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1 Introduction In every human being, there is a desire for the good. One can also say that because every human person desires the good, all actions are directed towards the good which is an end. But while every action is directed at some good, not all actions are good. Hence, we are faced with the task of separating what is right from that which is wrong. But how can we determine what is right or wrong? Is an action good if the intention of the agent (man) is good? Our aim in this paper therefore is to look at this question from Immanuel Kant s perspective. Our methodology will begin with a brief history background to Immanuel Kant and his philosophy; this will be followed by a study of Kant s notion of goodwill and morality. Here we will see how Kant showed that the deduction of actions from principles require reason, and then that the will is nothing but practical reason. Historical background to Kant and his philosophy If we prescind from the history of Kant s intellectual development and from the results of this development, we do not need to spend much time in recounting the facts of his life, for it was singularly uneventful and devoid of dramatic incident. True, any philosopher s life is devoted primarily to reflection, not to external activity on the stage of public life. 1 Immanuel Kant lived all of his eighty years ( ) in the small province town of Königsberg in East Prussia. His parents were of modest means, and their religious spirit, nurtured by a sect known as Pietists, was to have a permanent influence upon Kant s thought and 1 Cf. Frederick Copleston, A History of Philosophy (Maryland: The Newman Press, 1962), p

2 personal life. His education began an the local Collegium Fredericianum, whose director was also a Pietist 2 Groundwork for the Metaphysics of morals (Grundlegung der Metaphysik der Sitten) The German word for groundwork is Grundlegung which literally means laying the ground. The Groundwork therefore lays the ground for practical philosophy in this sense: it provides philosophical support or justification for the supreme rule upon which all practical philosophy is based. As Kant writes in his preface: the present groundwork is nothing more than the search for the establishment of the supreme principle of morality. 3 The first section of Kant s Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals, begins by distinguishing between things that are good without qualification and things that are good but only qualifiedly or under certain conditions. 4 Morality: A conceptual analysis Etymologically, the word morality is derived from the Latin word moralitas, which means character or proper behaviour. Some philosophers are of the opinion that morality is and should be conceived as something practical in Aristotle s sense, that is, as an activity, enterprise, institution or system. Kai Nielsen noted that: 2 Samuel E. Stumpf, Philosophy History and Problems (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1971), p Cf. Sally Sedwick, Kant s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, An Introduction (New York: Cambridge University Press), pp Cf. Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 3 rd edition, trans. James W. Ellington (India: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 2007), p.14. 2

3 Moral discourse is a practical, directive mode of discourse functioning to guide conduct and alter behaviour. This at least can be said about an ethical system or way of life, that its function is to guide conduct. 5 If the above statement is true, then we can say that an agent has morality only if he has something, in this case, a set of rules and principles that he takes as a guide to action. However, there are other systems beside morality that have a built-in function of regulating conduct. The question then is; when us an action to be considered moral? When should we regard a set of maxims, principles, ends or ideas as moral ones? 6 Reflection upon our experience of moral obligation and moral conflict leads easily to the view that moral experience, although involving experience of impressions and objects have important features for its own. 7 We know morality because we have experienced moral life. Hence, for there to be any real theory on morality, it has to start from our moral experience and deal with our moral experience. 5 Cf. Kai Nielsen, Want on Reason, Philosophical Studies, XII, 1963, p.71; J.Kemp, Reason, Action and Morality, 1964, p.191, quoted in The Definition of Morality, edited by G. Wallace and A.DM Walker (Mathuen and Co. Ltd, 1970), p W.K. Frankena, The Concept of Morality in The Definition of Morality, edited by G. Wallace and A.DM Walker (Mathuen and Co. Ltd, 1970), p S. Korner, Kant: An Introduction to the Philosophy of one of the Greatest Thinkers of the World (A Pelican Book), p

4 Kantian ethics could be summarized in these points; there is a supreme moral principle and to reach it, the only adequate method is the a priori method of reasoning, man s rational will is pure and autonomous, the human agent has both noumenal and phenomenal aspects, morality presents itself to human agents as a categorical imperative, morality gives rise to a notion of the highest good which consists in a world of universals. Categorical Imperative An imperative is a rule, a principle, or an instinct that compels or commands or requires a certain behaviour. 8 Kant distinguishes two kinds of imperatives: categorical imperative and hypothetical imperative. The categorical imperative is a term which originated in Kant s ethics, it expresses the moral law as ultimately enacted by reason and demanding obedience from respect for its universality and necessity. Categorical means among other things, unconditional, necessary, and absolute, while imperative means an injunction, an order or decree, requiring an agent to refrain from committing a specific act; or requiring him to perform some specific act. 9 The categorical imperative is that which represents an action as necessary of itself without reference to another end, that is, as objectively necessary. 10 In other words, categorical imperative is how one determines one s duty, how one 8 Cf. ( 15 May, 2012) 9 Cf. ( 15 May, 2012) 10 Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, translation by T.K. Abbot, with emendations by Daniel Kolak (Electronic HyperText Markup Language Version Copyright 1991 by Daniel Kolak. 4

