Kant in virtue of his
education has a vivid appreciation of the unparallel excellence of moral value.
In his ethical theory, Kant sets out to discover and justify the supreme
principle of morality and the foundation on which the whole structure of moral
law must rest if it is to be valid as a genuine law of duty. On his part, he
has nothing to do with utilitarianism or with any doctrine which gives to
morality a purpose outside itself. The basis on which his entire ethics rest
are; Goodwill, duty and the imperative.
The concept of “goodwill”
is a very important concept in Kant’s ethics. Infact, it is at the center of
his moral philosophy. Kant argues that reason must have some functions. It then
follows according to Kant, that our existence has a different and far nobler
end, for which reason is
properly intended. This
end can only be the cultivation of a will not merely good as means to something
else, but good in itself.
For Kant, goodwill is the
only thing that is good par excellence. Thus he writes;
Nothing can possibly be conceived in the
world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification
except a goodwill.”1
Thus, all other things we
generally refer to as good are conditionally good; their goodness needs to be
qualified because they can become bad when misused. For instance. Intelligence,
courage, resolution, perseverance, as qualities of temperament and other
talents of the mind, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many respects, but
these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad and mischievous if the will
which makes use of it is not good. There are even some qualities which are of
service to this goodwill itself and may facilitate its action, yet which have
no intrinsic unconditional value, but always presuppose a good will, they are
not good absolutely. 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. However, they are far
from deserving to be called good without qualification, although they have been
so unconditionally praised by the ancient thinkers. This owes to the fact that
without the principles of goodwill, they may become extremely bad.
For Kant goodwill is
intrinsically good and is always good. Hence he opines;
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 volition that is good in itself.2
Succinctly, we can say
that for Kant, Goodwill is the only thing that has absolute and unconditional
goodness and that which gives meaning to other limited goods.
However, Kant’s conception
of goodwill attracted two questions by way of objection. First, what does Kant
mean by Good without qualification? Second, what is Goodwill? In answer to the
first question, Professor Paton in his book The Categorical Imperative explains
good without qualification as meaning an unconditional good. By this he means
that goodwill transcends all conditions and therefore is good in whatever
condition it is found.
Kant distinguished the two
senses of the word”Summum” extracted from the phrase “ summum bonum” and
therefore drew a distinct line of demarcation
between supreme and perfect good. According to him,
The Summum may mean either supreme
(supremum) or perfect (consummatum). The former is that condition which is itself
unconditioned, i.e. not subordinate to any other (origianarum); the second is
that whole of the same kind (perfectissimum)3
By this, Kant means that
the supreme good is the unconditioned good but not the perfect good; it is only
a part of the perfect good, while the perfect good is the whole good. According
to Kant, goodwill means supreme and not a perfect good, while the perfect good
is realizable in the life after. Thus Kant gives the condition under which
goodwill can as such be called the “summum bonum” He thus denies the possible
existence of any other perfect goods.
As regards the second
question, which centers on the nature of goodwill, Kant gave some elaborations
of this in his notion of duty. He succinctly defines goodwill” as that which
acts for the sake of duty.”4 Hence
for fuller understanding of the nature of goodwill, we turn to Kant’s notion of
THE CONCEPT OF DUTY
Kant defines goodwill as
that which acts for the sake of duty as we have earlier written. This does not
necessarily imply that an action done for the sake of duty is what solely makes
a will good. This leads Kant to distinguish between the holy will and human
will. According to Kant, a holy will is that which is inescapable of any maxim
conflicting with the moral law. In other words, it is that which naturally and
necessarily acts in accordance with the moral law. Such a will, in Kant’s
conception is not above the moral law but is above the restraints and
constraints of such law and therefore is above duty.
On the other hand, a human
will is that which does not necessarily act in accordance with the dictates of
moral law because of the influence of passion and inclination. However with the
help of reason, acting in accordance with the dictate of moral law becomes a
standard a good towards which such a will strives amidst the opposing torrent
of passion. Hence, acting for the sake of duty is for human will, a constraint,
a duty. Therefore human will is a will under duty and can only achieve its
goodness by acting for the sake of duty.
Kant further distinguishes
two types of actions in relation to duty; an action which accords with duty and
an action which is done from duty or for the sake of duty. By an action which
accords with duty, Kant means an action which is performed from any other
motive like from inclination, sympathy or selfishness which happens to coincide
with the requirements of duty.
On the other hand, by
action done from duty or for the sake of duty, Kant means an action performed
from no other motive but the moral one, such an action is done solely because
it is what duty requires. Hence, only such an action, for Kant, has moral
value. Thus he says:
An act is morally praiseworthy only if done
neither for self-interested reason, nor as the result of a natural disposition,
but rather from duty5
By way of synthesis, Kant
defines duty as “the necessity to act out of reverence for the law”6. In Kant’s conception, it is only moral
law, detectable by practical reason that could be the object of respect. This
law awakens respect for itself, by checking and humiliating our passions and
inclination. Thus, whereas moral law awakens respect in us, duty makes us
conscious of this law and gives us the reason for acting out of respect of it.
