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Kant: An Inquiry Examining The Use Of The Categorical Imperative And Its Divergence From Common Moral Beliefs.

1929 words - 8 pages

In order to formalise our pre-existing moral beliefs, Kant proposes his categorical imperative. (409). The categorical imperative attempts this through assessing whether a maxim is morally wrong (not in conformity to reason) or morally right. Kant defines a maxim as the given reason for our action (421). The categorical imperative has two distinct formulae by which we can test maxims: the Formula of Uni-versal Law, and the Formula of Humanity. Each formulation can be failed two different ways by a max-im, with the different ways in which the maxim fails determining whether maxim can form a strict, or wide duty. In order for the categorical imperative to be successful in its purpose of formalising our moral beliefs, the results of the categorical imperative must be similar to our pre-existing moral beliefs, or else the categorical imperative does not represent our beliefs accurately. For my query I will look at an in-stance where the categorical imperatives rule out a maxim that appears morally acceptable.
The formulation of universal law at its most basic is to “act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature” (421) and then see whether any contradictions occur. To universalise our maxim, we must imagine our maxim as a universal law over all rational agents, which is followed by all (422). In order to fail the formulation, the universalisation of the maxim must yield a con-tradiction. The desirability of the world with the universalised law is irrelevant to whether a maxim pass-es or fails the test.
The first contradiction that can occur is that of conception. When the maxim is universalised, a contradiction may arise in conceiving of a world where the law is the case (422). When the maxim ‘al-ways steal when you desire something’ is universalised, a contradiction occurs. This is because if theft were to occur whenever people wanted something, then the idea of property and ownership would be worthless because of ownership being universally disregarded. As the concept of ownership is removed, it becomes impossible to steal anything, as theft requires an owner to steal the object from. Thus the max-im causes a contradiction because despite imploring theft, theft is logically impossible. In this case, as a contradiction of conception occurs because we cannot conceive of a world where the maxim is universal-ised, the maxim fails and a perfect (strict) duty can be formed.
The second contradiction that can occur is a contradiction of will. If when universalising our maxim, we contradict the aim or end of our maxim, then a contradiction of will occurs. For example, the maxim of ‘I must always be lazy to save energy’, when universalised causes no contradiction of concep-tion. Although the sin of sloth may be widespread, and the world would loss efficiency, it is not contra-dictory to conceive of a world where this is the case.
However, a contradiction in will occurs, when the aim of the maxim is to save energy...

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