Actions may be done that conform to law out of a variety of motivations (see the discussion below ). One may always have self-interested or other reasons for conforming to the requirements of morality. To kant, however, moral action requires (1) that one mean and try to act in conformity to the requirements of morality, and (2) that one's motivation is entirely the disinterested consciousness of duty - although the latter is what is essential, and the good will. Since, as oliver I have said, writing my name (or not writing it) in my books is not a duty, there is no duty to act in consciousness. However, since either action passes the universalization test, they are indeed both therefore rendered moral in the sense of being morally permissible. This is not a trivial category - but it is also not the whole of Kant's ethics. Beck then digs himself deeper into a hole by saying, "I do not write my name in my books because i can will that others should do so; I do so in order to keep them from getting lost." One could just as easily say. Keeping my books from getting lost is a morally innocent purpose, as is the act of writing my name in them.
Kant does not, perhaps, make this as clear as one might wish. Xvii desk indeed, i think that Kant has failed to make matters clear to beck. It is not a moral duty for me to write my name in my books because the maxim of not writing my name in my books can be universalized with as little contradiction as the maxim of doing. It is logically possible for everyone to write their names in their books as for no one to. Kant's moral rule is indeed about what is morally permissible if the maxim can be universalized without contradiction. Kant's moral rule generates a moral duty when universalizing the maxim for not performing the action generates a contradiction. An impermissible action makes the opposite action, not just permissible, but obligatory. Beck has then misapplied Kant's distinction between actions that conform to law and actions done because of law.
A good example of how perplexing Kant's principle can be in its abstractness comes from Lewis White beck's own introduction to his translation of the foundations. Beck is discussing objections to kant's theory. The second objection is: Kant's ethics is trivial, and does not discriminate between moral and merely permissible actions. For, it is said, i can make many maxims universal without rendering them moral. For instance, i have the policy of writing my name on the flyleaf of each of my books, and I can consistently will that all men, indeed all rational beings, should write their names in their books; but this does not mean that I have. This criticism, however, overlooks the fact that Kant carefully distinguishes between actions that conform to law (legal actions) and those done because of a law (moral actions). I do not write my name in my books because i can will that others should do so; I do so in order to keep them from getting lost. But in a moral action, i decide what i ought to do precisely by finding out what I will that every rational being should.
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The impossiblity is not a moral one, just a practical one. Of interest also is the intuitive principle that one ought not take repossession rocks from the petrified Forest. For this is not in fact universally true. Accredited geologists certainly can obtain essay permission from the park service to harvest samples from the forest. There is an obvious reason for this. No one would know that the rocks were petrified wood in the first place if it were not for the geologists, which means the rocks only have meaning and value because of geology.
Continuing research on the rocks contributes even more to their meaning and value. Now, kant's theory can actually accommodate this circumstance. The maxim of the geologist, after all, is not to take rocks just for one's own personal diversion, but to take a few rocks, under controlled and authorized conditions, on behalf of science and knowledge, which after a fashion is in the interest of the. Yet Kant himself seems reluctant to load up moral maxims with such qualifications. Whether he allows that or not, however, we should already be able to see that universalization alone underdetermines the circumstances and requirements of morality.
With the moral law, however, we get a simple rule pulled directly out of the metaphysical hat, and no real consideration at all of the source of the concepts involved or the validity of derived propositions. If such an approach were successful, we could have no complaint. But it is not successful; and with the qualifications, elaborations, and restatements of the fundamental version of the moral law we get the impression that Kant himself feels the inadequacy of the principle. This worry, and all the tinkering, is to kant's credit; but there remains the problem, also evident in his theoretical philosophy, that he never went back and recast the earlier theory, of whose drawbacks he has become sensible. Nor, with the remaining errors, may that have been possible.
