Kant Good Will Essay

Example of a Definition essay on Philosophy about:

Immanuel Kant / idealism / good will / happiness / morality

Essay Topic:

The definition of Kant’s “Good will’ and its opposition to happiness.

Essay Questions:

How does Immanuel Kant define the “good will”? In what way is Kant’s “Good will” opposed to happiness? What is the true philosophical essence of the “good will”.

Thesis Statement:

Kant explains what a “good will” is and what difference it makes in the perception of the moral actions that a person makes.


Kant's "Good Will" essay


Table of contents:

1. Introduction

2. Analysis of Kant’s “good will”

1. “Good will” vs. happiness

2. The essence of a “good will”

3. Plausibility of Kant’s view of the “good will”

4. Conclusion

Introduction. Being one of the main representatives of the Western-European classical philosophy, Immanuel Kant dealt with the best traditions of the German idealism. A human personality, according to Kant is the highest and absolute value. It is the personality, in Kant’s understanding, that towers the person over its own self and links the human being with the “order of things”. The “order of things”, according to Kant is the reflection of the “common sense”. The whole perceived world around us complies with the “order of things”. The most interesting part of Kant’s philosophy is that his own notion of the “order of things” and “common sense” is dual in case of analyzing it. In his work “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals” Kant’s thoughts come to a vital question. This question lies in the fight between the undermost and highest abilities of a desire, between the longing to happiness and a good will that is a manifestation of duty. In this work it is very easy to trace Kant’s intension to oppose the "clean" teaching of morality and its degradation to any ethical relativism, which causes this degradation of morality. He tried to create the highest form of estimation of the ethical principles that managed morality? For he believed that the degradation of morality starts from, the impossibility to evaluate what is really wrong or right. Here, is the point where Immanuel Kant enters the definition of the notion “good will”. Kant explains what a “good will” is and what difference it makes in the perception of the moral actions that a person makes. Kant’s main intention is to underline the moral value of motivation and its realization at least through the presence of a “good will” in a person.

2. Analysis of Kant’s “good will”

“The only thing that is good without qualification or restriction is a good will”[17]. Kant outlines that goodness objectively remains to be goodness, even if nobody is really good. From this understanding he offers the definition of what a good will is. The notion of Kant’s ethics is the autonomous good will. This “good will” is not passive; a carrier of this will needs to make actions and deeds.A moral action looks like a result of an internal imperative command. So Kant makes an accent on the importance of the behavior, which is managed by the good will. “That is to say, a good will alone in good in all circumstances and in that sense is an absolute or unconditioned good”[17]. Kant evaluates a good will without basing on the results, which it produces.From the point of view of the philosopher a good will keeps remaining good even if it does achieve the goal it had. In other words, even if an individual fails to do something commanded by his good will what he did remains a good thing unconditionally. At the same time Immanuel Kant views a good will as a unique goodness that is able to produce the result it intended to produce. A good will is still valuable by itself, because it objectively either exists or not in the personality.

2.a. “Good will” vs. happiness

As it has been already mentioned Immanuel Kant in his work “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals” widely uses the term “good will”. It is very important to understand the reason Kant valued this notion so deeply. To completely understand this it is necessary to draw the parallel between a good will and objective happiness of every individual.Let us suppose, basing on Kant’s words, that we meet a person who at all points is successful: he has power, wealth, a good health, a good state of mind, he is satisfied with his life, looks and considers himself to be a happy person. Can we say analyzing this man that he is happy? Generally yes. People would ordinarily say that this man is happy and has everything to be happy and his own perception of being happy in addition. Kant’s question to this matter is different – does this happiness have a moral bases? From Kant’s point of view some conditions and qualities of a “happy person” are not combined with any moral bases. At this point is necessary to come back to the term “good will”.The absence of a good will makes unacceptable generally needed personal qualities such as wittiness, ability to judge, courage, decisiveness and many others. Kant implies that these qualities may become “evil” in case when they are not supported by the good will. From the philosopher’s opinion a good will forms, probably, the most essential condition not only of being happy but even of being worthy to be happy.

