Kantian Duty in a Nutshell

Ok, so I have been struggling to find a website that would summaries Kant’s theory of moral duty in a simple enough way that my year 7 pupils would understand it; so I decided I would just write one myself.

Immanuel Kant was a Philosopher who lived quite a long time ago (1724-1804 to be exact) and he basically argued that we all have a duty to act morally. This means, we should all try to do the right thing at all times – because it is the right thing to do.

This is sometimes known at Deontology – but really that is just comes from the Greek word for duty so you don’t need to worry about that.

Kant said that it is our duty to do the right thing, even if the wrong thing could bring about better results. So for example, we shouldn’t steal food to feed our families (no matter how poor and hungry they are) because stealing is wrong. We should help an injured person (even if they aren’t your friend) because it is the right thing to do. These are our duties as good, moral people

If we relate this to school, if you consistently misbehave in class or fail to do your homework, it is my duty to keep you for a detention (either at lunch or after school) even though it would benefit me more to have a lunch break or go home straight after school.

The reason we have these duties (Kant says) is because of what he calls the Categorical Imperative. 

What he means by this, in simple terms, is that we have to imagine, when faced with a moral decision (between a right and wrong action), what would happen if everybody did this, all the time?

So in our examples:

We can see that if everybody stole food  when ever they had no money and where hungry, that wouldn’t be a good world to live in.

If nobody helped injured people, simply because they weren’t friends with them, then that also wouldn’t make the world a nice place to live.

In school, if nobody ever gave detentions for bad behavior then the school wouldn’t be a nice place to come as people would misbehave wall the time as there would be no fear of punishment

So, in a nutshell – we have a duty to do what is right, because if we didn’t that would be wrong. And no one wants to live in a world where everybody is always doing bad and wrong things.


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