Further Notes on Kant
For Kant morality is not founded on happiness. Ethical egoists
emphasize the consequences of actions that promote our own personal happiness.
Utilitarians claim we should promote the general happiness (general welfare). Divine
command theory stresses the authority of God & obedience to His will.
Kant stresses consistency: Consistency is the highest
obligation of a philosopher and yet the most rarely found. Critique of Practical
Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, ed. And trans. Lewis White Beck,
Chicago: (University of Chicago Press, 1949).
Kant didnt think we could base morality on the concept of
happiness. He is not a consequentialist. He thought utilitarianism was a dangerous theory.
Happiness depends at least in part on circumstances beyond your control. You cant
always will yourself to be happy. Some people are born into unhappy circumstances. Some
people may die too young to ever achieve full happiness. More important, we can never know
for sure how our actions will affect our own happiness or others in the long run.
Consequentialist moral theories are future directed, and we cant ever truly know the
future. Happiness, though it is part of the highest good for Kant, is not good without
qualification. The only thing that is good without qualification is a good will.
Kant says that to derive any moral worth from our actions we must do
them from the right motive (remember we talked about how hes concerned about which
principles we should act upon, which norms we should adopt). The proper motive for moral
actions is the motive of duty: we should do what is right because it is right. (this is
what we were talking about in class..if you do something out of love or passion, you may
do the right thing, but for Kant no moral worth attaches to what you do).
People who act from a motive of duty are said to have a good
will. Notice hes not centered on actions. Hes more centered on the internal
constitution of the person doing the action.
More on duty: If something is right, that action should be done
whether I feel like doing it or not (certain actions are demanded of us no matter what and
in all circumstances, even when I dont feel doing it.
Kant respects our human rationality. This involves the ability
to choose (we talked about this in class in connection with Andrea Yates case). It is not
your background, history, culture that makes morality a duty for humans. Morality applies
to all rational beings.