Sample Ethics Essay Paper on Kantian Deontological Ethics

Deontologists define morals on the basis of intention than the consequence. Accordingly, something is either right if the intention was good and wrong if the intention was evil. Deontological theories recognise two types of duties. First is the general duty, defined by prohibitions like do not kill, and do not lie.  An action of killing can be right or wrong depending on the urgent intention. For example, one can kill after having the intention of carrying out the act, while another killing can happen because one was trying to defend himself, the latter being accidental killing. The first is wrong while the later is morally right. The second type of duty is the personal or social duty which can be defined as fulfilling one’s promises or responsibilities like good parenting. If one does not fulfil a personal or social responsibility, that is wrong and vice versa. Deontologists define actions as choices which are made for reasons. As such, actions are defined as wrong or right upon determining the agent’s intention and choices that made him act in a certain way or take a certain action.

Morality as duty

Kant explained his moral philosophy through Metaphysic of Morals. According to Kant’s philosophy, duties and rights arise from moral laws. All duties are either jurisdiction duties or ethical duties. Jurisdictional duties are subjective to jurisdiction legislation while ethical duties are not because that arise from an individual’s proposition towards a purpose. It is individual’s state of mind that gives him will of necessity. Moral laws are therefore considered to be a matter of duty. Performing one’s duties is moral. Kant explains that rights and duties are the same because they all arise from the moral imperative. The conception of acting right is a way of giving people an obligation.

Morality as a Conception of Consequences

Kant explains that every activity and effect arises from a man’s mental representations of mind.  Every desire or eversion is connected to a feeling of pleasure or pain. The pain or pleasure is always as a result of activity of desire or aversion.  Additionally, the feeling of pleasure and pain is subjective to the desired activity or activity aversed because it is only a representation of the state of mind. As such, Kant related the faculty of mind to morals by trying to explain that an action is right or wrong with regard to pain and pleasure defined by their consequences. So what matters is the conception of consequences of the pain or pleasure of desired activity (Kant 5). So the activity of desire takes place along with conceptions. The mind determines an action constituted in the power of carrying or not carrying out an act according to a liking. The power of action is found in the consciousness of mind and thus where the act of choice emanates.

Morality as Good Will

Kant reflects on whether something is morally good with no qualifications. In that reflection, he argues that the only qualification is ‘good will’ (Works of Kant 2). Anything apart from goodwill contributes to something bad. For example, self-control or intelligence are good, but at the same time, they can be used to doing bad things. Likewise, power is good but depends on how it is used. Also, there is no good happiness with no qualifications. If one becomes happy by hurting others, then that happiness is morally bad. Therefore, good will is a precondition for an act that is right. Kant, therefore, bases good things on moral good will. Kant further adds to his claim the result of good will. He explains that as long as the act was initiated by good will, then the result whether good or bad does not tell right or wrong. If the attempt of acting out of good will fails and one does not succeed in getting the good outcome of his or her act, then he or she should still be praised for the efforts made at first. Accordingly, good will does not derive its goodness from good outcome, but instead, it is good in itself (Lacewing 2).

Morality as a Rational Choice

The will is the faculty of desire viewed in relation to act of choice other than in relation to its action (Kant 7).  This comes to the freedom of act of choice. Humans choose to act with reasons which constitute the act of free will.  The act of choice is thus affected by that impulse created by reason which makes it not entirely pure. There is a positive conception that freedom is given by a fact that will is enabled by pure reason. This is however impossible because of the maxim of every action. The maxim of every action depends on the capacity for the rational act which is the cornerstone of morality. Rational choice involves first, being aware of the situation, secondly, deliberating on possible choices and finally taking one of the choices as the right one. This is some form of self-governance exercised by applying principles or rules to oneself on what acts to take. These are rules by Kant as ‘Maxims.’

