David Hume and Immanuel Kant both have left a memorable impact in philosophy, as they are both consistently spoken about even today. What set Hume and Kant apart from other philosophers was that they came up with the theory that morality does not need a god to play a part in recognizing one’s duty morally. Hume utilized his observations of the surrounding society to formulate his theory, while Kant based his theory from his outlook of the human will.
Hume’s theory of humans’ morals was realistic, but Kant struggled to establish his perceived theory to be rational. Comparing the two and their different views on human will and the maxims created to determine moral worth, I believe that morality is rooted in both emotion and reason because morals that do not have reason to buffer us from emotions would create extreme action, and rationality that lacks emotion would create senseless actions, which would essentially lead to chaos for humanity.Although Hume and Kant shared similarities in their basic principles of empiricism, each took a different take on the theory of morality. Hume believed that reason alone cannot cause action because virtue should always come with a feeling of pleasure or a feeling of pain.
As we are motivated to gain the good feelings from committing virtuous actions, we would avoid committing actions that result in bad feelings. On the other hand, Kant uses deontological ethics to base his theory on reason. Kant sees the world divided in two classes: beings with the human characteristics of reason and will, and inanimate beings that do not have these qualities. The first class are beings that live independently with a purpose in mind, as they have the ability to use reason and will to determine what actions to commit. Because the second class, composed of beings such as rocks or trees, do not possess these same characteristics, they do not take in considerations of their actions, what goals to have, and the means needed to achieve these goals.
As the first class does consider the means they need to accomplish their desired goals, Kant believes this class is to be considered to be how one should act morally. What Hume and Kant differed in their beliefs is the autonomy of the will. To Hume, he saw that reason is only the slave of the passions because morals are what create passions and produce the perceived action. Hume believed that reason could not give the result of the rules of morality. Hume did argue that although reason is able to allow us to judge ideas and matters of fact, the ending results of it never push human beings enough to commit action as much as the slightest emotion or feeling is able to do. Without the need of reason, Hume had found that human emotion comes from us naturally. However, Kant saw it completely possible to act out of reason only because to him, the will was independent and did not require external sources for motivation.
As Kant believed reasoning is able to tell the individual that a certain option is good or required, he found that it gives itself a command, or a judgment to act accordingly, telling us to act in a specific way. Kant shows this by using the hypothetical imperative and categorical imperative. The hypothetical imperative is that if you wish to accomplish or attain something, then you should do a specific action to achieve that predetermined goal. Because Kant felt that it had no moral worth to have an action based on a condition or purpose, he believed that it could be found in the form of the categorical imperative, since it is an unconditional law that applies to everyone.
The categorical imperative requires everyone to do the action out of duty, regardless of the end, and whether they want to or not. Hume and Kant’s views on the autonomy of will have led to their set of guidelines that they believe determine moral worth or virtue. Hume, believing that morality is founded in individual sentiment, concludes that there are four categories of qualities that constitute moral virtue. The first category is having qualities that are useful to others, which include benevolence, meekness, charity, justice, fidelity, and veracity. The second category is having qualities that are useful to oneself, which include industry, perseverance, and patience. The third category is having qualities that others could immediately relate to, which include wit, eloquence, and cleanliness. The fourth category is having qualities that the individual could immediately relate to, which include good humor, self-esteem, and pride.
Hume thought that most morally significant actions seem to fall into one of these four categories. Kant, however, believed that morality is based in the three rules for the categorical imperative, which are, “(1) Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. (2) Act as though the maxim of your action were by your will to become a universal law of nature. (3) Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.” Kant believed that acting according to these reasons, a person could easily know if their actions are moral or not. These individual maxims are worthy of consideration but both Hume and Kant’s overall views seem limited.Kant does not directly answer how a categorical imperative will never alone lead to action.
Reason alone cannot be used as the motivator, since we are unable to see others factors being involved. Kant would therefore have to prove the categorical imperative as it being possible by applying it in reality a priori. In his book, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, he argues that the key to acting in a moral way is by freedom of the will, but is still unable explain how a categorical imperative can motivate.
Kant argues that humans are not interested in acting morally but because it is valid and comes to be as intelligence. I do not see this as a complete answer because he implies that we are not able to fully understand morality since it is not possible to figure out why we are interested in universal maxims. Basing his view of morality on the categorical imperative, Kant cannot support his belief that humans are able to just act from sole reason, as he avoids the issue entirely by stating that understanding how a categorical imperative can create a motivation is impossible. Kant constructs a beautiful moral theory only fit for the Gods that seems to have already assumed you believe in a religious divinity to begin with. It is not hard to like Kant’s works and imagine how such an extraordinary system could carry out something as spiritually charged as moral theory. However, I believe that Kant has a fatal flaw when he presents his moral theory because he is merely taking the assumption that the potential to act on pure reason is innately a human characteristic and from this, he sets to prove his theory.
