Kant’s and Friedman’s Philosophy about Theory of Universality Essay

November 10, 2020 by Essay Writer


In philosophy, there is nothing as hard as trying to harmonize the differing views of philosophical theories brought forth for instance by foster fathers like Emanuel Kant and Milton Friedman.

For instance ‘Can Kant’s theory of universality be achieved by applying Friedman’s ideas of corporate social responsibilities?’ this question will demand that one critically evaluates the values of the two philosophers.

Kant was a German philosopher born in 1724 and died in 1804. He is remembered for his contribution in philosophy through categorical imperative derived from the concept of duty.

According to Kant those values which are essentially convincing and are ‘good in and of themselves’ are to be complied with fully and by all people to realize harmony with the general law of moral.

Milton Friedman lived between 1912 and 2006. He was an American economist as well as statistician of his time. He is remembered for his immense contribution in price theory, monetarism, applied microeconomics, floating exchange rates, volunteer military, permanent income hypothesis as well as Friedman test.

The paper argues that it is not possible for Kant’s theory of universality to be achieved by applying Friedman’s ideas of social cooperate responsibility.

Supporting arguments

Friedman argued that organization owes their responsibility to the proprietors as well as the relevant stakeholders. For that matter he believed that it is not right for organizations or businesses to engage in social corporate responsibilities (Friedman, 1970).

However, on the other hand, Kant advocated for a situation where there is greater benefit for the greatest number of people and this should be a universal law.

To Kant, organizations are obliged to invest some of their earning to improve the welfare of the majority in the society rather than solemnly making profits to benefit the few stakeholders provided the move is not for selfish gains.

Before continuing with this paper it would be rational to define corporate social responsibilities. The term has been defined as a firm’s sense of responsibility towards both the environment and the community in which it operates (Friedman, 1970).

It is no doubt that the link between businesses and the society has for a very long time been a source of intellectual interest to ethicists.

According to Friedman, 1970 he believed that when organization engage in social responsibility, a closer analysis will reveal that it aims to improve its image in the eye of the consumers, the government, the local community as well as the general public.

Friedman thus strongly denies the link that corporate organizations have any direct social responsibility to the society hence opposes calls that firms should contribute towards solving problems encountered by societies. In his view, he stated that this can be used as a means of reaping more profits by continuing to do business within its environments.

The increase in profit will definitely benefit a few individuals. For instance, shareholders will enjoy an increase in dividends, stock prices will rise and employees will get pay rise (Friedman, 1970). However, based on Kant’s view, majority should be the beneficiary of any act.

Additionally in situation where a firm acts on free will and its acts are in accordance with set principles then there is no problem. Nonetheless, if the firm makes the decision to engage in social responsibilities with the aim of benefiting itself then this can be viewed as a means only but not as an end in itself.

Considering that only a few individuals will benefit from a firm engaging in a corporate social responsibility, then there is no chance that universality will be realized.

On the same line of thinking, Kant held that a rational will must be autonomous and free. Hence in case an organization resolve to engage in social responsibility with the aim of swaying the views of the public and other stakeholders, then it fails to conform with universality.

With the assumptions that corporate social responsibility more often than not is instigated by self interest, self-preservation, sympathy and happiness, any dutiful action in corporate social responsibility however praiseful it may be does not in anyway express a god will.

According to Johnson, 2008 Kant and his theory of categorical imperative means that organizations ought to be responsible to the society and should engage in activities that will make the majority of the society happier. For instance, based on his arguments, a business organization that seeks to maximize profit by not investing on proper sewage system, this is morally wrong.

However based on the views held by Friedman that organizations should maximize profits and satisfy their stakeholders’ needs it would not be possible to realize the law of universality.

When Friedman states that corporate executive have the primary responsibilities to his or her employer to carryout business in a way they deem fit and manage business to create maximum profit while following the basic rule, it is evident that the executive will try to come up with strategies that will only create happiness to a few group of individuals (Friedman, 1970).

This is in contradiction with the views of Kant who believed that every one has a moral obligation to oneself then to the others. Concerning corporate social responsibility Kant was of the view that the whole idea is not a positive externality and should be undertaken only for genuine reasons and altruistic ones rather than merely a cynical guised up bid for a business entity to gain favor.

In line with the arguments brought forth by Friedman businesses usually act on their self interest. This will thus contradict the achievements desired by the Kantian ethics. Similarly according to Kant there are certain obligations which are universal for instance keeping a promise, saying the truth among others.

It thus follows that it is the obligation of any organization’s management to utilize funds of investors to create profit. On the other hand the manager’s obligations to the public and the local community are universalistic.

For this reason firms should engage in activities that will improve the wellbeing of the relevant stakeholders and the local community.

Kantian ethics hold that in a situation where one conceives a world in which every organization by nature must not indulge in any sort of social responsibility so that it maximizes profits as proposed by Friedman I am conceiving of a world in which there is no practice of firms acting responsibly towards the environment, consumers, the local community among other relevant stakeholders (Johnson, 2008).

The maxim will thus be to hold back finances and other contributions that could be used to enhance social wellbeing to maximize profit to suit the interest of a few individuals at the expense of the majority.

Indeed it would not be possible to realize universality as proposed by Kant when Friedman believed that when firms spend funds to solve social problem it infringes on the prerogative and obligations of government which collects taxes. This act of social responsibility amounts to double taxation (Friedman, 1970).


From the review of whether one can realize Kant’s theory of universality by applying Friedman’s ideas of corporate social responsibilities it is apparent that it is not possible.

While Friedman was of the view that managers do have a primary obligation to maximize profit, Kant on the other hand was of the view that individuals should act in a way that is in accordance to will and duty.

To Kant corporate social responsibility should be viewed from what he said “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (Johnson, 2008).

This thus meant that the maxim that underlies any action ought to be rationalized as a univer­sal moral law for it to have moral value. Additionally he held that if social corporate responsibility is initiated for self interest or self protection then it is immoral.

While Friedman completely and strongly opposes the concept of corporate social responsibility he said that if a firm will engage in such activity and yield more profit, then it would be fine.

This is in contradiction with Kant who said people should not be treated as a means to an end but an end in themselves. Kant saw enforcing the concept of corporate social responsibility as being a violation of personal freedom.


Friedman, M. (1970). The Social Responsibility of Business is to Increase its Profits. Web.

Johnson, R. (2008). Kant Moral Philosophy. Retrieved from https://plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/

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