Categorcial Imperative (Grad School Edition)

I’m taking a class on Kant’s practical philosophy this semester. On the first day, we (as a class) read the first page of the preface to the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. We tried to get clear on Kant’s various distinctions in his description of rational cognition. The interpretations were many. We settled on an accepted reading after much deliberation about the phrase “insomuch as” and a hearty discussion about bears (I’m not ashamed to admit that my reading was way off). This hour long discussion was spawned by reading the first page of the preface. Needless to say, It’s going to be an interesting semester.

Revisiting the first section of the Groundwork has sparked new questions about the Categorical Imperative. Kant makes sure to tell us that what is important in moral acts is pure will. That is, intention or volition. the volition must be in accordance with duty, not only that, actions have to be done for the sake of duty itself. What we do must be willed to be a universal law, or else we are being irrational. We would be irrational because we do what we will not to happen. So, something like lying is strictly forbidden according to the CI. But, I would like to ask some more questions about why this is, actually, about lying itself.

Think about the following phrases:
“I lied to rescue my family”
“I lied to cheat him out of $5”

Under Kant, both of these would be morally wrong. This is because they are lies. This I agree with. But isn’t there something very different about these two acts? They are related in that they both include lying, but it seems that the intention changes not only the reason but the act itself. The action I take and the intention for that action can’t be pulled apart so easily. Which do I follow? The duty in regards to my intention (which is all important to Kant), or the duty in regards to my action (lieing would be irrational)? More on this tomorrow.

~ by Barky on August 30, 2011.

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