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Kant’s Universalizability Theory

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A real knowledge, one ought to know, goes along with the morality of such knowledge. In so much, before one can be admitted or introduced into a particular area of study, one must be acquainted the morality or the value of such field of study.

For this same reasons, morality is very crucial in the day-to-day activities of human existence and in all frontiers of knowledge. The branch of philosophy that addresses questions about morality and value judgment which concerns itself with habits, customs, and ways of life especially in the concept of good and bad, right or wrong, noble or ignoble, justice and virtue is termed ethics.

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Hence, ethics as the branch of philosophy deals with the morality of human actions; or as the branch of philosophy which studies the norms of human behavior. [1] The goal of ethics is morality, the oughtness of an action, the essence of morality and the standard for judging an action to be right or wrong, good or bad.

For the sake of this paper, I shall make a quick review on Immanuel Kant’s theory of universalizability that centers around the discourse on morality. Immanuel Kant (1724-1804)Immanuel Kant was German philosopher born in Konigsberg Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia), whose philosophy flourished around 18th century. His main interests were in epistemology, metaphysics ethics, logic and aesthetics. Influenced by many and influenced more, he was exceptionally critical and a German idealist.

Kant was the last influential philosopher of modern Europe in the classic sequence of the theory of knowledge during the enlightenment beginning with thinkers like John Locke, George Beckley and David Hume [2]. He published important works mostly on epistemology, as well as other related works.One of the most prominent of his works is the CRITIQUE OF PURE REASON (1781), which was a critical investigation into the limitations and structures of the human capability to reason. It also includes a critique against metaphysics and epistemology and the reconciliation of the two traditional schools of thought in epistemology (rationalism and empiricism).

Other important works are: the CRITIQUE OF PRACTICAL REASON (1788) known as the second critique, which concerns mainly ethics and the CRITIQUE OF JUDGMENT (1790), which dealt with aesthetics and theology. His moral PhilosophyKant developed his moral philosophy in three of his works namely: GROUNDWORK OF THE METAPHYSIC OF MORALS, (1785). CRITQUE OF PRATICAL REASON, (1788) and METAPHYSIC OF MORALS (1787). His ethics is deontological, because moral good according to him is determined by acts and duty, [3] as a result; moral good is derived independently of natural good.

The only thing that is good without qualifications is the Good Will and all other things that are generally considered as good are not unconditionally good, in the sense that, their goodness need to be qualified because they become bad when they are misused.He therefore concludes that there is only one thing that is truly good: “For nothing in the world –indeed nothing even beyond the world can possibly be conceived which could be called good without qualification except a Good Will[4]” Therefore, the Good Will cannot become bad for the reason that it is the only good without qualifications. A Good Will, Kant says “acts for the sake of duty” and not “acting according to duty”, and a good action is performed not because one feels like doing it but because the moral law demands it.In other words, the Good Will is good in itself; this moral law is therefore the principle of reason and a rational being with a Good Will automatically does its duty [5].

With further explanations, Kant postulated what he called ‘categorical imperatives’. An imperative is a command and he gave two types of imperatives namely; categorical imperative and hypothetical imperative. A hypothetical imperative is a command that is applicable especially when one wants to attain a particular outcome. A conditional statement is a hypothetical imperative.

For example, if I am to be the best, I must study hard, is an imperative but a hypothetical one. I may choose to study hard and I may choose not to. Although, it’s a must or an obligation, to either study hard or not yet I may refuse to do one and do the other or vice versa. In other words, I can ignore one as it is a conditional command and therefore optional.

Hypothetical imperative also implies an action performed as a means to an end. That is, the hypothetical imperative commands an action since it is a means to an end, and the reason why such action is good is that it is a means to a certain end [6].Categorical imperative is derived from the concept of duty. While the concept of duty is crucial to deontological approach, it is that which one must do or that which is required.

Kant used the concept of duty to explain the nature of moral commands and the demands of moral laws. Duty, he says, ‘is the necessity of acting out of reference for the moral law [7]. Moral commands make the categorical imperative different for the hypothetical imperative since moral commands are categorical imperatives.Consequently, categorical imperatives are absolutely necessary and binding on everyone regardless of personal interest or desire as it is a duty that one must do whether or not.

For it does not command one to do something that is as a means to an end, what it commands is good in itself [8]. The Good Will, therefore acts for the sake of duty because nothing exempt a moral agent from the demands of moral duty. However, Immanuel Kant recognizes the categorical imperative as the basis of morality. Universalizability TheoryFollowing the above explanation, Kant made us to know that what can be said to be morally right or wrong depends entirely on the categorical imperative.

