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Immanuel Kant's Book, Metaphysic Of Morals: The Categorical Imperative In The Groundwork

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Exam 1: Essay Prompt

The Grounding by Kant gives light as to why people at in their everyday lives. A lot of the time, whether they know it or not, people use the hypothetical imperative to guide their actions which says ‘if y’ then ‘do x’ or “represents the practical necessity of a possible action as a means for attaining something” (Kant 25). Although this is not immoral, as long as one does not use humanity as a mere means to an end, it is also not morally just; for this to happen we must look to the categorical imperative which just states ‘do x’ or do something because it is morally right in and of itself. The man driving the pickup in the example provided must decide whether to shoot the not rescuable burning man in the semi as he asks to be shot and spared of his painful misery, or to ignore the man’s plea and perhaps try and help in some other way.

The categorical imperative brings forth three main formulations which are universality, humanity, and everybody as autonomous. The best formulation for the situation provided would be of universality or that of universal law. If the formula for autonomy were to be used, then the semi driver is at liberty to be a self-lawgiver and state that a person in extreme pain and who cannot be saved may be killed to spare agony. The semi driver would declare this as a subject he’s decided for himself which is why the pickup driver cannot act on it; the semi driver’s use of reason as a self-law then commands someone else to take his life for him which cannot be done because it is then acting outside of the idea of self-lawgiving. The formulation of treating humanity always as an end and never as a mere means cannot work best either because it states that we cannot use humanity as a mere means, and the situation would have the semi driver using the pickup driver as a mere means to end his life prematurely. Even if the pickup driver did shoot the other man, there is no guarantee he would die; he might miss and cause the man more gruesome agony. The best categorical imperative is the formula of universality or universal law which states one should act “as objectively necessary in itself, without reference to another and” (Kant 25). To ensure his actions are morally right, the pickup driver must hold his future action as a universal law, and deem whether or not the same action of killing a person may be put into place for every person that is suffering terribly and will inevitably die. This choice must be made without the surrounding details or any other specific conditions.

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Once the pickup driver decides which categorical imperative to act upon, this being the universal law, he now decide what the moral thing to do is based on this principle. The pickup driver must abstain from his own as well as other’s injunctions. If the pickup driver says there can be a universal law holding that any individual in extreme pain and will inevitably die may be killed in order to spare them some terrible pain. If this were to hold true, there would have to be some sort of standard as to what qualifies as terrible pain and this is impossible to do. Pain is different between people; what one would say it painful yet tolerable, another could say is unbearable. If pain is different for people than how could there possibly be a standard for terrible pain? The pickup driver must realize “the moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect expected from it” (Kant 13). Even if he were to kill the man and save him a few minutes of agony, that does not justify the ends which have been put in place. The means is to relieve a man from terrible pain, but the end results in a man dying prematurely than he should have, and is also put to death just because one individual thought it right to do so which cannot be a universal law. Another challenge with this action becoming a universal law is the length of time the suffering individual may have. While the semi driver may only have a few minutes left to live in horrible pain, what of those people diagnosed with incurable cancer that will slowly and painfully take their lives? If we cannot find it moral to let those people choose to euthanize themselves to escape future agony, then we cannot possibly have the pickup driver shoot the semi driver even if it is condoned by the patient in pain.

Although the semi driver’s plea may be heartbreaking and convincing, it should not sway the pickup driver’s decision if he is indeed acting based on the universal law. What the pickup driver decides to do should be “represent(ed) an action as objectively necessary in itself” (Kant 25). Once again we see how Kant gives us resources through his categorical imperative to decide the moral worth of an action without being biased or swayed one way by outside influences. If the pickup driver is going to merely ‘do x’ because it is the right thing to do, then it doesn’t matter what one or a hundred other individuals say should be done. All that matters is what the pickup driver knows should be done under the principle of the categorical imperative.

Situations like the example presented always seem a difficult decision. No one wants to see a fellow human being in agony, especially knowing there is no way to help them. This does not mean we cannot help ease their pain in other ways such as offering comfort and other forms. In order for the pickup driver to truly decide what the moral action is to take, he must first use the categorical imperative and then use the formulation which best fits the situation which would be the universal law. If he is truly acting in accordance with the principle of universal law under the categorical imperative then anything the semi driver says should not sway him one way or another because the pickup driver is going to ‘do x’ because he knows it is the right thing, and not because any other individual told him it was the right thing.


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