Disclaimer: This is an example of a student written essay.
Click here for sample essays written by our professional writers.

Any opinions, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of UKEssays.com.

Kantian Approach To Morality Philosophy Essay

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Philosophy
Wordcount: 3290 words Published: 1st Jan 2015

Reference this

Philosophers across the divide around the have argued that human morality is determined by rationality in making decisions and acting upon them. Immanuel Kant’s approach to moral psychology and his rational agency concept were developed around a number of issues; first moral sensibility concept. Secondly is heteronomy, hedonism and the happiness principle which according to Kant determines human motivation and decisiveness or choice. Lastly is the categorical imperative which Kant conceptualized around practical rationality and its role in the formation of universal laws (Reath, 2006, p.1). Kant’s theory of human morality is conceptualized around human decision and action. This concept has not been well understood (McCarthy, 2009, p. xiii). This paper therefore, seeks to examine Kant’s approach to human morality his theories and principles with regard to their relevance to human life today.

Get Help With Your Essay

If you need assistance with writing your essay, our professional essay writing service is here to help!

Essay Writing Service

Kantian’s theories of human morality

Moral philosophy is a concept that seeks to give answers to issue surrounding human morality. It gives basis to fundamental principles of human morality and to achieve this, ethical and moral obligations must be recognized and adopted by human agents. Kant in his approach to human morality, puts emphasis on basic human moral and ethical responsibilities based on the results of his famous work dubbed ”Groundwork in the metaphysics of moral”. From this platform, therefore, it is clear that moral psychology gives answers on the fact that morality dictates human agent’s decisiveness and actions and also influences human socialization. As such Kant’s approach to human morality tries to account of these concepts (Johnson, 2008).

In his human moral theories, Kant argues that the ultimate end of human decisions and actions ought to be good for one’s own self and also to others. This is practical and gives meaning to moral life. He goes ahead to emphasize that good for morality is in itself a moral virtue in line with human agent’s happiness. Kant strongly emphasizes that moral virtue is a condition to deserving happiness in life by human agents. However Immanuel Kant also noted that in certain occasions, moral virtue may not at all time constitute to human agents’ happiness and may at times conflict with it (Johnson, 2008).

Today, many philosophers have coined various action theories. Many of these theories have been formulated with reference to Kant’s principles of human morality (McCarthy, 2009, p. xiii). Kant’s emphasis on human actions is broadly linked to his works on metaphysics of human morality. Metaphysics of human morality was coined around various principles like; moral sensibility, human happiness, categorical imperatives, autonomy of human will, principle of humanity, human virtue and vice, principle of duty, principle of humanity and the philosophy of religion (McCarthy, 2009, p. xiii).

Kant’s theory of moral sensibility revolves around respect for morality. He describes this respect as an important determinant of self motivation in pure practical reasoning by human agents. According to Reath, Kant broadly views this respect for morality as a major influencing factor in self motivation and decisiveness or human action and making of choices (Reath, 2006, p.1). Therefore, in this context, respect for morality can be viewed as recognition of the authority associated with moral law and also as an independent human moral feeling.

In Kant’s theory of happiness in relation to hedonism and heteronomy, he argues that non moral motivation was unacceptable and termed them as crude hedonistic. Reath asserts that according to Kant, non moral decisions and actions are influenced by the desire for pleasure at the end. That non moral decisions and actions are inclination-based in nature. However, those opposed to Kant’s principle of happiness in relation to hedonism and hedonistic non moral decisions and actions, have argued that his perception of non moral decisions and actions undermine his theory of morality as they convey a misjudged opinion and mistaken conception of non moral decisions and motivation (Reath, 2006, p. 2). In his theory of happiness, Kant explains his view that the expected satisfaction and the strength of the desire are taken as sufficient reason for human’s non moral decisions and actions.

In his theory of categorical imperative, Immanuel Kant asserts that morality is based on human practical reasoning or rationality. He termed this rationality ”categorical imperative”. He argued that categorical imperative was based on certain standards of morality which were either desired instrumental principles or were based on rational human intuitions. The Kantian approach to morality is based on the perception that the analysis of categorical imperative will reveal the determinants of rational human agents in morality based on instrumental principles of morality. According to Kant therefore, categorical imperative is the fundamental principle of morality. Kant regards rationality as practical reasoning that is independent and free and as such goes beyond human control and interference. Kant argues that it is this categorical imperative in every human being that gives them the power to make realistic decisions and a feeling of self worth and respect (Johnson, 2008).

At the centre of Kantian approach to human morality is the principle of autonomy of human wills. He argues that human rational reasoning cannot exist without a sense of autonomy. According to Kant, laws should be humans own making and that freedom does not exist if there are no laws bound to it. Freedom in relation to laws defines human responsiveness to practical reasoning. Thus autonomy arises when there is will free from negativity and when decisions and actions are done independently. Perfectly rational decisions and actions are those that conform to those laws that are validly formulated for rational reasoning. However, imperfectly rational decisions and actions go against Kantian perception and as such have to undergo scrutiny of some other laws (Johnson, 2008).

