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The Pros and Cons of Kantian Deontology Moral Theory

Immanuel Kant is one of the greatest moral theorists of the eighteenth century. He is the mastermind behind the moral theory, which is aptly named after him, Kantian Deontology. His moral theory “is widely considered the most important and influential of all deontological theories” (Burnor and Raley). It does has many attractive aspects, but it is not perfect. Two attractive qualities of Kant’s moral theory is that it aims for true (and logical) universality and the principle of ends. But, as stated before, Kantian Deontology is not perfect. Two unattractive qualities are the fact that Kant does not take account of consequencesthat result from some morals and the “rational agent objection” (Burnor and Raley).

Universality of one’s morals is at the top of the ‘attractive qualities’ list of Kantian Deontology. He uses the term maxim to refer to “rule of conduct or behavior that one can act in accordance with”(Burnor and Raley). When it comes down to the fundamentals of universality of morals, Kant’s “strategy is to let the morality of an act depend on whether rational sense can be made of that act being established as a universal practice” (Burnor and Raley). The best way to demonstrate how a maxim is determined rational enough to be universalized is by applying it to a simple concept like lying. Can lying be universalized? The answer would be ‘no’ because the point of lying is to deceive someone (whether it is a big or small deception) and if lying were a regular everyday maxim, then everyone would know they are being deceived. Whichjust defeats the purpose. In relation to that, an observation that has resulted from studying Kant’s universality of morals is “each person has the same moral worth, it follows that each person deserves exactly the same degree of respect”(Burnor and Raley). Reading this may bring the golden rule to mind, but it is not the same thing. Rational sense of universalizing a maxim is what differs Kant’s belief from the golden rule. The thing to remember about Kant’s purpose isthat he wants to try andshowhow moral principles can arise from reason. A bonus detail that makes universality attractive is the fact that it responds to Utilitarianism’s weakness of not even having universalism.

Principle of Ends is another attractive quality of Kantian Deontology. Essentially, the principle of ends is to “Act so as to treat every person affected by your action (including yourself) as an end and never as a means only” (Burnor and Raley). Intrinsic value is essential and should be taken into consideration when it comes to the principle of ends. Honestly, this principle can be a bit confusing if you do not know what Kant’s definition of ‘means’ and ‘end’ are. In this case, ‘means’ is commonly defined as a tool or even a way of reaching your goal at some cost. Then there is ‘end’, which is the goal you are attempting to get to. According to the authors of the book, “Kant’s principle of an ends offers us a profound moral insight” (Burnor and Raley). The best example used to demonstrate this principle is Al’s dishonest treatment of Mrs. Satzoner (the customer) from the book. Long story short, Al lies to Mrs. Satzoner that the SUV she is looking to purchase is in “tiptop condition” (Burnor and Raley), in order to finalize the sale of the SUV. Al obviously has knowledge of the history of the vehicle, which includes all the issues it has, and he is hiding a transmission leak in the SUV so he can avoid expenses that are required to fix it. According to the principle, he is morally wrong because “he has failed to respect her as a person” and only treats her as a means. There is also the categorical imperative which “doesn’t depend upon any conditions – it unconditionally holds for everyone and every situation” (Burnor and Raley). Principle of Ends is actually one of several equivalent versions of the categorical imperative and it is the easiest one to understand.

As I stated at the beginning, despite the attractiveness of Kantian Deontology there are some flaws because it is not perfect. One flaw is that “Kant refuses to take consequences into account” (Burnor and Raley). What does that mean? Well, Kant defends his choice not to account for consequences by saying that they “have no effect on morality” and “no matter the situation, one cannot control or even anticipate the future course of events” (Burnor and Raley). If we were to accept this, then “we cannot be morally responsible for what ultimately takes place” (Burnor and Raley). The example that the book uses was, if terrorists were to come up to you and ask when the train station is most likely to be full; what would you do? If you live by the maxim of not lying then you will tell them the truth. Now this is where Kant’s belief that you have no control over the future comes into question, the station they are planning to blow up could be unexpectedly shut down when they planned to attack. But how likely is that? Therefore, the Consequentialists would like to argue that people “do not seem as generally powerless as Kant suggests” (Burnor and Raley) because some of our choices do influence others. For example, choosing not to answer the terrorists’ questions may cause them to be unsuccessful and not follow through. This is where Kantian Deontology slips up.

“The Rational Agent Objection” (Burnor and Raley), is another unattractive quality of Kantian Deontology. “Kantian ethics only requires the just and respectful treatment of persons – of autonomous moral agents” (Burnor and Raley) which means that infants, young kids and those who seem to lack autonomy do not get just and respectful treatment. They are excluded because they cannot create a moral law for themselves. Kant likes to argue that we still have individual duties,despite not having direct duties, to them. In other words, you do not have to show respect or perform certain duties for those who are not autonomous. For example if you, a young child, a young adult and an elderly person with Alzheimer’s were all in a room together and they all needed assistance of some sort, you only have a duty to the young adult because they are autonomous. How messed up is that? Then the authors pose the idea that “perhaps the creatures that have the capability of future (or that have had autonomy in the past) should be granted certain rights.” (Burnor and Raley). But overall Kant’s beliefs here will not satisfy supporters of animal rights.

Kantian Deontology is one of the strongest “most important and influential of all deontological theories” (Burnor and Raley).It has a multitude of attractive qualities that make it one of the most popular theories to follow. Two of those attractive qualities are the fact that it attempts to attain true universality and there is the principle of ends (which is basically looks at intrinsic value). However, Kant’s moral theory is not perfect and does have flaws. The fact that Kant does not acknowledge or accept consequences in his theory and says that we should only respect only those who are autonomous moral agents (the rational agent objection).Overall, Kantian Deontology is the second best moral theory we studied this semester.

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