Immanuel Kant is one of today’s most renowned and influential eighteenth-century philosophers in the history of philosophy. He contributed a great deal to metaphysics, epistemology, ethics, and aesthetics. His contributions have had an extreme impact on a lot of philosophical movements that came after him. Kant may be most known for his work that we learned about in class, The Critique of Pure Reason, which answers “What can we know?” However, he is also known for his moral philosophy, the categorical imperatives, which argues that God is not/should not be required to do the right thing. This essay will focus on Kant’s theory, the categorical imperatives. It will explain what Kant means when he says God is not a necessity, and it will also explain why Kant is right.
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Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher born on April 22, 1724, in Konigsberg, Prussia, what is now Kaliningrad, Russia. While Kant was young a pastor from his church saw potential in him and arranged for him to get an education. In 1740 Kant became a student at the University of Konigsberg where became fascinated with mathematics and physics. However, six years later Kant’s father passed away, forcing him to drop out of school and return home to help his family, which is why he then became a tutor for the wealthy and their children. It was during his time as a tutor that he published several papers dealing with and answering several scientific questions that were asked during that time. In 1785, Kant wrote and published, “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals”, it was the first of Kant’s works on moral philosophy and has become one of the most influential works philosophers’ study to this day. It was in this work that Kant first introduces the categorical imperative and its various formulations.
The categorical imperative is a way of evaluating your motivations for a specific action, it’s a type of list of commands you must follow, regardless of what your desired outcome is. Moral obligations come from reason, and based off Kant’s explanation, it doesn’t matter whether you want to be moral or not, the moral law is binding. Kant believed that you do not need religion to determine between what’s right and wrong because the answer can be determined just by using your intellect. For example, if you are hungry but don’t have the money to buy food or the time to get money, you may think nothing of stealing a small fruit. However, using your intellect, you would have to ask yourself if you’d be okay with someone stealing that same fruit from you, or, if stealing the fruit is something that majority, if not all, of the community would deem acceptable. If you would not be okay with someone stealing the fruit from you, and if it is something the community would not accept, that action is therefore wrong.
The categorical imperative can also be understood by using various formulations, which are basically different ways of phrasing/looking at the same essential idea. One of the formulations is “the universalizability principle”. For this formulation Kant states that a person should “act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.” In other words, before acting ask yourself, what’s the general/unspoken rule that stands behind this specific action, and for it to be considered a universal law, Kant states that moral action cannot be contradicted. Going back to the example used earlier, if you were to state that you believe stealing is acceptable, then you are saying it is okay for anyone to steal at any time, including stealing from you that which you have stolen. You cannot make yourself the exception, so if this is found unacceptable by yourself or the community, it cannot be a universal law because you have just contradicted yourself, therefore the moral action chosen was wrong, and stealing is not universalizable.
Another categorical imperative formulation is “the formula of humanity.” Kant states that a person should “act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end, and never as a mere means.” In other words, a person is not, and should not, be an object that can be used for our own benefit with no thought of consequence. “We are not mere objects that exist to be used by others. We are our own ends. We are rational and autonomous. We have the ability to set our own goals, and work toward them (source #1).” This formulation states that a person should treat another person as an “end in her/himself (source #1)” which means to see the humanity of the person you’re encountering, and realize that that person has goals, values, and dreams, just like yourself and anyone else. You should morally always keep this in mind while encountering another person and recall it before you think using them as a personal gain is acceptable and comes without consequence. However, Kant did realize that we normally use people all the time, but not as a means to an end, you still recognize them as a human being, and they agree to being used. For example, you use a teacher to learn, a cook to eat, or an actor for entertainment.
I believe Kant’s theory is right because it explains how using our own intellect, with no religious influence, a person is capable of determining what’s right and wrong. Religion is not necessary to determine this because it can be determined that stealing is wrong no matter what religion you follow or God you worship. Religion is a powerful thing and gives many people comfort about the aspects of life we fear and/or do not understand, but it is also used as an excuse for actions that are unacceptable and creates extremist. For example, many people do not accept the LGBTQ community simply because they believe their God does not accept it. It is because of this thinking that their physically/emotionally violent actions against people feel justified. If people used Kant’s way to determine whether it is right or wrong to mistreat people based on their sexuality/identification, they would recognize LGBTQ people as human beings that have value, the same as them. I believe Kant’s theory to be correct because religion can sometimes create more problems than it solves and leads to the mistreatment and segregation of people that do not deserve it. It can even be subconscious. Religion is one of the greatest thing that divides us, our religious beliefs and culture, whether you believe in God or not, are one of the main things that influence and determine the type of people we surround ourselves with, and what type of people we avoid. If we as a population were capable of excluding our religious beliefs when it came to other people and moral obligations, we would be able to determine what is right and wrong based only using our intellect, we would agree a lot more, and we would be capable of getting along with every person we encounter because we’d recognize their worth, respect them, and know that mistreatment is unacceptable as whole. Many people believe that religion can give you the power/justification to do something wrong, and Kant’s theory eliminates this. Kant’s theory can also be proven correct due to the amount of people that do not believe in any God or religion, their lack of faith does not strip them of their moral compass and does not make it impossible for them to determine what is right and what is wrong. Whether a person is the most devote to their religion, or is an atheist, they would agree that stealing is wrong.
Kant’s theory, the categorical imperatives, asks the question, is God/religion required to determine what is right and what is wrong? After reading the explanation, realizing how some people abuse their religion, and take atheists into consideration, it is clear that the answer is no. God and religion are not a necessity, not when we use our intellect and determine and follow our moral obligations and universal laws.
Immanuel Kant is one influential person in the history of philosophy. (2021, Oct 11).
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