Immanuel Kant's Ethics and Frankl's Concept of Suffering

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Pragmatic Ethics

Pragmatic Ethics or Mixed Deontology is an ethical program created by John D. Rawls in order to address the criticisms against Deontology that it is too strict and that of Teleology that it is too loose. In response, he created the system that believes that there is an inherent rightness or wrongness of an act but there are such “extreme circumstances” that exempt an action from being judged based on its inherent rightness. These situations, however, can be judged under the three criteria of Extreme Circumstances of Survival.

Under this criteria are circumstances with (1) matters of life and death. Imagine in the era during Hitler’s reign in Germany when they are hunting down Jews to execute, a Jew hides in your home. When a soldier asked if there is a Jew in your home, you chose to lie and said that there are no Jews at your home. Under a deontologist’s eye, your action was wrong because you deceived the soldier even though he’s a bad person. However, a pragmatist would think that what you did was right because if you told the truth, the Jew might die. We know in our hearts that lying to the soldier is the best and good thing to do and that’s why pragmatic ethics came to existence. Another criterion is when it’s a (2) matter of extreme propriety when you foresee the possibility of your action and thinking what might happen after you do such act. We can use the same situation from the first criteria when lying to the soldier is justifiable because telling the truth would mean that in the near future, the Jew will be executed. That’s why lying to the soldier the best thing to do according to a pragmatist.

Finally, the last criterion is when it is a (3) matters of differentiating “intended and foreseen consequences. ” It is stated under this criteria that one should always act on the foreseen consequences. To explain it easily, you should not intend to do a wrong thing but, it is acceptable to do a good act and doing something bad in the process of achieving your good foreseen goal. The best example of this is when you are a doctor who is working in a hospital with only one available bed but two dying patients need to be attended by a doctor immediately. If not attended immediately, the patient dies. In this case, you have to choose who to attend to. Under a deontologist’s judgement, this means that choosing one person to save means you are making a choice to let another person die and it is a wrong act. However, if you ask a pragmatist, what you did was good because by saving one person, you let another person die as a foreseen consequence. It was never your intention in the first place and what he did was considered ethical. This is basically what the pragmatic ethics’ ethical program is all about.


Deontology is an ethical program which believes that there’s an inherent rightness and wrongness of an action and it shouldn’t be judged based on its consequences. This is why deontologists have a dislike on the term “good. ” The “Good, ” however, is defined as subjective, evaluative, vague and ambiguous. It is considered subjective because it’s relative to us. What’s good for me may not be good for you which can also relate to it being evaluative because it is based on the preference of an individual. “Good” can also be ambiguous because there is no clear criteria on the goodness of an action while it’s vague because there’s no boundaries set on where goodness stops. Deontologists would, rather, prefer the term “right” because it is mainly objective. Also, it is considered an upgrade of the term “good. ”

Immanuel Kant and The Categorical Imperative

One of the most famous deontologists is Immanuel Kant who believes that one should act according to the Categorical Imperative. Acting in accordance to the Categorical Imperative means that you should do a right act with good will. This means you shouldn’t do something in conformity to duty. You should do something regardless of your desires. It should be of pure reason. You should do it because you know it is the right thing to do. That’s why in order for your act to be considered ethical, you need to know first that what you’re doing is right and of good will.

Kantian Ethics tells us to an act in accordance to “perfect duty” and not just in conformity to it. There is a difference between acting for the sake of duty and acting in conformity to duty. Both of them entails that you are acting because of duty but your motivations on doing this duty are different. Perfect Duty, doing duty for the sake of duty, needs you to act solely on duty and out of good will while Apparent Duty basis your actions on human inclinations. Acting, also, in perfect duty means you are doing something “without strings attached” based on the handouts. It means that you’re doing it without expecting positive reinforcements or something in return as opposed to duty in conformity where a person believes that following duty would bring them somewhere good.