Kant also formulated another theory dubbed, the principle of humanity. The meaning of humanity in Kant’s approach to human moral psychology is good will (Dean, 2006 p. 8). In his works ”metaphysics of morals”, Kant argues that every human being has the responsibility of raising himself ”more and more” towards humanity, which he earlier described as good will. By so doing, humans have to set themselves ends which it is them alone who are capable of achieving. According to Kant, the capacity of human agents to set and adopt whichever end is characterized by humanity. However, he argues further that the capability of setting ends here is not the only way to realize humanity. The role of attaining humanity also includes accepting moral principles as sufficient need for making moral decisions, actions and choices (Dean, 2006, p. 9).

According to Kant, good will is the only thing in the world that is naturally good and without conditions regardless of what it achieves or what it is attributed to. He argues that decisions or actions reached at out of good will have or out of duty have ”moral worth” and as such represent the value of good will and human morality. Kant argues that decisions made out of duty or actions performed out of responsibility bear formal principle are as such are reason-based. They are not inclination-based as such do not bear material principle as its basis. However good will only favor inclination-based decision if they are in line with the requirements of morality (Denis, 2005, p. 18)

Kantian theory of morality asserts that agents bear special status and because of that they deserve respect that must not be interfered. This principle of respect to humanity, Kant asserts is a key determinant to human practical and rational reasoning. In view of this, respect for humanity, human rights and human responsibility are the basis for human moral reasoning (Furrow, 2005, p. 49). Kantian principles of morality recognize that human agents have intrinsic value due the fact that they have the power to make rational decisions and independent judgments regarding their lives. Human beings have value regardless of whether they are cared for or not and no matter what their moral decision, actions and general behaviors are. According to Kant they posses’ objective worth which must be treated with respect (Furrow, 2005, p. 50).

It is important to recognize that human agents’ poses objective worth which influences their conduct within the society from where they relate with each other. As such they must not be taken as mere objects or instruments. Kant, in his approach to morality argues that morality through practical reasoning must proceed from categorical imperative and not from hypothetical imperatives. Categorical imperatives commands that decisions and actions must be taken without conditions attached to them and independently. He recognizes that all human agents have interests, projects, goals and desires and are capable of rationally reasoning about them and acting on them (Furrow, 2005, p. 50).

In his theory on human moral virtue and vices, Kant emphasizes that human beings have duties to fulfill, goals, ambitions and desires to realize. Kant describes the moral strength to achieve these as human moral virtue. He also describes moral vice as immorality in principle. In Kant’s’ view, humans set principles of moral conduct depending on basis of categorical imperative or simply rational agency. Therefore on this platform, Kant describes human trait of acting in accordance with these principles as human virtue. Kant further argues that human virtue can not be acquired through training or even through instilling second human character but rather comes from deep within humans. As such human virtue is oriented on human moral principles and human moral vice is then viewed by Kant as going against moral law in principle (Johnson, 2008).

Kant’s approach to human morality has been the foundation for many philosophers. Whereas many have accepted his principles on human morality, others have often differed with some of these principles based on a number of contentious issues. However, according to McCarthy, Kant’s description of human virtue as moral strength of will is a psychological condition which is the most important in human agents. He argues that Kant conceptualized human virtue as a psychological condition of human moral appraisal and promotion. Human moral virtue is a determinant in evaluating human moral worth (McCarthy, 2006, p. 191). Human moral virtue therefore contributes to other important and related virtues like human happiness, goodwill, moral sensibility, the capability to make independent decisions and the ability to act for the good of humanity.

Find Out How UKEssays.com Can Help You!

Our academic experts are ready and waiting to assist with any writing project you may have. From simple essay plans, through to full dissertations, you can guarantee we have a service perfectly matched to your needs.

View our services

The rationale for setting ends according to Kant’s principles on morality is what constitutes the ends set and adopted by human agents. Respecting the rational nature of the set ends will mean respecting human moral laws in all its functionality and not only its function or the mere obeying of human moral laws. According to Kant, the rational nature of the ends-setting has various roles in achieving humanity including the end setting itself that is influenced by human moral principles (Dean, 2006, p. 83).

Webb, in his works dubbed Kant’s philosophy of religion, argues that there is profound connectivity between human morality and religion. Webb argues that this religion is in terms of moral faith and as such a very important connection between moral autonomy and nature. Webb asserts that it is this moral faith that Kant in his approach to human morality held to the notion that practical reasoning must prevail at all times. According to Webb, moral faith was a major determinant in his assertion that categorical imperatives were the basis on which human agents decided and acted (Firestone & Palmquist, 2006, p. 7).

What is attractive in Kantian approach to morality?

Kant argues that agents are at all times rational in their being, decisiveness and action. They can express their desires, give their opinions and decide rationally on what they want to do. Kant sees human agents as beings that are able to act on principles. He goes ahead to categorize agents into two groups; perfect agents and imperfect agents. From his categorization of agents, it can be deduced that human beings are not the same in setting, adopting and acting on human moral principles, and may differ based on same principles. Perfectly rational agents act strictly on principle of practical or rational rather reasoning. They decide and act only on what they deem to be good. Imperfect agents may at time to act or decide contrary to their principle. They follow human morality principles out of duty while perfectly rational agents follow principles of human morality without much constraint (Denis, 2005, p.21).

