In developing his moral theory, Kant argues that some values by themselves have intrinsic value. This perception is the basis of his way to ethics and the beginning of his differences with Nietzsche’s idea. According to Kant’s approach, the study of morals, certain values such as task have intrinsic value as a given fact, a view that forms the core of Nietzsche’s commentary to his work. His application directly ties certain actions with specified outcomes, and based on this perception morality can, therefore, be evaluated in two different ways that would produce extreme action-outcome results. The first approach is the way the action can be morally evaluated based on the benefits gained from the action.
Kant first determines the moral principles of action based on the principle that drives the action without considering the results yielded. Kant argues that moral actions can be a result of intent to do well regardless of the consequences. He referred to such actions as “good will” acts and to him the driving force for action is the intent to do well. Based on a person’s intent to “do good”, this might justify the morality of the action regardless of its outcome. This implies that an action can have harmful effects yet be morally right according to Kant’s argument. To him the results are secondary in determining the morality of human action as long as the intention when carrying out the action is to do well. Using this argument Kant justifies all duty bound actions as moral. His argument that if one was carrying out his duty and the mere fact that one’s intention was to fulfill his or her obligations this would justify the action and hence would make it moral.
Kant’s concept allows the evaluation of actions based on intended reasons as the motivating force for human action. This allows justification of adverse outcomes as moral as long as one’s intention is to fulfill their duty or to do some good. What his argument ignores, are the obligations that can at times be based on hidden agendas. In that all, obligations or duties expected by the society from humans should be geared toward good intentions. In reality, all duties and obligations are assigned by the society which is comprised of human beings.
In other words, we can argue that he bases his moral philosophy on the assumption that those who assign duties have righteous and moral intentions. This assumption becomes the first point Nietzsche disputes in Kant’s moral theory. He argues that we cannot blindly accept actions being moral just because one acts in order to fulfill one obligation or duty. His other argument questions the origin of morality assigned to values such as duty. In other words, he begins his evaluation of Kant’s moral theory by doubting the assumption that duty has moral principles. He does it by asking how and why values are assumed to accompany actions that are carried out to fulfill one’s duty. The moral weight that Kant assumes that one’s intentions when fulfilling an obligation can, therefore, be doubted.
The second argument that Kant uses to formulate his moral theory is that there are universal principles that the society is obligated to follow when taking actions. This implies that there are widely accepted laws that guide a person’s action. When the society follows these universal laws in carrying out an act, then Kant’s assumption is that one’s action can have immunity regardless of the outcome. The argument here is that since such actions are “universally acceptable”, they, therefore, acquire morality or can be perceived to have moral principles. This presumption is questioned by Nietzsche on the basis of the origin of moral weight of these universal laws. He points out that the actions seem to be universal laws. In other words, the question is, for actions to become widely acceptable to the society, where and how were they formulated?
Nietzsche seems to question the moral weight that any action would carry. As long as an act is formulated by human beings, no matter how widely acceptable such actions are to the society, they may have hidden intentions. The implication here is that regardless of how acceptable actions may seem to the society, morality should not be assumed. Unless the intent and the results are moral, acceptability should not be the basis of moral determination. This means that an act should not be seen as having moral principles simply just because the society expects one to act in such a way. Intentions as well as outcomes are not also the best way to justify moral values. Unless we are well aware of the original intent of an act and the reasons for formulating an act, we cannot understand why we should act as expected. Results also should not be the basis of evaluating the morality of an act. This is to mean that the end should not justify the means.
Right results can result from immoral acts, for example, one cannot justify finding a cure to a given disease by carrying out human experiments. Although such actions can help alleviate the suffering of the bigger part of society, the methods used to fulfill such actions should not be immoral. If we consider the duty of doctors to be curing diseases, then no one can justify human experiments as moral just because a doctor is fulfilling his or her duty. We can argue that Nietzsche foresaw such an outcome, if Kant’s moral theory was to be adopted as a guide to human action. He saw the dangers that were likely to result if the moral principles of actions such as duty were not examined and evaluated by determining their origin and purpose. This is to say that we can determine the morality of actions if we can evaluate their purpose, method, results and origin.
Today most of professional codes of conduct are developed to address and guide the actions of a human being when conducting their duties. They are universally acceptable principles when developing these codes. The codes can differ from one country or region to the next. This means that all actions may be guided by the same universal principles depending on their origin. The methods applied may differ depending on a person’s location. The example above does not imply that morality differs with location, it rather supports Nietzsche’s critic of the basis of Kant’s moral theory. Indeed, comparisons of professional ethics from one region to the other can provide solid arguments of questioning the origin of intrinsic values. Similarly, universal laws can be questioned through scrutiny of acceptable actions from one society to the other. An action may be acceptable and be perceived to be moral in one society or in one region. Yet, the same action may be considered immoral by a different society or in a different region. Kant seems to have omitted such considerations when he was formulating his moral theory. Nietzsche seems to base his critics of Kant’s concept on the strength of such omissions.
Kant also based the universal laws on the assumption that human beings are rational. Their intentions are seen to be always guided by morality. Such an assumption defies reality because of social ills that are committed by humans. It is not uncommon to find unfair treatment among members of human races in the older societies or the modern ones. Indeed when Kant was formulating his moral theory conflicts were common occurrences among different societies that were in existence. The essence of his theory was to resolve such common conflicts wars that used to subdue the perceived enemies. Members of a particular society have the capability to commit atrocity acts against other communities in the name of defending their rights. It is perceived as one’s duty especially the soldiers’ duty to fight to defend their communities. Such duties would entail even murdering their perceived enemies. In such a case then, we can argue that carrying out an act in the line of duty can be morally justifiable. These are the dangers that Nietzsche seems to have understood would appear if such actions were to be given moral weight based on Kant’s concept. Outright immoral action such as murder, maiming and destruction of property could be assigned moral weight if committed in fulfillment of one’s duty. His critic of Kant’s moral theory can be argued to be applicable in the formulation of moral principles that guide society up to the present day.
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