Assess Kant’s Ethics Of Duty And Freedom As A Response To All Previous Ethical Theories

According to the Kantian ethics, people have the duty to act in certain ways even if it does not produce the best results. “The ethics of duty is rooted in Immanuel Kant’s categorical imperative ‘Act only on that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law,’ which in turn is rooted in the belief that humans are rational beings capable of self-determination and self-governance. Every responsible person is therefore entitled to dignity and respect.” Thus, the views of Kant, who is the most important supporter in history of deontological ethics or the study of duty, insist that the single feature that gives an action moral value is the motive that is behind the action. Similarly, another central concept in Kant’s ethics is freedom which is an idea of reason that serves a crucial practical purpose. “Without the assumption of freedom, reason cannot act. If we think of ourselves as completely causally determined, and not as uncaused causes ourselves, then any attempt to conceive of a rule that prescribes the means by which some end can be achieved is pointless.”" (McCormick, 2006) In short, the concepts of freedom and duty are central to the Kantian ethics and the originality and uniqueness of Kant’s ethical theory is that he celebrated a general criticism of previous ethical theories.
To comprehend the originality and uniqueness of Kant’s ethical theory, it is essential to realize that he is a tough critic of previous ethical theories, especially the theory of utilitarianism. He is undisputed master of ethical theory and he finds good will as the only good thing in the world. He goes on to associate the concept of good will with actions from duty which have the only true moral value in life. Therefore, Kant associates "good will in some way with acting from duty and claims that only actions done from duty have true moral worth or moral content, while actions in conformity to duty that are done from self-interest, or even beneficent actions done from a natural inclination such as spontaneous sympathetic pleasure agents take in seeing those around them happy, are lacking in authentic moral worth or moral content." (Wood, 2007, p 24). To Kant, only those actions which spring from duty can display a good will and his ethical theories are original which question the validity of earlier thoughts. Significantly, the originality and uniqueness of Kant’s ethical theory is clear from his ‘Copernican revolution’ which includes freedom, autonomy and heteronomy. An understanding of how Kant distinguishes between autonomy and heteronomy helps one in realizing the uniqueness of Kant’s ethical theory. "For Kant the term "autonomy" denoted our ability and responsibility to know what morality requires of us and to act accordingly. In a derivative sense, the autonomous person is one who exercises this ability and lives up to this responsibility There are also

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