, Research Paper
Whereas a teleological theory of ethics holds that an action is right, depending on the consequences; a deonteological theory states that an action is right, depending on the nature of the act itself, or of the intention of the person performing the act. Immanuel Kant, a deonteologist, once said, “It is man’s ability to reason, his own ability to think objectively and apart from his own circumstances and doings, that distinguishes him from all other creatures.” Reason is an innate intellectual power, existing more or less equally in everyone. Given this, one person reasoning logically will reach the same conclusion as another person reasoning logically. As Kant stated, “Reason binds man to man.” Kant looks for something unconditionally and universally good (Good without qualification). He rejected, for example, intelligence, courage, and happiness, because they were all capable of making a situation worse; an intelligent criminal, for example. Kant said that the only thing good in itself was “a good will”, namely, acting for the sake of duty. To illustrate this point, he gave the example of the grosser, who does not overcharge his inexperienced customers. If he acts like this out of self-interest, to achieve an honest reputation, he is not being truly moral. Kant also says that if the grosser acts like this out of inclination – he has a kindly nature – he is still not being truly moral. He is only moral when he acts for the sake of duty, because it is his duty to be honest. For Kant it is a person’s autonomy in choosing to do the right thing (”The good will”), rather than a kind and loving temperament/inclination that is the basis of morality. With this point I personally tend to agree with Kant’s statement. Kant believes that when we do our duty, we all consciously or unconsciously recognise the Categorical Imperative, an absolute command, in which the first formulation follows as: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” This command is not hypothetical, not for example, “If you want to be respected, tell the truth.”, but simply “Tell the truth!”. Its essence lies in its ability to be universalised; if, when universalised, a command is contradictory or inconsistent, we then know that it is immoral. To help illustrate this, Kant gives two examples of contradictions in the law of nature (straight forward contradictions), and two examples of the contradictions in the will (situations which while possible, no one would wish to see them universalised). Kant’s two examples of contradictions in the law of nature, concerns suicide, of which I will be discussing later, and promising. His two examples of contradictions of the will concern, neglecting one’s talents, and not helping those in need, when one is oneself flourishing. As we can if any of those four are universalised, contradictions will result.
Kant’s first example of contradictions in the law of nature is as follows:
A man feels sick of life, as the result of a series of misfortunes that have mounted to the point of despair. But he is still, so far in possession of his reason as to ask himself whether taking his own life may not be contrary to his duty to himself. If he now applies the test “Can the maxim of my action really become a universal law?” His maxim is “From self-love I make it my principle to shorten my life if its continuance threatens more evil than it promises pleasure.” The only further question to ask is whether this principle of self-love can become a universal law of nature. It is then seen at once that a system of nature by whose law, the very same feeling whose function is to stimulate the furtherance of life should actually destroy life would contradict itself, and consequently could not subsist as a system of nature and is therefore entirely opposed to the supreme principle of all duty. In other words, life produces lifelessness. At the basis of Kant’s theory on morality, stands the belief that rational beings should always treat all other rational beings equally, and in the same way that they would treat themselves. This view is best expressed in Kant’s second formualtion of the Categorical Imperative, which is proceeds as follows: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in you own person or in the person of any other, never simply as means, but at the same time as an end.” Because people are rational beings, they therefore have an inherent value, namely that they are ends in themselves, counting equally one with another. The principle of universalisation underlines the view of the intrinsic worth of an individual. Kant believes that suicide is wrong because it involves a person’s use of their self as a means to escape an intolerable situation. Similarly, making false promises is wrong because it involves making use of someone else as a means to greater pain. I understand the point that Kant is making, however, I still believe that if a particular individual is in such an undesirable situation, that they are unable to continue their existence, surely it is comprehensible. If now you put yourself in their place, tell me that you would not choose the same path. A roman philosopher named Annaeus Senca (4BC – AD65) had a similar viewpoint to mine, opposite to Kant’s. It follows as:
“….life has carried some men with the greatest rapidity to the harbour, the harbour they were bound to reach even if they tarried on the way, while others it has fretted and harassed. To such a life, as you are aware, one should not always cling. For mere living is not a good, but living well. Accordingly, the wise man will live as long as he ought, not as long as he can. He will mark in what place, with whom, and how he is to conduct his existence, and what he is about to do. He always reflects concerning the quality, and not the quantity, of his life. As soon as there are many events in his life that give him trouble and disturb his peace of mind, he sets himself free. And this privilege is his, not only when the crisis is upon him, but as soon as fortune seems to be playing him false; then he looks about carefully and sees whether he ought, or ought not, to end his life on that account. He holds that it makes no difference to him whether his taking-off be natural or self-inflicted, whether it comes later or earlier. He does not regard it with fear, as if it were a great loss; for no man can lose very much when but a driblet remains. It is not a question of dying earlier or later, but of dying well or ill. And dying well means escape from the danger of living ill.” So as to conclude, I can say that agree with some of Kant’s theories on morality, however, when it comes to the case of suicide, I feel that it is that individuals choice to end their life, not some supposedly universal law stating that you can’t.