Analysis Of Immanuel Kant's Categorical Imperative Theory

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During the “Age of enlightenment’ in the 18th century, the German philosopher, Immanuel Kant, came up with one of most fundamental ethical reasoning that is still applicable in the present. We all need a way that will help us evaluate the morally right and wrong actions. That is the purpose of Kant’s “Categorical Imperative”. We can discuss the theory as a filter on decision making, in order to evaluate if it is an action that we should take, if it is morally right or wrong. My aim in this essay is to explain his theory through an example that can be related to the essence of Kant’s philosophy of moral duty.

According to an article by “Electronic Frontier Foundation”, since 2001 the US government with the help of leading communication companies, as AT&T, have been surveilling millions of normal American citizens’ communication records. The first reports were exposed in 2005, confirming that NSA (National security agency) is tracking American people’s phone calls and social media conversations. The article states that AT&T company installed a device, which downloads each kind of Internet information that is sent to or received by its customers. Moreover, later reports proof that the US government keeps such records, as a means of a Patriot Act.

Undoubtedly, these surveillance acts violate with the US Constitution and the basic human rights. However, the question is if it is moral to interfere someone’s life without his knowledge and agreement. Although, it is considered that the government is doing it for a greater good: a safer world where people should not be that afraid of terrorist attacks and events like 9/11, I should ask myself if surveillance is morally right according to Kant’s “Categorical Imperative”.

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Kant’s theory implies that one should act on maxims only if he/she wills they should become a universal law. In this example, the maxim can be: “I will violate the human rights, by recording Americans’ domestic communication, as I have the power and support to do it for the sake of Patriotism”. The Universal law of Categorical Imperative suggests that everybody should be treated equally. If an action is wrong for someone, it is considered wrong for everyone. On the contrary, if an action is acceptable for one, it should be accepted for each person. Therefore, if this maxim becomes a Universal Law without contradiction, it will violate with the Categorical Imperative and the government should act differently for the sake of duty.

Moreover, the philosopher believes that the morally right actions do not depend on the consequences. However, the morally worthy decisions are the ones that are taken for the sake of duty. In other words, duty is related to a good will. It refers to acts done because of moral reasons, not because of prudence. The Ethics of duty suggest that everybody should be treated equally. If an action is wrong for someone, it is considered wrong for everyone. On the contrary, if an action is acceptable for one, it should be accepted for each person. The US government’s reason behind surveillance is protecting the American nation.

However, if monitoring is adopted as a Universal Law, nobody will feel free to use technology as a way of communication. As a result, the government would not be able to use the so-called fiber optic cable devices, in order to download the communication records. With regards to the consequences, the US government is “spying” on ordinary Americans as a means of a fight against terrorism. Nevertheless, Kant believes that even if the action has a good consequence, it is not a reason to perform it, because what produces happiness is only the moral course of that action.

To conclude, everyone who follows Kant’s philosophy should base his decisions on the morally right action, which is the one motivated by the duty, despite your own interest and the outcome. People should be treated equally. Therefore, they should act on maxims, only if at the same time will to become Universal laws. Having the theory in mind, it is clear that the above discussed example is violating the Categorical Imperative and that the act of surveillance is not the morally worthy thing to do.

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