5 determines the principles that are proper and the ones that are not. 11 The idea of categorical imperative was developed by Kant from the foundational basic of examining the constituent of man s will and what could make it good, free from all external influences and capable of issuing a self-determined and autonomous command, this imperative means a law that is willed for every rational being and is valid unconditionally. The summary of this imperative can be deduced from Kant s work when he wrote; I only ask myself whether I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law. If not, then the maxim must be rejected, not because of any disadvantage accruing to or even to others, but because it cannot be fitting as a principle in a possible legislation of universal law, and reason exact from me the immediate act for such legislation. 12 Hypothetical Imperative A hypothetical imperative states that a certain thing must be done of something else which is willed, or at least might be willed, is to be attained. 13 In order words, hypothetical imperative is a command that is conditioned by personal motive or desire. Hypothetical imperative presents the practical necessity of a possible action as a means to achieving 11 Cf. ( 15 May, 2012) 12 Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, ak, Kant, The Metaphysical Principles of Morals, in The Classical Moralists compiled by Benjamin Rand (Boston: Houghton Miffin Company, 1909), p.548 5

6 something else which one desires or may possibly desire. 14 It is a principle of conduct which is accepted not on its own merits, but simply as a rule for gaining some desired end. For instance, suppose that I refuse to make a certain statement on a certain occasion, for the reason that it would be a lie, and that lie ought not to be told. Suppose that my ground for believing that lies ought not to be told is that lies undermine confidence and this betrays one s trust. Thus, the principle that lie ought not to be told would be for me a mere hypothetical imperative. Hence, a hypothetical imperative thus says that an action is good for some purpose, either possible or actual. The Notion of Goodwill in Kant s Moral Philosophy Nothing according to Kant can precisely be conceived in this world or out of it which can be called good without qualification except the goodwill. 15 In the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant opined that intelligence, wit, judgment, and the other talents of the mind, however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many respect; but these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad and mischievous if the will which make use of them, and which therefore constitutes what we call character, is not good. 16 This goodwill is good not because of what it performs, but it is simply good in itself. It must be good in whatever context it may be found. Its goodness is not conditioned by its relation to a context or to an 14 Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. By James Ellington (New York: The Bobs Merril Co, Inc., 1964), p Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason in the European Philosophers form Descartes to Nietzsche, ed., by Manroe C. Beardsley (New York: The Modern Library, 1992), p Cf. Immanuel Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, translation by T.K. Abbot, with emendations by Daniel Kolak (Electronic HyperText Markup Language Version, 1999), first section. 6

7 end, or to a desire, rather its goodness emanates from itself. Kant presented it in the passage below; A goodwill is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end. It is good only through its willing, that is, it is good in itself. When it is considered in itself, then it is to be esteemed very much higher than anything which it might ever bring about merely in order to favour some inclinations or even the sum total of all inclinations. 17 For Kant, the goodwill is the only thing good without limitation. He does not mean that it is the only thing that is good, since he goes on to list and classify some other goods whose goodness is not without limitation. What he meant is that considered in itself, the goodwill is something entirely good and in no respect bad. He explains this point by saying that the goodwill is the only thing whose goodness is not diminished by its combination with anything else, even with all the evil things that may be found in conjunction with it. The Concept of Duty Duty for Kant is the obligation to act from reverence for law. 18 It is that which makes a human action morally good and not an action springing up either from self-interest or 17 Carl Friedrich (ed) The Philosophy of Kant (New York: The Modern Library, 1993), p Kant, The Metaphysical Principles of Morals, in The Classical Moralists compiled by Benjamin Rand (Boston: Houghton Miffin Company, 1909), p.542 7

