Main Formulations of The Categorical Imperative by I.kant

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Immanuel Kant came up with the categorical imperative when dealing with the importance of moral duty. Hypothetical imperatives did not suffice with Kant as he felt that it was better to disregard consequences of an action and focus more on the morality. He came up with three categorical imperatives that were intended to combine to one central idea. The purpose of this report is to prove that the first and third formulations of the imperative are incompatible. These two ideas are very similar but have subtle differences that contribute to a contradiction. Explaining both types first will make it easier to recognize this distinction.

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The first categorical imperative is one which pertains to what action an individual is going to take. The imperative states, I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law. (Kant, 14) Through this maxim, the use of reason, duty, and the will are very important. Basically, nothing else besides the imperative should matter when faced with a situation. An example Kant uses is lying to someone under pressure to avoid someone or something, which is something we all do frequently. He then goes on to explain the pros and cons of performing such an act and goes into detail on the lying scenario. If one were to lie to get out of something, it might come back to them and create a problem. Basically, even if there was a situation where you could lie and it would not affect you, the fear or even consideration of consequence is the difference. Being truthful out of duty and high moral standards is much different than being truthful out of fear of consequence. It is important to not stray far from duty. He ends up concluding that whether it is going to work out in the long run for you or not if this maxim were to become universal, it would not be advantageous. It would not work because you cannot will a universal law to lie. If this were his law, none of his promises would hold any importance and nobody would believe him. This maxim would destroy itself because if it became universal there would be no promise at all. The universality of the situation seems to be the most important. Situational basis does not make a difference. You should act a certain way according to duty and will. This law can be applied to any rational being in any situation. When making a decision, physical characteristics of the situation are obsolete to eliminate subjective scenarios. In other words, hypothetical imperatives do not show morals and duty because they are conditional; whereas the categorical imperative is something which you just think and do, and it is not based on desires or needs.

He goes on to support his findings in explaining why the imperative can be applied. If the maxim you are practicing cannot be willed to a universal law, it must be rejected. The reasons for the rejection are also very important. For example, something cannot be rejected because of some sort of disadvantage to one or others; it must be rejected because it is not fitting to be considered universal law. Kant goes on to say that respect outweighs inclination and the necessity of acting respectfully towards a law is what establishes duty, which is a condition of will that is good.

The third formulation of the categorical imperative deals with the individual as well as the society as a whole. It focuses on the ends to which people and societies act. Kant goes on to create a concept of a kingdom of ends in which people apply the third formation of the categorical imperative. Kant describes this as a concept of every human will as a will that legislates universal law in all its maxims. (Kant, 38) Kant sees all other attempts on the discovery of morality as failures. He sees man as bound to law by his duty, but the problem is that this is not all he is bound to. Kant claims that will has been forced when laws are made and people only obey them because of the constriction of the law maker. Therefore, this law did not come to be through the will of the individual, but is rather just obeyed by the individual because of fear and conformity. Through this whole conclusion that Kant makes, the point becomes that duty is lost. By just obeying the law and having nothing to do with the making of it, duty is replaced by acting from an interest. This is where the kingdom of the ends comes in. The kingdom is a systematic union of different rational beings through common laws. The idea is to get rid of personal differences in rational beings and private ends and picture a whole of ends in connection. This is supposed to create a systematic union of rational beings through common objective laws. (Kant, 39) A rational being would belong to the kingdom of ends as a member by help creating laws and also abides by them. This creates the necessity of duty and makes the relation between individuals very important. Feelings, impulse, and inclination are gone and this promotes the idea of a rational being who obeys only laws that he at the same time endorses himself. The law that all of society abides and agrees on would most commonly become ethical laws that are subconsciously followed by mostly ever rational being. The whole autonomy of the situation is what helps paint the picture. The individual himself actually has something to do with creating the law and is entrenched into it.

These formulations of the categorical imperative are very similar but they differ in subtle and important ways. The first formulation is a more unity based formulation with the universality form of the will. In this context, the third categorical imperative leans more towards totality encompassing the system of the ends. Unity and totality seem like similar conditions but it is the motivation towards these laws that make them different. The unity is a personal will that you act in accordance with. A person would act in a way that they feel could be made a law. They are observing their own tendencies and actions. In the third imperative, the individual will takes a back seat to the totality of will. An overall will exists that binds all rational beings as ends in themselves connected with the complete moral maxim. Basically, the first formulation deals with the individual and how they expect actions to take place whereas the third formulation focuses on other people as well as the individual as a contributor.

Another difference between these wills is the heteronomy of the first imperative when compared to the autonomy of the third imperative. The first categorical imperative deals with the external incentive of obeying certain laws. This focuses on obeying laws that would be considered valid for all rational beings. This may sound a lot like the third categorical imperative but this one would focus on the fact that each rational being is a potential author of the laws valid for all. This is where dignity comes into play. Each individual, under this maxim, has a distinct value to overall humanity as they are entrenched in its structure. The third formulation would seem to promote ethical laws by which people are so involved in that they subconsciously obey. The kingdom of ends is one cohesive unit that has every rational being on the same page.

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This categorical imperative could be examined and dismantled for years in order to develop a complete critique, but it is helpful to recognize each formulation as distinct and different ideas. The first and third formulations do in fact have obvious differences when investigated further. This is what makes philosophy a very difficult field to publish a failsafe argument. Immanuel Kants formulations of the categorical imperative differed in terms of the will, dignity, universality, and duty involved, and are two different ideas that have a similar foundation.

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Main Formulations Of The Categorical Imperative By I.Kant. (2019, April 26). GradesFixer. Retrieved October 1, 2023, from
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