The categorical imperative was formulated in various ways but the general point was roughly, that one should act only in ways they are universalizable. The problem of the categorical imperative is largely those of universalizability. Universalizability theory is the idea that what is right for a person must be right for any one else in the same position. In other words, one should act according to the principle of an action that can be universalized.

In the same vein, the principle of universalizability can be used as a standard for determining an action to be right or wrong, good or bad. Every action, Kant made us to know, springs from some subjective principle or maxim and the moral worth of such actions lies entirely in the question of whether the principle or maxim of the action in question can be universalized. In other words, it is the maxim of the ‘action’ and not the actor should be tested to see if it can be universalized or if it can become a general law. It follows that; a moral judgment must be universalizable.

Kant defines ‘maxim’ as ‘my rule for me’ and ‘law’ as ‘universal law’. Therefore, the term should be understood in the way the user defines it) The universalizability of an action is morally right and its non universalizability is morally wrong. By this statement, an action I intend to carry out, I must first view my action if it would be desirable by any other person who intend performing the same action at the same situation I am or if I would will it that my action becomes a universal law that anyone who finds his or herself in the same situation should do what I intend doing.If not then my action would be morally wrong.

The universalizability theory is a very technical one, but the nub of the principle is in accord with reason because reason motivates a Good Will. As Kant puts it: “as I have deprived the will of every impulse which could arise to it from obedience to any law [of nature], there remains nothing but the universal conformity of its action to law in general, which alone is to serve the will as a principle [9]. ” For example, if I say that you ought not to lie, I commit myself to saying that anyone else in my position ought not to lie.Similarly, if I call someone’s action good, then I must allow anyone else who did the same action in the same circumstance did a good action.

The principle of universalizability states that, “act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law [10]. ” Or “act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature [11]” consequently, the principle of universalizability is one’s duty to moral law which will be considered as the Good Will when my maxim accords with this rule.To further buttress the point, Kant gave an example of a man who intends to commit suicide at the time of distress. A man with rational capabilities would know that suicide is against moral laws.

That is, taking his own life is contrary to his duty to himself would therefore ask himself if the maxim of his action would become a universal law of nature, that any one in his position should commit suicide. His maxim would be as thus: From self-love, I make it my principle to shorten my life if its continuance threatens more evil than it promises pleasure.The only further question to ask is whether this principle of self-love can become a universal law of nature. It is then seen at once that a system of nature by whose law the very same feeling whose function is to simulate the furtherance of life should actually destroy life would contradict itself and consequently could not subsist as a system of nature.

Hence, this maxim cannot hold as a universal law of nature and is therefore entirely opposed to the supreme principle of all duty [12].In Kant’s Groundwork of metaphysic of morals, he enumerated three formulations of the categorical imperatives which he believed is roughly equivalent to his theory of universalizability. The first formulation of the moral imperative is the formula for universal laws: “requires the maxim be chosen as though they should hold as universal laws of nature” [13]. “Always act according too the maxim whose universality as law you can at the same time will” and is the “only condition which a will can never come into conflict with self [14]”.

One interpretation of this formulation is called “universalizability test [15]” This has just been explained above and according to Kant in his ‘subjective principle’ of human actions, the universalizability test is what an agent believes is his reason to act [16]. The test also has 5 steps enumerated of which for the sake of this paper shall not be written. The second formulation is the formula of the end in itself and the third formulation, the formula for autonomy; the synthesis of the first two is the basis for the complete determination of all maxims which is “act as if your maxim should serve at that same time as the universal law.Universalizability and generality Universalizability is not the same as generality.

“Everyone ought to give to half of his income to the poor” is specific and in some way universal. It refers to all (everyone) and all the poor because generality and universality are sometimes used interchangeably. Judgment may be universal and not general in two ways; first, in a strict sense when it is addressed to individual. Take for instance; “everyone should fight for his country” is universal since no particular country is mentioned.

Two, in a loose sense when it is universalized. E. g. “Every Englishmen should fight for England” or “everyone should fight for England” are both universal [17].

Appraisal Immanuel Kant’s universalizability theory seemed to be very important in ethics especially for those who held the same view. The universalizability theory holds two significant views. The first view uses universality to distinguish the moral from non-moral. Someone’s principle is a moral principle if he or she is willing to universalize it and if not it is then the other way round.

