The categorical imperative is the central philosophical concept in the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Introduced In Kant’s Groundwork for Metaphysics of Morals, it may be defined as a way of evaluating motivations for action. Kant attempts to show that there are certain rights and duties that all human beings possess regardless of any utilitarian beneflts that the exercise of those rights and duties may provide for others,( Velasquez ,2004).
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According to Kant, human beings occupy a special place in creation, and morality can be summed up in one ultimate commandment of reason, or Imperative, from which all duties and obligations are erived. He defined an imperative as any proposition that declares a certain action necessary. According to Fisher and Lovell (20061 categorical means unconditional, that is no exceptions, while imperative means a command, or in Kantian terms, a principle.
According to the categorical Imperative theory of ethics, an action Is morally right If It can be Judged by all reasoning people to be appropriate as a universal principle of conduct, irrespective of whether they are to be the doers, receivers or mere observers of an act. Kant directs us to the concept of moral duty in which he says we ll experience an innate moral duty (Rawls, 1972). The existence of the conscience and feelings of guilt and shame tells us when we violate this moral duty.
He believed that our moral duty could be revealed to us through reason, objectively. His theory was based solely on duty. He said that to act morally is to perform one’s duty and one’s duty is to obey the innate moral laws. The theory of categorical imperative has three formulations. The first formulation is “l ought never to act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law. A maxim Is the reason a person in a certain situation has for oing what he or she plans to do.
As highlighted by Velasquez (2004) this principle means that an action is morally right for a person in a certain situation if, and only
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if, the person’s reason for carrying out the action Is a reason that he/she would be willing to have every person act on, in any similar situation. This therefore shows a similarity between the first formulation and the golden rule. The first formulation of categorical imperative incorporates two criteria for determining moral right and wrong and they are universalizability and reversibility.
Reversibility means that the erson’s reasons for acting must be reasons that he/she would be willing to have all others use, even as a basis of how they treat hlm/her. Therefore one should ask whether he/she likes it if he/she were in that person’s place receiving that treatment. With universalizability the person’s reason for acting must be reasons that everyone could act on. at least In principle.
For example the black empowerment Indigenisation exercise in the country, the government has to think whether the reasons for doing that can be used in every country and whether it would be satisfying if that is also f universalizability to a greater extent may not really apply in the running of todays businesses. However, there are also some situations where this situation applies for example in hotels we see guests receiving hospitality that can be received in every hotel in the world, though the extent may differ.
Reversibility means that the person’s reasons for acting must be the reasons that he or she would be willing to have all others use, even as a basis of how they treat him or her, (Velasguez,2004). Therefore one should ask himself whether he likes it if he were in that person’s place or situation receiving that treatment. For example if a company’s Human Resources Officer advocates for a hiring policy that discriminates against women, according to Kant, for this to be morally acceptable, the officer would have to be willing to accept the policy if he himself were a woman and the same policy being used as a basis of treating him.
Also according to Kant, it would be morally right for companies to manufacture and market harmful products taking advantage of ignorant and ill- informed consumers if and only if the companies would be willing to have the same products manufactured and sold to them if they themselves were in the position of he unknowing and ill- informed consumers. Presumably they would be unwilling to do so and as such the rule that would allow the products to be manufactured would fail the test of reversibility.
According to Shaw (2005), Kant explicitly offered another way of formulating the core idea of his categorical imperative and put forward the second formulation. This states that,’ an action is morally right for a person if in performing the action, the person does not use others merely as a means for advancing his or her own interests but also both respects and develops their capacity to choose freely for themselves.
Getz (1997) indicates that this version of the categorical imperative implies that human beings each have an equal dignity that sets them apart from things like tools, machines and is incompatible with their being manipulated, deceived or otherwise unwillingly exploited to satisfy the self- interests of another. For instance according to Kant, companies that recruit students on attachment and use them without paying them are merely using the students as a means of cutting their wage bills and reaching their targets at unbelievably lower costs under the pretence of teaching the students, this is morally wrong.
Also applying the second formulation, it is morally wrong to use patients as subjects in medical experiments without their consent, even though great social benefit might result, the research company would be intentionally using the patients solely as a means of attaining its own goals and thus would be failing to respect the patient’s basic humanity.
Another example may be the historic Lobengula’ s case in which the white settlers gave him a bit of sugar to entice him into signing the contract in which he virtually sold his kingdom to them and Lobengula could not read and write and herefore had not understood what was written in the contract. In the contract it was written,” Lobengula has granted the white settlers powers to do everything that they may deem necessary in order to procure the same”, (Mukanya, 2002:53).
According to Kant this is morally wrong because white settlers by not explaining fully to Lobengula they deprived him of his freedom to choose, rather they tricked him with sugar saying if you agree we will give you a plenty of it and with Lobengula salivating, possibly absent-minded Jumped into signing yet not knowing that he was dealing ingdom. The second formulation as Donaldson et al (2002) explains, is very applicable in business sense because it deters companies from using consumers, stakeholders, stockholders, the society, employees and fellow competitors as a means of achieving their own ends.
