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When one reasons prudentially, for example about the future reasons that one will have, one allows the reason in the future to justify one's current action without reference to the strength of one's current desires. If a hurricane were to destroy someone's car next year at that point he will want his insurance company to pay him to replace it: that future reason gives him a reason, now, to take out insurance. The strength of the reason ought not to be hostage to the strength of one's current desires. The denial of this view of prudence, Nagel argues, means that one does not really believe that one is one and the same person through time.

One is dissolving oneself into distinct person-stages. Philosopher Onora O'Neill , who studied under John Rawls at Harvard University , is a contemporary Kantian ethicist who supports a Kantian approach to issues of social justice.

Modern Morality and Ancient Ethics | Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy

O'Neill argues that a successful Kantian account of social justice must not rely on any unwarranted idealizations or assumption. She notes that philosophers have previously charged Kant with idealizing humans as autonomous beings, without any social context or life goals, though maintains that Kant's ethics can be read without such an idealization. Conceiving of reason as a tool to make decisions with means that the only thing able to restrain the principles we adopt is that they could be adopted by all. If we cannot will that everyone adopts a certain principle, then we cannot give them reasons to adopt it.

To use reason, and to reason with other people, we must reject those principles that cannot be universally adopted. In this way, O'Neill reached Kant's formulation of universalisability without adopting an idealistic view of human autonomy. From this model of Kantian ethics, O'Neill begins to develop a theory of justice. She argues that the rejection of certain principles, such as deception and coercion, provides a starting point for basic conceptions of justice, which she argues are more determinate for human beings that the more abstract principles of equality or liberty.

Nevertheless, she concedes that these principles may seem to be excessively demanding: there are many actions and institutions that do rely on non-universalisable principles, such as injury.


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In his paper " The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories ", philosopher Michael Stocker challenges Kantian ethics and all modern ethical theories by arguing that actions from duty lack certain moral value. He gives the example of Smith, who visits his friend in hospital out of duty, rather than because of the friendship; he argues that this visit seems morally lacking because it is motivated by the wrong thing. After presenting a number of reasons that we might find acting out of duty objectionable, she argues that these problems only arise when people misconstrue what their duty is.

Acting out of duty is not intrinsically wrong, but immoral consequences can occur when people misunderstand what they are duty-bound to do. Duty need not be seen as cold and impersonal: one may have a duty to cultivate their character or improve their personal relationships. She argues that, seen this way, duty neither reveals a deficiency in one's natural inclinations to act, nor undermines the motives and feelings that are essential to friendship. For Baron, being governed by duty does not mean that duty is always the primary motivation to act; rather, it entails that considerations of duty are always action-guiding.

A responsible moral agent should take an interest in moral questions, such as questions of character. These should guide moral agents to act from duty. While Friedrich Schiller appreciated Kant for basing the source of morality on a person's reason rather than on God, he also criticized Kant for not going far enough in the conception of autonomy, as the internal constraint of reason would also take away a person's autonomy by going against their sensuous self.

Schiller introduced the concept of the "beautiful soul," in which the rational and non-rational elements within a person are in such harmony that a person can be led entirely by his sensibility and inclinations. However, given that humans are not naturally virtuous, it is in exercising control over the inclinations and impulses through moral strength that a person displays "dignity.

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While he admits that the concept of duty can only be associated with dignity, gracefulness is also allowed by the virtuous individual as he attempts to meet the demands of the moral life courageously and joyously. German philosopher G. Hegel presented two main criticisms of Kantian ethics. He first argued that Kantian ethics provides no specific information about what people should do because Kant's moral law is solely a principle of non-contradiction.


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To illustrate this point, Hegel and his followers have presented a number of cases in which the Formula of Universal Law either provides no meaningful answer or gives an obviously wrong answer. Hegel used Kant's example of being trusted with another man's money to argue that Kant's Formula of Universal Law cannot determine whether a social system of property is a morally good thing, because either answer can entail contradictions.

He also used the example of helping the poor: if everyone helped the poor, there would be no poor left to help, so beneficence would be impossible if universalised, making it immoral according to Kant's model. For Hegel, it is unnatural for humans to suppress their desire and subordinate it to reason. This means that, by not addressing the tension between self-interest and morality, Kant's ethics cannot give humans any reason to be moral. German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer criticised Kant's belief that ethics should concern what ought to be done, insisting that the scope of ethics should be to attempt to explain and interpret what actually happens.

Whereas Kant presented an idealized version of what ought to be done in a perfect world, Schopenhauer argued that ethics should instead be practical and arrive at conclusions that could work in the real world, capable of being presented as a solution to the world's problems. Because he believed that virtue cannot be taught—a person is either virtuous or is not—he cast the proper place of morality as restraining and guiding people's behavior, rather than presenting unattainable universal laws.

Philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche criticised all contemporary moral systems, with a special focus on Christian and Kantian ethics. He argued that all modern ethical systems share two problematic characteristics: first, they make a metaphysical claim about the nature of humanity, which must be accepted for the system to have any normative force; and second, the system benefits the interests of certain people, often over those of others.

Although Nietzsche's primary objection is not that metaphysical claims about humanity are untenable he also objected to ethical theories that do not make such claims , his two main targets—Kantianism and Christianity—do make metaphysical claims, which therefore feature prominently in Nietzsche's criticism. Nietzsche rejected fundamental components of Kant's ethics, particularly his argument that morality, God, and immorality, can be shown through reason. Nietzsche cast suspicion on the use of moral intuition, which Kant used as the foundation of his morality, arguing that it has no normative force in ethics.

He further attempted to undermine key concepts in Kant's moral psychology, such as the will and pure reason. Like Kant, Nietzsche developed a concept of autonomy; however, he rejected Kant's idea that valuing our own autonomy requires us to respect the autonomy of others. Under the Kantian model, reason is a fundamentally different motive to desire because it has the capacity to stand back from a situation and make an independent decision.

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Nietzsche conceives of the self as a social structure of all our different drives and motivations; thus, when it seems that our intellect has made a decision against our drives, it is actually just an alternative drive taking dominance over another. This is in direct contrast with Kant's view of the intellect as opposed to instinct; instead, it is just another instinct. There is thus no self-capable of standing back and making a decision; the decision the self-makes is simply determined by the strongest drive.

For an individual to create values of their own, which is a key idea in Nietzsche's philosophy, they must be able to conceive of themselves as a unified agent. Even if the agent is influenced by their drives, he must regard them as his own, which undermines Nietzsche's conception of autonomy.

What is Kantian Ethics? (Philosophical Definitions)

Utilitarian philosopher John Stuart Mill criticised Kant for not realizing that moral laws are justified by a moral intuition based on utilitarian principles that the greatest good for the greatest number ought to be sought. Mill argued that Kant's ethics could not explain why certain actions are wrong without appealing to utilitarianism. Virtue ethics is a form of ethical theory which emphasizes the character of an agent, rather than specific acts; many of its proponents have criticised Kant's deontological approach to ethics.

Elizabeth Anscombe criticised modern ethical theories, including Kantian ethics, for their obsession with law and obligation. He further challenges Kant's formulation of humanity as an end in itself by arguing that Kant provided no reason to treat others as means: the maxim "Let everyone except me be treated as a means", though seemingly immoral, can be universalized. Roman Catholic priest Servais Pinckaers regarded Christian ethics as closer to the virtue ethics of Aristotle than Kant's ethics.

He presented virtue ethics as freedom for excellence , which regards freedom as acting in accordance with nature to develop one's virtues. Initially, this requires following rules—but the intention is that the agent develop virtuously, and regard acting morally as a joy. This is in contrast with freedom of indifference , which Pinckaers attributes to William Ockham and likens to Kant.

On this view, freedom is set against nature: free actions are those not determined by passions or emotions. There is no development or progress in an agent's virtue, merely the forming of habit. This is closer to Kant's view of ethics, because Kant's conception of autonomy requires that an agent is not merely guided by their emotions, and is set in contrast with Pinckaer's conception of Christian ethics. A number of philosophers, including Elizabeth Anscombe [73] , Jean Bethke Elshtain [74] , Servais Pinckaers [75] , Iris Murdoch [76] , and the Catholic Encyclopedia [77] , have all suggested that the Kantian conception of ethics rooted in autonomy is contradictory in its dual contention that humans are co-legislators of morality and that morality is a priori.

They argue that if something is universally a priori i.

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Modern Morality and Ancient Ethics

On the other hand, if humans truly do legislate morality, then they are not bound by it objectively, because they are always free to change it. This objection seems to rest on a misunderstanding of Kant's views since Kant argued that morality is dependent upon the concept of a rational will and the related concept of a categorical imperative: an imperative which any rational being must necessarily will for itself. Furthermore, the sense in which our wills are subject to the law is precisely that if our wills are rational, we must will in a lawlike fashion; that is, we must will according to moral judgments we apply to all rational beings, including ourselves.

That is, an autonomous will, according to Kant, is not merely one which follows its own will, but whose will is lawful-that is, conforming to the principle of universalizability, which Kant also identifies with reason. Ironically, in another passage, willing according to immutable reason is precisely the kind of capacity Elshtain ascribes to God as the basis of his moral authority, and she commands this over an inferior voluntarist version of divine command theory , which would make both morality and God's will contingent.

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Kant and Elshtain, that is, both agree God has no choice but to conform his will to the immutable facts of reason, including moral truths; humans do have such a choice, but otherwise their relationship to morality is the same as that of God's: they can recognize moral facts, but do not determine their content through contingent acts of will. Kant believed that the shared ability of humans to reason should be the basis of morality, and that it is the ability to reason that makes humans morally significant.

He, therefore, believed that all humans should have the right to common dignity and respect.