Kantian Philosophy of Morality

Kantian philosophy outlines the Universal Law Formation of the

Categorical Imperative as a method for determining morality of

actions. This formula is a two part test. First, one creates a maxim

and considers whether the maxim could be a universal law for all

rational beings. Second, one determines whether rational beings would

will it to be a universal law. Once it is clear that the maxim passes

both prongs of the test, there are no exceptions. As a paramedic faced

with a distraught widow who asks whether her late husband suffered in

his accidental death, you must decide which maxim to create and based

on the test which action to perform. The maxim "when answering a

widow's inquiry as to the nature and duration of her late husbands

death, one should always tell the truth regarding the nature of her

late husband's death" (M1) passes both parts of the Universal Law

Formation of the Categorical Imperative. Consequently, according to

Kant, M1 is a moral action. The initial stage of the Universal Law

Formation of the Categorical Imperative requires that a maxim be

universally applicable to all rational beings. M1 succeeds in passing

the first stage. We can easily imagine a world in which paramedics

always answer widows truthfully when queried. Therefore, this maxim is

logical and everyone can abide by it without causing a logical

impossibility. The next logical step is to apply the second stage of

the test. The second requirement is that a rational being would

will this maxim to become a universal law. In testing this part, you

must decide whether in every case, a rational being would believe that

the morally correct action is to tell the truth. First, it is clear

that the widow expects to know the truth. A lie would only serve to

spare her feelings if she believed it to be the truth. Therefore, even

people who would consider lying to her, must concede that the correct

and expected action is to tell the truth. By asking she has already

decided, good or bad, that she must know the truth. What if

telling the truth brings the widow to the point where she commits

suicide, however? Is telling her the truth then a moral action

although its consequence is this terrible response? If telling the

widow the truth drives her to commit suicide, it seems like no

rational being would will the maxim to become a universal law. The

suicide is, however, a consequence of your initial action. The suicide

has no bearing, at least for the Categorical Imperative, on whether

telling the truth is moral or not. Likewise it is impossible to judge

whether upon hearing the news, the widow would commit suicide. Granted

it is a possibility, but there are a multitude of alternative choices

that she could make and it is impossible to predict each one. To

decide whether rational being would will a maxim to become a law, the

maxim itself must be examined rationally and not its consequences.

Accordingly, the maxim passes the second test. Conversely, some

people might argue that in telling the widow a lie, you spare her

years of torment and suffering. These supporters of "white lies" feel

the maxim should read, "When facing a distraught widow, you should lie

in regards to the death of her late husband in order to spare her

feelings." Applying the first part of the Universal Law Formation of

the Categorical Imperative, it appears that this maxim is a moral act.

Certainly, a universal law that prevents the feelings of people who

are already in pain from being hurt further seems like an excellent

universal law. Unfortunately for this line of objection, the only

reason a lie works is because the person being lied to believes it to

be the truth. In a situation where every widow is lied to in order to

spare her feelings, then they never get the truth. This leads to a

logical contradiction because no one will believe a lie if they know

it a lie and the maxim fails. Perhaps the die-hard liar can

regroup and test a narrower maxim. If it is narrow enough so that it

encompasses only a few people, then it passes the first test. For

example, the maxim could read, "When facing a distraught widow whose

late husband has driven off a bridge at night,