Statement of the Problem
For some time now philosophers have discussed the possibility of the existence of right and wrong. The issues of morality and ethical decision-making figure predominantly in studies on human conduct. Hence, various theories have been offered throughout the centuries in an attempt to answer the question, “Do morals exist?” The great German Idealist philosopher of the 19th century, Immanuel Kant gave considerable thought to this question.
Kant’s moral philosophy is based on his metaphysics1. Kant draws heavily on his observations and ideas about human nature to formulate his normative ethics. He makes explicit that the supreme moral principle itself must be discovered a priori, through a method of pure moral philosophy. Such must be inherent in and revealed through the operations of reason. This is contrary to empirical moral philosophy grounded in a posteriori principles inferred through observation or experience since they can tell us how people do act and cannot tell us how we ought to act2. Kant then favors moral principles that are the most fundamental, authoritative and normative rather than descriptive. According to Kant then moral commands are unconditional3. For him, we should not confuse conditional truths, such as what is prudentially good for certain individuals or species, with unconditional truths about fundamental moral requirements.
Kant’s notion of autonomy is one of the most central, distinctive, and influential aspects of his moral philosophy. Kant defines autonomy principally as:
“the property of the will by which it is a law to itself being independent of any property of the objects of volition since it both gives itself the moral law (it is self-legislating) and can constrain or motivate itself to follow the law (it is self-constraining or self-motivating)”.4
In this case then the source of the moral law is not in the agent’s feelings, natural impulses or inclinations, but in her pure, rational will or noumenal self, which Kant identifies as the proper self. This is contrary to heteronomous wills governed by nature through their instincts, impulses, and empirical desires.
Kant conceives of the human agent as having both noumenal and phenomenal aspect being members of both the intelligible world and the sensible world5. As members of the intellectual world we are free .As members of both intellectual and sensible world we are both free and determined.
Consequently, Kant believes that morality presents itself to human agents as a categorical imperative and our all specific moral duties are derived from it6. It is a categorical imperative because it commands and constrains us absolutely, with ultimate authority and without regard to our preferences or empirical features or circumstances. Contrary to this is the hypothetical imperative which can only express a command of reason, but only in relation to an end already set by the agent in form of objects of inclinations. Perhaps the two best known formulations of Kant’s categorical imperatives are:
(1) act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law
(2) So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means7.
It is from these that he believes the highest good can be obtained. Kant believes that morality gives rise to a notion of the highest good. Although the end that Kant’s ethics most closely concerns is rational in nature (the “end in itself” which grounds moral duties), Kant’s ethics also contains a different sort of ultimate end: the complete object of practical reason, which we can think of all moral action as pointing toward. The highest good consists in a world of universal, maximal virtue, guaranteeing universal and maximal happiness. One reason that makes Kant’s account of the highest good important is that it emphasizes that virtue is unconditionally good, whereas happiness is conditionally good; happiness is good when and only when it is pursued and enjoyed virtuously. These two components of the highest good are heterogeneous. No amount of happiness can make up for a deficit of virtue, and no amount of virtue, despite its unconditioned goodness, can make up for a deficit of happiness. The highest good requires both. Another reason why Kant’s account of the highest good is important is that Kant often portrays the highest good as a social good for us to strive for collectively and which history may be viewed as leading towards8. This presents Kant’s ethics to be less abstract and individualistic and more concerned with social and political progress than some of his more foundational writings suggest it is. A final reason why Kant’s account of the highest good is important is that it is through his account of the highest good that Kant argues for the rationality of belief in God and immortality. For example in the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant argues that because reason sets forth the idea of happiness conditioned by virtue as the ultimate culmination of our moral strivings, we must believe this end to be realizable; for if we do not believe it can be realized, we must admit that morality directs us to an empty ideal, and hence is itself fraudulent. But since this end does not seem possible only through human agency in the natural world, we must, if we are to believe it is possible, postulate the existence of God, who mediates between the realms of nature and freedom, allowing morally good intentions to be expressed through actions in the natural world, and making possible a causal relation between virtue and happiness. This argument does not give us knowledge of God’s existence, but rather practical warrant for belief in God. Moreover, it depends on the impossibility of proving that God does not exist; for this practical warrant would not hold in the face of theoretical proof of God’s nonexistence. But Kant believes that speculative arguments can prove neither God’s existence nor God’s nonexistence.
Thus, Kant’s account of the highest good shows how, for Kant, moral commitment leads to religious belief. Kant also argues that we must postulate the immortality of the soul, since otherwise it seems impossible for us to bring our dispositions into complete compliance with the moral law9.
Like all other moral theories, Kant’s categorical imperative sought to evolve what could be judged as morally acceptable acts. In addition, it suggests the means of it. It cannot be justifiably denied that a greater percentage of the problems of the Nigerian society is the result of the actions of men in the society.
Thus, it can be said that, if the bad actions of people in the Nigerian society can be corrected, most of her moral problems would be solved. Be this as it may, the questions are: Can adherence to Kant’s categorical imperative help to solve morally based problems in the Nigerian society? Can it correct human actions? Can it solve all the problems? These are some of the questions this study would battle to provide answers within its scope and limitations.
Statement of Purpose
The purpose of this long essay is to critically analyse the implications of Kant’s categorical imperative to the Nigeria society.
The philosophical method or tools to be used in this research will be conceptual clarification, analysis of issues and critical evaluation, and comparison of view of different scholars on Kant’s categorical imperative.
The thesis of this work is to critically analyze Kant’s particular view of meta-ethics in order to determine if his reasons render sufficiently, why we ought to accept a practical moral point of view and its implications to Nigeria society.
Scope and Limitations of the Study
The discussions in this long essay shall be restricted to the Kant’s categorical imperatives to the Nigeria society.
Source of Materials
Most of the materials needed to carry out the research work shall be sought from the Olabisi Onabanjo University main library. This long essay shall source for materials needed through secondary sources, that is, relevant textbooks, journals of philosophy of different kinds, magazines on Kant’s categorical imperatives.