There is something about Kant's rule of universalization that captures a feature of morality. Children tossing stones into the Grand Canyon, or stealing rocks from the petrified Forest (both in Arizona are liable to be reproached by their mothers, or by park rangers, with the challenge, "What if everyone did that?" to which, of course, the pure and cogent. In each case the action would produce the contradictory circumstance, "then nobody could." As intuitive and customary as such examples are, however, the principle will also produce answers contrary to our intuitions. A child may aspire to grow up and become the President of the United States. But clearly, this is not possible for everyone. A united States consisting of universal Presidents would be a thing of comedy (as with everyone becoming identical Scotsmen in Monty python ) and by any reasonable functioning of election law would be impossible, indeed absurd. So, does this mean, by the principle of Kant's categorical imperative, that it is immoral for anyone to be President of the United States? But while i know of people who would argue that the office is indeed immoral, to most that conclusion would sound bizarre. Nor is it possible for everyone to become professional astronomers, baseball players, architects, or universally engage in countless other livelihoods.
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Of course, we know that there are no actual laws of science without the a great deal more going into them. An understanding of physical law is not produced by randomly tossing concepts of space, time, mass, charge, etc. Into the structure of pure mathematics. Indeed, while it was once the project of modern philosophers to derive pure mathematics from pure logic, even this will not work. Kant himself believed, pure mathematics, even pure arithmetic, involves synthetic first principles of demonstration. Yet Kant completely overlooks this circumstance when it comes to morality, which must spring fully formed, like athena from the brow of zeus, from reason in its most abstract and purely logical form. Thus, in Kant's moral philosophy we never get the kind of analysis of moral propositions as we do of the principle of causality as a synthetic a priori proposition in the Critique of Pure reason. Kant sees causality as a complex product involving categories of pure reason, a function of synthesis, time, imagination, and something he calls a "schematism" (the way the imagination construes causality in temporal form).
Moral laws are quite different. They are moral obligations precisely because people can choose not to obey them. Their violation is not impossible, simply a moral wrong. But this gives us an important insight into kant's thinking: He wants to see moral laws as the equivalent in a realm of freedom, or among things-in-themselves, to physical laws in the phenomenal world. They are both the result of the functioning of reason, which (1) makes rules, (2) applies them universally, and (3) disallows contradictions. The peculiar term of the moral "maxim" thus stands for the appropriate rule as it would be formulated by reason, and the "universalization" of the rule goes along with an implied absence of contradictions once this conceptual desk exercise is done. This all is of great metaphysical significance to kant, who wants reason to function in similar ways in a deterministic world and with transcendent freedom, implying a mutual dignity and correspondence between science and morality. We can put it quite starkly: Morality is the science of the transcendent.
durch die du zugleich wollen kanst, daß sie ein allgemeines Gesetz werde. P.421, in stating the Imperative this way, it is no accident that it sounds no different in form from a physical law of nature. Indeed, kant immediately goes on to say precisely that: Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature. Beck,.39 - handle so, als ob die maxime deiner Handlung durch deinen Willen zum. Allgemeinen naturgesetz werden sollte. P.412, of course, true laws of nature (. Naturgesetzen like gravity, involve physical necessity. They cannot be violated.
After some preliminary discussion of good will and some examples of moral duties, kant gives us the first and fundamental version of the law: But what kind of a law can that be, the conception of which must determine the will without reference to the. Under this condition alone the will can be called absolutely good without qualification. Since i have robbed the will of all impulses which could come to it from obedience to any law, nothing remains to serve writing as a principle of the will except universal conformity of its actions to law as such. That is, i should never act in such a way that I could not also will that my maxim should be a universal law. Foundations of the metaphysics of Morals, lewis White beck translation, library of the liberal Arts, 1959,.18 -. Ich soll niemals anders verfahren, als so, daß ich auch wollen könne, meine maxime solle ein allgemeines Gesetz werden. Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten,.402 Similarly, kant says: There is, therefore, only one categorical imperative.
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The fallacies of Egoism and Altruism, and the fundamental Principle of Morality, note. Kant's treatment of morality in the. Foundations of the metaphysics of Morals should be given a more thorough treatment here. This short book is the basis of all Kant's moral thought using and it has often been assigned to be read even by undergraduates. Many people are thus exposed to extensive discussion of Kant's ethics without ever becoming familiar with the larger. Critique of Practical reason - let alone the general basis of his thought in the. Critique of Pure reason. So the book provides what is generally understood about Kant's "categorical imperative. A moral Law that is an unconditioned categorical meaning not for an ulterior purpose) command imperative.