TABLE OF CONTENTS
KANT’S MORAL PRINCIPLES
Concept of Duty……………………..………….. 5
THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
2.1 The Three
Formulae ………………..…………….... 15
Formula of Universal Law………….……… 17
Formula of the Ends in Itself ……………….21
Formula of the Kingdom of Ends………. 22
Justification of Categorical Imperative ….. 24
2.2.1 Freedom and Categorical
Imperative ………… 25
2.2.2 Freewill and
2.2.3 Freedom and
Natural Necessity…………………. 27
the Categorical Imperative is possible.... 30
THE NIGERIAN ETHICAL
ORDER VIS-A-VIS THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE
3.1.3 Present Situation
(Nigeria Today)……………... 43
BIBLIOGRAPHY ………………………………..……… 61
“Human conduct is good or bad
depending on its relation to the norm of morality.” A
norm of morality is a standard to which a human act is compared and which
enables us to determine if it is good or bad. It is a common conviction of mankind
that some actions are good and therefore ought to be done while others are bad
and so to be avoided. But individual as they are, are sectarians as to what
determines the goodness of these acts. An action condemned by a set as
outrageous, may be a necessary duty of another. Even philosophers in their
endeavor to give the general principle on which these moral judgments are based
are varied in their opinions.
In classical period, this problem has
been tackled bi-dimensionally under the guidance of these two questions: What
is the nature of good life? How ought men to behave to achieve good life? In
the modern and contemporary periods, the vantage point has been that of
analysis of some judgments already proposed by the classics as well as the
formulation of some principles supposed to be the ultimate norm for correct
moral judgment. Despite the efforts made in this area, philosophers have not
arrived at one unanimous principle which underlies good life as such. This
neither rules out the tremendous discovery made in this area, nor means that
there are not some particular actions recognizable either as good or bad, at
least in some concrete situations; man with the gift of intuition and
conscience can and has done this.
However, the basic task of moral philosophers
lies in discovering the fundamental principle that characterizes all good
actions. Hence the basic problem of moral philosophers has been the question
such as: what is it that we mean of action when we say that it is right and
ought to be done? Can we discover any general characteristic which belong in
common absolutely to all right actions and which does not belong to any action
except those which are right? Can we discover any single reason applicable to
all right actions equally, which is, in every case, the reason why an action is
right and when it is right?
These questions lingered until the 18th
century philosophers. Immanuel Kant approached them in a unique sense since the
dawn of moral philosophy. Kant stated his ethical philosophy in the form of
moral principle known as “The Categorical Imperative”. The principle
states “Act only on that maxim through
which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” In
other words, if I want to carry out an act, I should ask myself if I could
wish that, that act I am about to carry
out should become a generally accepted standard of acting. Kant stated that the
good taken purely and simply is found only in goodwill and goodwill does not act
from natural inclinations, but from duty and so he maintains that only acts
done from duty have moral worth. It then follows that an act is not good
because of its end result, but solely because of the intention of duty, from
which it is performed.
Taking the Nigerian situation as a
case-study, it is easily observable that individual citizens have not
internalized the idea of civic duty as an obligation owed to oneself.
One of the changes that Nigeria
needs desperately is in the area of ethics. For instance, the right of citizens
to be served by those who operate the system has been placed in a state of
total abeyance by an absolute lack of personal commitment to duty. One would
immediately think of Immanuel Kant when one notices sometimes how little public
officials regard their duties as moral obligation. Therefore, from 19th
century on, it has become
impossible to discuss the moral
problems without mentioning Kant. It is in society that one is either moral or
immoral. In other words moral obligations have some social and ethical
Our aim in this work is to present
the correct interpretation of this principle- the categorical imperative and
also to figure out its implications to the Nigerian ethical order, which has
suffered tremendous practices from the hands of her citizens.
Before going into the full detail of
this work, it is pertinent for one to look briefly at the life of this great
modern philosopher Immanuel Kant, who laid a major landmark in the field of
philosophy and human civilization...
IMMANUEL KANT: LIFE AND WORKS:
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) German
philosopher, considered by many as the most influential thinkers of modern
period, was born at Konigsberg in East Russia.
His father was an emigrant from Scotland.
Educated at the local high school, the collegium Fridencianum. Kant proceeded
to the University
of Konigsberg where he
encountered and got influenced by that erudite philosopher called Martin
Knutzen. After his education, Kant became a family tutor and later taught in
the university as a “privatdozent”.He taught a wide variety of subjects
including – physics, mathematics, physical Geography and Philosophy. Kant was
also a prolific writer.
Kant was appointed in 1770 to the
chair of logic and metaphysics at the University of Konigsberg.
His first book, Thought on the True
Estimation of Living Forces was published in 1747 and between 1754 and
1770, he produce an impressive stream of essays and treatise. His major works
include- Critique of Pure Reason (1781),
Critique of Practical Reason (1790), Critique of Judgment (1790), Metaphysics of Moral (1797) and a host
of others. Religion within the Bounds of
Mere Reason, a book that earned him a political sanction from King
Frederick Williams II, was published in 1793.
Kant never moved out of East Russia. He associated with outer society and enjoyed
throughout his life social intercourse with sailors and travelers, with whom he
discussed the political happenings of the time. He awed his audience greatly
with his wide range of Knowledge and intellectually stimulating lectures. He
died on February 12, 1804.
This work is divided into four
chapters. Chapter one deals with some concepts of Kant’s moral principles- the
goodwill, the concept of duty and the imperative. Chapter two treats
exhaustively the supreme principle of morality-the categorical imperative; its
different formulations, its justification and its possibility. Chapter three
deals with the implication of this principle to the Nigerian ethical order and
finally Chapter four takes care of the evaluation and conclusion.
The scope of this work is limited to
morality as it concerns rational beings. Its methodology is both expository and
KANT’S MORAL PRINCIPLES
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
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
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.
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)
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.” Hence for fuller understanding of the
nature of goodwill, we turn to Kant’s notion of duty.
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
By way of synthesis, Kant defines
duty as “the necessity to act out of reverence for the law”.
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” 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 questions.
an action be absolutely excluded from feeling and inclination in order to
possess moral value?
an action done for the sake of goodness and not for the sake of duty have any
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
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
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.
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 of prudence.
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 being prudent.
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.