Kantian Normative Ethics

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

in Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Published in print May 2012 | ISBN: 9780199692002
Published online September 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191741241 | DOI:
Kantian Normative Ethics

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Kant’s formulations of the Categorical Imperative express basic requirements to universalize our maxims, respect humanity as an end in itself, and conform to the more specific moral principles that we do or would will as rational persons with autonomy. Kantians disagree about the interpretation and relative importance of these various formulations, but most now agree that, although they provide no algorithms, the formulations can be helpful in guiding moral deliberation and judgment. This chapter explains the basic features of the formulations, reviews different interpretations, and notes various problems that each formulation raises. Views of Alan Donagan, Barbara Herman, Christine Korsgaard, Onora O’Neill, H.J. Paton, Thomas Pogge, John Rawls, and Allen Wood are reviewed briefly A primary aim is to call attention to the different ways in which contemporary Kantians have attempted to develop Kant’s normative ethics. A secondary aim is to show how Kantian ethics, under different interpretations, addresses the question when and why we are morally required to help others. Kant’s theory is justly famous for its insistence that pursuit of happiness, for oneself and others, is constrained by moral requirements of justice and respect for human dignity. Kant also argues, however, that it is categorically imperative for us to make it our maxim to promote the happiness of others. It is currently a matter of controversy how much latitude this requirement is supposed to leave us to pursue non-obligatory projects of our own. Focusing on beneficence to illustrate various contemporary developments in Kantian ethical theory helps to bring out similarities and differences among them and may reveal some relative strengths and weaknesses.

Keywords: Kant; normative ethics; categorical imperative; Korsgaard; O’Neill; Donagan; happiness; beneficence

Chapter.  16962 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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