Many philosopher scientists worked in Germany in the second half of the 18-th century: Kant, Hegel, Shelling, Feierbach. Despite all the differences, their doctrines are much connected by continuity bonds: after Kant, each philosopher of this school of thought relied on his predecessor’s ideas and derived inspiration from his heritage creative pulse.
A great amount of German philosophical thoughts and ideas have found their expression in those works.
Kant has made an unbelievable revolution in philosophy, which concerns ethics also. Here Kant develops a doctrine of morality autonomy. Kant says that by affirming freedom, the person makes himself a creator of his moral world; he builds the action law for himself (Kant, p.45). Kant proclaims the moral aim, whose character and laws vary from those which dominate in calm, gradual periods of development. They are notable for their radicalism of the requirements demanded. Kant outlines that those laws command absolutely, whatever their end might be; moreover, they make you forget them completely (Kant, p. 94).
In contrast to some optional, facultative demands and behavior rule the duty is an absolute demand, which you should follow as strictly as if it was a law.
In the situation of endless demands: of human rights, his freedoms, Kant, using his categorical imperative reminds the request to act always in the way that the action maxim could become law for everyone. Kant emphasizes that the person is only moral indeed when he does his duty not for some external aim but for the duty itself.
The behavior in which a person’s actions repeat nature’s laws does not concern the moral law. There is no inner compulsion in natural law, as the author says. And the ability of inner compulsion Kant calls the virtue, and to the action, which is done in such kind of mood he gives a name of an ethical deed.
«The virtue is a maxim force of a man with an ability to keep an eye on a duty. Every force is known through those obstacles, which it can overcome. There are the same obstacles for virtue too. Every duty guards a conception of a constraint from the side of the law, the ethical duty has only a conception from the side of the inner legislation» (Kant, p.117).
Kant talks about intellectual, severe thinking exceptionally. All the actions should be placed between good and bad, in the middle.
Thus, some certain moral duties might be suitable for definite cultural and historical conditions, but inadmissible in others. Jacoby opposed him. He gave several poetry and history cases in which he showed actions that seemed a crime from the point of view of formal ethics but were a form of the man’s highest morality. That is why Jacoby requested a rule for such kind of crime. And Hegel has supported him. Hegel approves Kant’s practical philosophy elevation, though he says that the duty definition does not have any positive affirmations. Duty is duty. But the question of what does the duty consist of stays still open. Kant makes this question senseless because he removes all the substance out of the duty. Because every attempt to know the inner essence must provoke inherent antagonism. In this form, the moral law is impracticable, because one should do something that has no structure. So this law tells us what we should not do, but not what we should.
The attempt of seen duty in some kind of distinctness becomes an insuperable problem. But even if it was solved, the duty would still be a limited virtue, which excludes others. This situation will always lead to a collision between them.
But Kant believes those problems can be easily solved. Out of two virtues, when they clash with each other, only one can prove to be real, the one which is a duty. Either the duty can’t resist the duty or it is not a duty at all, and it has a negative, immoral attitude towards morality.
Kant knows that natural dialectics destroys the duty, but he also knows the other side of dialectics, which appears in ordinary moral consciousness, in the time, when it develops his culture and rises to practical philosophy to deliver from the ambiguity that shakes moral principles. Kant’s duty doctrine develops itself from the independent element into the disappearing synthesis moment.
Kant’s categorical imperative abolishes himself because it is known independence aspect. Kant believes that the duty is one-sided, strong integrity. It is a real alternative for moral feebleness and it resists it, like adherence to one’s principles withstand compromises, like severity confront diffusiveness and indefiniteness, like asceticism is opposite to hedonism like resoluteness prevents weakness of will.
So, Kant’s categorical imperative is a moral command for everyone, which does not depend on the place, time, or circumstances, like fundamental physics laws, which rule motions of bodies, do not depend on them. Moreover, Kant outlines that pleasantness and suavity of doing something good lead such a deed out of the moral assessment category. This happens when the act is done not by the call of absolute duty but is invoked by practical and convenient needs.
It should be pointed out that Kant does not feel necessary to ground his categorical imperative using religious considerations. Morality is a moral law by itself, which is bigger than any person’s duty.
