charity). Strict consequentialism recognizes neither—one must maximize the good by any and all means necessary.
  • Aretaic theories often maintain that character, as opposed to actions or their consequences, should be the focal point of ethical theory.

Categorical Imperative

  • In Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, Kant explained the Categorical Imperative in Three Ways:
    • Act only in accordance with that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become universal law;
    • Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end;
    • All maxims as proceeding from our own making of the law ought to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends.
  • Essentially, the categorical imperative argues for the centrality of fairness and universality. Each person must realize that there must be a consistent law for everyone—there cannot be one rule for me and another for others.
  • For example, stealing cannot be justified. If you steal, you deny the existence of property rights for others. In effect, you are denying morally your own right to ownership—and thus, the whole act would be self-defeating.


  • Following Kant’s Categorical Imperative would be incredibly difficult, leading people to abandon it as a philosophy.
  • It would be very difficult to agree on what standards to uphold in terms of right and wrong.
  • Benjamin Constant—the example of the murderer. He argued that Kant’s theory would require a person to tell the truth about the location to a murder of his prey.
  • Kant argued that one cannot know the consequences of his/her actions—for example, what if you lied to the murderer, saying the victim was in the park, and unbeknownst to you, the victim had gone there. Honest, he really did say that!
  • He also argued that the truth-teller would not be morally responsible for the murder, but would be for the lie.
  • Difficulty in establishing the difference between what is a moral requirement (maxim) and what is merely a good idea(prudential).
  • Sir David Ross argued that a world in which everyone could be depended upon to always break their promises would be just as effective and reliable as a world in which everyone kept their promises.
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