Immanuel Kant has often been described as the philosopher’s philosopher. Famous for his verbose philosophical texts but logical arguments, he was concerned with reason and its relationship with human experience and knowledge. Kant used synthetic a priori judgments in order to develop a logical argument which was completely original in the sense that it disregarded any influence from experience or emotion. Kant argued that reason should be applied to our actions in order to make them morally valuable in the form of a law, which he called the Categorical Imperative. This law is absolute and commanding and requires all actions to be validated by their motives (which must reflect the categorical Imperative) in order for them to be classed as moral.
Kant believed that rationality, morality and freedom are all connected. In his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals he attempts to prove that we have moral obligation and so a categorical imperative and how it can make us more free and so improve our knowledge of and our relationship with the world. In short, his main aim is to produce the basis for a theory that can challenge the empiricist. Throughout this essay I hope to explain Kant’s Categorical Imperative and how Kant rejects the empiricist view that all knowledge and concepts are acquired through experience.
The guidelines of the Categorical Imperative are firstly, that when we are acting we should ask ourselves whether our motives can be universalized. Secondly, we should never act according to our inclinations instead we should act according to duty. Thirdly, we should never use another agent as a means to our own ends as that would destroy their agency and fourthly, we should impose the categorical Imperative on ourselves as a way of achieving the potential ‘world of understanding’ and in order for our will to be truly free. However, because humans are rational agents they do not comply with fixed and unchanging laws like those of nature and science (and if we did we would not have free will). These laws are controlled by pure reason yet we are influenced by a mixture of reason and passion. Kant says, if choices are made purely in the interest of our passions then our will can not be truly free as it is being influenced by the world (our senses and experience). Kant argues that in order to have a completely free will it can never act on the influence of any outside effect.
Kant speaks of freedom as a concept of which we have no knowledge of because the only thing we have knowledge of is this material world of which we are a part of in body. However he says that when the categorical imperative is applied we can be part of a higher world of reason because we will achieve freedom. However in saying this Kant is careful to note that there is a difference between the phenomenal world which contains ‘things in themselves’ and the noumenal world (the world of senses). This is because freedom does not have a cause yet still produces effects and this could potentially invalidate his cause equals effect theory which he uses to explain the wills effect on action. However when Kant speaks of freedom as a ‘thing in itself’ we could ask if the same could be said for love. Love seems to be just as obscure a concept as freedom. If we can become completely rationally free then perhaps we can become completely emotionally free. However both forms of freedom seem impossible to achieve. It seems unfeasible to have one without the other.
There have been a number of objections to Kant’s categorical imperative. One of them is the claim that his fixation on contradiction has little to do with morality however one can see that this is not the case when applied to our faculty to reason and as a result morality. The fact that we do not wish to contradict ourselves seems to imply we do not wish to become less rational. Therefore, the will seems to strive for stability because to be less rational would be to become less moral.
Are these categories, innate ideas, in terms of how we organize experience? If so, what are they? Our cognitive activity results from many factors and constraints, including: the world – the environment and its properties, our cognitive makeup, our goals, our language, meaning, and logical relations. Mathematics is built upon the logic of space. Our capacity to understand spatial relationships is inherent, and some of it innate, but it also requires the conditioning of normal experience to become functional.
How can time and space be inherent in us before all experience and encounter with the outside world? A little child, who has no notion of distance, moves away from things he dislikes and goes near things that seem pleasant to him. Therefore, man knows whether such things are near or outside his reach as an a priori argument. In other words, the idea of space is already there in his mind without having previously experienced it. The same thing holds true for the time factor. The child has the sense of ‘before’ and ‘after’ prior to all perceptions. Had it not been so, all our perceptions would become chaotic, disordered in disarray.
To conclude it seems in order to reject Kant we have to reject his initial value of reason and argue that morality should be explained through experience and emotion. Perhaps we do not need to apply synthetic a priori judgments to discover the true nature of morality. Empiricists would argue that judgments can be synthetic a posteriori. Kant’s actual reasoning seems in itself flawless. The categorical imperative is argued logically and has room for maneuver when challenged.
Originally hand written on Papyrus way back in 2004.