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Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals


Using sections one and two of Kant’s “Grounding for Metaphysics of Morals”, which are attached via pdf, answer each of the following nine questions with a few sentences or a brief paragraph.

Question 1: Immanuel Kant stated, “Everyone must admit that if a law is to be morally valid, i.e., is to be valid as a ground of obligation, then it must carry with it absolute necessity”. This means that, according to Kant, if I can make an exception to a moral law or a moral duty that I have, then anyone can make an exception for themselves whenever they want to, and moral anarchy would ensue – there would be no such thing as morality, or moral obligations or duties. Is Kant right? (If you think Kant is right, explain why you think he is right. Discuss some of the counter-intuitive results that might follow from this, such as the fact that people ought not to tell white lies. If you think Kant is wrong, explain how any real moral obligations can exist if people can make exceptions to their obligations. Discuss some of the counter-intuitive results that might follow from this, such as moral relativism.)
NOTE TO WRITER: To clarify, moral law is not the same as civic law. Civic laws are not necessarily universal (for instance, they can differ from country to country) and can go against the moral law, which is universal and applies to everyone, regardless of what the law of the land says.

Question 2: What does Kant mean when he says that there is nothing that is “good without qualification, except a good will”? How does he argue in support of this claim?

Question 3: How does the “dealer” or “prudent merchant” example on marginal page number 397 illustrate the distinction between willing “in accordance with duty,” versus willing “from duty?”

Question 4: What do you think Kant would say about the following situation: You’re having a really lousy day, and you just want to go home and relax. While you’re driving home, you see what appears to be a pregnant woman pulled over on the side of the road, struggling with a flat tire. No one’s stopping. You really want to just continue home, and she’s not in any real danger, but you pull over to help out, not because you want to (you really don’t!!), but just because you think “I just have to help this woman out, it’s the right thing to do.” After you do so and are finally heading home again, you think “wow, that was a really nice thing I did” and you feel great about yourself after your crummy day. Did your action have moral worth, on Kant’s view? Clearly explain why or why not.

Question 5: Describe one situation where one might have bad intentions, but good consequences result from one’s actions (good in the sense of positive or beneficial), and one where the best intentions result in terrible consequences. Is Kant right that consequences are irrelevant, when it comes to morality? Why or why not?

Question 6: On the first page of the second section, Kant notes the fact that I can never be sure if my intention – “the determining cause of my will” – was my sense of duty alone, and not self- interest, or a desire or inclination. Why might this be a problem for Kant’s theory? How does he respond to it?

Question 7: What is an imperative? What is the difference between a hypothetical and a categorical imperative?

Question 8: How does the second illustration of the categorical imperative in action – the example of the person who needs to borrow money on p. 422 – help to clarify how it works?

Question 9: Think of your own example to illustrate Kant’s third formulation of the categorical imperative, namely “[a]ct in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or another, always at the same time as an end, and never simply as a means.”(429) What does this formulation require us to do, and/or not do?

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