So far, we have seen that
goodwill is manifested in acting for the sake of duty; and that duty is acting
from respect of law as an obligation says by J. Omoregbe. According to him,
“duty is what a person has as an obligation to do”7
Hence, we can identify a goodwill with that which acts in respect of moral law.
Kant’s notion of duty has
attracted criticisms and objections which could be summarized under these
Must an action be absolutely excluded from feeling and
inclination in order to possess moral value?
Does an action done for the sake of goodness and not for the
sake of duty have any moral worth?
Professor Paton reacted to
these criticisms in his book,” The Categorical Imperative.” He tries to make
explicit, the relation of inclination to duty as Kant conceived it. According
to him, Kant never divorced inclination from duty or moral motive, but rather
accepted as moral, those actions which though done from duty, have bearing of
inclination. He therefore gives the two senses of an action done from duty.
i. That an action is good
precisely in so far as it springs from a will to do one’s duty.
ii. That we cannot confidently
affirm an action to be good except in so far as we believe that the will to do
one’s duty could by itself have been sufficient to produce the action without
the support of inclinations8.
What Paton precisely means
is that in so far as the sufficient reason for our action is the will to act for
the sake of duty, our additional inclination to such an action does not affects
its morality. That is, our inclination or emotion does not affect the morality
of our action, rather our acting for the sake of duty. Kant extols action done
for the sake of duty and places it above the one done from duty. This is very
clear in his distinction between a holy will which performs an action from its
goodness and human will which performs from duty. However, Kant believes that a
human being can never act from sense of goodness, because such an action is so
noble and magnanimous that it cannot be achieved by man.
Summarily, for Kant, duty
implies a constraint, a restraint. This constraint is of consequent to the
imposition of the universal law, dictated by the practical reason to an
imperfect will- the human will. The relation of the law to the will is that of
a command, an imperative. Kant gave an elaborate treatment of this imperative
to which we now turn.
The relation of the
objective principle or universal law to a human will is that of constraint. The
conception of such a relation in so far as it is obligatory to such a will is a
command and the formula of such a command is what Kant called an imperative.
Thus, Paton writes;
The conception of an objective principles,
in so far as it is necessitating for a will is a command (of reason) and the
formula of this command is called Imperative.9
The imperative for Kant is
expressed by an “ought” in which case, the law of reason proposes to the will
what is to be done by use of obligation.
Kant distinguishes the two
main types of imperatives – the hypothetical and the categorical imperative.
Hypothetical imperative is that which commands an action only as a means to an
end. It says: If you desire X, you ought to do Y. It commands an action only as
a means to an end. Kant further distinguishes the two types of hypothetical
imperative: the technical or imperative of skill and the pragmatic or counsel
The technical imperative
gives a direction to a will which wants to attain a particular end. It says:
you ought to do this if you want to attain the other. According to Kant, this
imperative is more of a counsel on techniques than of a moral principle. And since
it is morally neutral, in the sense that it can be appreciated to good
principle as well as bad one, Kant qualifies it as being problematic.
Where the end is one that
every rational agent wills by his very nature , the imperatives are assertoric
or pragmatic. Thus for Paton;
The end which every rational agent wills by
his very nature is his own happiness, and an actions enjoined by a pragmatic
imperative are good in the sense of
The categorical imperative
on the other hand commands an action as an end- and never as a means to an end.
It recognizes the intrinsic finality in human act and thus commands an action
as being necessary of itself. It says; you ought to do X. The imperative is not
conditioned by the hypothesis that some particular end is desired.
According to Kant, he
calls this an apodictic imperative, which is demonstrably or indisputably true,
thus it is the imperative of morality.
With these principles,
Kant lays the foundation to his supreme principle of morality- The Categorical
Imperative, Goodwill, which is a will that acts for the sake of duty with its
unconditional quality an intrinsic goodness, is the only will that can act in accordance with the dictates of
the unconditioned command- the Categorical Imperative. Duty gives the necessity
of this command as well as its impacts to a finite will, while imperative gives
the formula of this command.
1 J. Adler: Great books of the Western World. Kant(Chicago Encyclopedia
Britannica, Inc 1996) p. 256
3 M.J.Adler; Critique of
Practical Reason in Great Books of Western World, translated by Thomas
Kingemill Abboth,( London:Encyclopaedia Britannica Inc. Chicago,1996),p.338 .
4 H.J. Paton: The Moral Law,
(London, Hutchinson publishers, 1972), p 18
5 C .Ekwutosi: Ethical Theories
unpublished lectures,( Awka: Pope John Paul II Major Seminary, 2003), p. 8
6 F. Copleston; A History of
Continuum Publishers Vol. 6 2003) P. 318
7 J. Omoregbe, Ethics; A
systematic and Historical Study (Lagos;
Joja Educational Research and Publishers Limited 1930,p. 118
8 H. J. Paton: Categorical
Imperative (America Chicago University Press 1994) p.80
9 H.J Paton; The Categorical
Imperative op cit P. 114
10 H. J. Paton, The Moral Law,
Op.cit., P. 27