Kant believes that a good will is the only inherently good thing in the world. Human talents such as wit, intelligence, and judgement as well as the qualities of human temperament, for instance, resolution and courage are both positive and negative. Kant explains these factor referring to the nature of the will. If the will is good, human talents and character traits are desirable and beneficial, whereas otherwise these things may be extremely harmful. Moreover, the same happens to the gifts of fortune such as wealth, honour, power, and happiness. If a good will is absent, these gifts make a person overbold. In addition, only in case of good intentions, it is possible to correct one’s actions and adjust them to some universal truth. Thus, this paper aims at analysing Kant’s “Passage from Ordinary Rational Knowledge of Morality to Philosophical.”
In my opinion, Kant’s arguments are both quite reasonable and ambiguous. First of all, it is true that people can use their talents for good and bad purposes depending on their will. For instance, an intelligent person may support peace in the whole world or invent some destructive weapon to intimidate humanity and become a world lord. Wealthy and powerful people, too, often lose a sense of reality and considering themselves the best, humiliate and despise the weak and the poor. As far as the ambiguity in Kant’s argument concerns, it remains unclear how a will can be both good and bad if at the beginning the philosopher stated that it is intrinsically good. Secondly, it appears that there are the other things, not just a will, which influence the way a person uses one’s talents and character traits. Undoubtedly, one should remember that there are such powerful factors of shaping one’s behavioural pattern as upbringing, social surrounding, and inheritance.
Further, the philosopher wants to convince his readers that a good will is good in itself since it is good even if its results are negative. This assertion seems rather strange at first but if one considers the fact that there are many other factors which impact our actions, it is clear why a good will may lead to negative consequences. For example, a person has a lot of money and with an honourable intention gives a considerable sum to charity. A charitable organization, however, appears to be a swindler and uses the money for its dishonest purposes. Finally, the will was good but it caused negative consequences. Nevertheless, this Kant’s point is crucial because it implies that humans are intrinsically good and it is a social environment they live in that shapes their character and behaviour.
Furthermore, good will does not exist on its own since a reason or human rational intellect gives birth to it. Trying to explain this phenomenon, Kant draws a parallel between the structures of natural organisms where individuals choose the most appropriate organs or faculties to satisfy their purposes. Moreover, according to the philosopher, chief people’s aims are self-preservation and happiness. In fact, instincts are responsible for attainment of these goals, whereas the reason serves a higher purpose, namely, it causes an inherently good will. To exemplify his claim, Kant states that common people, the masses, do not have a capacity for reason and despise it but lead a happy life while those who do have a faculty of reason are less happy and even envy average people.
To my mind, Kant’s example is very bright and true-to-life. It really happens so that ordinary people are happier but they are more ignorant, too. Undoubtedly, people have to satisfy their primary instincts but one should not forget that individuals as rational beings cannot live by instincts only. In essence, the reason is what makes us different from the animals. However, not all the people have a capacity for it. Consequently, the masses prefer to lead a simpler but happier life while those few with a faculty of reason tend to suffer more.
Moreover, a good will manifests itself in the form of duties or definite obligations. In this connection, Kant makes three propositions. Firstly, an action is good only if one performs it out of duty only. The point is that people may pretend to act for the sake of duty but in reality they have some vested interest or obligation other than that. Secondly, any action is judged by its motivation rather than a presupposed result. When someone who takes an action is guided just by a sense of duty, it means they accept a moral principle valid without verification. In addition, if individuals strive for achieving a particular aim, their motivation is not a mere duty. Lastly, a notion of “reverence for the law” exists. Kant considers a general moral law to be higher than any other interests and concerns. Thus, humans as rational beings should undertake duties not on the basis of instincts but out of respect for the law since their moral motivation should predetermine a way they implement their duties.
All the propositions Kant makes sound rather reasonable but, unfortunately, they are too far-fetched. In today’s world, there are hardly any people who are guided by moral principles. It is even difficult to say if any moral principles exist. Nowadays, everyone is interested in one’s own benefit only, and what makes the matter worse is that people are ready to use any instruments to reach their goals. Using the motto “the end justifies the means,” people deceive, rob, and may even kill the others in a constant pursuit of power, wealth, and domination. Instead of thinking about the future, humanity is looking for more sophisticated ways of own destruction. Therefore, it seems there are no people guided by reason; instincts completely dominate in today’s world.
According to the philosopher, a general moral law or the categorical imperative is universal because it is applicable to any situation. Besides, the categorical imperative runs as follows: act in such a way as you want the others to treat you. Kant tries to persuade the reader into this golden rule by demonstrating how easy it is to violate the moral law. If a person gives a false promise, one may think that it is permissible because it helps them to resolve a difficult situation. The other people may object to this saying that there is no point in lying because eventually it may produce negative results. However, in both cases, people are motivated not by mere respect for duty but a fear of consequences. Therefore, it appears that lying can never become a universal law. If everyone gave false promises, the very notion of promise would disappear. Moreover, nobody wants to be deceived; thus, theoretically, people do not want others to tell lies.
As in case of the above-mentioned suggestions, Kant’s categorical imperative is logical and just but hard to implement in real life. It is true that every person wants to be treated in the best way but it is impossible. Human life is full of troubles, constant worries, and ambitions. Fighting for their place under the sun, people simply have no time to think about the honesty of their intentions and actions. Besides, it is also the fact that honest people find it harder to succeed in life than dishonest ones. Even if a group of honest individuals continues treating the others fairly, they will get nothing in return because today’s world has become too cruel and deceptive. In other words, it is inconvenient to stick to Kant’s imperative nowadays. Furthermore, the latter is close to the Biblical commandment which people do not obey either.
Concluding his argument, Kant admits that most people are unaware of the moral law. However, in practice, it appears that ordinary people still obey it. It happens so because humans can hardly sense theoretical matters intuitively, whereas their intuitive feelings about practical reason or morality are quite correct. As an example, Kant provides the fact that typically it is easy for people to distinguish right from wrong and good from evil. However, the need for a philosophical interpretation of morals still remains acute. Consequently, it occurs so since ordinary people who do not have enough experience in philosophical matters cannot withstand their concerns, desires, and needs that have nothing to do with morality. Such people may be easily deceived, which may lead to a complete loss of all moral principles. The point Kant emphasizes at this stage is pivotal as it shows that humans have more practical concerns which play a more significant role for them than the philosophical matters.
In conclusion, Kant’s arguments are mainly reasonable, although some ambiguity is also found. Another common feature of his philosophical conclusions is that they are far-fetched and hard to implement in real life. In fact, his statements may be a good basis for debates and heated discussions but for ordinary people, the masses, they are of a little practical value. It is obvious because a rhythm of life in today’s world leaves no space for speculations on impractical philosophical matters. As a result, people lead lives that are full of routine troubles among which moral values and principles take the last place, if any.