There are two ethical instructions given by Kant: 1) categorical imperative’s violation is a human’s nature violation that 2) leads to the destruction of this nature (Kant, 56).
For example, if the person lied, he had committed heavy moral law damage that destroys all the moral being sphere. The categorical imperative turns oneself to be higher than use and pleasure, but also higher than mercy. So that we can see that Kant denies any choice depending on the situation. The deed must have at least a potentially universal meaningfulness. Here, a very important thought is given: a human’s deed in an ethical context has a much bigger meaning than the situation in which he acts itself. This human’s action is basic for other people, who see an acceptable model for themselves. This means that my action, even if it did not lead to fatal consequences might become a serious temptation for other people.
If any action has a universal meaning, then the harm, which I can bring by my deeds, can become an additional possibility to get similar harm from other people, because I have made this type of activity permitted. Now, a new formulation of Kant’s categorical imperative appears in a “golden rule” form, which demands to do nothing to others that you do not want them to do to you. Let’s pay attention to the formulation, which is not given in form of recommendation but a form of prohibition. Because one could demand to do to other person everything you wanted him to do to you. But this is not well, because I may want so much that I won’t be able to do for others. But in Kant’s formulation, a failure will happen only in case if someone does not get what he wanted to get.
There is a collision in this case. We can not know what exactly our neighbor needs and he is not aware of ours. As we aspire to exploit like to the good absolute, we have no moral rights to demand the same of our neighbors. Moreover, it is dangerous to put our neighbors in a situation, when the only right way to act is to make a heroic deed, which he so far is not prepared to do. A person might be eager to sacrifice himself for a great idea, but he mustn’t force ones, who are not ready yet. None of us would like to be turned into the mean of someone else’s aims.
No wonder that the third variant of Kant’s categorical imperative strictly forbids to use of other peoples in one’s aims. The person mustn’t de considered as the social activity instrument. He is the whole world, with his aims, which are not less important than all the rest. No one has a right to manipulate people as if they were tools of his own or social tools.
This formulation forbids using bad means reaching even the highest aim because approving this deed is equal to approving any bad action by the name of the aim they were committed for. Thus people would be recognized as instruments or tools.
We can mark that in Kant’s ethical concept every person’s action is estimated on an absolute scale. That is why it is impossible to break the categorical imperative to correct or to compensate it in the future. Categorical imperative violation leads to its destruction and brings great moral danger.
Kant’s ethical system in the whole contains one important truth: moral needs must be supported by absolute principles, which stand higher than people’s interests. The value of categorical imperative following is higher than all human needs, it feels like good. The categorical imperative does not promise any pleasures, but the pleasure of doing duty.
The absolutism of Kant’s policy can be underlined by the affirmation that the person has a right for doing the action, only if he is sure that nothing bad is going to happen. The man should be aware that he acts fair. only, in this case, his actions are morally grounded. «Kant proclaims that “the free will and a will to act submitting the moral law is the same thing» (Kant, 209).
Kant examines in details humans’ inclination for evil. He gives a conclusion where he says that the person is weak, dishonest, and depraved. Here we must take into account the will submitted to the law is passive but resists elemental motions. Kant believes that evil is in giving oneself to the event flow, the inability to withstand it.
In conclusion, I would like to mark out that Kant’s ethical philosophy has influenced greatly many future philosophical trends and gave a huge background for its development. But the most amazing thing is that through all evaluations it is still actual now.
Because people will be always worried about what is right and what is wrong, how should they act in different situations? The categorical imperative gives us a model of how each of us should act. Kant says, we are free in our actions, but we have to be careful and pay attention to what we do. Each day we should think over our actions and make sure we did nothing wrong, we should examine every step we make and even every thought because nobody wants to be offended like this too. So we can summarize by saying that Kant offers us a very severe system of self-discipline, which we must follow strictly. At the same time, it is a system of brain discipline, because every action is important. Kant, himself was a disciplined person, he found a possibility to keep an inner order every day. He believed that this was the way of making the world better, of deliverance from evil. I suppose, he must be supported.
Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 2006.