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A Critique on Immanuel Kant's Theory of Absolute Moral Rules

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Ethicist Immanuel Kant first recorded the theory of Absolute Moral Rules (AMR) and cited that some of our actions are based on desires and some actions are above desires (Hypothetical "oughts") and the decisions made due to 'reason' ("Categorical Imperatives"). There are some flaws in the notion of AMR, chiefly the clashing of moral rules, there are many arguments surrounding this, some of which will be addressed. The theory of AMR has strengths, such as equality, but it's weaknesses, like ignoring consequences, out way it's strengths.

Part 1

Absolute Moral Rules are derived from Kant's idea that there are 2 "oughts", Hypothetical and Categorical, Hypothetical being the most common. Hypothetical oughts are conditional on your desire to reach the ends. An example of a Hypothetical Ought is "I ought to do some exercise so I don't get fat," the power of this ought depends on my desire to not get fat, so if I didn't mind getting fat I would not exercise. As Hypothetical oughts are desire based, they are non-moral oughts.

On the other hand a Categorical ought is independent from your desires and makes you do something regardless of the ends. An example of a Categorical ought is not 'don't lie unless the person your lying to is a twat' it's 'do not lie period.' According to Kant Categorical oughts are reason based instead if desire based. Categorical oughts are moral oughts and are the roots or the idea Absolute Moral Rules (AMR).

As opposed to similar theories prior to his one, Kant's did not justify AMR by stating it was Devine will (God was a reason), contrarily he thought that they are applicable to all rational agents because of there rationality. Kant believed that these principles are sourced from a principle that can't be broken by any rational agent, the Categorical Imperative (CI). Kant's Categorical Imperative states: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become universal law."1

Lying is an example of an action, which the CI condemns. According to Kant we should see how we should act by applying to steps; firstly we make our action a maxim, so if we lie, our maxim is, "its ok to lie." Secondly we universalize this maxim, in this situation everyone would think its ok to lie, so everyone would lie. Kant argues that this self-defeating as everyone would lie, so no one would believe anything. The purpose of a lie is to deceive and if no one believed anyone, you wouldn't be able to deceive so there would be no point in lying. Thus lying fails the test of the CI.

A few groups would appeal to Kant's use of the CI to verify AMR. Religious groups have the belief that some acts are always wrong, for example the Ten Commandments for the Judeo Christian beliefs. The CI confirms their beliefs using logic so it would be very appealing. The philosopher Christian philosopher Elizabeth Anscombe disagreed with President Trumans decision to drop the atomic bombs in WW2 stating that killing as means to an end is murder.

Part 2

The most prominent argument against AMR is that there is no explanation about what to do if there is a confliction in rules. For example you are hiding a man I your in your house from a murderer and the murderer comes and asks where he is, you know that if you tell him where the man is hiding he will die. This presents a moral dilemma do you lie to the murderer and break the AMR 'do not tell lies' or do you cause the death of an innocent person, either action would break an AMR.

Kant would argue that you shouldn't lie because the expected consequences are irrelevant to a moral actions worth. Modern Kantians would respond by saying that the moral rules are too rigid. In this case they might state that the maxim is 'its ok to lie to save a life,' and a majority of people would be content with this maxim However this would also be self-defeating, this can be exemplified using the same murder situation, the murderer except the murderer would suspect you were lying because of the maxim.



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