Dignity and Freedom: Immanuel Kant
Kant’s theories vary greatly with that of other philosophers. He was a retributivist who believed that it is alright to punish the wrongdoers as long as such punishment is tantamount or equivalent to the weight of the crime that was done. Punishment without proper reasons or justifications, such as jailing someone for petty theft is (according to the Kant) unjust.
He spoke about punishment on the critique of practical reasons which is in contrast with Jeremy Bentham’s theory. Jeremy Bentham was a utilitarian theorist who considers punishment as evil (Robert, 2000).
While Bentham supports rehabilitation efforts in prisons Kant found such efforts immoral. Kant further argued that such actions acted against ones personal rational choices. Kant rejects manipulation of people even when the causes and reasons are just. He believes that people should be allowed to reason for themselves and their decisions should be respected. Kant criticized other theories on the grounds that they were only hypothetical and could not be applicable in the real world.
Some theories argue that the greater good ought to be considered when acting, nevertheless, such theory would be irrelevant to someone whose interest is contrary to the maintenance of the common good. Hypothetical moral systems should not be used to determine the moral action since they are very subjective. He rejected Hume’s theory on the ideal theory of the mind. To Kant, analytical methods should not be used to explain what is physically evident. He believes that synthetic reasoning involves relating concepts that are not directly related to the subject concept. A prior knowledge can be used in the metaphysics study. (Bayne, 2000)
Kant criticizes the utilitarian view regarding happiness as the highest goal. He opposes this view as it created loopholes in arguing that people simply wants to achieve happiness. Happiness as far as Kant is concerned is a product of emotion. Following Kant’s arguments, acknowledging happiness as man’s final goal would be like ignoring the fact that human beings are rational and can choose or plan and anticipate their future. Kant portrays the categorical imperative approach where he sees all human beings as occupants of a special place in creation. People have different needs which ought to be satisfied using certain means.
He uses the term maxim to refer to intentions or principle of action. Human beings should not act in a way that portrays other people simply as means to an end but as an end to itself. In working to attain the maxim people should not use others as means. People used should benefit from the arrangement and their consent should be sought. To him, duties should be beneficial to people used in the process of attaining the goals. I agree with Kant’s theory as all people should be treated with equality and with respect. There are two types of imperatives. The hypothetical imperative tells what we ought to do in order to achieve a goal.
The categorical imperative leads to absoluteness since human beings are rational and can govern their actions. People should only act on maxims that can become ‘universal law’. To Kant, there are universal moral laws that are logically necessary. People’s actions should therefore be performed according to the acceptable universal laws of morality. Individuals should act according to the same moral laws (Robert, 2000). All people should be treated with moral respect. Deception should not be considered even when being applied for wrongdoers. To Kant, duties can be perfect or imperfect.
Imperfect duties entail working to develop our talents since they are given to us for a purpose while perfect duties entail a duty to others. Kant rejected the ethical force brought about by tradition and coined the modern idea of autonomy. Autonomy is simply the capability of an individual to act on behalf of his own. Autonomy of the will is the ability of the will to be a will in itself while the will refers to the means by which a maxim can become a universal law. This lies in contrast with the notion of Heteronomy which is acting after observing the various consequences that an action has produced.
He brought about the idea of centrality of rational thought. Each person can make free and autonomous choices and they are compelled by rationality and the categorical imperative in their decisions. Adherence to categorical imperative provides for autonomous ethical choice since people make their decisions rationally. In pursuit for various maxims all parties involved benefit from the arrangement (Collins, 2000). To Kant, objects do not have value but man gives them value through their rational goals and desires. Human beings have an intrinsic worth or dignity.
They should therefore act in good will out of a sense of duty and use the categorical imperative. What we give to society comes back to us and we ought not to harm others but work in ensuring that they benefit from out actions. I agree with the ideas presented by Kant, provided the way in which he had defended the rationality of people. I also agree that there are categorical imperative laws or universal maxims which comprise our ethical standards. Nevertheless, I could not agree that people are ought to be treated as ends in themselves, for there are hard cases wherein one must treat someone as a means to an end.
For instance, if the only way for a person to survive is to get an organ from someone who is already dying, wouldn’t it be rational to take the organ and use it for the person’s benefit since its real owner is already dying. Thus, there might be cases wherein Kant’s theory may fail or may not be of any use. Another famous example is the situation that involves lying. It is a universal maxim for Kant that people must not tell lies. However, if there is a killer at the lobby looking for a certain person, whom by chance you know where, was hiding; would it still be wrong to tell a lie (Bass).