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Read THE GOOD WILL Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out o
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THE GOOD WILL
Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will. Intelligence, wit, judgment, and the other talents of the mind, however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many respects; but these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad and mischievous if the will which is to make use of them, and which, therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good. It is the same with the gifts of fortune. Power, riches, honour, even health, and the general well-being and contentment with one’s condition which is called happiness, inspire pride, and often presumption, if there is not a good will to correct the influence of these on the mind, and with this also to rectify the whole principle of acting and adapt it to its end. The sight of a being who is not adorned with a single feature of a pure and good will, enjoying unbroken prosperity, can never give pleasure to an impartial rational spectator. Thus a good will appears to constitute the indispensable condition even of being worthy of happiness.
There are even some qualities which are of service to this good will itself and may facilitate its action, yet which have no intrinsic unconditional value, but always presuppose a good will, and this qualifies the esteem that we justly have for them and does not permit us to regard them as absolutely good. Moderation in the affections and passions, self-control, and calm deliberation are not only good in many respects, but even seem to constitute part of the intrinsic worth of the person; but they are far from deserving to be called good without qualification, although they have been so unconditionally praised by the ancients. For without the principles of a good will, they may become extremely bad, and the coolness of a villain not only makes him far more dangerous, but also directly makes him more abominable in our eyes than he would have been without it.
THE GOOD WILL AND ITS RESULTS
A good will is good not because of what it performs or effects, not by its aptness for the attainment of some proposed end, but simply by virtue of the volition; that is, it is good in itself, and considered by itself is to be esteemed much higher than all that can be brought about by it in favour of any inclination, nay even of the sum total of all inclinations. Even if it should happen that, owing to special disfavour of fortune, or the niggardly provision of a step-motherly nature, this will should wholly lack power to accomplish its purpose, if with its greatest efforts it should yet achieve nothing, and there should remain only the good will (not, to be sure, a mere wish, but the summoning of all means in our power), then, like a jewel, it would still shine by its own light, as a thing which has its whole value in itself. Its usefulness or fruitfulness can neither add nor take away anything from this value. It would be, as it were, only the setting to enable us to handle it the more
conveniently in common commerce, or to attract to it the attention of those who are not yet connoisseurs, but not to recommend it to true connoisseurs, or to determine its value.
THE GOOD WILL AND DUTY
We have then to develop the notion of a will which deserves to be highly esteemed for itself and is good without a view to anything further, a notion which exists already in the sound natural understanding, requiring rather to be cleared up than to be taught, and which in estimating the value of our actions always takes the first place and constitutes the condition of all the rest. In order to do this, we will take the notion of duty, which includes that of a good will, although implying certain subjective restrictions and hindrances. These, however, far from concealing it, or rendering it unrecognizable, rather bring it out by contrast and make it shine forth so much the brighter.
THE MOTIVE OF DUTY
I omit here all actions which are already recognized as inconsistent with duty, although they may be useful for this or that purpose, for with these the question whether they are done from duty cannot arise at all, since they even conflict with it. I also set aside those actions which really conform to duty, but to which men have no direct inclination, performing them because they are impelled thereto by some other inclination. For in this case we can readily distinguish whether the action which agrees with duty is done from duty, or from a selfish view. It is much harder to make this distinction when the action accords with duty and the subject has besides a direct inclination to it. For example, it is always a matter of duty that a dealer should not over charge an inexperienced purchaser; and wherever there is much commerce the prudent tradesman does not overcharge, but keeps a fixed price for everyone, so that a child buys of him as well as any other. Men are thus honestly served; but this is not enough to make us believe that the tradesman has so acted from duty and from principles of honesty: his own advantage required it; it is out of the question in this case to suppose that he might besides have a direct inclination in favour of the buyers, so that, as it were, from love he should give no advantage to one over another. Accordingly the action was done neither from duty nor from direct inclination, but merely with a selfish view.
On the other hand, it is a duty to maintain one’s life; and, in addition, everyone has also a direct inclination to do so. But on this account the of anxious care which most men take for it has no intrinsic worth, and their maxim has no moral import. They preserve their life as duty requires, no doubt, but not because duty requires. On the other band, if adversity and hopeless sorrow have completely taken away the relish for life; if the unfortunate one, strong in mind, indignant at his fate rather than desponding or dejected, wishes for death, and yet preserves his life without loving it- not from inclination or fear, but from duty- then his maxim has a moral worth.
