Moral Theories of Hume and Kant Essay

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Hume juxtaposes two philosophical assumptions about the derivation of ethical judgment i. e. morality is a derivation of moral sense with the supposition that morality is a product of reasoning faculty. The later view was held by philosophers like Kant. These theories of Hume and Kant characterize different parameters for judging someone to be a good or bad person. Humes reinforcement of the idea that moral judgment comes as an emotional response is based on the marked differences between the natural and artificial virtues but Hume is unable to define the subtle differences between these two categories.

In my point of view Kantian theory devises more rational and plausible measures to make moral judgements. Humes moral theory has an enduring significance in the history of moral philosophy due to its originality and its influence on the moral philosophy. The centrality of the Humes moral philosophy is based on the assumptions that Moral distinctions are not derived from reason but moral distinctions derive from a moral sense. Humes moral theory appears in Book 3 of the Treatise of Human Nature (1740) in which he states that human capacity of moral judgment does not derive from reason alone.

Humes position in ethics is founded on his empiricist philosophy of mind. His philosophy includes four major assumptions: (1) Reason cannot be an exclusive drive to will (2) Morals are not drawn from reason. (3) Morals originate from the moral sentiments. (4) Some sentiments are natural, others, including justice, are artificial. He further illustrates that as ideas are mere impressions, so ideas cannot be a source of moral judgment, but human capacity for moral judgment has its roots in distinctive moral feelings or sentiments that Hume calls a moral sense.

As Hume begins conceptualizing his theory with certain assumptions i. e. whether moral distinctions are derived from reason, his special concern is that whether our moral endorsement of a particular issue is due to (a) rational judgment or (b) an emotional response? Hume is of the view that our moral approval is an emotional response instead of a rational judgment. Humes widely cited quote in A Treatise of Human Nature, reason is, and ought only to be the slave of the passions, is an illustrative example of his reliance on passion instead of reason for moral judgment.

By this Hume means that the passions are original and absolute existences and require no reference to external things. So passions, not the reason, are the very substance of the self. Humes moral theory is based on a sequence of actions, starting with the action of an agent and includes reception of the impact of action by a receiver and observation by a spectator. The first actors action is motivated by a character trait; either good or bad in character. Hume further locates that some personality characteristics are intuitive or instinctive and labels them as natural traits e.g. benevolence, and others are acquired or artificial e. g. justice.

Hume argues that natural virtues include traits that are not artificially implanted in first actor, and are naturally approved by the observer. So he concludes that feelings or the moral sense labels an act as virtuous or vicious and not the reason. In utter contrast to Humes moral philosophy, Kants moral theory is based on reason and rationalism. He is of the view that moral requirements are based on a standard of rationality he named as Categorical Imperative (CI).

He is of the view that rationality is the only trait that capacitates human beings with a moral sense. Kant moral theory manifests that any rational being would agree to universal moral laws. This means that moral laws exist on natural patterns in the universe and these patterns are the sole essence of moral judgments on individual and collective basis. He elaborates this point further by stating that reason is the only human faculty that can locate and recognize these patterns. Kant considers human beings as moral actors who are rational and autonomous.

Rationality symbolizes the faculty of reason whereas autonomy stands for independence to make choices based on rational faculty. Only morally virtuous thing, without qualification, in the entire cosmos is a good will i. e. a rationally directed intention that enables a human being to make moral approvals. He asserts that as a rational being, men are provided with the capacity that whether any deed is moral or not? And that can be located simply by its concordance with categorical imperative.

The essential characteristic of categorical imperative, as described in Groundwork to The Metaphysics of Morals is, Act only on that maxim (intention) whereby at the same time you can will that it shall become a universal law. What Kant means by this is that they way that we judge an action to be moral is to universalize it. The major flaw in the Kantian moral theory is its inhumanity. The mode of choice between virtue and vice in Kantian morality seems out of touch with humanity itself. Furthermore, Kant seems unable to clarify or rationalize the degree that we naturally locate goodness and evil in the world.

These flaws question the adequacy of Kants moral theory to captivate our moral natures and direct us to a moral life. If you dwell on Kants morally ideal agent for a moment, you will find someone who always treats others with dignity and, when duty and inclination divide, always acts out of respect for duty. Although Kantian morality requires a rational being to fulfill its requirements, it does not appear that an individual bereft of any feelings of sympathy for others is only capable of achieving Kants ideals.

But pure practical reason devoid of any passion and sentiments cannot be found as according to Kant, what accounts for the dignity of each human being is something they all generally share, presumably equally, pure practical reason. Another dilemma of Kants moral calculus is that it is unable to offer a way of resolving our contradictory duties. Kant moral theory has not answer to these questions but he still considers rationality as the sole qualifying feature of moral judgment. The major problem with the Hume moral philosophy is the distinction between the natural and artificial virtues.

He describes that justice is an artificial trait but it is obvious that we have a natural sense of justice. Hume is unable to justify this division, as he himself is confused about this distinction. Thats the reason that the distinction between artificial and natural virtues that is prevalent in Treatise is almost entirely absent from the moral Enquiry. Furthermore, Humes argument against the rationalism that demonstrative rationalism explores the relation of ideas and vice and virtues are not aligned with four philosophical relations, so reasoning is unable to draw conclusions about them.

He himself cannot provide a true relation between moral judgment and the sentiments that enables one to make moral judgments. I think that despite its various defects Kantian moral philosophy is compelling as it encircles all the major issues related to morality. His statement that moral obligation cannot simply be deducted from passions alone has its grounds in the universal facts. It further acknowledges the supremacy of human intellect. Kantian moral theory is the first philosophy to be completely secular, independent of the traditional and conventional notions of Gods will, a divine creative plan, or an afterlife.

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