Acting, also, in accordance to the Categorical Imperative means you act in accordance to its three maxims. The first Kantian Maxim is the Duty Maxim that one should “do duty for the sake of duty alone. ” This means that you should act in accordance to good will, not on any other reasons including desire. One shouldn’t act in accordance to human inclination which is under the category o Hypothetical Imperative. Acting upon human inclinations means you are doing something for a reason other than it being a product of good will. Human Inclination can be manifested in three levels: emotional attachment, reciprocation, and fear of untoward experiences. Acting upon (1) emotional attachment means that you are doing something because your emotions told you to do it (e. g. giving your friends gifts because you are happy). The second is acting for (2) reciprocation which means that you are doing something expecting that they will do such things in return. This problematic mindset of expecting things in return can be reflected on Confucius’ Rule “Do not do unto others what you don’t want others do unto you. ” It was just said that you shouldn’t do things for it to be reciprocated so this statement doesn’t abide by the relies set by Kant which is the reason why he created the Diamond Rule. It states that we should “do to others what is Right, having known it to be Right, even if others do not do the same thing to you. ”

The final level of manifestation is doing acts in (3) fear of untoward consequences which are prevalent on religions saying that we should do good thing so that we won’t go to a hell-like place where we will stay in eternal damnation. These three manifestations of human inclination directly explain why it in itself is an enemy of duty. Kant believes that you should do ethical acts in accordance to duty because if you do some actions based on these human inclinations, your motivation might be corrupt. If you give your friends gift when you’re happy, does that mean that you won’t do it when you’re not happy? If you help other people expecting them to help you in return, what if they tell you that they won’t do the same acts on you? Would you stop doing good thing on that person? Finally, if it’s proven that there are no consequences to your good actions, would you choose to be bad? That’s why we shouldn’t use human inclinations as a motivation of our actions because it in itself is an enemy of duty.

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Back to the Kantian Maxims, the second one is the Universalizability Maxim which states that we should “act in such a way that we can always will our action to become universal law. ” This coincide Kant’s Universality Axiom that’s basically about if one thing can be applies universally or all things in general. This can be more expounded as I go on with the second maxim. This maxim contains three “Universalizability Tests” that one should look through before commencing an act. The first test is the (1) Individual reverse test which begs to ask the question “what is this action is done to me instead?” This means that if you don’t want other people to do such actions on you, then don’t do it on other. This does not coincide with Confucius’ Silver Rule because this is a matter of testing, not an application of real life. The second is (2) Universal Application Test which tests of its rightness by imagining that all people of all time in all situations does it. Would it create chaos or would it maintain peace? We can use this test when talking about revenge. If all people would take revenge on all the people who have wronged them, it would make a chaotic world because the need for revenge would just circle around certain people and the fight will never end. Finally, the third test is the (3) Test of Non-contradiction which tests whether a particular act doesn’t contradict with a universally recognized law and value. White lies, in this case, fails this test because it contradicts the universal law of honestly and lying would create deception which can never be a good thing in any cases.

Kant’s last maxim is the Personhood, Existence and Intrinsic Humanity Maxim which puts importance and value on the three things stated. It is saying that we should “act in such a way that we treat ourselves and others as an end-in-itself and not as a mean-towards-our-end. This is the maxim that I love the most since it focuses on giving value towards us and the humanity. It tells us to respect the personhood of the person by treating them as person and not as an object. We are also taught to “not to pull the carpet off on the feet of others” which means that we, as humanity, would give the chance to each other to grow together with each of us. Finally, and the best thing about this maxim is how it tells us to practice valuing the free will and volition of a person. It states that saying yes does not equate to a free consent because a person can be manipulated or coerced to do so. A free consent is a permission to do an act without any external and internal force. That is basically what the third maxim is about.

