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The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant demonstrates the limitations of speculative metaphysics. But this paves the way for an extension in the power of practical reason. As Korsgaard puts it, "bringing reason into the world becomes the enterprise of morality rather than metaphysics, and the work as well as the hope of humanity". For Kant, the fundamental principle of morality - the categorical imperative - is the law of an autonomous will. Immorality involves a violation of the categorical imperative and is therefore irrational. So, as Robert Johnson points out, at the heart of Kantian moral philosophy is a strong conception of reason reaching into practical affairs. Thomas Hill argues that Kant's aims in the Groundwork are not primarily to illustrate how to apply his formulas to particular problems, but to the basic presuppositions of practical reason. In the Metaphysics, where Kant turns explicitly to working out intermediate principles for guiding ethical judgements in areas of human life, the humanity-as-ends formula is most often appealed to.
Structure of the Groundwork Robert Johnsons summarises the fundamental - though not sole - aims of Kant's moral philosophy as follows:
1. To seek out the foundational principle of a metaphysics of morals - the aim of the first two sections of the Groundwork. There his process is, as Korsgaard puts it, "analytic": he analyses our (apparently) common-sense notions of morality to come up with a precise statement of the principle underlying our moral judgements.
2. In the third section Kant attempts to show this foundational principle is a demand of each person's own rational will.
Moral goodness Kant uses an account of the principles of ethics to determine what it is to have a good will. To be morally good, an action must be done for the sake of the law - and not just in conformity with it. It is not sufficient just to do as the law commands, but according to one's own inclination. Instead, one must act as duty requires, because duty requires. An action has moral worth only so far as it is done for the sake of duty. The only unqualified good is a Good Will. Talents of the mind, and gifts of character and fortune, can become bad if the will puts them to the wrong use. By contrast, the good will is good in itself, irrespective of whether or not it achieves its aims. Robert Johnson points out this understanding of 'good will' is not meant to be taken as close to our modern usage of 'good hearted' or 'meaning well'. Instead, Kant's idea is closer to the idea of a 'person of good will'. A good will is supposed to be one which takes moral considerations in themselves to be conclusive reasons for guiding behaviour.
According to Kant, we value a good will without limitation or qualification. Johnson takes this to mean primarily
1. A good will is unconditionally good: there is no conceivable circumstance in which we regard our own moral goodness as worth forfeiting in order to gain some desirable object. A moral consideration is worthy of weight in all circumstances.
2. Possessing and maintaining one's moral goodness is the condition that makes everything else worth having or pursuing. Pleasure is only valuable if it does not force us to give up our fundamental moral convictions. Thus, a good will is good in itself, and not in virtue of its relationship to other things. The person who acts according to duty because of an inbuilt disposition, and the person who acts for the sake of duty despite not wanting to, are both contrasted to the person who does the right thing for an ulterior purpose (fear, hope of reward, ...). Our wills are imperfect, and are not in complete harmony with rationality. We therefore face competing demands on us. First Proposition: to have moral worth, an action must be done from duty. Second Proposition: An action derives its moral worth from the maxim by which it is determined, not from the purpose which is attained by it. It depends merely on the motive for the action, without regard to any object of desire. Third Proposition: (a consequence of the first two) duty is the necessity of acting from respect for the law. If we do the right action from happiness alone, then had conditions been different we would not have done our duty. By contrast, if we had acted from duty we would have acted rightly in any possible world. Removing all material purposes from the will, all that is left is the formal principle of the will, of duty: I am never to act otherwise than I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. This is the principle which motivates a good will, the principle which Kant takes to be the fundamental principle of morality. The common reason of men perfectly coincides with this.
