The Basic Principles of Kantian Ethics

Kantian ethics is an ethical theory primarily based on deontological ethics or deontology. German philosopher Immanuel Kant developed the specific tenets behind this theory in response to the Age of Enlightenment.

However, as a type of deontological ethics, its basic principle is that the morality of an action should not be based on its consequences but on whether such action is either right or wrong under a set of rules or as implied by the duty of the moral actor.

There are three specific principles of Kantian ethics and Kant formulated them based on the philosophical concept he called the categorical imperative.

Note that Kant explained that an imperative as any proposition that declares a particular action or inaction as necessary. A categorical imperative, on the other hand, is an absolute and unconditional requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances.

Formulations of the Categorical Imperative: Specific Principles of Kantian Ethics

First Formulation: Formula of Universality and the Law of Nature

The first formulation argues that an action is morally acceptable if and only if its maxim or the principle behind it is the duty to the moral law. Kant specifically said, “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

Second Formulation: The Formula of Humanity

The second formulation argues that every rational action must set before itself not only a principle but also an end. It specifically argues for treating humanity as an end in itself. Kant said, “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.”

Third Formulation: The Formula of Autonomy

The third formulation argues that a moral actor has an obligation to follow the categorical imperative not because of any outside influence but because of their rational Note that this formulation of the categorical imperative contains the principles behind the first and second imperative although it put emphasis on the autonomy of the moral actor.

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