Immanuel Kant's Moral Philsophy And The Place Of The Emprical In Ethics

1262 words - 6 pages

In his eighty year life, Immanuel Kant never ventured outside of his hometown of Königsberg, Germany. Either he was a man who was not inclined to search for things, or he was one who had a groundbreaking perception of how to find them. Kant was, in fact, searching for a great many things. Having begun his career as an astronomer (and having first put forth the theory of galaxies), Kant later delved into moral philosophy. Kant set out to determine whether or not there is a moral law by which all people must live, and, if so, what such a law would be. Kant concluded that such a law, if it should exist, would have to be both universal and categorical. To ensure this, Kant insisted tha ...view middle of the document...

These judgments can add nothing to one's concept of the subject, and are merely explicative. Kant proposes a radically different form of judgment - synthetic a priori. Synthetic judgments are those whose predicates are distinct from their subjects, and can therefore provide new knowledge about the subject. Kant feels that in some fields, namely arithmetic, geometry and metaphysics, synthetic judgments can also be a priori, meaning that they rely on no external experience. If Kant is right in this assertion, a synthetic a priori judgment can tell us something new about the subject, and is also universally true. Kant holds that it is this type of judgment alone which is suitable for determining moral laws.The one intuitive, self-evident condition of a moral law, Kant would argue, is that it be universal. Such a law is also binding, and we call such a moral law a duty. While rational beings may have many duties, both perfect and imperfect, and internal and external, Kant, through synthetic a priori reasoning, determines that at their base is one moral law. It has been phrased many ways, but here it can be stated thus: Always act in such a way that you can will the maxim of your action to became a universal law. Kant has created a law that is universal on two fronts; it is applicable to all persons and in all situations. With this Categorical Imperative, Kant has given us the pure, rational form of moral law. All other moral laws can (and indeed must) be derived from this synthetic a priori foundation.Moral law, Kant argues, "cannot be abstracted from any empirical, and hence merely contingent, cognition". The inherent worth of the pure, rational form of law lies in its objectivity. It is from this objectivity that moral laws obtain their authority to command. If a law is allowed to become subjective by incorporating empirical elements, it becomes nothing more than a guideline for a particular situation. From an argumentative standpoint, the law is no longer watertight, and anyone wishing to ignore or act against a subjective law may simply protest that he or she is in a somewhat different situation from the one for which the law provides a guide. Now, rather than one foundational law from which all others spring, we encounter a mottled patchwork of situational guidelines that lack both universality and the power to command.Empiricism, in conjunction with synthetic a priori reasoning, does have a place in philosophy, but it is one outside the realm of morality. Empiricism may be used to determine hypothetical (as opposed to categorical) imperatives. Th...


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