To be beneficent when we can is a duty; and besides this, there are many minds so sympathetically constituted that, without any other motive of vanity or self-interest, they find a pleasure in spreading joy around them and can take delight in the satisfaction of others so far as it is their own work. But I maintain that in such a case an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it may be, bas nevertheless no true moral worth,
but is on a level with other inclinations, e.g., the inclination to honour, which, if it is happily directed to that which is in fact of public utility and accordant with duty and consequently honourable, deserves praise and encouragement, but not esteem. For the maxim lacks the moral import, namely, that such actions be done from duty, not from inclination. Put the case that the mind of that philanthropist were clouded by sorrow of his own, extinguishing all sympathy with the lot of others, and that, while he still has the power to benefit others in distress, he is not touched by their trouble because he is absorbed with his own; and now suppose that he tears himself out of this dead insensibility, and performs the action without any inclination to it, but simply from duty, then first has his action its genuine moral worth. Further still; if nature bas put little sympathy in the heart of this or that man; if he, supposed to be an upright man, is by temperament cold and indifferent to the sufferings of others, perhaps because in respect of his own he is provided with the special gift of patience and fortitude and supposes, or even requires, that others should have the same- and such a man would certainly not be the meanest product of nature- but if nature had not specially framed him for a philanthropist, would he not still find in himself a source from whence to give himself a far higher worth than that of a good-natured temperament could be? Unquestionably. It is just in this that the moral worth of the character is brought out which is incomparably the highest of all, namely, that he is beneficent, not from inclination, but from duty.
Thus the moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect expected from it, nor in any principle of action which requires to borrow its motive from this expected effect. For all these effects- agreeableness of one’s condition and even the promotion of the happiness of others- could have been also brought about by other causes, so that for this there would have been no need of the will of a rational being; whereas it is in this alone that the supreme and unconditional good can be found. The pre-eminent good which we call moral can therefore consist in nothing else than the conception of law in itself, which certainly is only possible in a rational being, in so far as this conception, and not the expected effect, determines the will. This is a good which is already present in the person who acts accordingly, and we have not to wait for it to appear first in the result.
THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
But what sort of law can that be, the conception of which must determine the will, even without paying any regard to the effect expected from it, in order that this will may be called good absolutely and without qualification? As I have deprived the will of every impulse which could arise to it from obedience to any law, there remains nothing but the universal conformity of its actions to law in general, which alone is to serve the will as a principle, i.e., I am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. Here, now, it is the simple conformity to law in general, without assuming any particular law applicable to certain actions, that serves the will as its principle and must so serve it, if duty is not to be a vain delusion and a chimerical notion. The common reason of men in its practical judgements perfectly coincides with this and always has in view the principle here suggested…
When I conceive a hypothetical imperative, in general I do not know beforehand what it will contain until I am given the condition. But when I conceive a categorical imperative,
I know at once what it contains. For as the imperative contains besides the law only the necessity that the maxims1 shall conform to this law, while the law contains no conditions restricting it, there remains nothing but the general statement that the maxim of the action should conform to a universal law, and it is this conformity alone that the imperative properly represents as necessary.
Finally, there is an imperative which commands a certain conduct immediately, without having as its condition any other purpose to be attained by it. This imperative is categorical. It concerns not the matter of the action, or its intended result, but its form and the principle of which it is itself a result; and what is essentially good in it consists in the mental disposition, let the consequence be what it may. This imperative may be called that of morality.
There is therefore but one categorical imperative, namely, this: Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
We will now enumerate a few duties, adopting the usual division of them into duties to ourselves and ourselves and to others, and into perfect and imperfect duties.2
A man reduced to despair by a series of misfortunes feels wearied of life, but is still so far in possession of his reason that he can ask himself whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to take his own life. Now he inquires whether the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature. His maxim is: “From self-love I adopt it as a principle to shorten my life when its longer duration is likely to bring more evil than ” It is asked then simply whether this principle founded on self-love can become a universal law of nature. Now we see at once that a system of nature of which it should be a law to destroy life by means of the very feeling whose special nature it is to impel to the improvement of life would contradict itself and, therefore, could not exist as a system of nature; hence that maxim cannot possibly exist as a universal law of nature and, consequently, would be wholly inconsistent with the supreme principle of all duty.
