Kant’s belief was that we should act for the sake of the action, not for an ulterior motive. Laws should be universal, and we should follow them out of a sense of duty. By doing this we are following our own intrinsic goodness.
So why was it so important to Kant to defend the need for his theory?In 1788, Immanuel Kant, (a deontologist), laid a new foundation for ethics and religion with the categorical imperative. Kant believed in the freedom of humans to make their own decisions and considered the exploitation of humans to be the worst evil. Human reason gives us the right to choose and we are therefore able to freely make moral decisions. The categorical imperative states that if ‘I ought’, therefore ‘I can’. It is an absolute law that has no conditions and is consequently a method of making moral decisions.
When making decisions, we should not follow our inclinations, but our duty, which is more than just personal preference.Kant’s imperative is categorical, in that it tells us which of our actions would be good in the form of a command. This is categorical, not hypothetical – actions that are good solely because they are a means to an end. The categorical imperative is the opposite of this in that it is obeyed because the things that it commands are seen as being intrinsically good.Kant believes that one of the most important features of the categorical imperative is its universalisability, that my maxim should become a universal law. Kant does not specifically provide us with a set of rules or laws that we should follow, like the 10 commandments for example, but instead, if a law can be universalised, then it is morally acceptable. Laws that become contradictory when they’re universalised must be rejected as immoral.
This is why we have to be selective when choosing our universal moral laws. We cannot take a forceful stance, as this would exclude certain people and have a decaying effect upon society.Thus we recognise that there are moral dilemmas that may be similar but different. Are all killings the same? Some can be justified, other cannot. Is this a weakness in Kant’s theory? Kant would say that it is dependant on the reason, not the outcome and for that reason; he is not aligning all killings as the same moral problem.Humans should not be treated as means to an end; they should be treated as ends in themselves. Humans are the highest point of creation and therefore need to be treated uniquely.
Unlike utilitarianism, you cannot sacrifice one for the greater good of the greater number. Happiness should only be sought if it doesn’t prevent another’s happiness. But difficult decisions do have to be made, and Kant’s approach is not best suited to deciding upon the answers to some questions. If we were going to war, and by bombing one small village, we would bring the war to an end, Kant would not agree with this as it is sacrificing someone’s happiness for the happiness of others.Kant’s ultimate end – the summum bonum, is a way is the state in which virtue and happiness meet; however it is a state that is never reached during our lifetime. Kant’s belief that we have immortal souls, leads us to the fact that morality leads to God. (Kant’s rejection of theological arguments about God’s existence does not mean that he does not have his own ideas about the after-life.
) However, many Christians would question Kant’s place for God, and as the categorical imperative is supposed to apply to everyone, is this something we can overlook as just a matter of religious belief?Kant says that laws have to be of the highest good, containing something that is good within themselves. They have to be universally and unconditionally binding. Kant says that, “It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will.” To be good, you have to have a good will. The goodness of good will is not derived from the goodness of its results, but it is having the right intention that makes the good will good.Due to all of these aspects, Kant feels that it is a sense of duty that drives humans to do morally good actions, and avoid those that will be morally bad.
His ethics appear to be only a tool that leads us to morality. However, by not providing us with any rules or laws, it could be hard to see which moral rules can and cannot be universalised.(B)Kant explains non-ethical theories as either, true without knowledge, or possibly true or false, with validation through knowledge. Ethical theories on the other hand are knowable through reason, not experience and they may not be true.
So by looking at abortion through reason, how easy is it to draw conclusions about abortion?There are so many moral dilemmas surrounding abortion, the rights of the mother, the rights of the foetus, the concept of potential life, personhood etc. Kant rejects the view that we can know and make decisions about abortion from experience, and he says that we make them through reason instead. So how easy is it to reason whether abortion is wrong or not? When in the situation, would one be thinking rationally and morally?Due to Kant’s absolute law, we know that there can only be one way to morally look at abortion, and no conditions must affect individual situations. When a universal law becomes contradictory we must reject it, and therefore there is no leniency for the ‘similar but different’ approach to situations. This means that abortion is either acknowledged as morally acceptable, or denied as morally unacceptable.If abortion was viewed as acceptable this would cause uproar for some.
The catholic religion condemns abortion as intrinsically evil and maintains that is goes against the word of God and the natural law. Other Christians also reject abortion, and it has been noted that this is (1) because God is lord of life and death and no human has the right to take the life of another. (This links in with whether one of the universal laws would be that killing is wrong.
If it was that killing was said to be morally unacceptable, then abortion could be viewed as wrong due to this absolute.) (2) Because human life beings at conception and therefore abortion at any stage of pregnancy is wrong. Pro-life campaigners would also agree with Kant, in that, abortion is wrong because you cannot know what the outcome will be, a woman does not know how she will feel in nine months about having a baby, and by having a abortion, she is preventing herself from finding out.Kant does not believe that humans should be treated as means to an end. In the case of abortion, it is not the foetus that is being treated, as the means to the end, but it is the procedure of the abortion that is the means to the end. So, still we are rejecting abortion as morally unacceptable.
Abortion is one issue where the morality differs between approaches. Kant and utilitarianism, differ here because utilitarianism sees abortion not as the means to the end, but doing the greatest good for the greatest number. If abortions were to become illegal, then the consequences would be more severe than they are at the moment, where abortion is legal, as long as certain conditions apply. Kant would not agree with this, as he does not believe that it is the results that should affect the moral decision-making.Following our duty and not our inclination is something that Kant believes in, and therefore if one is inclined to have an abortion, this does not make it right. It should be our duty to the foetus that prevents us from having the abortion. This is closely associated with the good will theory, and if we firstly have the right intention, then that is what makes the good will good.
Our morality is what leads us towards God, and for Kant, we can only reach the summum bonum at death. (If one was trying to twist Kant’s ethics, we could say that by having an abortion, we are therefore just sending the foetus straight to God, without having to experience the misery and depressions life can place upon one.)A further part of Kant’s theory is to say that, if “I ought”, therefore “I can”. So if one ought to have an abortion, because it is the best thing to do, then one can have an abortion.
This assertion however would be strongly renounced by Kant’s followers, as a perverse assertion of his ethics.With all the debate, we can see that Kant is apposed to abortion, and condemns it as morally wrong. So the usefulness of Kant theories for abortion are very one sided. If a woman found herself in the situation, it may be easier to look at a morality that is biased towards a certain end, but nevertheless, many women will still want an impartial view when making decisions about abortion. Kant does not give us an moral guidance concerning the issues of rights or personhood, these are conclusions we should supposedly draw for ourselves.
For that reason, Kant’s ethics may be suited to some, but the majority of people would want to be able to decide about their own body and their own life for themselves, and not have to follow rules that should apply to everyone; especially as abortion is not necessarily considered an issue for everyone, men cannot have babies after all. Useful may not be the right term to use in this situation; convenient maybe would suit it better, in particular in relation to Kant.