Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher whose notion of a ‘categorical imperative’ acts as a universal code for man to live by in his search for peace.
Despite being an insane position, the categorical imperative argues that men should always seek to tell the truth – no matter what.
This has led to critics hammering this notion down the years.
“What if an axe murderer is trying to murder your friends and asks you where they are’, do you just tell him?”
The oft-quoted criticism is, ‘what if an axe murderer is trying to murder your friends and asks you where they are’, do you just tell him?
This hypothetical flaw can lead us to miss the essential point Kant makes, which is that the telling of the truth is not only a duty, but the way to disseminate peace among mankind.
Read over this short review of Kant’s categorical imperative and see if you think you can implement it into your life.
Are You Moral?
“Goodwill is to act for the sake of duty”
Kant believed that moral acts were only sincere if they stemmed from a sense of duty rather than feelings or egocentrism.
For example, if you help an old lady cross the street only because it will impress the girl you’re with, for Kant, you are a phony.
Furthermore, if you help the old lady because of compassion for her struggling, you’re STILL a phony, according to Kant.
This is because Kant believed that one can only act in a moral way by utilizing a sense of duty.
For Kant, the sense of duty outweighs everything else because it is that which transcends the individual – the domain in which compassion and self-seeking are limited to.
Kant encompassed the individual’s sense of duty in ‘maxims’, as he believed true morality stemmed from a higher plane, in that how you act must necessarily be how you want others to act too.
The Categorical Imperative
“Live your life as though every act were to become a universal law”
With the above in mind, Kant believed that certain maxims were ‘categorical’, i.e. unconditional in that everyone should follow them.
The categorical imperatives Kant believed underpinned our being are such maxims as: ‘Always tell the truth’ and ‘Never kill anyone’.
You can see the parallels with Christian thought are abundantly clear.
One would assume this is the source of such maxims.
The difference between Kant and the Christian tradition is that Kant is stating there is a completely rational case to follow these precepts, rather than one of blind faith.
To return to the essential point, however, the reason these imperatives need to be adopted by the individual is that they create the best method of acting for the whole society and civilization.
In short, they ensure everyone is treated equally, which again, is not too far different from the ancient Golden Rule.
How to Treat Others
“Act in such a way that you always treat humanity never simply as a means but at the same time as an ends”
Another major claim of Kant was that the individual should always seek to treat others as an end in themselves, never as a means to an end.
What this means is that you should never seek to use other people for personal gain.
For Kant, if you are pleasant to someone because they may give you a job, you are being false and reducing your interaction with that person down to a construct beyond the both of you.
A person’s humanity is the most important thing, and the thing man should see first.
Therefore, the moral man should act by the maxim of being kind and pleasant to everyone, regardless of what they do, or do not, offer.
So in essence, for a man to act morally, he must consistently and fearlessly speak the truth, a point Professor Jordan Peterson has also made in his psychological analysis of biblical stories, in the view of Kant.
It is only by following the maxims of ‘tell the truth’ and ‘do unto others as you would have done unto you’ that we can reach a state of harmonious being in our societies.
Are you living up to such maxims? Do you think it’s possible you can?
It is not necessary for us as men seeking to grow to have all the answers and behave morally perfect, yet the mooting of such points furnishes the mind with wisdom, strength, and meaning.
Such endeavors remain a far cry from the self-centered fears of addiction by nourishing the soul.