Kant: Formulas of Universal Law and Humanity Essay
Karthik Keni William Reckner Philosophy 22 30 November 2010 Kant: Formulas of Universal Law and Humanity Kant’s philosophy was based around the theory that we have a moral unconditional obligation and duty that he calls the “Categorical Imperative. ” He believes that an action must be done with a motive of this moral obligation, and if not done with this intention then the action would hold no moral value. Under this umbrella of the “Categorical Imperative” he presents three formulations that he believes to be about equal in importance, relevance, and could be tested towards any case.
The first formulation known as the Formula of Universal Law consists of a methodical way to find out morality of actions. The second formulation is known as the Formula of Humanity that states we should find value in people themselves rather than use them for our own objectives and purposes. In the case given of the doctor’s moral dilemma, we will test the moral obligation using Kant’s first formulation, try to determine whether Kant would suggest the same advice using both formulas, and see if tweaking the situation would render the same answer to mirror the previous scenario.
The Formulation of Universal Law is stated when performing an “act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. ” Four steps to determine the morality of certain actions and whether a maxim could be a universal law characterize the formulation. First, we would find out the general principle we would be acting on to perform a certain action. The next step would be to generalize the maxim and make it applicable to everyone. Finally, you would determine if the maxim could actually become a universal law.
The last step of the formulation requires delving into the issue of whether we could will this maxim into a universal law and whether it would be rational. However, I saw it more as a two-part process because it’s simply put as someone creates a maxim and sees whether it could be a universal law for all people. The second part would consist of questioning whether a rational person would will it to be a universal law. In this case of the doctor’s moral dilemma, faced with a patient with no pain threshold, the patient asks whether he should have the procedure done and would it cause pain.
The most rational and logical maxim created for the doctor’s scenario would be when answering a patient’s question of this nature, one should at all times tell the fact and truth behind the procedure. The maxim passes all steps of the Formulation of the Universal Law and Kant would consider this as a moral action for the doctor. Following my custom two-part process, the first part states that a maxim be universally valid to all rational people. It is simple to see the maxim of always answering honestly is rational because everyone can follow it without moral conflict.
The second part would state that would a logical person will this maxim to become universal law. In this case and in similar cases, would a rational person think that the correct moral action is to tell the whole truth? It is clear that the patient would expect the truth and even though the doctor may consider lying to him, the correct moral action is to tell the whole truth. What if you hear the patient dies a few weeks later and it is known that if the procedure was done it could’ve saved his life?
It would seem like no logical person would will this maxim, however his death would be a consequence and according to Kant that has no relevance to whether telling the truth is moral or not. One can’t look at the consequences and must only look at the maxim itself and whether it is rational and this case it passes the test for moral obligation. The second formulation found in the “Categorical Imperative” called the Formula of Humanity renders a similar answer in the same situation given above.
This formulation requires that one should in no way treat everyone or “Humanity” as a means only, but as an end in itself. First and foremost, the Humanity formula does not call for a complete stop of using people as means to our goals. It would be impossible to follow such a rule of not utilizing people as means towards an end, however this formulation is trying to emphasize that all rational beings “must be treated never as a mere means but as the supreme limiting condition in the use of all means…as an end at the same time. Instead of seeing other rational beings as just tools towards a personal goal, we should see the benefit of others and “Humanity” as our end objective, rather than the means. Kant truly introduces the idea of respect in the formulation because it seems genuinely wrong to treat other rational humans as mere means with no other kind of value. One has to recognize, even with the significance of oneself having desires and treating oneself as the end, that what makes me unique as a logical and thinking being also resides in everyone else.
Thus we determine that everyone else must also see themselves as ends and my means to my ends are no more significant than another rational being. In the case of the doctor’s moral dilemma, the Formula of Humanity would be the same answer because of various reasons. First, Kant is a firm believer in not being deceitful and thus the doctor should follow the moral action of telling the truth. The formulation also preaches that we should recognize that others are a basis of value by treating their chosen ends as good, and following their happiness as they see it.
So in this case, the patient’s preference or happiness resides in no painful procedures would override any inkling by the doctor to perform the procedure. Kant definitely reiterates that deceit is wrongful and harmful to “Humanity” and thus his advice would suggest the same idea of telling the patient the truth. However, the difference in both formulations of the “Categorical Imperatives” is that they draw upon different facts within the situation to draw a conclusion. In relation to the doctor, The Formula of the Universal Law relies on intrinsic factors and the idea of a maxim for an action.
On the other hand, the second formulation has extrinsic characteristics because it’s all dependent on the relationship with her patient. His rationality is the basis for the Formula of Humanity, but yet the same conclusion is made because of passing all parts of the first formulation and his chosen ends are the only things that matter. I believe that the Formula of the Universal Law provides a better and sound argument in comparison to the second formulation, because if the maxim passes through the four stages then it becomes a duty of ours to perform that moral action whenever the situation arises.
When an individual determines that an action is moral according to a universal law, it is assumed that everyone will act to the same universalized rule in the future. Kant provides us with a methodical way assessing whether a certain action is moral on a variety of levels. Now given a hypothetical situation that the adult patient is swapped with a 10 year old child, would that change the circumstances or arguments? I believe this doesn’t change anything one bit because even though circumstances may change, a universal law should be pplicable to every rational being and that includes adults or children. One could argue that people, who were initially included in one universal law, might not be incorporated this time. Thus, the counter-argument could continue and say that some people might not want to will the maxim of a universal law anymore. But as rational beings, we would find fault in this claim because then our universal laws would be plenty of specifics, yet universal all at the same time.
I believe that age, gender, and other specifics would be insignificant and would not matter in either argument. I completely agree with “Categorical Imperative” and other principles given by Kant because it’s strict in function in assessing the morality of actions. With a methodical way of assessing an action as moral or not, we are able to pinpoint where a maxim falls short of a universal law. Kant is able to use both formulations to effectively create a strong argument for a certain action using rationality, especially in the second formulation.
Regardless of the adult patient’s future actions, even with advice provided by the doctor, the morally correct action was telling the patient the truth. No one would and can argue that telling the whole truth, especially if he asks for it, is a morally wrong thing to do. Sometimes the correct moral actions are the difficult choices, and in this situation it might’ve been easier to lie to the patient, but it would still be an immoral action that Kant and I would not want anyone to do. If the patient consequently dies, there would be no bearing on the morality of the action in itself.