Some Moral Minima
Intro to Ethics & Social Responsibility
Instructor Tiffany Davis
Utilitarianism is a consequentialist theory, centering on the production of a good, happiness. Most of its problems center on the use of a nonmoral good, happiness, to dominate moral deliberation. Many philosophers who reject consequential moral theories believe that moral requirements are often valid whether or not they produce more nonmoral good. They propose a deontological moral theory. The most influential deontology was developed by the eighteenth-century Prussian philosopher Immanuel Kant, who many believe to be the greatest philosopher ever. Kant's ...view middle of the document...
We do not want to give people moral praise when they act out of improper motives; we feel more comfortable in assigning praise when they act from a morally correct motive.
Kant's moral deontology is developed around a notion of a good will (acting from the morally proper motive) as the basis for considering an action morally correct. From basic questions about a good will, Kant quickly moves to a fascinating set of principles. These principles delineate a realm of moral obligation. Thus, his theory moves from his reasoning about what a good will is, what makes us deserving of moral praise, to a specification of moral requirements.
Kant begins his speculation on ethics by considering whether a person deserves moral praise for a given action. This depends on the person's intentions. If the person is acting from some ulterior motive, for personal gain, out of embarrassment, under coercion, and so on, that person does not deserve moral praise, even for an action that otherwise appears morally good.
When a person acts for some personal gain, that person does not deserve moral praise because the action is a self-interested action, not a moral action. It was not done to do the morally proper thing; it was done for some sort of gain. Kant argues that no actions done for personal gain deserve moral praise. They are not morally good actions, although they might be good from some other point of view and might be morally permitted. So, according to Kant, only actions done from a morally proper motive deserve moral praise.
One by one Kant considers motivations for actions and decides that they are not moral motivations. If an action is simply done to make money, it is not a morally inspired action. But what if a person does an action out of care for a family member? Kant believes that caring, as the motive for actions, is not a moral motive. In this case actions based on care do not derive from moral motivation -- that is, based on a sense that it is the right thing to do -- but are done because we care, because we are involved with another person. Kant would go further by claiming that even acting from a sense of care extended to those with whom we are not emotionally involved is not a moral motivation. When we act because of such care, we are not acting under a moral motivation, because it is the morally right thing to do, but are acting because, in some sense, we care. Kant insists that any external motivation -- from a desire for general happiness to a caring attitude -- is not a moral motivation. All of these motivations are in a way like the desire for money. They are external to a moral concern.
Imagine a college student turning in a poor logic test. At the bottom of the test the student writes: "At least I didn't cheat." What might be the intention behind the remark? Perhaps it is an attempt to impress the instructor with the student's honesty. Perhaps it is an attempt to make himself or herself feel better after failing....