8 inclination. This concept of duty is very crucial to Kant s moral thought. For there is only thing which can be called good without qualification, namely, a goodwill; and man s will cannot be good unless it acts from a sense of duty. Hence, for the will to be unconditionally good, it is necessary that it conforms to duty. Furthermore, any action that comes from inclination and interest has no moral worth, but an action done solely out of duty does have distinctively self worth. 19 The central idea here is that, it is the motive of duty and not of inclination that gives moral worth to an action. For Kant, if an action is to be morally good, the motives of duty, while it may be present at the same time as other motives, must itself be sufficient to determine the action as having moral worthiness. It is on this note that he argued that duty for duty s sake is the only authentic moral motivation and respect for the law. Inclination Inclinations for Kant are not bad, but he feels that they do not have moral value or worth. On this note he avers; It is no merit of yours that you happen to be benevolently inclined towards our neighbours by temperament. You are just doing what comes naturally and if something entirely different comes more naturally to you, you would do that instead. 20 For Kant, any action done out of inclination has no moral worth, but if an action is done out of duty with inclination put aside then, the action has moral value. Inclinations for him are 19 Immanuel Kant, The Moral Laws, trans., by H.J. Paton (London: Hutchinson and Co. Ltd, 1976), p Joel Feinberg, Moral Concept: Oxford Reading in Philosophy, ed. Joel Feinberg (Britain: Oxford University Press, 1969), p.66. 8

9 morally right but not praiseworthy. They are mere actions that have no moral value. He was aware that duty does coincide with inclination. For instance, if a trader is always careful not to overcharge his customers, his behaviour is certainly in accordance with duty, but it does not follow that he is acting for the sake of duty. For Kant, such behaviour is in accordance with duty, but it is not done from duty. In all, duty emanates from an effort of the individual, while inclination comes from that which is natural to an individual. Based on the inclination, Kant calls it a habitual appetite. 21 Autonomy of the will Autonomy of the will according to Kant is the property that will has of being a law to itself independently of any property of the objects of volition. 22 Kant argues here that the will cannot be caused by another object or factor. The principle of autonomy of Kant is always choose in such a way that in the same volition, the maxims of the choice are at the same time present as universal law. 23 Kant speaks of the autonomy of the will as the supreme principle of morality and as a sole principle of all moral laws and of the corresponding duties. For Kant, any form of external influence would only constitute imposition and violation of the absolute freedom which the will ought to enjoy in the formation of its moral principle. From this argument, he states that 21 Kant, The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. By James Ellington (New York: The Bobs Merril Co, Inc., 1964), p Cf. Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, ak, Ibid. 9

10 such external influence of man s will as an act in which heteronomy of the will becomes the source of all spurious principles of morality. Conclusion From our discourse, we can see that Kant believes that we all experience an innate moral duty, but what violates this moral duty is the presence of our inclinations, desires, feelings of guilt and shame. This is important because in every human being, there is experience and awareness of moral duty, but what makes this moral duty plausible is its conformity with reason. He also thought that the fact that we want to do something means that it is logically possible to do it. One main factor that stands out in Kant s moral teaching is that, the will acts rightly and makes the right choice only when it is guided by practical reason. Once the will is clouded with passion, desires and other selfish interests, its chances of making the right choice becomes practically difficult. For him, the problem we have in the failure of the will is traceable to the influences of these external variables which should not interfere if the will is to make right choices. 10

11 Bibliography Copleston, Frederick. A History of Philosophy Volume 6. Maryland: The Newman Press, Feinberg, Joel. Moral Concept: Oxford Reading in Philosophy, ed. Joel Feinberg. Britain: Oxford University Press, Frankena, W.K. The Concept of Morality in The Definition of Morality, edited by G. Wallace and A.DM Walker. Mathuen and Co. Ltd, Friedrich, Carl (ed). The Philosophy of Kant. New York: The Modern Library, ( 15 May, 2012 Kant, Immanuel. Critique of Pure Reason in the European Philosophers form Descartes to Nietzsche, ed., by Manroe C. Beardsley. New York: The Modern Library, Kant, Immanuel. Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, translation by T.K. Abbot, with emendations by Daniel Kolak. Electronic HyperText Markup Language Version Copyright 1991 by Daniel Kolak. Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 3 rd edition, trans. James W. Ellington. India: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysical Principles of Morals, in The Classical Moralists compiled by Benjamin Rand. Boston: Houghton Miffin Company,

12 Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. By James Ellington. New York: The Bobs Merril Co, Inc., Kant, Immanuel. The Moral Laws, trans., by H.J. Paton. London: Hutchinson and Co. Ltd, Korner, S. Kant: An Introduction to the Philosophy of one of the Greatest Thinkers of the World. A Pelican Book. Nielsen, Kai. Want on Reason, Philosophical Studies, XII, 1963, p.71; J.Kemp, Reason, Action and Morality, 1964, p.191, quoted in The Definition of Morality, edited by G. Wallace and A.DM Walker. Mathuen and Co. Ltd, Sedwick, Sally. Kant s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, An Introduction. New York: Cambridge University Press. Stumpf, Samuel E. Philosophy History and Problems. New York: McGraw-Hill,

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