Workbook on Kant

This section contains the main outline points you need to understand about Kantian ethics to gain an A grade.

Answers to these points can be found in the HANDOUT on Kant.

Immanuel Kant claimed he had produced a Copernican revolution in ethics similar to Newton’s revolution in science. What do you think?


Key features of Kant’s life (1724 – 1804)

  • Enlightenment
  • Pietism Assumptions
  • Autonomy
  • Rationality

Phenomenal/ noumenal dualist worldview

  • Phenomenal
  • Noumenal

Kant opposed Hume’s view that “reason is the slave of the passions”. Why? (Clue: autonomous means having no other influences than reason).

Explain why Kant believed “the only good thing is the good will”
The a priori synthetic

All moral statements are a priori synthetic, meaning that …
The categorical imperative is a priori synthetic because …
Example of a categorical imperative
Example of hypothetical imperative
How does this explain why Kant is fundamentally opposed to utilitarian ethics?

Three formulations of the categorical imperative

  • Universalisability
  • Respect for persons
  • The Moral Parliament

Why might these be described as laying down criteria for reasonableness?
Why might these be described as “universal objective truths in the noumenal world”?

How does the categorical imperative (CI) define a bad action?

  • Contradiction of nature

Explain Kant’s example of the promise maker who lies

  •  Contradiction of will

Explain Kant’s example of the person who says “I won’t help my neighbour in need”.
What is Kant’s example of the crazy knifeman? Explain how this illustrates the problems of following the CI, rather than looking at the situation.

Three main strengths of Kantian Ethics:

  • Common sense and reasonable
  • Deontological and clear
  • Person centred and rights oriented

Three main weaknesses:

  • Is any maxim really categorical? Even Kant said the ultimate aim is the summum bonum, a mixture of virtue and happiness attainable with a just God.
  • Can we really discount moral feelings?
  • It’s cold, uncompassionate, and inflexible: the ethics of my dour Aunt Maud

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