Ethics and morality. The number one quality we look for in the people we take in to our lives, ranging from our children to spouses, from our classmates to workmates. While we all have a mutual understanding of the concept of morality, the path each person follows to reach moral values differs from one another.
Immanuel Kant, the father of moral philosophy, summarized the ethical values one should bear in mind in his Categorical Imperative, in two distinct principles.
1- “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”
2- “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.”
While the two principles doesn’t seem like they contradict with each other in the first place, it is seen that they have fundamental differences when they are thoroughly analyzed.
Imagine that you are a chief officer in the air forces. You have heard that a plane full of passengers kidnapped by a group of skyjackers. They have announced that they will kill all passengers on the plane, if their friend who have been arrested aren’t released from the prison. To make you believe, they have killed a 2-moth baby in front of the cameras of the news channels. What would you do in this case? Sacrifice the lives of the passengers in order to pursue your ideals, or let the skyjackers go away with their crime?
Lets analyze the case using Kant’s Categorical Imperative.
If you use the first principle, it is clear that you should sacrifice the passengers because no matter what, you can’t let go of your ideals. If you want your behavior to be a “universal law” you have to do what you should do, regardless of your emotions.
However, on the other side there is a principle, which states that you should never use a person as a means but always as an end. Isn’t sacrificing the innocent lives of these human using people as a means? How can you let them die, while they didn’t do any single thing that has contributed to this catastrophe?
It isn’t as simple as it seems right? Now I’m coming to my initial question. How does the society expect us to be “moral” while Kant’s Categorical Imperative conflicts with itself? Is it possible to be moral at all?
Ironic I know, but still. Moral of the day: Don’t classify anyone as “moral” or “immoral” according to the one action they took. Your understanding of moralities may be contradicting with the values of the other person. No matter what you do, you never know what they are going through or what are they thinking about. Try to be understanding, but yourself into the shoes of others and always keep the two principles of Kant’s Categorical Imperative in mind while making decisions.