The formulation also encourages firms to respect the individual’s capacity to choose and as such reduces cases of fraud and deception. However in other cases this formulation fails to be applicable because other organisations take advantage of their employees whereby there are deprived of certain rights and benefits. According to Donaldson et al (2002) Kant believes that people should be free to develop their rational and moral capabilities. This is not what is happening in other situations because for example in contract cases deception can occur such that people cannot choose freely.
For example Farmers, in contract farming, enter into contracts with certain companies which will promise to pay them accordingly for their produce in relation to the inputs that they would have been given. To their surprise, most farmers realise that they would be given less than that which would have been promised. According to Kant this is morally wrong. There is also the third formulation which is an attempt to further minimise or remove the use of people as a means to other people’s ends.
According to Rawls (1972) a rational being should always regard himself as a legislator in the kingdom of ends rendered possible by the freedom of will. This seeks to place much more emphasis on the unique value or intrinsic worth of a human being (as opposed to animals or machines) as deserving ultimate moral respect and hence he proposed a more personal view of morality. According to Fisher and Lovell (2006) this third formulation s an argument for greater democracy in the workplace that is the moral community.
As this principle focuses on the community, Donaldson et al (2002) points out that a business organisation represents a community and is therefore subject to this formulation. This means that each member of the community deserves the right to express his/her views, agree to the rules and procedures governing the community, have one’s interests considered in any relevant decision and not have his interests subordinated to the interests of another stakeholder group.
Fisher and Lovell (2006) urther explain that by involving all employees, or at least their representatives in corporate decision making the firm will seek out the most equitable solution when faced with a severe downturn in its markets, to arrive at a way forward that reflects the views of the employees. According to Rawls (1972) there is a unity in all Kant’s formulations. There are so many formulations yet they are basically, according to Kant , precisely of the same law and each one of them is arrived at by combining the other two in it and the differences between them are more subjective than objective .
Kant also says that each formulation follows from another and that the concept foundational to one formula leads to closely to a connected concept at the basis of another formula. Thus the formulas can treated as equivalent and therefore respect for humanity as an end in itself could never lead you to act on the maxim that would generate contradiction when universalised and vice versa. This, beyond a shadow of doubt, is in fine line with the statement that there is no practical difference between the formulations although there are subjective differences that is violation of another formulation.
Rawls (1972) provides the benefits of Kant’s categorical imperative theory. According to him the theory is of essence as it prohibits acts which would commonly be thought as immoral such as theft, murder and sexual abuse. Also he corrects the utilitarian approach which says punishment of the innocent can be Justified if the majority can benefit (Shaw, 2005: 58). Kant gives humans intrinsic worth meaning they can no longer be used as means to an end and this should promote equality whether it is at workplace or in daily life situations.
Despite the attractiveness of Kant’s theory, there are also limitations or problems in he application of the theory. According to Velasquez (2004) the first problem is that Kant’s theory is not precise enough to always be useful. The problem lies in determining whether one would be willing to have everyone follow a certain policy as the first formulation required. In relation to the second formulation, it is also difficult to determine whether one person is using another merely as a means.
For example employers employing students on attachment might Justify their reason for not paying students as imparting practical knowledge to the students and also that the tudent is actually told before employed that he or she will not be paid and the student freely agrees . Some critics also say that although we might be able to agree on the kinds of interests that have the status of moral rights, there might be some disagreements concerning what the limits might be of these rights vis-¤-vis how these rights should be balanced against other conflicting rights.
According to Velasguez (2004) Kant’s theory does not help us resolve these disagreements. For example when a church is located close to the bar we do not know which one to be ancelled so as to avoid noise to the other group because each member from both sides has a right to enjoy their time hence this is a bit controversial as regards which right to compromise in favour of the other.
According to Fisher and Lovell (2006), Kant’s theory argues for the truth telling as a lie would deprive another person’s freedom to choose freely which implies the latter’s use as merely a means to advance another person’ s interest (for example the Lobengula’s case as already alluded to ). In conclusion, there is no universally accepted principle, but it depends with an individual’s perceptions. One would also agree that it is the critics who are mistaken, not Kant. Also, an application of these principles to a business firm results in a number of requirements that must be met in order for the firm to be ethical in a Kantian sense.
Generally, Kant devised through his categorical imperative theory a system of ethics based on reason and not intuition. A moral person thus must be a rational being. Being good means having goodwill. Goodwill is when a person does his/her duty for the sake of that duty. The duty is done because it is right and for no other reason. In an organisational context this is a crucial line of insight to ensure hat the staffs perform actions which are morally obligatory and not to perform those that are forbidden.See More on Ethics