Another finds himself forced by necessity to borrow money. He knows that he will not be able to repay it, but sees also that nothing will be lent to him unless he promises stoutly to repay it in a definite He desires to make this promise, but he has still so much conscience as to ask himself: “Is it not unlawful and inconsistent with duty to get out of a difficulty in this way?” Suppose however that he resolves to do so: then the maxim of his action would be expressed thus: “When I think myself in want of money, I will borrow money and promise to repay it, although I know that I never can do so.” Now this principle of self- love or of one’s own advantage may perhaps be consistent with my whole future welfare; but the question now is, “Is it right?” I change then the suggestion of self-love into a universal law, and state the question thus: “How would it be if my maxim were a universal law?” Then I see at once that it could never hold as a universal law of nature, but would necessarily contradict itself. For supposing it to be a universal law that everyone when he thinks himself in a difficulty should be able to promise whatever he pleases, with the purpose of not keeping his promise, the promise itself would become impossible, as well as the end that one might have in view in it, since no one would consider that anything was promised to him, but would ridicule all such statements as vain pretences.
A third finds in himself a talent which with the help of some culture might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in pleasure rather than to take pains in enlarging and improving his happy natural capacities. He asks, however, whether his maxim of neglect of his natural gifts, besides agreeing with his inclination to indulgence, agrees also with what is called He sees then that a system of nature could indeed subsist with such a universal law although men (like the South Sea islanders) should let their talents rest and resolve to devote their lives merely to idleness, amusement, and propagation of their species- in a word, to enjoyment; but he cannot possibly will that this should be a universal law of nature, or be implanted in us as such by a natural instinct. For, as a rational being, he necessarily wills that his faculties be developed, since they serve him and have been given him, for all sorts of possible purposes.
A fourth, who is in prosperity, while he sees that others have to contend with great wretchedness and that he could help them, thinks: “What concern is it of mine? Let everyone be as happy as Heaven pleases, or as be can make himself; I will take nothing from him nor even envy him, only I do not wish to contribute anything to his welfare or to his assistance in distress!” Now no doubt if such a mode of thinking were a universal law, the human race might very well subsist and doubtless even better than in a state in which everyone talks of sympathy and good-will, or even takes care occasionally to put it into practice, but, on the other side, also cheats when he can, betrays the rights of men, or otherwise violates them. But although it is possible that a universal law of nature might exist in accordance with that maxim, it is impossible to will that such a principle should have the universal validity of a law of nature. For a will which resolved this would contradict itself, inasmuch as many cases might occur in which one would have need of the love and sympathy of others, and in which, by such a law of nature, sprung from his own will, he would deprive himself of all hope of the aid he
THE FORMULA OF THE END IN ITSELF
The will is conceived as a faculty of determining oneself to action in accordance with the conception of certain laws. And such a faculty can be found only in rational beings. Now that which serves the will as the objective ground of its self-determination is the end, and, if this is assigned by reason alone, it must hold for all rational beings. On the other hand, that which merely contains the ground of possibility of the action of which the effect is the end, this is called the means…
Now I say: man and generally any rational being exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will, but in all his actions, whether they concern himself or other rational beings, must be always regarded at the same time as an end. All objects of the inclinations have only a conditional worth, for if the inclinations and the wants founded on them did not exist, then their object would be without value. But the inclinations, themselves being sources of want, are so far from having an absolute worth for which they should be desired that on the contrary it must be the universal wish of every rational being to be wholly free from them. Thus the worth of any object which is to be acquired by our action is always conditional. Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature’s, have nevertheless, if they are irrational beings, only a relative value as means, and are therefore called things; rational beings, on the contrary, are called persons, because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves, that is as something which must not be used merely as means, and so far therefore restricts freedom of action (and is an object of respect). These, therefore, are not merely subjective ends whose existence has a worth for us as an effect of our action, but objective ends, that is, things whose existence is an end in itself; an end moreover for which no other can be substituted, which they should subserve merely as means, for otherwise nothing whatever would possess absolute worth; but if all worth were conditioned and therefore contingent, then there would be no supreme practical principle of reason whatever.
If then there is a supreme practical principle or, in respect of the human will, a categorical imperative, it must be one which, being drawn from the conception of that which is necessarily an end for everyone because it is an end in itself, constitutes an objective principle of will, and can therefore serve as a universal practical law. The foundation of this principle is: rational nature exists as an end in itself. Man necessarily conceives his own existence as being so; so far then this is a subjective principle of human actions. But every other rational being regards its existence similarly, just on the same rational principle that holds for me: so that it is at the same time an objective principle, from which as a supreme practical law all laws of the will must be capable of being deduced. Accordingly the practical imperative will be as follows: So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only.