            In his works, Kant (4) gives an example of Maxim as when a friend borrows money promising to return it but knowing he or she will not return the money. The friend has applied a maxim on himself that whenever he is in need of money, he will always borrow by promising to return it back even when he knows he will not be able to pay back. Kant defines morality by going deep to these issues. For Kant, one should utilize maxims that lead to making good decisions otherwise it is immoral. Maxims are resultant of subjective causes. They do not always agree with objective and universal rules as supreme law does not rise from desire but it is a command. Laws of freedom are moral laws. They are determined by the principles of our actions, and thus they are ethical and consequently their morality.

Application of Ethical Legislation

Metaphysics is any system of knowledge a priori consisting of pure conception. Kant believes that universal moral laws are designed from the principle of prior. Metaphysics of morals helps us know to deal with the nature of man in directing them to doing right thing. Through metaphysics of morals, treated objectively for their action to show them consequences of moral principles. Metaphysics of nature are founded on the universal principles of nature but on the other hand metaphysis of morals can only be applied to nature of man. This explains the process of legislation. 

            Legislation involves two elements. The first element is the law representing the action that should have been taken as objective. This makes the action as a duty. The second element is a motive. This element connects represents the principle applied by the agent in taking the action which represents the state of mind thus, subjective application of the law.(Kant 12) Accordingly, for Kant, legislation that makes an action a duty as well as a motive, is ethical. This makes an agreement or disagreement of an action by the law without consideration of the motive its legality. On the other hand, an agreement or disagreement arising from idea of duty and also motive makes it moral.

Importance of Categorical Imperative in Morality

Kant also explains what should be done regarding imperatives. There are two types of motives as provided by Kant, one is the hypothetical imperative and then there is the categorical imperative. Kant finds hypothetical imperative unimportant for morality. He defines hypothetical imperative as one that tells us what should be done in achievement of a desired outcome. He then gives categorical imperative as important for morality because it directs humans to do or not to do thing with focus on virtue of rationality rather than outcome. Kant further puts this imperative in a statement by stating that, one should act according to the maxim which allows him to will for it to become a universal law.

            Although Kant requires this intent, he further asks for consideration of about the result of one’s maxim will becoming a universal law (McNaughton 6). For example, in borrowing money, the promised of paying back should be willed to be a universal law even if the agent is aware of his inability to pay back. The possible result that should be considered is that the act of promising and lending may cease to exist. In that case, Kant continues to explain in metaphysic of moral that free will in relation to categorical imperative necessitates obligation. Since obligation is not conveyed as the necessity of law, the categorical imperative is itself a law and a command making it an action represented as a duty. An action that is not forbidden nor commanded is said to be morally indifferent. An action is said to be a moral deed when it is subject to laws of obligation and at the same time referred to freedom of choice through the exercise of will.


Deomatological ethics state that morality is a duty. Everyone has a moral duty to do things that are right to do and avoid doing things that are wrong to do.  Kant explains the metaphysic of moral in order to help comprehend his moral philosophy. He, therefore, gives an explanation of his philosophy that morality is a duty.  He boils this down to morality being defined by cornerstones namely goodwill and maxim. He gives what is important for morality and what is not and in this case, gives categorical imperative as important for morality. To him, a moral law is a preposition to containing categorical imperative. Kant moral philosophy lies in the conception of rationality. He explains that one must act with reasons, and the reasons should be one that are willed to be universal laws but with consideration of the results. If something is done for a reason, then it must be acceptable as a reason for everybody and can be easily accepted or agreed upon by others, and therefore maxim is only a good reason if it is one which all agents can base their act. Morality is justified by many considerations as provided by Kant and these considerations are what defines right or wrong, and they are also the origins of universal laws.

Works Cited

Kant Immanuel. Introduction to The Metaphysic of Moral. 1785.

Lacewing Michael. Kant’s deontological ethics. Routledge Taylor and Fransis Group, 2014.

McNaughton David. Deontological Ethics. Routledge Encylopedia of Philosophy. 2006.

Works of Kant Immanuel. Kantian Deontology. (1724-1804)