Ethics the Nineteenth Century German Philosopher Immanuel Essay

Excerpt from Essay :


The nineteenth century German philosopher Immanuel Kant presented an ethical code that assigned a strict "right" or "wrong" to every action. Called the categorical imperative, Kant believed that it does not matter what the consequences or outcome of actions are; there are certain things that are right and certain things that are wrong. These ethical categories of right and wrong are not negotiable. It can never be "sometimes" ok to tell a white lie, or to steal. Instead, Kant created easy to understand categories that apply theoretically to all cultures and all people at all times. Human beings are always morally obliged to do the right thing in any given situation, even if doing so leads to suffering. Therefore, it would be considered right to tell the truth to a murderer and subsequently die rather than to lie to the murderer and survive. Davis (n.d.). uses the example of a man coming to the doorstep of a parent wielding an axe. The man with the axe asks where his victim's children are, and the parent is obliged to tell the man with the axe the truth, even if the children die.

Therefore, there are clear problems with Kant's categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is insufficient to account for the complexity of human existence. Kant's philosophy seems like a cop out, in the sense that it is always easier to try to ascribe a black-and-white moral code to a world filled with gray areas. It is easier for a person to simply state that it is always right or wrong to do something, then to have to think critically and creatively about any given situation. A person can easily rest on their laurels by claiming that he was doing his or her moral duty by telling the axe murderer where the children were, rather than use the courage to outwit the man. Other problems with the categorical imperative include multiculturalism. What is considered to be always right in one culture might not be considered so in another culture. Similarly, moral values and norms change over time. It might have been one day…

Sources Used in Document:


Davis, S.P. (n.d.). Three-minute philosophy: Immanuel Kant. [video] Retrieved online:

"Ethics." Retrieved online:

Johnson, R. "Kant's Moral Philosophy," The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2010 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.), Retrieved online: <>.

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