Immanuel Kant's Moral Philsophy and the Place of the Emprical in Ethics

Essay by tortrisUniversity, Bachelor'sA, April 2004

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In his eighty year life, Immanuel Kant never ventured outside of his hometown of Königsberg, Germany. Either he was a man who was not inclined to search for things, or he was one who had a groundbreaking perception of how to find them. Kant was, in fact, searching for a great many things. Having begun his career as an astronomer (and having first put forth the theory of galaxies), Kant later delved into moral philosophy. Kant set out to determine whether or not there is a moral law by which all people must live, and, if so, what such a law would be. Kant concluded that such a law, if it should exist, would have to be both universal and categorical. To ensure this, Kant insisted that a moral concept must be "completely a priori in reason" and that any morality based on empirical elements was null and void. His Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals devotes a great deal of time to this assertion, and also provides an explanation of the prerequisite concepts needed for its full comprehension.

Kant begins his Grounding by asserting a definition of reason which may seem alien to many. He argues that rational, thinking beings are provided with the faculty of reason not, as has been thought by many, to help attain our desires, such as happiness. Nor, says Kant, is reason meant to serve as a guide for the will. The possibilities and consequences of the world of action are myriad, and reason is too feeble a faculty to adequately predict and account for them. Rather, reason is meant to guide, more specifically, in the creation of the good will, a will which can ascertain through a priori reasoning the laws of morality.

A priori reasoning creates judgments that are based upon reason...