Kant’s Categorical and Hypothetical Imperative
For Immanuel Kant, although everything naturally acts according to law, only rational beings do it consciously - Kant’s Categorical and Hypothetical Imperative introduction. This is the reason that humans experience impulses and desires that conflict with reason. So we experience the claim of reason as an obligation, a command that we act in a particular way, or an imperative. Imperatives may occur in either of two distinct forms, hypothetical or categorical.
Imperatives say that anything would be good to do or keep from doing, but it is said to a will that doesn’t always do something merely because it has been portrayed to the will as something good to do. All imperatives are expressed by an “ought” and therefore shows the relation objective law of reason to a will that is not necessarily determined by this law. Every practical law represents an action as possibly good and therefore needed for a person who is practically decided by reason.
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An imperative thus says what action possible by me would be good, and it presents the practical rule in relation to a will which does not forthwith perform an action simply because it is good, partly because the subject does not always know that the action is good and partly because (even if he does know it is good) his maxims might yet be opposed to the objective principles of practical reason. ~Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals The hypothetical imperative commands an action in order to produce something else or for some other purpose and the purpose may be actual or possible.
Hypothetical imperatives are divided into two categories including the rules of skill and the council of prudence. The rules of skill are conditional and are set to each individual who possesses it. The council of prudence are attained a priori unlike the rules of skills which are attained through experience and have universal goals such as happiness. Hypothetical imperatives imply that something is good to do or refrain from doing. If “this” then “that”, for example if you want to get a good grade on a test then you should study or if you want to have clear skin you shouldn’t eat greasy foods.
Hypothetical imperatives only apply to people who want to achieve the goal to which they are referring to. If the person doesn’t want or doesn’t care about getting a good grade on a test then they don’t have to worry about studying. If we tell someone that they “should” do something and intend a moral judgment we do not have to back up what we say with considerations about his interest and desires. According to Kant morality isn’t like this. Moral obligations, by contrast, do not depend on our having particular desires. The form of a moral obligation is not “if you want so and so, then you ought to do such and such. Instead moral requirements are categorical. ~James Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy However when referring to the categorical imperative, we must be prepared to take back what we said about what he should do if we find out that we didn’t tell him the right thing to do. While hypothetical imperatives are conditional categorical imperatives are not. The categorical imperative simply implies that you should do “X” no matter what the circumstances are and no matter what the outcome will be. For example, “Thou shall not kill”. Categorical imperatives give no thought to desires or needs.
There are three laws of the categorical imperative. First is the universal law, “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. ” This is saying that people should only act in a way that should be universally binding to all human beings, meaning that there cannot be one rule for one person and a different rule for everyone else. Stealing, as well as killing and lying all fail this test because, according to Kant, a person must first deny property rights and then deny that they can own property. So basically stealing is self-defeating.
The second law is the humanity law or “end in itself. “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end. ” Kant suggests that every person is an end in and of itself, not a means to an end. Humans have hopes, purposes and plans and the ability to formulate and act on their hopes, purposes and plans. People must not allow their own hopes, purposes and plans to create a hindrance to another person’s hopes, purposes and plans. This is the case because every human being is rational and deserving of respect.
Therefore, Kant is saying that people must treat everyone as ends in themselves and not as means to their own personal ends which are no more important than anyone else. The third and last law is the kingdom of ends law. “All maxims as proceeding from our own making of law ought to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends. ” A person acts in a way dictated by reason through the power of will. A woman violates this law makes a wealthy man believe that she is more interested in him as a person than his money if she believes that once they are married he will provide her with anything she wants.
Corresponding, a man violates this law if he leads a woman to believe that his intentions are to marry her in order to take their relationship further in the sexual sense that he would not have received if he made his true intentions known. Thus, Kant Kant holds that the fundamental principle at the basis of all of our moral duties is a categorical imperative. My personal position on Kant’s idea of the categorical and hypothetical imperatives is split because I agree with some of the things that he says but I also disagree with some of the things he says.
I agree with the idea that there can’t be one rule for one person and another rule for everyone else because I believe that everyone should be treated the same. However I disagree with the idea that every human is an end in itself. When Kant makes this claim he separates humans from God and in turn makes them the Highest Being. By doing this he neglects the fact that God is the Ultimate End of human existence, the Highest Good and the Supreme Authority.