Immanuel Kant’ Ethics: Morals Fundamental Principles Essay

December 14, 2021 by Essay Writer


Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher born in 1724 and died in 1804. He is considered to be one of the most influential people in modern philosophy for his intensive research in the subject. This paper will discuss various articles written by Kant and analyze his thoughts on deeds that are right and deeds that are morally wrong. It will finally discuss the importance of motives and duty of morality as illustrated by Kant’s work.


Kant believed that there is no good that can emerge from the world apart from goodwill (Kant, 1998). He said that without goodwill, qualities that are good and desirable become useless. This is because the person yielding these qualities may at times lack the fundamental will to implement and portray them. He called this lack of goodwill as a bad character. He continued to say that when goodwill is not present, then power, honor, health and the overall welfare, contentment, and happiness will usually mess with the mind of the person and they will start pretending and believing lies created in their mind.

Goodwill, according to Kant, can be facilitated by the application of various qualities. However, these qualities may have no inherent absolute value, but constantly presume goodwill, which succeeds the esteem that we simply have for them, not permitting us to consider them as extremely good. He attempted to identify the primary maxims of motives, which people are required to achieve. Kant did not base his opinions on claims about any subjective perception of the good, preferences, moral beliefs or regularly shared desires that people may have.

Kant also recognized goodwill as the only absolute good; he refused to accept that the notion of goodwill could be established by referring to a tangible good. He believed that nothing could be a moral principle if it was not initially a principle for everyone. According to Kant, morality starts with the denial of non-globalized principles. This idea was devised as a demand, which Kant termed as the Moral Law.

He grouped the maxims in a manner that mediators could refer to as “acting on the only adage that one can, and likewise will, just like international law”. To clarify the point, Kant gave an example of an agent who gives false promises. He adds to this by saying that the agent’s action, in this case, does not fit to be termed as international law. He explains that if the agent was hypothetical, then he would take part in the final outcome and this would make him stop his behavior of giving false promises (Kant, 2009).

It is, therefore, clear that the principle of giving false promises cannot be categorized under universally shared principles. According to Kant, the principle of repudiating false promises is vital and the maxim of giving false morally forbidden. Kant is different from many utilitarian’s who regard false promises as wrong due to their adverse effects. He considers this principle as wrong since it cannot be used internationally.

Kant identified two ethical modes of assessment, one of them being the fact that human beings have a high probability of evaluating the maxims adopted by agents. He asserted that if human beings had the capacity of evaluating such maxims, then principles with moral worth would come into being since humans could decline immoral principles. He stated: Those who accept principles that are not universal, have principles that are morally unworthy”. He considered those holding morally worth policies as working out of duty and said that human beings lack knowledge concerning the maxims of one another.

Kant added to this by saying that people usually deduce the underlying principles or maxims of agents from the pattern of their actions, though no pattern identifies a unique principle. He gave the example of a genuinely honest shopkeeper by saying that his actions are not different from those of a shopkeeper who is reluctantly honest. Kant said that both shopkeepers deal justly out of an aspiration for a good reputation in the business and would cheat if given the opportunity. Thus for common reasons, human beings usually do more than is of their concern with outer compliance to principles of duty, instead of paying attention to claims that an action was done out of such a principle.

Kant discussed the relationship between the principles of morality and people’s real inclinations and desires (Mac Intyre, 1981). He built the political insinuations of Categorical Imperative, which consists of the constitution of the republic and value for freedom, particularly of speech and religion. He linked this with individual happiness which, according to him, can indirectly be viewed as an obligation. This is because one’s dissatisfaction with the wants of another might turn out to be a great lure to the wrong-doing of duty (O’Neill, 1991).

He viewed this from another perspective and claimed that most men possess the strongest tendency to happiness. At this point, Kant gave the example of a gouty patient, who can make a choice of what he likes, and endure whatever suffering that comes with it. If he does this, he does not forego enjoying the present time to a probably wrong expectation of happiness believed to be experienced in good health (Kant, 1994). Kant states that

“an action from duty has its moral worth not in the aim that is supposed to be attained by it, but rather in the maxim in accordance with which it is resolved upon; thus that worth depends not on the actuality of the object of the action but merely on the principle of the volition” (O’Neill, 1991).

The moral worth of a deed does not lie in the result anticipated from it, nor in the action or maxim which needs to make use of its intention from the expected result. In relation to the discussed effects, the endorsement of other people’s happiness could be caused by other reasons (Beck, 1960).


Significance of motives and the role of duty in morality

Motives can be either of good or bad intentions. They often influence one’s roles of duty. The morality of duty is relative to the law and is, therefore, compared to the morality of religion. It, therefore, does not criticize a man for not making full use of his life or by not doing good. He states that “there is nothing possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only goodwill” (O’Neill, 1991).

Instead, it criticizes man for not respecting the fundamental principles and necessities required in life. A good example is a moral rule that man should not kill since this does not have much to do with aspiration but the recognition that if one kills, he has not realized his duty of morality.

I do not agree with Kant on the importance of motives and the role of duty in morality. This is because Kant only points out principles of ethics, but the same principles are so abstract that they can not guide motives. Thus, his theory of the role of duty in morality is not motivating. He does not also give a full set of instructions to be followed. Kant lays emphasis on the appliance of maxims to cases that involve deliberation and judgment. He does insist that maxims must be abstract which can only guide individual decisions. The moral life is all about finding ways of good motives that meet all the obligations and breach no moral prohibitions. There is no procedure for identifying any motives. However, the role of duty in morality begins by ensuring that the precise acts that people bear in mind are not in line with deeds on principles of duty.


Beck, L.W. (1960). A Commentary on Kant’s Critique of Practical Reason. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Kant, I. (1998). Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Kant, I. (2009). Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals. London: Thomas King’s mill Abbot.

Kant, I. (1994). On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

O’Neill, O. (1991). Kantian Ethics. In A Companion to Ethics. Blackwell: Oxford.

MacIntyre, A. (1981). After Virtue. London: Duckworth.

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