2.b. The essence of a ”good will”

A “good will” is a will, not able to be cruel or evil [53]. The “supposition” of goodness forms the nature of the good will. Goodness it the main requirement of the existance of the “good will” according to Immanuel Kant. A good will is a will in which subjective characteristics of an individual do not prevent but define and help the “desire to do good”. Good will in its own sense is a unity of liberty and law, mind and goodness. The purity of determination of the will by the mind is the real meaning of its goodness. Kant also refers to the “absolute good will”[60]. The “sanctity” of this good will in Kant’s understanding comes from its superiority over Kant’s ordinary ”good will”. Kant views the absolute good will as the moral destination of the human mind. It is the main goal of the highest gift humanity has ever gotten – the human mind. Kant interprets this form of will as a “pure” will. Kant through his notion “good will” reveals the necessity of high moral values in the life of every person, without which the life even subjectively happy individual is may not be called complete and successful, but even a failure of mind to success and to purify. Kant makes an accent on the required versatility of the good will – a good will needs to become the law of will of any creature. A good will possesses a full unity of subjective and objective beginnings of the will in the unconditional law of moralities.

3. Plausibility of Kant’s view of the “good will”

Some people claim that Kant’s idea seems to be a utopia of perfection. According to Kant the perfection of will is estimated by the completeness of absolute will in an individual. If therefore the perfection of will is a moral law, all other laws of duty remain considerably imperfect, which also makes the good will imperfect, too. Therefore, a human being is a unique creature, for which perfection in other fields is not as valid, as the good will is. The complete perfection is achieved only the good will itself, for it is objectively and unconditionally good [78]. Can this be considered to be a universal law? And is a good will the most valuable What Kant assures the reader is that the good will is good even if it does not produce the necessary effects and does not achieve the results is aimed to achieve. If the reader analyzes this point of view from a practical example he might face a certain difficulty. For instance, a person’s goal is to do a good thing, but while trying to do it he causes definite harm. Can it be estimated to be still a good will, even if it caused negative results, opposite to the ones aimed to achieve.The most questionable part of Kant’s opinion is the evaluation of the result of the action produced by the good will. As both positive and negative results do not postpone the goodness of the good will it is very hard to objectively judge the actions of a person. If the perfection can be found only inside of the good will and nothing else can be perfect by itself, than how can a person assume that he posses a good will. This is very doubtful, due to the difference of the notion of happiness of other people. Individual’s subjectivity does not allow them to possess a good will because even if their intensions are good they cannot know for sure that what they want to do is good in terms of the person they want to help and anything else. At the same time the fact of willing good may not be taken into count. If there are two different people with the same results obtained and if their wills are opposing each other, than the person that possessed a good will in his intentions is the “good” one. It is about the inconsistency of the will and the result of the action the will produces. Kant idea seems to be a utopia, but nevertheless, it may be called plausible due to the possibility to perfect while trying to achieve the absolute will. It is very plausible that even if a man is talented, gifted, if he posses the most suitable temperament for his ambience, even if he is clever, voluptuous, sincere it all may produce harm in case if it not directed by a good will. Immanuel Kant outlines that a good will is what makes a man highly moral and therefore evaluates him in it own definition.

Conclusion. Immanuel Kant provided a philosophical point of view of the morality of the society. His “good will” innovation gave the bases to the works of other famous philosophers. Immanuel Kant’s “good will theory” claims that only if a thing does not require anything else to be good in order to function – then it is good and if it does it is good with a certain limitation. “Good will” is estimated both by the goodness of the willing and the result of this willing, not necessarily both at the same time. As all the personal qualities require a good will to conduct them in order to be good – they are all good with limitations. At the same time a good will does not need all these qualities to be good. All the qualities and opportunities in the society around are good with limitations and the only thing that will make them truly good – is the good will, for it is the only thing that does not require anything else to be good. Kant’s unexcelled idea enraptures the thinker with its depth. The most important ting to understand, according to Kant is that the goodness of a good will is not evaluated through the result it achieves and the result itself has nothing to with the goodness of the good will and under no condition does limit its goodness. Nothing would end this paper better that Kant’s own words carrying the most important message he wanted people to hear: “It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it, which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will”.


Immanual Kant – Theory of Motive and Theory of Duty

Posted by beckyclay | April 30, 2007

In ethics, there are two main theories when discussing moral philosophy. They are the “Theory of Motive” and the “Theory of Duty”. While the Theory of Motive explains what the truly moral motive is, the Theory of Duty evaluates what makes an act right or wrong and how we judge the morality of our actions. Immanuel Kant had very detailed justifications for his opinions on each of these theories, however there are still several legitimate criticisms of Kantian ethics.

