Immanuel Kant was the German philosopher of the eighteenth century, whose ideas argued time, morality, space, and nature. One of his principal works was The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, which categorized humans’ primary moral duties and discussed their impact on their lives. Kant’s statements rejected happiness as a motive for morality, and such points met many discussions and criticism. This paper aims to discuss if the criticism of Kantian ideas of morality is reasonable.
The fact that happiness needs to be measured in proportion to people’s moral worth is still criticized because happiness is unique for each person, yet the moral rules are the same for everyone. Critics state that this approach makes people keep themselves away from a happy, fulfilling life for carrying moral duties. They also object to Kantian ideas focusing on rights and obligations and do not consider any other categories, such as the quality of life. These ideas ignore human emotions, personal relationships, and integrity, thus not being applied in everyday life. However, Kant’s principle of treating others as you want to be treated is the morality rule that regulates society and guarantees happiness for every member of it.
The idea of Good Will was a large part of the discussion about moral duties. A person of a Good Will, according to Kant, was one who makes only morally ethical decisions, even though it harms their happiness, as well as uses moral principles as the principal guidance for behavior. Pojman and Fieser (2011, 127) reflect his ideas: “all other intrinsic goods, both intellectual and moral, are only morally valuable if accompanied by a goodwill; even success and happiness are not good in themselves”. Moral requirements cannot be missed out while making decisions regardless of any external conditions.
Kantian ethics included moral absolutism, the idea of truth only to be found in rationality instead of divine authority. Kant claimed that rationality could not be taken away from a human to affect each of their lives’ aspects. Morality has to be the main moving power for all human’s actions and decisions. Kant developed the perfect duties that can be governed by public and law, and imperfect duties that need to go through a moral assessment before being used. Living by strict moral principles can cause uncomfortable conditions for a human, these statements can be used as the universally correct way to make a choice.
Society changed throughout history, and Kantian imperatives for life might be misunderstood in the twenty-first century. Nowadays, people might alter Kant’s universal principles, by changing the statement “Never lie” to the more modest “Never lie, except to save an innocent person’s life” (Pojman and Fieser, 2011). The ability to edit such generalizations makes Kantian absolutism counterintuitive in the eyes of modern society.
Kant’s concepts of Good Will, duty, obligation, and relationships between them need to be determined before making any judgment. As he put rationality as the primary regulator of human life, happiness also changes its definition. Happiness for Kant is the state of personal being when everything in a man’s life goes according to his wish and will. It means that there is always a place to do enjoyable things, yet the motivation should be rational and morally acceptable, not only pleasurable. The criticism of the Kantian idea of rejecting happiness as a moral motive is not reasonable as it does not consider other aspects of his philosophy.
Pojman, Louis P., and James Fieser. 2011. Ethics: Discovering Right and Wrong. Cengage Learning.