1 A maxim is a subjective principle of action, and must be distinguished from the objective principle, namely, practical law. The former contains the practical rule set by reason according to the conditions of the subject (often its ignorance or its inclinations), so that it is the principle on which the subject acts; but the law is the objective principle valid for every rational being, and is the principle on which it ought to act that is an imperative.
2 It must be noted here that I reserve the division of duties for a future metaphysic of morals; so that I give it here only as an arbitrary one (in order to arrange my examples). For the rest, I understand by a perfect duty one that admits no exception in favour of inclination and then I have not merely external but also internal perfect duties. This is much conscience as to ask himself: “Is it not unlawful and inconsistent with duty to get out of a difficulty in this way?”
Notes on Kant
Immanuel Kant: excerpts from The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
Deontological: morality is determined by duty (as set by reason in Kant’s case) and does not care about outcomes
The function of morality has nothing to do with happiness because reason determines morality and reason itself isn’t very good at directing us towards happiness.
The view is quite strict and doesn’t necessarily allow for adjustment to accommodate one’s situation
Note that we are reading an excerpt from the Groundwork. Kant didn’t get around to writing the entire treatment until about 12 years later and offers a slightly “nicer” version there.
Apodeictic: capable of demonstration
Maxim: subjective principle of action
Perfect Duty: something you must do all the time, there are no exceptions.
Imperfect Duty: ought to be done, but failing to do them does not lead to a contradiction in conception
Autonomy: self-legislating, construct moral principles for themselves (ie: act according to the categorical imperative)
Heteronomy: are not self-legislation (ie act on principles that someone else gives to them)
Synthetic: A judgment is synthetic if the concepts of its subject and predicate are independent
Cara likes chocolate
Analytic: A judgment is analytic if the concept of its predicate is already contained in that of its subject;
Bachelors are unmarried men.
Note: There are two senses of the word “reason”: as a synonym for “rationality” or as a synonym for justification. Don’t get confused on the two. When Kant talks about a good will he (very loosely) means an intention and when he talks about duty he (very loosely) means reason in the rationality sense.
The Good Will
“It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will”
A good will (an intention that’s set by reason — an intention that’s exclusively motivated to follow duty) is perfectly good. It’s inherently good and not instrumental for some other purpose.
The Good Will and its Results
“A good will is not good because of what it effects or accomplishes—because of its fitness for attaining some proposed end: it is good through its willing along—that is, good in itself”
What is good in itself? A good will
Even if you have a bad nature, your good will will stop you mitigate your bad nature (it will stop you from doing wrong)
It doesn’t matter how useful it is or what kind of results it brings
It doesn’t matter if the person with the intention is an ass or the intention ends up causing some bad outcomes. The will itself is good.
The Good Will and Duty and The Motive of Duty
What makes a will morally good?
When it is set by duty or by the recognition of duty
Note “set by” — that means, roughly, that your faculty of reason alone is the thing that’s informing and motivating your will.
When is a will not morally good?
1) a will that is contrary to duty
2) a will that is in accordance to duty but set by self interested (set by self-interest)
The shopkeeper example
“For example, it is always a matter of duty that a dealer should not over charge an inexperienced purchaser;
and wherever there is much commerce the prudent tradesman does not overcharge, but keeps a fixed price for everyone, so that a child buys of him as well as any other. Men are thus honestly served; but this is not enough to make us believe that the tradesman has so acted from duty and from principles of honesty: his own advantage required it; it is out of the question in this case to suppose that he might besides have a direct inclination in favour of the buyers, so that, as it were, from love he should give no advantage to one over another. Accordingly the action was done neither from duty nor from direct inclination, but merely with a selfish view”
The only reason the shopkeeper is honest is because his policy of honesty will keep customers returning.
So he’s, effectively, doing the right thing for the wrong reason (to speak non-philosophically about it.)
3) a will that is in accordance to duty but is set from inclination
Preservation of life
“…it is a duty to maintain one’s life; and, in addition, everyone has also a direct inclination to do so. But on this account the of anxious care which most men take for it has no intrinsic worth, and their maxim has no moral import. They preserve their life as duty requires, no doubt, but not because duty requires. On the other band, if adversity and hopeless sorrow have completely taken away the relish for life; if the
unfortunate one, strong in mind, indignant at his fate rather than desponding or dejected, wishes for death, and yet preserves his life without loving it- not from inclination or fear, but from duty- then his maxim has a moral worth.”
You shouldn’t get much credit for not killing yourself when you’re happy, because you want to stay alive. However, the person who is totally depressed does act in a way that is set by duty but he would rather be dead.
