Kantian ethics may depart from what Kant wrote and thought. Kantian ethics can criticize and modify the theory that Kant put forward as well as sympathetically interpret or defend it. Kant's ethics are contained in Kant's own writings: the Groundwork, the Critique of Practical Reason, the Metaphysics of Morals, as well as others. Kantian ethics are the theory that Kant himself put forward, the fundamental principle of morality as he formulated it, the system of duties as he presented it, and the moral conclusions he thought (Wood 2007). When thinking or interpreting Kant's ethics, we are interpreting his theory, illustrating how its parts are meant to fit together, relating it to Kant's philosophy in entirety.
Kantian ethics is based upon Kant's theories. According to Kant, the concept of "motive" is the most important factor in determining what is ethical -- or what is not ethical. More to the point, Kant believed that a moral action is one that is performed out of what he called "a sense of duty." A moral action therefore cannot be based upon emotions or pity. A moral action cannot be based on the possibility of reward. Rather, a moral action must be based on a sense of feeling like it something that one ought to do.
Motive is the chief element in Kantian ethics. Because of this, it is possible for an action to have bad consequences while still being a moral act. One example to illustrate this is, if you are attempting to save someone from choking to death, but instead your faulty Heimlich maneuver forces the object to further choke the person, your act is still a moral one.
There are many areas of Kantian ethics that have been criticized. For one, there are many who suggest that Kant's ethical approach offers very little help for complex scenarios. An example: what if there is a conflict of duty? For instance, what if you decide that the two duties are (1) telling the truth; and (2) protecting your mother. What if there is a man with a gun who asks where he can find your mother so that he can shoot her? Do you tell the gunman the truth about your mother's whereabouts so that he can shoot her? Or, would you lie to save your mother's life from the gunman? What is so interesting about Kant himself is that he believed that telling a lie was wrong no matter what -- even if a gunman wanted to know where your mother was so that he could kill her.
Another element about Kantian ethics is that Kant dismissed emotions - like pity and compassion -- as irrelevant to morality. However, many individuals think that these are "moral" emotions that cannot -- no matter what -- be set apart from morality. Should helping a pregnant woman struggling to load her groceries into her trunk be considered immoral because it is out of pity or compassion? What exactly was Kant's problem with both compassion and pity -- or any other emotion as such?
One more part of Kant's approach that bothers many is that Kant does not take the consequences of actions seriously enough. If a morally well-intentioned person who, of course, has a good motive, is the cause of several deaths, he would be morally blameless in Kant's view. If a person decides to burn down your house because they suspected a burglar was in there, would you think that it was a good act? In Kant's view, the motive was good and thus the act was a moral one and you should be happy that your house is now burned to the ground (even though there was not a burglar inside).
Kant's Categorical Imperative.
When studying Kantian ethics, one big question is, what does Kantian morality think that our duties are? Kant distinguished between two kinds of duty, which he called "imperatives." Sometimes we act or participate in something so that we may get something from the action or participation. Essentially, we go to our job because we get money to live from it, or we decide to study very diligently so that we may get good grades. Therefore, if you want money, you have to work, and if you want to get good grades, you have to study. This sounds pretty simple. Kant called this kind of duty a "hypothetical imperative" because it is of the logic that "if I want to do x, then do y." The duty to study is dependent on my desire to get a good grade in my class.
Other duties are required per se, with no ifs, ands, or buts. Kant called these duties "categorical" and referred to the fundamental principle of ethics as the "categorical imperative." He thought that reason provided the basis for the categorical imperative, therefore the categorical imperative of morality were requirements of reason. Though Kant talked about "the" categorical imperative, he formulated it in a variety of different ways. Most commentators emphasize the following three formulations:
1. Act only on maxims which you can will to be universal laws of nature.
2. Always treat the humanity in a person as an end, and never as a means merely.
3. So act as if you were a member of an ideal kingdom of ends in which you were both subject and sovereign at the same time (Bowie 1999).
Kant believed that only human beings can follow laws of their own choosing -- that is, act rationally (Bowie 1999). Humans are the only creatures on the planet who have free will, and it is this fact -- that we are free -- that enables us to be both rational and moral. Our dignity is what gives individuals both dignity and unconditioned worth (1999).
Kant's ethics is an ethics of duty rather than an ethics of consequences. The ethical person is the person who acts from the right intentions. We are able to act in this manner because of the fact that we have free will. The chief principles of ethics, or the "categorical imperative," is a requirement of reason and is binding on all rational beings. These are the essentials of Kant's ethics (Bowie 1999).
Kantian Ethics and the BP Oil Spill.
Kant's perspective on ethics is to maximize free and rational decision. If both business parties have the exact same information and are being allowed to make their own independent and rational decisions, than Kant would consider this to be good. However, Kant also studied the psychology of evil acts and recorded the ways in which people deceive themselves into thinking that it is okay to do something immoral. Kant argued that we convince ourselves to do things that we know are not right or moral by indulging in what he called "moral fantasies."
The love that takes pleasure in others is the judgment that we delight in their perfection. But the love that takes pleasure in oneself, a self-love, is an inclination to be well-content with oneself in judging of one's perfection. Philautia, or moral self-love, is to be contrasted with arrogance, or moral self-conceit. The difference between them is that the former is only an inclination to be content with one's perfections, whereas the latter makes an unwarranted pretension to merit. It lays claim to more moral perfections than are due to it; but self-love makes no demands, it is always merely content with itself and devoid of self-reproach. The one is proud of its moral perfections, the other is not, believing itself merely to be blameless and without fault. Arrogantia is thus a far more damaging defect (Kant 2001).
Kant's seems to think that "philautia" or "moral self-love," what he calls "an inclination to be content with one's own perfections" and "is always merely content with itself and devoid of self-reproach" is enough to claim that one's moral perfections are conformity with the law. This person believes that he or she is blameless without any kind of fault. This kind of person, and perhaps the kind of person who was behind the BP oil spill, is a person who thinks that he or she is acting in accordance with good morals. So, by his or her own moral guidelines, he or she is doing what one ought to do. However, despite the fact that he or she may think this, he or she may know that they could be doing better than they are.
The problem with business ethics is generally that people do not compare themselves to what they considered to be morally good, but rather, they compare themselves to what other business members are doing. This is why business ethics are so important and the reason why we have seen so many ethical business scandals in recent years -- because business people have comparing their own moral standards to the standards of others in business who are up to no good. If a person is less moral that his…