Moral laws Everything in nature works according to laws. To have moral force, a law must carry with it absolute necessity. So moral laws must be founded a priori in the conceptions of pure reason. They must hold for all rational creatures generally, with absolute necessity. The moral law is a synthetic a priori principle; an ought statement cannot be derived from experience, and the moral ought cannot be established analytically. Once we have sought out
the fundamental a priori moral principle, we can consult facts of experience to determine how best to apply this principle. Thus, the fundamental principles of morality are synthetic a priori: they are not analytic or conceptual, yet their justification does not rely on observation. However, as Robert Johnson points out, it is not always clear Kant sticks to this method: the Groundwork, for example, makes appeal to empirical facts such as that our wills are determined by practical principles. Rational beings alone have the faculty of acting according to the conception of laws. Deduction of actions from principles requires reason, so the will is nothing but practical reason. If the will is not in accord with reason, the actions objectively recognised as necessary become subjectively contingent. The determination of such a will according to objective laws is obligation, because the will is not in complete harmony with reason. The conception of an objective principle is called a command, and the formula of the command is called an Imperative. These are expressed by the word ought or shall.
Classification of imperatives As Robert Johnson understands them, imperatives are commands to exercise our wills in some way. They are not commands to perform some action or other. Hypothetical imperatives are principles which instruct us to do certain actions if we want certain ends. Categorical: necessary in itself without reference to any other end. Hypothetical imperatives are analytic. Their material content comes from a law of nature relating means to ends, but the necessity expressed is analytic. Willing something is determining yourself to be the cause of that thing; we only need to analyse our 'willing the end' to come to willing the means. But the moral ought is not hypothetical. Nothing is posited to be analysed. Not every non-conditionally formed command is a categorical imperative. To take Philippa Foot's example, imperatives of etiquette like 'answer an invitation in the third person in the third person' are not conditional, but not categorical imperatives. It does not apply to us simply as rational beings, but because of our prevailing customs and standards. Similarly, a hypothetical imperative requires us to exercise our wills in a certain way given we have antecedently willed a certain end. Hypothetical imperatives are therefore conditional, but not every conditional is such an imperative. For Kant, willing an end requires more than just desiring it; it requires the exercise of practical reason in focussing on that end. So, to take Johnson's example, 'if you want pastrami, try the corner deli' is not a hypothetical imperative - it is not irrational to fail to will means to the end - because it does not apply to us in virtue of willing an end, only in desiring an end. We therefore have a tripartite division, including two hypothetical imperatives
Imperatives of skill: necessary to allow us to reach our ends. Imperatives of prudence: necessary to allow us to reach the end of happiness. And one categorical imperative Categorical imperative (Universal Law formula): act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law. Accordingly we have rules of skill, counsels of prudence, and commands of morality. The counsels of prudence are not commands in the sense of the categorical imperative. This is because happiness is not an ideal of reason, but of imagination. A maxim is a subjective principle of action, the principle on which the subject acts. It must contain your reason for action: it must say what you are going to do, and why. This is in contrast to an objective principle, which dictates how the subject ought to act. A maxim has the form 'I will act A in circumstances C in order to realise or produce end E'. Your maxim must be a means to your end and (unless morally required), it must be consistent with your happiness. Maxims are subjective in that they state only what some agent wills. A principle for any rational will would be an objective principle of volition, a practical law. Any human willing must be based on means-end reasoning; it must be based on a maxim to pursue some ends via some means. Kant also distinguishes between assertoric and problematic hypothetical imperatives: If an end is one we might or might not will - a possible end - the imperative is problematic. If the end is one we must will, it is assertoric. Kant takes the sole non-moral end we must will to be our own happiness. However, our rationality can issue no imperative if the end is indeterminate, and happiness is indeterminate. We therefore see that we cannot will ourselves to be a special case, as an exception to a law. To do so - and allow a law to be subjectively not universal - would be inconsistent with it being an objectively necessary universal law. The will of every rational being is a universally legislative will. Hypothetical imperatives are principles of the will but not laws. It is only the categorical imperative that leaves the will no liberty to do the opposite.
Kant's decision procedure?
The formula of universal law of nature has often been taken - by O'Neill, Rawls and others - to summarise a decision procedure for moral reasoning:
1. Formulate a maxim enshrining your reason for the action you propose.
2. Recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents.
3. Consider whether the maxim is conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature.
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