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Why Kant’s Universal Law Formula Fails

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Why Kant’s Universal Law Formula Fails


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            The universal law is enshrouded by efforts to define and categorize deeds. The classification of these deeds depend on the underlying motives and the maxims which guide the. The universal law therefore seeks to give a direction on which of such deeds ought to be acceptable by the established social standards. The main guiding feature of the universal law should be its acceptability and applicability in all circumstances. The universal law according to Kant ought to discriminate between the worthiness and the acceptability of the deed.

            Kant believes that the universal law formula can be used to evaluate deeds and decide which is right and which is wrong. According to the universal law formula as set by Kant, the identification of the underlying principles, the overall applicability of the deeds as well as the motives informing such deeds are sufficient in determining the  acceptability of the moral a deed.

He states the moral law universal formula that it would be be wrong to act on any maxim of which if it is to be accepted and acted upon by everyone, then it would be impossible for anyone to act on it.

            The major aim of Kantian principles of universal moral law were to establish autonomy of all beings. This autonomy is informed by the fact that the free agents are capable of making informed decisions on the deeds that they partake. The entire effort of such an undertaking would be directed at looking for a supreme law of morality. This he envisioned would be in the form of the universal law.

            Kant puts it that,  it would be wrong to act on anything that could not be a universal law. This implies that the universal law should be the guiding light in all our actions and all the activities we may engage in. This  is also a major confounder of all the arguments so rounding Kant’s arguments. The arguments are biased towards the efforts at making the autonomy of beings as well as the decisions they take to have a sole guiding light. The universal laws are generally geared towards the identification of a moral high ground upon which all should act.

            According to Rawls,  (1951) subjectivity or objectivity of moral knowledge does not interrogate the existence of ideal value entities exist or the existence of moral codes world over that can be used to validate or invalidate any proposed rules and as such, any decisions arising from such values. Just as science seeks to prove its theories by a practical procedure, then it should apply that, rules and procedures should be available to establish the authenticity of the moral rules and the lines of conduct that they may advocate. In this light therefore the issue of moral objectivity comes into the picture in efforts to discern such authenticity.

             Kant further formulated the impossibility  formula, this is geared towards defining the maxims which acting upon would mean deviation from the established moral law. several weaknesses tough make Kant’s universal laws to have fallibilities and weaknesses. These also give the work of Kant several loopholes. The considerations that Kant had in the development of the moral law at times ceases to be applicable under strict scrutiny. Intensive questioning of Kant’s philosophies lead to the identification of severe loopholes that have been identified. In applying Kant’s formula it can be used to determine the moral worth of a deed. This defines whether a deed ought to be undertaken or not. The determination of moral worth is a major depicted application of the theory of good.

The Reasons Why the Formula Fails.

            The formula fronted by Kant as the universal formula of the moral law has been found wanting in several aspects. The weakness put the applicability of the law in question due to several reasons. According to (Derek, 2006) the argument by Kant that we should   not act on maxims that cannot be accepted as universal laws is wrong. This is due to the fact that such maxims as “make wealth by every safe means” , ‘do not give help to the poor. And such others do not provide a good entry point for the efforts that try to evaluate the applicability of the universal formula.

            The universal law is portrayed as universal permissive law this implies that it should be both acceptable and applicable. But the impossibility law that implies that maxims,  if unacceptable by all,  cease to be acceptable has a weakness if cross-referenced with the first one. This is because there are good people who would find it hard to accept bad deeds and there are bad people who would find it hard to accept good deeds

            According to Karstein, (2002) Kantian thinking advocates the identification of a maxim that conforms to the moral law and defines  to our desires before we take any actions concerning our desires. This however fails to hold in consideration of the first principle since most of the desires that are described by the moral laws such as the desire to get rich are in themselves wrong.