The Theory of Motive evaluates questions such as: “What is the measure of a good character?”, “What is the measure of virtue?”, “What is the truly moral motive?”, and “What is intrinsically good?”. Answering these questions is important in order to discover a motive that is consistent and can be applied to all types of situations.

For example, when people donate to charity only so they can benefit from a tax write-off, they are technically doing the right thing but it still does not reflect any virtue in them. The act itself is good but the motive for the act is not stemming from anything virtuous.

The Theory of Duty evaluates questions such as: “What makes an act right or wrong?”, “How do we judge the morality of our actions?”, “What is the principle of morality and what rules are generated by it?”. Discovering the defining characteristic of moral judgments is important in order to make virtuous decisions uniformly in our every day life. There are situations when people act in such a way that reflects good moral character, however they are actually doing the wrong thing.

For example, when you see a bum on a street corner and you decide to give him money. If he spends the money on food the outcome of your donation is positive, however if he chooses to spend the money on drugs then the result of your charity has had a negative effect. It is here that a dilemma arises of whether a moral obligation should depend on the consequences of the act. One could argue that giving money to a homeless person is always a moral obligation no matter what the outcome is. On the other hand, some would argue that the possibilities of every situation should be weighed before actually making any donation.

The most extreme deontological ethicist, Immanuel Kant, had specific views about each moral theory. Being a deontological ethicist, Kant believed that how one accomplishes something is more important than what he accomplishes.

Kant’s Theory of Motive was goodwill. He believed that goodwill was the only consistent motive that could measure virtue and good character. In the case of the person who donated to charity solely for the nice tax write off, according to Kant, the act is not motivated by goodwill and is therefore not virtuous. The same could be said for when politicians hug school children and kiss babies for the media. Their acts are only to obtain a good reputation and publicity but they are not motivated by goodwill, and so, Kant would argue that they are not virtuous or moral.

Kant’s Theory of Duty (or moral obligation) was universality. He believed that a duty must be universal for all people and all circumstances, and that the maxim of one’s actions can become a universal law of human conduct. For example, telling a lie would not be a right or moral act because if it were to become a universal law, nobody would be telling the truth and everything would be chaos. There would be no point in making statements or promises because everything you hear would be false.

The motive of goodwill and the theory of universality may sound like they are good standards to use when making rules of morality, however there are several criticisms that can be made about them.

For one, always being motivated by goodwill may be too stringent of a rule. Bill Gates gives millions of dollars away to charity each year because our government requires him to. Although he, and most wealthy people in general, probably would not donate to charity on their own (at least not as generously), the net good that is achieved from their donations may make the act okay even without goodwill. There were still millions of orphans that were fed and expensive medical research that was done thanks to their donations. So can such an act really be classified as immoral?

A second major criticism of Kantian ethics is that there is no resolution for moral conflicts. For example, assume you have made a promise to a friend to have lunch at 12 noon. On your way there you witness a huge accident in which you could provide some assistance. You know that if you stop to assist the victims you will never make it to lunch and you will be breaking the promise you made to your friend. On the other hand, you are the first to arrive on the scene and you can potentially save someone’s life because they will die if they wait for an ambulance to arrive.

Because Kant believes that keeping promises is a rule (going back to universality where all rules must be consistent and reversible), he would argue that you should not stop and help the victims of this horrible wreck and you should keep your promise to your friend. Kant would justify this by saying that, If everyone were allowed to break promises, then there would be no reason to make promises or commitments in the first place because they would mean nothing. This is a problem because ignoring the moral obligation to save a life is conflicting with your obligation to your friend. Kant mentions no considerations for these dilemmas in his moral theories.

It is important to evaluate and closely examine all aspects of both the Theory of Motive and the Theory of Duty so that we can consistently make good and moral decisions in our daily lives. Although Kant may be a bit extreme in his views, it is important to understand all possible conflicts that moral motives and obligations encompass, and be able to provide a consistent way to justify your decisions. A complete understanding of these moral acts will help us make virtuous decisions consistently and provide us with the ability to make the same decisions in similar situations.

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