Kant’s principle of categorical imperative is an attractive approach to human morality. Categorical imperative requires that human agents realize or rather achieve the ends they have set in regard to morality. It encourages human beings or rather commands them to achieve targets they set in life. According to Kant, categorical imperatives are naturally contingent. They bind human agents to moral principles which in turn enable them to pursue and achieve the ends they have adopted (Johnson, 2008). This principle encourages hard work in human agents in order to realize self satisfaction and achieve human sense of accomplishment in life.

According to Kant’s approach to human morality, human agent’s happiness lies on their own moral principles. According to Kant in his principle of happiness, agent’s happiness is critical and a basic need that cannot be rationally withdrawn. However, categorical imperative pertaining to the achievement of human agent’s happiness remains to be hypothetical. This therefore means that, for human beings to be happy they have no choice, but to make morally rational decisions and act in the same way as well. It is therefore, important to recognize that happiness in itself is a ”Meta” end comprising all inclination-based ends human agents decide and act on (Denis, 2005, p. 21).

What is unattractive in Kantian approach to morality?

According to Stratton-Lake, various philosophers have found Kant’s approach to human morality based on a few of his principles. First, is his view that rational and good-willed human agent would decide and act only due to responsibility or out of duty. Secondly is that for any human duty to be realized, there must be categorical imperatives. Thirdly is his symmetry theory. Unfortunately all the Kantian moral principles are related and tend to borrow from each other. This makes it extremely impossible to reject a single principle while adopting the others. This has been the bond of contention between Kantian approach to human morality and other philosophers who appreciate his theories but do not totally agree with these theories (Stratton-Lake, 2004, p. 57).

Kantian approach to ethical morality provides that human agent’s actions must be based on responsibility or duty alone. This presents challenge in distinguishing between what elements constitutes human agent’s moral worth and virtue. This situation ideally poses a serious confusion in trying to internalize these two principles by human agents. For instance, if human agents are expected to be virtuous in their decisiveness and action, then duties and responsibilities calling for virtuous decisions and actions should also be adopted. According to McCarthy, the principle of duty is the basis from which Kantian approach describe human moral expectations (McCarthy, 2006, p. 190).

According to Denis, Kant argues in his early work ”Groundwork” that good will decisions and actions are determined by a sense of responsibility or duty rather than due to impulse or inclination and that such decisions and actions gives them moral worth. Some philosophers have objected to this arguing that this reason-based principle perception of Kant is misguided. Objections arise from the fact that this principle gives human decisions and actions a more narrow account of morality in decisions and actions. Other scholars also object on the basis that Kant’s moral worth of reason-based decision and actions that it is okay not to love or sympathize with others in order to achieve moral worth helping others out of duty and responsibility (Denis, 2005, p. 19).

Even though principles of morality require agents set ends to adopt and achieve, Kant argues that they are not bound to them and as such can free themselves from most categorical imperatives by withdrawing the ends or rather the targets to be realized or achieved. For instance if an agent’s goal or desire is to become family doctor and the means required to achieve this desire is to attend a medical school, rationally the agent will be required to attend medical school. However, the agent is free to withdraw this ambition then he or she will be relieved from the requirement of attending law school. In such a case the categorical imperative will no longer be binding on the individual (Denis, 2005, p. 21).

According to Furrow, Kant’s approach to human morality jeopardizes freedom which to him is crucial to the wellbeing of human agents. In his approach, Kant argues that human agents are free only when their actions and decisions are not inclination-based but reason-based. Kant asserts that human agents are free only when their decisions and actions are free from external influences whereas these influences constitute attachments and commitments that result into human agent’s happiness. It is therefore; practically impossible to conceptualize autonomy and freedom without reference to human desires, targets goals or even purposes. Freedom is a paramount determinant of happiness in human agents. Therefore essential freedom is that which permits humans to decide and act in accordance with their personal needs, desires and values and not that which sets these values, desire and needs aside in order to make impartial judgments (Furrow, 2005, p. 89).


The Kantian theory of morality describes how human beings ought to relate to each other in the society. Kant, in his approach to human morality gives reason to human interaction and relationship. Although it has its limitations, Kantian approach to human morality describes a plausible lifestyle devoid of human immorality. The Kantian approach to human morality enables human agents to reflect and deliberate on their moral principles on elements that are meaningful and important in life like human relationships, virtues, principles and morals among others. Moral principles, theories and laws present human agents with not only better account of morally acceptable decisions and actions but also more plausible account of the role of moral law to human agents. Moral law therefore act as checks and balances on our morality as human agents. These theories and principles are based on practical cases in human lives in the views of Kant and should therefore, form the basis of human interaction and relationships today.


Cite This Work

To export a reference to this article please select a referencing stye below:

Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.
Reference Copied to Clipboard.

Related Services

View all

DMCA / Removal Request

If you are the original writer of this essay and no longer wish to have your work published on UKEssays.com then please: