In his Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant formulated his theory of the Universal Law, which states that a person must act according to the maxim that he or she can will to become a universal law. Simply put, that maxim behind one’s behavior must be a principle that any other individual can apply, something that one “can rationally will that everyone adopt” (Van der Linden). Under this Kantian law, the very notion of harming one’s future self becomes a preposterous, if not criminal, idea because one cannot obviously will everybody to follow suit.
The believe that in a government working its way towards the equality of its citizens. Freedom, for Kant, is obtained through a universal theory of right. Morality is at the center of Kant’s freedom and this is crucial in forming a government. John got his freedom, through murdering the tyrant. And in this case, the freedom and the rights of the rich man, tyrant as he is, was stepped upon proving the unrighteousness of the action. Kant values the sense of freedom in relation to reason. If man is fated or causally determined, then it is pointless for freedom to exist as man has already a determined course of actions.
John earned the trust of the people by recognizing the general will of the community, or what is known as the people’s will. Acknowledging the general will creates the laws of the society. These laws, however, should be grounded by the good of the people. Only with the consent of the people will the laws and, ultimately, the government will turn to be legitimate. Kant defines the ideal government in such a way that morality is at the center of it. And with this notion, the actions of John were not justifiable.
John’s government started out with a wrong foot, his concealment of the murder of the tyrant. Although this brought about the freedom of the people, the method of doing so was immoral in Kant’s views. This is the kind of society that is ideally set up. The theme of Kant’s moral philosophy is on how people deserve to be happy and not happiness in itself. This is prevalent in the teachings of John gave away the tyrant’s wealth to the people because they deserve to be happy. The morality of man’s actions does not depend on the outcome of the actions.
However, we can control the reason behind the action. The morality then rests upon the motivation behind the action. But a motivation of a positive goal, such as making people happy or benefiting the people the same way as John did, is not the right motive, according to Kant. “No outcome, should we achieve it, can be unconditionally good. Fortune can be misused, by what we thought would induce benefit that might actually bring harm, and happiness might be undeserved. […] It is the possession of a rationally guided will that adds a moral dimension to one’s acts.
So it is the recognition and appreciation of duty itself that must drive our actions” (McCormick 2001). Morality of one’s actions is defined by pursuing a goal with no conditions. The reason is not the means for the ends. “All means to an end have a merely conditional worth because they are valuable only for achieving something else” (McCormick 2001). Thus, John’s actions were not morally right. He used immoral ways in achieving his goal. And this could also be used in performing other actions leading to harm of other people.
Kant stresses that the moral worth of an action is not based on its effects, or on anything else publicly visible about it, but rather on why the agent performed it. Kant believes that the highest good requires both our moral perfection and our well being proportionate to our moral perfection, but we are not capable of bringing about either of those. It is in God that ultimate happiness commensurable to goodness can be experienced. Goodness and happiness can only be reached through actions towards morality, a maxim of duty that disregards the conditions.
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