Philosophy of Religion

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Kant's Moral Argument and the Categorical Imperative

Kant did not think of the Moral Argument as actual proof for the existence of God. The Moral Argument fitted in with Kant’s desire to seek a universal moral principle. He believed that morality and justice were governed by universal laws in just the same way as the laws of nature. This is the basis of his famous categorical imperative. Moreover, the Moral Argument, as it develops, fits in and supports his deontological ethical system. For Kant, humanity has a duty to be morally good. Like many of Kant’s arguments it is ‘a priori’. Its starting point is worked out independent of exterior evidence.
  • Kant’s starting point is the assumption that the universe is inherently ‘good’. If the universe was not ‘good’ then morality would be meaningless.
  • However, it is evident that in the world it is not always the good who prosper and experience happiness. Quite often evil doers go unpunished.
  • In order to restore the balance of justice there must be the opportunity for the good to be rewarded in the next life. Likewise, there must be the opportunity for the evil doers to be punished.
  • Kant therefore argues that there must be an after life.
  • God must therefore exist to facilitate it.
The weakness of this argument is that it seems to depend upon justice being restored after death and not before. Kant wanted a guiding moral principle that would serve the needs of the living.

It is important to remember that as an ethical thinker Kant is a deontologist – i.e. he believed that you had to do things out of a sense of duty irrespective of its consequences.

Our moral experience tells us that we are under an obligation to strive for the Highest Good. Kant’s second argument follows:

  1. Duty - Morality demands that we strive for this Higher Good. If it is our obligation to follow the law, it is our obligation to aim for the highest goal of this law. Remember Kant is a deontologist.
  2. Weakness - It is not possible for a human being to achieve this Higher Good with out assistance. Since we are not the ‘cause of the world’, we cannot bring about the Highest Good. Even if we could achieve perfect morality, we could not ensure the ‘necessary connection’ for the perfect happiness that would follow. Humans therefore lack the necessary power to bring about the Highest Good.
  3. Assistence - God must exist to assist us in achieving this Higher Good.
It is illogical to have a Highest Good that is impossible to achieve. Kant therefore argued that it was logically necessary to accept both the existence of God, and of eternal life. God is the being that brings about happiness as a reward for virtue. Since happiness clearly does not come about in this life for the majority, there must be a life beyond death in which the reward comes.

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