            The argument that do not help those who are in need is not necessarily qualified by the fact that if everybody started helping those who are in need, then there would be no people in need. This however does not qualify the argument since different people will help with different amounts of wealth. This means that most of these people will not be acting to the same intensity.

At the same time, the activity of helping the poor from whatever way it is viewed is good. Whether the generalized practice of the same has an impact on the universal formula or not does not make it less virtuous.

            The maxim also could be taken to mean that it is wrong to act on any maxim that everybody cannot act on. This is wrong since there are some acts that not everybody can partake. For example not all people can fly a plane. This however does not make flying a plane to be bad or unacceptable.

            The universal formula also seeks to put it that in the event that actions are guided by a maxim one ought to believe in such a maxim and hope that all the others believe in the same. This fails to hold in the consideration that not all people are likely to believe in similar maxims.

Conversely the maxim might not hold for people who are acting out of authorization.  This could be the case especially in instances where people are acting out of direct instructions. This holds especially where, the children are acting from direct instructions. The requirement that a maxim should be acceptable as a universal law becomes more of a binding since most of the so held maxims might not find overall acceptability. This might be the case where people from different social groups might give varied interpretation of the same maxim.

            Primarily Kant is concerned with action descriptions that capture a more restricted approach that gives it a narrower intent. He is first concerned with our immediate intentions in disregard of any further causal consequences. This is because our intentions ,according to him are the major focus of moral value. This is a major weakness since the results of such actions may prove to be either disastrous or  contentious, this is despite the actions being permissible. For example his maxim that one is free to kill if it benefits him is a major misdirection. This is because killing is unacceptable either in constitutional law or in by any moral standards. Similarly this maxim can be disqualified by the impossibility formula.

            The argument that always steal would also not hold much water. Some may argue that this is disqualified by the impossibility formula since it is not possible for everyone to steal and at the same case and then stealing remains as a possibility. This is not the case however if it was to be accepted as a general rule that people are free to steal, then there would be a cycle that never stops.  Mostly, thieves may obey the maxim ‘they can steal if i benefits them. If all were to accept and act on this maxim, then the act of stealing would not become impossible. People would protect their property more strictly, however, thieves would still find their way into peoples property.

            Though the impossibility formula disqualifies some of Kant’s maxims, It does not provide for the evaluation of most of the other major maxims failing according to the criteria. The maxim that it is permissible to make false promises is an example of one maxim that the impossibility formula succeeds to disqualify. This is because if all people were to be liars, the no one would believe the promise made by any other person. This would in essence make the act of lying impossible to effect.

            Kant condemns the making of lying promises in the argument that if all people were to make such lying promises it would make such promises a sham. He also condemns the adherence  to unconditional oaths of obedience. This is in disregard of the fact that, not all oaths are ill intended. For example the oaths of allegiance as sworn in the armed forces, they are the guiding principles by which any operations are directed.

            Though Kant’s impossibility formula disqualifies lying, it would be permissible depending on the circumstances around which such lies were told. For example in instances where lies are told to save human life, the it follows that telling such lies should not be globally condemned alongside other forms of lies. Thus the formula fails to classify the types of lies that would be acceptable and those that would not be acceptable. Some vices therefore can be justified by the intention so rounding them while others can be justified by the end result.

            The maxim that people should not help the poor also fails critical scrutiny. For instance when the impossibility criteria states that if all acted on a maxim and it became impossible to act on it then it should not be followed, it fails in a major way. For instance,  the main aim of helping the poor is to eradicate poverty. It therefore applies that if all the people were to help the poor the poverty would be eradicated. This does not make poverty eradication evil.

            Kant’s formula that it is wrong to act on maxims that we could not will to be universal law has its own failures. For example in a situation where people may rummage through garbage to get food. The fact is that these people would not wish the rummaging through garbage as universal law. It is however important to consider that this is the only way such people can obtain food.

