Kant’s categorical imperative as a transitional tool to morality
If the laws of nature were such that the consequences of every action by a human were immediately and fully felt by the doer as if (s)he were the recipient of the action, we would have a largely self-protecting world from the moral point of view.
Alas, the laws of nature were not designed that way :(. I have found that Kant’s categorical imperative to be quite useful in most day-to-day actions I take. In its first form, the categorial imperative states:
“Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can, at the same time, will that it become a universal law”
Kant gives us a moral litmus test which we can apply to any action we take apriori.
For example, I might feel it is okay to drink and drive, but I wouldn’t want to drive on a road on which every driver were drunk.
I might feel it’s okay to take a stapler home from my office, but if everyone were to do it, the company would have to spend resources to police stationery.
I might feel I can commit adultery and not inform my spouse, but I may not be okay if my spouse (who is part of the universe) did the same.
I might feel it is okay to consume shark fin soup or foie gras, but …
I know that there is plenty of criticism of the CI, because it may not apply to all situations. For example, Schopenhauer’s criticism was that the CI’s first form above can be reduced to the egoistic principle that “I shouldn’t do to others what I don’t want to be done to me.” This is where the CI’s second form, which talks about the wider scope of all humanity helps:
“Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end”.
In my own moral foundation, I would replace humanity above with all living beings.
Rather than academically arguing based on loopholes against the universal applicability of the CI, we should recognize that such limitations apply to all moral foundations.
Notwitstanding all the criticism heaped upon it, I find it a very simple and useful transitionary tool which has started to help take me from the world of pure intention and talk (“I want to become a more moral person”) to the world of practice. It offers a stepping stone to the world of increased moral action, from where each of us can further refine our moral framework for life.