Chapter 9  Kantian Theory : The Categorical Imperative
Section 10. Problems

Problems with Kant's Theory 

1. The theory applies only to rational agents.  It would not apply to non-humans or to humans who are not rational, e.g., humans with brain malfunctioning, illness or persistent vegetative coma.  

2. The theory cannot resolve conflicts between duties:

a.     between two perfect duties

b.     between a perfect duty and an imperfect duty  

How would a person resolve a conflict between two perfect duties such as never tell a lie and avoid harming someone?  What if telling the truth were to harm someone?

How would you resolve the conflict between the perfect duty, say to keep a promise to pick your friend up with you auto at a certain time, and an imperfect duty, say to stop on the way to pick up your friend in order to give CPR to someone, a stranger, and save that strangerís life? 

3. A clever person could phrase the maxim to be universalized in such a manner as to permit almost anything.  By placing qualifiers on the maxim or peculiar definitions on terms a clever actor could satisfy the categorical imperative and yet be acting in a manner otherwise not consistent with it. 

What if someone were to promise to be faithful to his mate and not have sex with another woman.  Then that person engages in oral and anal forms of physical interaction leading to orgasm and yet thinks that the promise was not broken because the meaning of ďsexĒ did not include those forms of interaction.

Kantís law and criticism

Kantís links

There are other theories.  We shall move on to examine them.

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© Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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