Kant was a great philosopher who believed in the power of reason. He applied reason to many areas of philosophy, including the philosophy of art, maths and ethics. He is reknowned for his incredible theory of morality.
Kant believes that we can only have morality based on reason because morality based on experience is inconsistent and based on desires. He presses that we should "act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
By this, he meant that we could discover what was morally good and bad by taking an action, repeating it over and over again, and then observing the repercussions. For example, take the action of lying. If everyone was to lie all the time in society, no-one would ever trust anyone, and society would not function well at all. So, Kant says that a lie is an offence to mankind generally because it errodes the contract of truthfulness in society. On the other hand, telling the truth must be morally good because if everyone told the truth, then everything could be believed, and this makes things MUCH easier. Therefore, according to Kant, "truthfullness...is the formal duty of an individual to everyone, however great may be the disadvantage accruing to himself or another".
Every theory in philosophy has a problem, and the problem with this one is this. Suppose that a murderer was after your mother, and he appears at your door one day with a large, shiny kitchen knife. He asks you if your mother is home. You have read Kant's Ethics of duty and remember that truth telling is morally good. So you tell the murderer that your mother is in...
Is this right? Kant would have led the murderer to his mother! But there are other things to consider. What if Kant did decides to lie about the whereabouts of his mother: "She's out right now, come back later". Meanwhile, his mother escapes out the back window and runs into the robber outside. We can guess what happens after the this. So maybe Kant should have told the murderer the truth, because then his mother would have known that he would, and then crept outside the window.
Kant's view sides with deontic moral philosophy, rather than Consequentialist. Consequentialist theories dictate that we should act in ways that will produce the best consequences. So, a Consequentialist would not lead the murderer to his or her mother, because this would probably lead to an undesired result.
However, Consequentialist theories have problems of their own. Suppose that there is a small community of foreigners living within a certain society, and the general population strongly desires for this small community to withdraw itself. The foreigners do not really mind leaving (but they don't really want to) and so their leaving will produce more happiness in the vast majority than unhappiness in the minority. Is it therefore moral to have them removed? This is counter-intuitive, and perhaps for deontic reasons.
It seems that our idea of morality lies somewhere between the extremes of deontic logic and consequentialist theory.
- Kant, Immanuel, 1994, "The Categorical Imperative" and "On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives", reprinted in P. Singer (ed.)Ethics, pp. 274 - 281