Moral Philosophies: St Augustine, Immanuel Kant and Aristotle

Table of Content

The purpose of this essay is to compare and contrast the moral philosophies of St Augustine, Immanuel Kant, and Aristotle. Each philosopher has their own understanding of goodness. However, there are universally accepted principles regarding the morality of actions such as murder and stealing.

Although the reasons, methods, and definition of doing good may differ as we delve deeper into our conceptions, I believe that the true essence of morality lies in this diversity of interpretations and understandings. It is important to distinguish between the differences in these conceptions and the conceptions themselves.

This essay could be plagiarized. Get your custom essay
“Dirty Pretty Things” Acts of Desperation: The State of Being Desperate
128 writers

ready to help you now

Get original paper

Without paying upfront

When comparing the moral philosophies of three individuals, several factors should be taken into account: 1) their environment, 2) their upbringing, and 3) the level of objectivity in their perspective.

Both the political and social system, as well as one’s upbringing, greatly impact individuals’ perception of society and interpretation of morality. Though the influence of upbringing differs among people, it ultimately determines an individual’s capability to independently discern moral truth.

Within each of us, there exists a unique sense of independence manifested through our diverse opinions. In this regard, I shall proceed to expound upon the perspectives of three philosophers concerning the truth, purpose, or essence of morality. One such philosopher is St. Augustine, who lived from 354 to 430 CE.

Augustine’s perception in the city of Hippo, North Africa, was likely shaped by his environment. Before becoming the Bishop of Hippo, he lived a notorious lifestyle that strongly influenced his later views on morality, goodness, and virtue. Nevertheless, because of certain perspectives he held, some may consider him a hypocrite.

According to Augustine, the attainment of perfection for the soul requires the presence of virtue in one’s life. He defines virtue as a complete and uncorrupted love for God. Augustine identifies four types of love: Temperance – the love that remains whole and incorruptible for God, Fortitude – the love that willingly endures everything for the sake of God, Justice – the love that solely serves God and effectively governs all other aspects of life, and Prudence – the love that makes a correct distinction between actions that help or hinder one’s relationship with God. Both temperance and fortitude focus on an individual’s love for God. In terms of justice, it entails serving God, who is the supreme good, wisdom, and peace. Prudence, on the other hand, involves discerning what should be desired and avoided in order to foster one’s relationship with God.

Augustine’s philosophy underscores the significance of love in various ways. One way is by expressing love for God, oneself, and one’s neighbor. Augustine asserts that if one genuinely loves God, it becomes impossible not to love oneself. In fact, he argues that the only path to truly loving oneself is through dedicated pursuit of God, who embodies ultimate and genuine goodness. Augustine further contends that loving oneself and others brings advantages to both the physical and spiritual aspects of life. By practicing love towards God, oneself, and others, individuals can cultivate virtue and enhance their overall well-being, benefiting both mind and body. Ultimately, this act of placing trust in God has a psychological impact that positively influences an individual.

Continuing on, we come across Aristotle who resided in Athens during his lifetime from 384 to 322 BCE. At the heart of Aristotle’s explanation of moral virtue lies his theory of the mean. As per this theory, moral virtues are character traits that regulate desires and exist between more extreme character traits.

The author suggests that morality needs a standard that not only addresses the flaws of absolute justice but also promotes moral progress. This concept can be compared to Christianity, where a moral standard is followed according to God’s law to regulate the shortcomings of absolute justice. As absolute justice is abstract, equity is necessary in the real world to amend and adjust laws when they are insufficient. Similarly to Augustine, Aristotle believes that a truly good individual possesses both perfect insight and moral righteousness.

According to Augustine, insight refers to understanding or knowledge of God. Aristotle expands on this idea by stating that our notion of the ultimate and moral action is formed through habitual experience. This development occurs gradually and is influenced by specific perceptions, which can be likened to the three considerations I mentioned earlier (habitual experience, area of residence, and degree of objectivity). Aristotle also discusses the purpose or will of morality, identifying two factors: reason prompted to act by desire, or desire guided and governed by understanding. According to Aristotle, these two factors then drive intentional moral action.

The moral weakness of the will leads to knowingly doing wrong while understanding what is right, but still following one’s desires against reason. Essentially, one’s reason serves as the motivation for a deliberate action, whereas desires motivate actions of moral weakness. This belief is similar to Augustine’s idea that loving oneself is necessary in order to love God – being strong-willed and having a strong will are imperative to loving God. Moreover, Aristotle also shares this perspective, asserting that pleasure is derived from the awareness of freely choosing one’s actions. Since ordinary moral virtues cannot be attributed to God, he must find his happiness through contemplation.

Hence, God possesses absolute goodness, whereas mankind, although capable of striving towards this ideal, cannot escape their awareness of free and spontaneous actions.

Lastly, let us now consider Immanuel Kant. Born in 1724 and passing away in 1804, Kant resided in Konigsberg, East Prussia (present-day Russia).

Kant’s philosophy of morality, as described in ‘Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative’, offers a method to assess the moral nature of actions. Kant proposes two tests for determining the morality of actions: 1) examining if it can be a universal law applicable to all rational beings, and 2) considering whether rational beings would will it as a universal law. Kant’s belief is that reason dictates the moral law to itself. Unlike Aristotle and Augustine, Kant sees himself as a revolutionary thinker with distinct perspectives on morality.

Kant’s introduction of criticism brought about a revolutionary change in philosophy. His interpretation of morality is firm and resolute, emphasizing the importance of ethical behavior without any room for doubt when evaluating individual actions. The intrinsic moral worth of an action remains unchanged regardless of its outcomes, as it adheres to the universal principle sought by rational beings while avoiding contradictions.

According to Kant, Utilitarianism suggests that an action is deemed moral if it increases the overall happiness of society. This viewpoint can be compared to Aristotle’s belief that morality requires a standard that corrects absolute justice flaws. However, Augustine follows God’s law instead of the law of the people. In contrast, Kant grounds morality on action outcomes and rejects utilitarianism due to its promotion of immediate satisfaction and allowance for individuals to stray from common-sense moral principles. The solutions it provides are unsatisfactory and impractical.

In my opinion, Kant’s solution is better than utilitarianism and other moral philosophies discussed in this essay. I believe that Kant’s approach agrees with my moral intuition that actions can be moral or immoral regardless of their immediate consequences. While I acknowledge that moral actions can sometimes be more challenging to execute, I do not accept the idea that morality solely relies on the specifics of a situation and its possible outcomes. Consequently, I strongly believe that Kant’s analysis and viewpoint on morality are the most persuasive.

Cite this page

Moral Philosophies: St Augustine, Immanuel Kant and Aristotle. (2018, May 05). Retrieved from

Remember! This essay was written by a student

You can get a custom paper by one of our expert writers

Order custom paper Without paying upfront