Kant And Universal Moral Laws Essay
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Week 4 ethics essay Are Moral judgements universalizable? If so, in what why, and does it matter?
We make a moral judgement when we describe an action or person as being good or bad. Moral judgements help to express what we feel one 'ought' to do. A moral judgement is unversalizable if it applies to all people in relevantly similar situations – though what 'relevantly similar' means can be understood in various ways. Universal 'laws' are linked to universal judgements, in that moral judgements are formed in response to people either acting in accordance with or against moral laws. When someone breaks a moral law they are judged to be bad; when they act in accordance with moral laws they are judged to be good. This essay explores ways of 'universalising' moral laws (and therefore moral judgements) examining the problems encountered on the way. I conclude that moral judgements cannot be made universalizable in any way that is useful, in terms of providing either a helpful moral criterion or a decision procedure, unless we accept, as Hare suggests, a utilitarian understanding of universalizing laws.
Mackie has proposed three stages of universalizing a moral law. (Mackie, 82 – 103). The first of these is to discount any merely 'numerical' differences. On this understanding, 'other people shouldn't kill but I can' would fail to be a universal law, because it makes an exception for just one person. Unless there is something qualitatively different between yourself and every other person, and unless that difference also has moral implications, the first stage of universalization would not allow such a moral law to hold. Relevant qualitative differences might include being a soldier, in which case your job may require you to kill. Assuming such differences do not hold, however, the law would have to be changed so as not to allow for the 'numerical' difference between yourself and all other people.
Already, however, the problem with universalising laws should become apparent: no two situations are identical, and hence there is always the possibility of morally relevant qualitative differences between situations and persons; how can a universal law account for all these differences? Onara O'neill has suggested one possibility, which is to have a moral law that, while consistent itself, allows for differences in its application. For example, 'the punishment should fit
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