Ethics and morals are elements which deeply influence our behavior and on which philosophy and the various sciences which analyze human behavior have tried to reflect and study. We limit our behavior in favor of the possibility of being able to live with others. Why do we act the way we act?
There are many avenues of philosophical reflection which have raised questions about these issues and which have explored the concepts developed in order to give them an explanation. One of them is that of Emmanuel Kant’s categorical imperative, What we will talk about in this article.
Before seeing what the categorical imperative is, it is necessary to make a brief commentary on certain aspects of the Kantian conception of morality. Immanuel Kant was a theologian deeply concerned with this subject, at a time of great contrasts between ideological currents with different views on how to behave and how to direct behavior.
the author he considered morality as a rational element, far removed from empirical elements and based on a universal ethic. For Kant, the moral act is what is accomplished as a duty, as an end in itself: the moral act is one in which one acts on the basis of reason, and not on the love of the same or of the same. ‘interest. On the other hand, those which are carried out by chance, with interest or as a means of reaching or avoiding other elements will not be.
Moral action is based on good will. The act must be seen in itself in its subjective sense in order to be assessed as moral or immoral. The moral act seeks the happiness of others, which in turn allows to be part of humanity, instead of pretending to satisfy one’s desires or flee from pain and suffering. To be moral, one must be free, in the sense that Kant relates to the possibility of transcending one’s own desires and imperatives in order to transcend.
As for concepts such as good and evil, largely linked to morality, Kant considers that acts are good or bad in themselves but that it depends on the subject who performs them. In fact, morality is not the act itself but the goal behind that: It will be bad whoever deviates from the moral laws that govern him, subordinating his universal moral motivations to those of self-interest and sensitivity, while the good one is the one who follows morality as a universal law in his life and on the basis he realizes and fulfills his desires on the basis of this morality. A central concept in his concept of morality is the idea of the categorical imperative.
Kant’s idea of the categorical imperative
At some point, we all did or planned to do the right thing, or we felt bad for not doing it. Kant’s concept of the categorical imperative is deeply linked to this fact.
By categorical imperative is meant the act or proposition which is accomplished because it is deemed necessary, without there being more reasons to be carried out than this consideration. These would be the constructions which are realized in the form of “I must”, without being conditioned by any other consideration, and they would be universal and applicable at any time or situation. The imperative is an end in itself and not a means to an end. For example, we can usually say “I must tell the truth”, “Human beings must show solidarity”, “I must help another when things go badly” or “I must respect others”.
The categorical imperative should not only have additive meaning, but can also be restrictive. In other words, it is not just about doing something, but it can also be based on not doing it or stopping doing it. For example, most people don’t steal or hurt others to view such an action as a negative thing in itself.
The categorical imperative it is an eminently rational construction, Which seeks to treat humanity (understood as a quality) as an end and not as a means of achieving something. However, these are imperfections that are difficult to see in real life in this regard, as we are also very submissive to our desires and guide our action according to them.
Categorical imperative and hypothetical imperative
The notion of categorical imperative is based mainly on the fact of doing something by the fact of doing it, being the act in itself a goal and without conditions. However, while we may find categorical imperative exponents in real life, most of our actions are motivated by aspects other than just doing them.
For example, we study to pass an exam or go shopping so that we can feed ourselves. I go to class to learn, work to fulfill my vocation and / or get a salary or exercise to relax or get back in shape.
We are talking about what the author himself would consider a hypothetical imperative, a conditioned requirement employed as A means to an end. This is a non-universal proposition but relative to the situation we are facing, and it is the most common type of imperative even when we think we are doing it as an end in itself.
It should be noted that many of the imperatives that govern us can be categorical or hypothetical depending on how they are set. I can’t fly because I feel bad or I can’t fly because I’m afraid they will catch up to me and take me to jail. In this sense, it is not the action itself but the presence or absence of a motive beyond morality that leads to the action that will generate that we are confronted with a type of imperative or another.
Throughout his work, Kant generates different formulations that summarize the moral mandate behind the categorical imperative. More precisely, five major complementary and linked formulas stand out. They are based on the existence of maxims which guide our behavior, these being subjective when they are valid only by the will of those who have them or objective if they are valid for both, having the same value for all anyway. of who performs them. The formulations in question are as follows.
- Universal law formula: “Only work according to a maxim such as you may wish at the same time for it to become universal law.”
- Law of nature formula: “Work as if the maxim of your action were to become, by your will, the universal law of nature.
- Formula of the end in itself: “Work in such a way that you use humanity, in yourself as well as in the person of anyone else, always with the end at the same time and never only as a means.”
- Autonomy formula: “Work as if by your maxims you were always a legislative member of a universal realm of ends.”
In conclusion, these formulas propose that we act on the basis of universal moral values or rationally consider that we should all follow, self-imposed for our own reason and seeing these values as an end in themselves. Following these maxims, we would act on the basis of our categorical imperatives, Seeking the happiness of others and acting morally, in such a way that we too would live by doing what is right and obtaining gratification for that fact.
- Echegoyen, J. (1996). History of philosophy. Volume 2: Medieval and modern philosophy. editorial Edinumen
- Kant, I. (2002). Foundations of the metaphysics of customs. Madrid. Publishing Alliance (original from 1785).
- Paton, HJ (1948). Categorical imperative: study of Kant’s moral philosophy. Chicago. University of Chicago Press.