In this way universalizability helps to define morality, providing a necessary condition for it or a sufficient condition, or both (necessary and sufficient), before it can be assumed to be morally right or wrong. For example, “what if everybody did that? ” Is often a relevant question in moral context but “did exactly what? ” So, the question is not “what acts” but “the action” [18]. The second view of the theory is that Kant tries to distinguish the moral from the immoral by saying that what makes a principle moral is basically that it is universalizable.In other words, there is no inconsistency in supposing everyone to act on it.

“Inconsistency” here means a kind of logical inconsistency (it is inconsistent to suppose all promises are broken, if they would then no longer will it be regarded as promise) or, it may mean simply the frustration of something which is, or should be a general end of human actions. E. g. maximizing happiness Finally, Kant’s universalizability shows that reason alone motivates a Good Will (one that is rational discounts consequences).

As Kant said: “as I have deprived the will of every impulse which could arise to it from obedience to any law [of nature], there remains nothing but the universal conformity of its action to law in general, which alone is to serve the will as a principle [19]. ” In other words, a rational being of Good Will will want it actions to conform to universalizable principle of an action. So, I say “its action” rather than his or her or mine actions because Kant intend his ethical system to apply to all rational beings, even those who might be no-humans or genderless like angels and gods.Because to Kant, any being – human or non-humans that can formulate maxims and recognize contradiction is subject to the categorical imperative, the moral law.

It follows that all rational being capable of formulating maxims and recognizing contradiction would agree with and endorses actions that spring from any individual rational being with a Good Will, because non-contradiction is a universal law for rational beings. Therefore, the rational being of Good Will uses the categorical imperatives to evaluate its action: “act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a law. DIFFICULTIES IN THE THEORY However, amidst the tenable aspect of the theory, it has its lacking aspect.When critically approached or applied either theoretically or practically, there is the problem of judgment.

What would count as universalizing a judgment? Suppose that whatever applies to me must apply to everyone like myself: how like me must they be? Can I not describe my case in such a way that no one is like me? Having at the back of our minds that every specific judgment can still be universalized, I might say: ‘although people in eneral ought not to lie, I myself may lie, because I will allow that anyone may lie if he is short, dark, blind has a scar on forehead etc. , etc. ”, listing so many of my characteristics that no one else has them all. Also do desires, etc.

, count as relevant characteristics? If so, I might say: you ought to help the poor, and so ought anyone like you, but I need not because I am not like you. I do no desire to help them, as you do.Furthermore, one way of expressing the need for universalizability is by saying that whatever is a reason for a person to act must be a reason for anyone else in the same position to act in the same way. This may give a necessary condition for morality, but it is not peculiar to morality, since it’s a mere principle of logical consistency [20].

If danger to health is a reason for me no to smoke, it is presumably a reason for everyone like me not to smoke –though again it may be hard to describe how ‘like’ me they must be. Philosophers are at present disputing about how many kinds of universalizability there are.Universalizability in the sense of mere logical consistency is, as explained before, too broad to define morality completely. Universalizability in the sense of impartiality (in particular, not favoring oneself) seems to be a principle which marks the moral form the immoral, rather that the moral form non-moral.

But this principle too, as we have seen, is not easy to formulate. How far universalizability is relevant to morality, therefore, whether as helping to define it or as contributing to its content or as a standard for measuring moral action, all is unclear.Similarly, there has been a disparagement from philosophers over the agreement that the theory points to one essential feature of moral thoughts which is roughly difficult to discern, there is less certainty about the definition, its source and its significance to ethics. More so, Hegel pointed out that universalizability theory has not been able to determine the morality of action because it already presupposes what it sets out to prove.

In other words, it presupposes already that the action in question is wrong or right as the case maybe [21].In addition, the fact that a person is ready to see the maxim of his or her actions become universalized does not mean that the action to be performed is morally right. Conclusion Kant’s universalizability, tenable or not, seeks to answer the question of what should be the yardstick for measuring or the evaluation of an action to be morally right or wrong. The question is still a bothering and a controversial issue in the humanities and no one has been able to give answers without criticism and as such it will still continue to be a fundamental issue.

If Kant could see his theory as a requirement of reason, then it’s a trial as it appeals to rationality. Although, it is sometimes hard to formulate theories as such in other to get an expected end yet its relevance to morality, as complex as it is, is contemplating. In other words, Immanuel Kant’s universalizability theory is in one way or the other significant because it has added to the search and expanding the frontiers of knowledge.

Cite this Kant’s Universalizability Theory

Kant’s Universalizability Theory. (2017, Apr 29). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/kants-universalizability-theory/

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