AN INITIAL, QUICK OVERVIEW
1. Each rational being is to think for himself or herself and to exercise self-determination--not to let external authorities or emotions determine one's decisions and actions. The point is not that one is forbidden to get ideas (or projects for action) from outside one's reason, but that one must not accept such ideas (or projects) unthinkingly. Only those ideas which one's own reason has validated are consistent with our functioning as autonomous agents. Kant's essay, "What Is Enlightenment?" expands on this thought.
2. Each person is worthy of respect because of their capacity for rational, moral self-determination. The dignity of the person puts an absolute limit on what we may do.
3. The maxims on which we act must be capable of functioning as universal principles. What is a maxim? A maxim is an individual's principle for acting in a particular situation. Expressed fully, a maxim states three things: the action to be performed, the conditions under which it is appropriate to perform this action, and the motive.
4. There is an historical dimension to Kant's ethical thought that is implicit in Kant's talk about the kingdom of ends. Kant's essays, "Idea for a History with a Cosmopolitan Intent" and "Perpetual Peace," expand upon this dimension. The kingdom of ends is an advanced civilization in which everyone functions according to the moral law. Could our maxims function as principles in such a civilization?
5. Kant articulates his philosophy of morality in contrast to several competing approaches in ethics:
· religious ethics, which commands the individual to love God and the neighbor, or exhorts the agent to imitate a moral exemplar (e.g., Jesus of Nazareth)
· ethics whose goal is one's own happiness (understood in terms of physical-emotional feeling)
· ethics whose goal is happiness, understood in terms of (variable) moral feeling or intuition
· ethics based on a concept of perfection, as an undefined concept (presupposing morality)
· ethics based on a concept of perfection, conceived as the will of God (which must either conform to our own concepts of morality . . . or violate them).
6. To what extent is the development of Kant's moral philosophy compatible with religious ethics? Kant may be thought of as one who tried to put Christian ethics through a filter of reason. Kant recognizes nothing higher than reason to which or to Whom one may appeal for guidance; any "higher inspiration" would have to justify its guidance to reason--otherwise how could we be sure that the guidance is indeed superior (or "of God")? In the Grounding see pages 21.1 (page 21, first indented paragraph), 47.1, and 34.1 (Hackett edition). Though we may hope for divine aid to strengthen our devotion to goodness and to restrain our radical evil (this idea comes from Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone), it is the job of reason is to "make the will good." Kant criticizes the golden rule (37 note) and offers his own interpretation of the command to love (12.4). Kant conceives of human nature as having just two main dimensions: (1) reason and (2) material aspects--the body and most feelings; there is no actual or potential spiritual level or "kingdom within."