Dor Movie Analysis: The Characters’ Ethical Freedom

Dor or “Thin Strand of String” is a movie about two women in two different parts of India who were brought together through an unexpected circumstance. This meeting changed the course of their lives together as they helped each other utilize the ethical freedom that was restricted by the community at first. Meera is the character who have let go of things more than any other characters in the film. With this action, she practiced her ethical freedom by choosing what she wants to do with her life. That is thanks to Zeenat who made her reach this realization.

The freedom that the characters chose to grasp at the movie is the concept of “leap of faith” that they kept on repeating. It has been prevalent on most of the scenes in the film. The very first one is the time Zeenat chose to go out of her hometown to find the wife of the man that his husband allegedly killed. The girl is said to live in a far off place but that didn’t stop Zeenat from going there to look for the widow in order to ask for a signature as a symbol of forgiveness. If this is successfully done, her husband might go out of jail. This is her inspiration to do such acts even if it made it hard for her to do so. She took that leap of faith in order to find the girl which she successfully did.

Another important aspect in the film is how it sends a message that women, in general, feels a certain inequality when it comes to rules set by religions. Women are expected to be perfect as shown in the image of Mother Mary or should always submit to the needs of her husband. This prevents them from doing certain acts for their own happiness. That’s why the scene where Meera, with the help of Zeenat, rode the camel freely as she totally let go of being held back by the moral rules in her community is one of the best scene which exemplifies how Meera practiced her ethical freedom or leap of faith. You can see Meera with a smile on her face and as viewers who really saw her sufferings, we become happy, as well. These women were taught that they should live their life in accordance with their husbands’ and if they die, they’re not allowed to remarry and have their own lives. Seeing Meera break that rule should be the catalyst of most women to know their rights and to know what they should be capable of doing without binding their selves on moral laws.

Finally, the best scene that exemplifies the leap of faith that one of the characters took in the movie is when Meera ran towards the train, leaving her hijab and her whole life behind, trying to ride and start over in another place. This scene was an emotional one and it is one of the best scene that this movies has offered. It symbolizes how Meera left her community and the moral rules together with it to live her life in a new place where her choices are given importance and value. This is where she did not just grasp, but she held on to it and she knows it will never be taken away from of her now that she knows how to handle it.

Frankl’s View on Life and Death

In our previous discussions, we discussed how people from the Ionian Islands which are located in the middle of the Aegean Sea invented philosophy because of all people, they are the ones who can feel the imperfections of life. This can be related to the saying that it is in suffering that we find and discover something even better. This can be related to Frankl’s idea that suffering and death could complete life and give it meaning.

In the concentration camps, we all know how these people suffer because of all the tortures and experiments conducted on them. These sufferings caused other prisoners to commit suicide or die in no time. However, through suffering, there are some people who begin to find their purpose of existence. This purpose gives these prisoners the will to live in order to achieve that purpose. When you come to think of it, these sufferings are the reasons why these prisoners started thinking of their purpose as a sort of coping mechanism because if we do not have the ability to control the situation, we try changing ourselves. That’s why they started to think and evaluate their lives. It was also stated in the reading how “suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning” which I think is beautifully written by Frankl. As much as suffering is an avenue for people to find their purpose, the purpose in itself can help diminish the suffering that life brings you in the hopes of achieving this goal that you know you are desrined or born to do. Frankl also stated in his book that ‘those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how” which can exemplify how having a purpose can make a person overcome any obstacle with his or her eagerness to achieve his or her goal.

On a final note, I want to discuss the importance of what Frankl said about the “space” in between stimulus and response. In psychology, this can be explained under Albert Bandura’s Social Cognitive Theory where a the stimulus passes through the person first before it reaches to the response and these three directly affect each other which can be put into figures through the Triadic Reciprocal Model. Back to Frankl, if suffering is considered inevitable, it doesn’t mean that we should live our lives miserably. We still have our own choice in that “space” on how we will react to it. Do we accept that we are here on this planet without a purpose and continue to be miserable or do we try to seek for our own purpose in life and try to make up our will to live from that purpose?

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