            The idea that we should not act on maxim unless we are willing that it would be acceptable to everyone is wrong. This is for example in taking a maxim like, give up smoking. This maxim is not universally applicable as it applies only to smokers. It is also important to consider that, if all people were to give up smoking, then the maxim fails to apply since there will be no smokers remaining.

            Kant’s argument that let no insult pass unavenged also bears fallibilities. This is because, all could act on this maxim without making it impractical. However the maxim will not be universally applicable since most people will not be at a position to avenge the insults. For example, most of the insults could be ignored by the one being insulted. On the other hand it could produce a cycle of counter insults which could form a complete pool of insults

            As Kosgard puts it , Kant’s formula prohibits acts whose success depends on their being exceptional. This is a major challenge because there are some good deeds whose success depends on the fact that they are exceptional. For example the act of giving surprise parties becomes applicable because it is unique. This however ceases to apply in instances where every one starts giving surprise parties. This would in a way end up making all the parties surprise parties.

            The maxim of self love on the other hand may fail to meet the specifications of the universal formula. This is especially the case where people are egoists who are driven by desire to meet their own ends. This fails to satisfy the law since most of the people who practice such deeds are driven by the desire to benefit themselves beyond the others. They however would not wish other people to believe in and follow the same maxims as they practice. This is  a major failure of the universal law since it fails to address such situations. The universal law in stating that people ought to practice only what they believe should be universally acceptable fails in that most of the egotistic deeds though well intended are not universally acceptable.

            The moral belief formula being a confounder of the universal law fails on its side to address the particular biases that may exist in people of varied social strata, religious belief, and such other believes, that may not have wish for acts to be applicable to all but only to those that these believes are shared with.


            Kant brings out an argument to the effect that, commitment to the objectivity of the empirical experience should be ground for the commitment to authority that regulates the abstract theories and the universal principles engendered by these theories. It is therefore the case that presents such laws should be the grounds on which decisions should be based in deciding the root to be followed.

            The universal law formula has the weakness that it is permissive to acts and maxims that are actually morally wrong. Such maxims like kill if it will benefit you are not morally acceptable. They may be acceptable by the contradictory arguments proffered by Kant but they fail to meet the general criteria of serving the moral good. The universal formula therefore fails to discriminate the deeds that may be bad nut acceptable.

The universal law formula also has loopholes for condemning deeds that are good but are not acceptable to all. It similarly fails to recognize deeds that are unacceptable to some people despite serving the purpose of good to the people. This is a major weakness which contributes largely to the failure of the universal law formula.

            Kant’s universal law formula is therefore subject to misinterpretations as well as misconceptions. This is especially the case in situations where different believes are applied indiscriminately. It also is has problem between distinguishing between a maxim and the eventual results of following such a maxim.  The specific moral arguments that underlie a specific action are not judged but instead the maxims are used to judge an action which makes a likely positive outcome to be ignored. This therefore is a major failure of the universal law. Kant’s universal law could probably revised by dropping the maxim concept.

Works Cited.

Reath A.  Agency and autonomy in Kant’s moral theory. Oxford: OUP 2006.

Karstein, S. Kant’s search for the supreme morality. Newyork: Cambridge University Press, 2002.

John, R.  Fundamental issues in meta ethics. Newyork: Cambidge University Press, 1957.

Andrews, R. Barbara, S. Christine, M. Reclaiming the history of ethics: essays for John   Rawlings. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1997.

Blackburn, S. Think: A compelling introduction to Philosophy. Oxford: OUP, 1999.

Blackburn, S. Ruling passions: A Theory of Practical Reasoning. Oxford: OUP, 1998

Shafer- Landau, R. Oxford studies in meta ethics. Newyork ; OUP. 2006.

Parfit, D. Climbing the mountain. Oxford: OUP. Unpublished.

Cite this Why Kant’s Universal Law Formula Fails

Why Kant’s Universal Law Formula Fails. (2016, Dec 20). Retrieved from https://graduateway.com/why-kants-universal-law-formula-fails/

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