Kant & Moral Imperatives:
The notion of imperative is central to Kant’s philosophy, and particularly Kant’s ethics.
In Kant’s thought, the representation of a principle as a binding commitment is called a command and the formula of the command is called an imperative. The imperatives are expressed by the verb have to (sollen). “It must” not “I do”, this is the formula of command.
The imperative to the will says “must” when the will prefer to say “I want”. We do not obey the imperative necessity and the imperative appears as a constraint. Kant pointed out that a perfectly good will would have no need for imperative because it would necessarily what is in accord with the moral law. This is true of God but the evil in humans is possible. Our will must comply with the constraint of the imperative.
The two kinds of imperatives: Categorical & Hypothetical Imperatives
The hypothetical imperatives express the practical necessity of an action as a means to achieve something you want or might want. They are conditional. They express themselves as: “If I want to do this, then I have to do that.” They express only that the action is good to accomplish a particular purpose. For example “If I want a nail, so I have to use a hammer.” It is clear that this has nothing to do with morality.
The categorical imperatives express that action is needed for itself, objectively, with no other purpose. The categorical imperative is not subject to any special conditions and is therefore still valid whatever the circumstances. For example, if I can show that not to lie is a must then I will always respect it, whatever the circumstances, even if such a murderer wonder where lies my friend.
In Kant, only the categorical imperative is moral. It is the moral law and in fact none exists even if only one can receive several formulations. The first formulation of the categorical imperative says: “Always act so that you may also wish that the maxim of your action become a universal law.” This is to ask every time we act if we can reasonably and without wanting to contradict that everyone acts the same way. For example, suppose I need money for basic need and that I borrowed knowing full well that I could never make it, I promise that I will make a moral that money knowing that if I do not promise we do not give me and yet I need? The question of the morality of such an act amounts to asking whether it is possible to make a universal principle of false promise. But if so, whether any promise was false, no one would believe what he promise and there would be no sense to promise. Consider the false promise as morality is contradictory.
A second formulation of the categorical imperative states: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means. ” In our example, it is clear that by false promises I use the other as a means. I make him an instrument of my interest. Similarly want to commit suicide is immoral, because making an end of me means continuing to live and not to destroy me.
To conclude, one can say that categorical imperatives founded the sacrificial ethics in Kant’s Philosophy.
Related articles on Kant and moral imperatives
- Kant vs Hume : Morality, Causality and Metaphysics (the-philosophy.com)
- John Rawls – Theory of Justice (the-philosophy.com)