The Categorical Imperative Applied To A False

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The Categorical Imperative Applied To A False Promise Essay, Research Paper The Categorical Imperative Applied to a False Promise In the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant seeks to establish the supreme principle of morality (Kant. 392), the categorical imperative, to act as a standard to which actions can be evaluated for their moral worth. Kant believes that actions motivated by personal experience, whether through observation, indoctrination or some other capacity, lack moral worth because such actions are not determined by the conception of moral law. When empirical considerations such as effects, habit, consequence or material objets shape, alter and manipulate the will and thus constitute the foundation for an individual s formation of decisions, moral

problems abound. Empirical knowledge upbringing, culture tradition, desire, aim and consequence prevents moral action because it provides grounds for inconsistencies, biases and inclinations to influence the individual s will. Therefore, Kant believes that morality must be separated from the conceptions that develop posteriori, through or after human experience and that moral action must rely on the unalterable element of pure reason. As pure reason and respect for moral law direct moral action by influencing will and the conception of duty, the separating of morality from aspects of human experience enables individuals to form maxims that allow for their actions to be rightfully willed into universal law, which Kant believes is necessary to determine moral content of actions.

Kant s a priori theory of morality addresses the potential problems or contradictions that can arise from universalizing a maxim (i.e. lying promise) when he constructs formulations of his categorical imperative requiring universality in the formation for moral law, retaining autonomy of the will and treating individuals as ends in themselves. Consequently, making false promises is contrary to the categorical imperative because the universal making of false promises would be impossible because if everyone broke their promises the institution of promising would collapse no one would believe promises or accept contracts that they knew would be broken (442). The importance of universal law in determining the moral worth of an action is evident when making a false promise; a man in

need finds himself forced to borrow money. He knows that he cannot repay, but promises to do so anyway. His maxim or moral principle of action, is “when I believe my self to be in need of money, I will borrow money and promise to repay it, though I know I cannot.” How would things stand if this were a universal law? This law of false promises destroys the entire concept of promises, since no person would believe anyone. It is thus immoral, since it cannot rationally be universalized. And in fact, reason creates an ideal statement of subjective action. The moral imperative is unconditional; that is, its imperative force is not tempered by the conditional “if I want to achieve some end, then do X.” It simply states, do X. Kant believes that reason dictates a categorical

imperative for moral action. He gives at least three formulations of the Categorical Imperative: a) “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” (422); b) “Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature.” (Ibid.); c) Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only” (429). In addition, when we apply the universality test to this maxim it becomes clear that if everyone were to act in this fashion, the institution of promising itself would be undermined. In order for the principle of an action to apply uniformly in this case and others, it must exist independent of the conditions,