Again, you aren’t acting correctly for Kant when you help other because you want to or you get satisfaction from it. The reason you need to act has to be because of duty
Now this is tricky, but the point is that you need to identify the driving will/intention. If my driving intention in deciding to volunteer is that my reason tells me it’s a duty and while I’m volunteering it makes me happy, I’m still morally good for Kant. But if my driving intention is that I like helping others or I like feeling good while helping others then I’m not morally good.
– Happiness is totally irrelevant and useless to guiding our actions
The only way happiness is relevant is that we have an obligation to be more or less satisfied or content because if we aren’t we are more likely to act not in ways set by duty
(We now start to get into the much harder part of Kant)
Imperatives in General
What is an imperative?
– Imperatives are, very basically, objective principles set by reason.
Imperatives are things that you ought to do and, as such, should be views as objective laws.
Classification of Imperatives
These are situationally dependent: you can’t determine the course of action on reason alone. Depending on what the situation is, and what sort of outcomes you want, then your reason will tell you how to act.
Hypothetical imperatives pertain to ends.
For example, I want an A in this class. My faculty of reason tells me that the best way to get an A is to study. Therefore, the hypothetical imperative is: If I want an A, then I must study. This can’t be a universal moral law though because, in part, not everyone wants an A in the class, or is enrolled in a class.
– These are objectively necessary.
“It is concerned, not with the matter of the action and its presumed results, but with its form and with the principle from which it follows; and what is essentially good in the action consists in the mental disposition, let the consequences be what they may. This imperative may be called the imperative of morality.”
– There are 3 formulations of the categorical imperative
1) The Formula of the Universal Law
“Act only on that maxim though which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law”
2) The Formula of the End in Itself
“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end”
3) (This isn’t really present in our excerpt)The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends (aka Formula of Autonomy) (There’s some dispute as to the actual expression of the third formulation) but it basically says this: one ought to act in such a way that one’s action contributes to the making of laws “whereby alone a kingdom of ends is possible.”
The Formula of the Universal Law.
(This is the most important one and what we are going to focus on)
Kant gives 4 illustrations that are designed to show how this works. From these illustrations, scholars have extracted the “Test of the Categorical Imperative” which looks like this:
1) What is my maxim (what I want, my reason for acting)
2) Universalize my maxim
3) See if it leads to a contradiction in conception (can I conceive of a world where this is universalized?)
(Note: this is like a logical contradiction. For example, we currently have “laws” of geometry which clearly defines the properties of a square and a circle. As such, it’s a logical impossibility to introduce the concept of a “squared-circle” into the exist world of geometry — it’s a geometric impossibility.)
If I can’t conceive it, it is a contradiction in conception and I have a perfect duty to NOT act on that maxim.
If I can conceive it, then I move on to the 4th step.
4) See if it leads to a contradiction in will
if I can logically conceive of the world, can I rationally will it to be?
The will bit had to do with whether it makes rational sense for you to will it, will it come back and harm the will
If I can’t conceive it, it is a contradiction in will and I have an imperfect duty to NOT act of that maxim
Note that at this point for Kant it seems as though moral laws are only generated by getting “stuck” at one of the steps. So if my maxim gets through all the steps, I could act on it, but it’s not clear that it becomes (or how it would become, except perhaps through my willing it) a universal law.
Let’s look at illustrations 2 and 4.
2) False Promises
1) Maxim: remove myself from difficulty by telling a false promise
2) Universalize: Everyone, when you’re in this situation may make a false promise
3) Contradiction in Conception? Yes. “For the universality of a law that everyone believing himself to be in need can make any promise he pleases with the intention not to keep it would make promising, and the very purpose of promising, itself impossible, since no one would believe he was being promised anything, but would laugh at utterances of this kind as empty shams”
4) Contradiction in Will? We don’t get to 4 here because step 3 did in fact lead to a contradiction in conception
1) Maxim: I don’t want to put myself out to help others in need of help
2) Universalize: No one ought to help others in need of help
3) Contradiction in Conception? No. I can conceive of a world where no one helps each other
4) Contradiction in Will? Yes. “It is impossible to will that such a principle should hold everywhere as a law of nature. For a will which decided in this way would be in conflict with itself, since many a situation might arise in which then man needed love and sympathy from others, and in which, by such a law of nature spring from his own will, he would rob himself of all hope of the help he wants for himself…”
(Kant & Categorical Imperatives: Crash Course Philosophy #35. (2016, November 14). [Video]. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8bIys6JoEDw&feature=youtu.be)
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