What is the Categorical Imperative and What Role does it play in Kant’s Moral Philosophy?
It is difficult for any philosopher in any given century to make a significant influence on any particular issue in philosophy. For a philosopher to influence as numerous areas in philosophy as Kant did is, therefore, impressive. His theory on ethics is as influential as his work in metaphysics and in epistemology. In most of his works, the philosophy is decidedly against what is commonly referred to as deontology in ethics. Deontology is a term used to refer to the study of duty. On the view of the philosopher, the sole trait that gives an action some worth in morality is not the result that the action achieves, but the motive guiding the action. The categorical imperative is the philosopher’s famous stance of the duty. He argues that individuals should only act according to that dictum by which they can similarly will that individuals should understand it as a law that is universal to all. This paper, therefore, will look at what this categorical imperative really is and try to show what role the notion plays in the rest of the philosophy of Kant.
The categorical imperative is the key philosophical concept in Kant’s moral philosophy. There are a number of ways through which the categorical imperative can be defined, and one is that it is a way of assessing the driving forces behind human actions. According to Immanuel Kant, human beings are special among all the other creations. To him, one can sum up or understand morality as one ultimate imperative or commandment of reason, from which all obligations and duties derive. An imperative, to the philosopher, is any kind of proposition that declares or defines both an action and inaction to be crucial. Therefore, hypothetical imperatives drive actions in certain circumstances. For instance, one has to learn if he wishes to add to his knowledge, and just the same, one has to have a drink if they need to quench their thirst. On the other hand, a categorical imperative denotes or defines a requirement that is both unconditional and absolute, one that asserts its authority in every circumstance, both justified and required as an end to itself.
Kant felt extremely dissatisfied and discontent with the common moral philosophy of his time, and he believed that this moral philosophy could never pass over the level of hypothetical imperatives. The utilitarian, for example, practiced one of these moral philosophies. To them, when one committed a murder, they thought it was wrong because it did not maximize good for the largest groups of people. This philosophy, however, does not apply to individuals who are only worried about themselves and in benefiting themselves. As it follows, Kant pointed out that systems of hypothetical morals cannot persuade any actions in morality or be seen as moral judgment bases against others, as the imperatives driving them depend too much on considerations that are subjective. As an alternative, he came up with a deontological moral system that categorical imperatives determined, and guided.
The categorical imperative has a number of duties to play in the philosophy developed by Kant. For instance, it helps us understand which actions are forbidden and which are obligatory. Hypothetical imperatives are usually conditional; if I want something then I must engage in a certain action. To Kant, these imperatives are not moral or ethical, as to him, the only moral actions and imperatives are those that are categorical; I have to do something, without referring to needs or desires. He came up with three types of categorical imperatives. The first is the universal law, which points out that all moral statements ought to be general laws, which apply to all individuals under all circumstances.
This category suggests that there should not be any time under which a person makes any exception. The other the category of categorical imperative is that people should treat all people as ends to themselves. The philosopher argues here that individuals should not treat others as a way to some end. To him, people must be treated and seen as ends in themselves, something that ensures that there is equality. The final category that Kant came up with is that people should act as if they live in a kingdom made up of ends. He assumed that all agents who are rational had the ability to deduce whether an argument is moral, and not only through reason, and that all humans who are rational should have the ability to come to the same conclusion on moral laws.
The categorical imperative, therefore, plays an essential role in the development and conception of the rest of the philosophy developed by Kant because with it comes the guiding principle of ethics and morality, the categorical imperative becomes the driving force for determining whether an action is ethical or not. At this point, it is essential to understand that the categorical imperative is concerned only with abstract and general moral actions. Therefore, it determines whether an action is wrong or right. In general, Kant’s philosophy relies on the critical realization of moral law that is present in the subject or agent, and this moral law is best defined by his categorical imperative.