What would Kant do?
Moral principles are not subjective; they apply universally to all people.
When it comes to moral decisions, “What’s in it for me?” may be the easy road. But “what’s the right thing to do,” is always a better question to ask.
In our relationships, avoiding difficult conversations or conflicts is the easy path. But addressing issues honestly and working through them together is the right road. It leads to healthier and more fulfilling connections.
Holding onto grudges and resentment is the easy road. Choosing to forgive and let go of past grievances is the right road for personal healing. Or better still, maintaining positive relationships.
Doing the right thing often requires effort, sacrifice, or facing challenges, but it’s the morally right path to follow.
A moral decision is often a tug-of-war between our emotional responses and logical reasoning.
For example, you might feel a strong emotional pull to help a friend in need, even if it inconveniences you.
Your empathy and care for that person can be a powerful moral compass.
But your rational mind might kick in and make you question the consequences of your actions. You might ask yourself, “Will helping this friend have negative consequences for me or others?”
This is where you’re trying to balance your immediate emotional response with a more thoughtful analysis of the situation.
Everyone uses a complex interplay of emotions, reason, and societal influences to make moral choices.
When you’re faced with a moral dilemma, you often rely on your gut feelings and emotional responses. These emotions, like empathy and guilt, help guide you toward what feels right or wrong.
Immanuel Kant, a central figure in modern philosophy, had much to say about fundamental moral principles. He was prominent figure in ethics and a proponent of deontological ethics.
Kant’s ethical framework is often referred to as “Kantian ethics,” — the belief that for an action to be considered morally good, it must adhere to the principle of universality and consistency.
Kant believed that moral principles must be applicable universally.
That means that if an action is considered morally right or wrong in one situation, it should be equally right or wrong in all similar situations.
In other words, moral principles should be consistent and not dependent on individual circumstances or personal preferences.
Kant introduced the concept of the “categorical imperative,” — a fundamental principle of his ethics.
It can be expressed in different formulations, one of which is the principle of universality. It states that an action is morally permissible if and only if it can be consistently willed as a universal law without contradiction.
“A categorical imperative would be one which represented an action as objectively necessary in itself, without reference to any other purpose,” says Kant said.
It’s a powerful principle because it helps us see beyond our desires and interests. It also allows us to avoid hypocrisy because we can’t very well tell other people to do something that we wouldn’t be willing to do ourselves.
He said something deeply profound that’s almost like the one universal rule for life: “Act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.”
Think of it as a moral compass.
Here’s another rule that explains the other one: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
In simpler terms, if you’re about to do something, ask yourself, “Could I want everyone to do this in the same situation?”
If the answer is yes, you’re on the right track. It’s a practical tool for navigating life’s moral challenges and making choices that align with a sense of universal morality.
Kant’s categorical imperative rule has two parts.
One part says, “Act only in a way that you’d be cool with everyone else acting the same way, all the time.” So, if you’re tempted to do something sketchy, you’d ask yourself, “Would the world be okay if everyone did this?” If it would lead to chaos, it’s a no-go.
The other part says, “Treat people like the special beings they are, not just as tools for your gain.”
“Always recognise that human individuals are ends, and do not use them as means to your end,” Kant wrote.
Kant was all about respecting the worth of every person. So, when you interact with others, you’re not just using them to get what you want; you’re treating them as valuable ends in themselves.
Kant wrote about this because he wanted ethics to be rational and universal. He believed that following this Categorical Imperative would lead to a world with more fairness, respect, and morality.
Here’s how to apply it in your own life:
- Before taking any action, ask yourself if you would be comfortable with everyone else doing the same.
- Consider the consequences of your actions for yourself, others, and society.
- Be honest with yourself about your motives. Are you acting out of self-interest or because you believe it is the right thing to do?
Kant’s Categorical Imperative guides thinking beyond personal gain and considering the broader implications of your actions.
It’s about treating others how you’d want to be treated, not just because it’s convenient but because it’s the right thing to do.
Whether it’s in decisions about honesty, fairness, or even complex ethical dilemmas, his principle reminds us to put ourselves in the shoes of others and make choices that stand up to the test of universality.
“May you live your life as if the maxim of your actions were to become universal law,” Kant said.
So, when life throws those moral curveballs your way, remember Kant’s Categorical Imperative — a simple yet profound guide to help you steer in the right direction.
It’s like living by the principle: “What goes around comes around.” You treat others well and contribute to a world where others treat you and everyone else well in return.
Imagine you’re pondering whether to help a stranger in need. Kant’s philosophy would nudge you to ask, “Could I will that everyone, including myself, should help strangers in need?”
When you think about it like that, you’d probably say yes because we’d all want to live in a world where people lend a hand when someone’s in trouble.
Applying it in daily life means I’m not just considering the immediate consequences of my actions but thinking about the bigger picture.
It keeps me in check when I’m tempted to do something that might give me a short-term benefit but would create chaos if everyone did it.
Think about keeping promises.
Kant would say, “If I make a promise, can I genuinely will that everyone should keep their promises?” Well, of course! Because living in a world where nobody keeps their word is chaos.
So, this principle pushes me to keep my promises, not just because it’s the right thing to do but because I’d want others to do the same for me.
Kant’s Categorical Imperative also applies to goals. It makes you think about whether your actions are consistent with your values.
His philosophy indirectly encourages us to align our actions with our deeply held values, as Kant believed that a morally virtuous person would naturally act in accordance with the moral law.
So, next time you face a moral dilemma, ask yourself: “Could I will that everyone should act this way?” It’s a simple but profound tool for making better choices.
In conclusion, Kant’s Categorical Imperative presents a compelling moral principle that has stood the test of time as a guiding light for ethical decision-making.
This simple rule for life, reminds us of the importance of duty, moral principles, and the inherent rightness or wrongness of actions, regardless of the specific circumstances or consequences.
It calls us to act in ways that are morally sound, not just desirable, and to hold ourselves to unchanging and universally applicable standards.
Ethical choices are not relative, but universal.