His argument is brilliantly made using this assumption, but he has no real basis for this argument, as he even admits that there is a limit of his assumption. Reason would go against all its limits if it took upon itself how pure reason can be realistic. Doing this is like explaining how freedom is possible, but freedom is only an idea, and therefore its objective validity cannot be proven using reference to laws of nature and consequently cannot be shown in any possible experience.Although Kant’s view of morality may seem like a coherent approach, particularly given the teachings of many religions, I do not see that there is a basis in science or observation. It is so blatantly clear that even Kant cannot disregard it and instead, must try to write it off. Using an assumption that can only be made from religious doctrine, it becomes a difficult task to do so, since it depends on a belief that such a divine quality exists to set us apart from other animals. Looking to our history, there are examples of the consequences of presenting a theory like this and then trying to prove it without allowing a possibility of it being false, such as the Catholic Church that was notorious for advocating science theories that were in relation to the bible and suppressed ideas that conflicted with religious truth. Kant does this as well, as he accepts a theory as the truth and then strenuously tries to prove it without allowing the room for it to be wrong.
The ability of humans for pure reason is not an observed truth that is scientific, but instead, it is an idealistic theory made to set us apart from our animal counterparts. It is an easy argument to make that our brain functions are more complex than other species, but it is of an absurd assumption to believe we have the ability to take actions apart from feelings, experiences, and other external influences. A theory that is based on a religious idea that humans are partly divine is not of perceptible observation of real human behavior, and Kant would contend that observations cannot be the basis for morality. To use judgment based on what something “ought” to happen than what actually happens is an unsafe move. For example, if scientists developing quantum theory for quantum physics only made assumptions that were based on what “ought” to happen, they would have not made much progress. According to classical physics, something cannot be in multiple places at once, but this does not appear to be true for case of quantum particles, as they could be in multiple places at the same time.
This does not seem logical to our understanding of being human, but scientists have proved it to be true through observations. It was not what they ought to have happened, or have expected to happen, but its observation cannot be ignored. For Kant to neglect what he sees around him just because they do not fit within his idealistic model is careless and would paint a picture of human morality that is incomplete. The human beings that inhabit earth are not a walking God, even though it could be believed in religion, but we are just animals responding to our surroundings.On the other hand, Hume links characteristics of observations he makes on human relationships to his view on morality. Following with the nature of empirical science, gathering data, formulating a hypothesis, and then showing how his hypothesis is demonstrated, he has first found what is generally seen as moral and then attempting to explain the commonality in all of them. By taking a very capitalistic approach to his view of morality, it is shown to be the most effective in creating a model for human behavior, as he bases everything on usefulness in how humans act accordingly to benefitting themselves or others in society. Although Hume does not offer an explanation why humans act this way, he gives evidence of humans doing things for others and how this could always be witnessed and observed.
Everyone has seen someone doing something nice for someone else because humans simply feel good for doing it, and whether it is useful for them in the end, is not the point. The point is that it is beneficial for us all to live in a society of justice and happiness, which is the reason why we feel good about doing good things for others. To say that it is of our human nature to be innately self-interested is brushing off evidence because humans, for whatever the reason like to do good things for each other. Hume’s theory of human morality, particularly with his ideas of agreeable qualities and how cheerfulness, modesty, and cleanliness are virtues that are moral, may be undermined by some, but I believe they cannot be written off like how Kant does. I believe our character of being human is definitely based on these qualities, although it is admitted by Hume to a lesser extent than justice and benevolent qualities. We live in a society, and living in a society has a huge part of being able to interact with one another, or else it would not be able to function smoothly.
Considering this, Hume effectively unites the characteristics of actions that humans see as moral, as they are beneficial and agreeable. To Kant, it is only if the person is acting solely based on the categorical imperative, doing something out of duty, in that the act can be considered morally good. Not doing something out of duty would be acting from the hypothetical imperative, which is acting in that way due to having an ulterior motive to pursue a certain goal. It does not need to be an action out of self-interest, but because they are making an action due to a desire, it is not moral. Kant believes that one can still be moral even though the end gives pleasure, as long as the reason for that action is solely from duty. Speaking upon the rationalist view, virtue and vice are developed by reason alone through facts, whereas with the hypothetical imperative, it is easy to see the reason why someone acts a certain way because they are trying to achieve some goal. For example, if one wants something then he or she ought to do this or that, not following from a fact, the “is” statement, that he or she pursues a certain course of action.
Hume and Kant both saw morality rooted in human beings themselves and that morality does not require a higher being, but their theories diverge by emotion and reason. Hume believes moral judgments are caused by pain or pleasure sentiments because reason alone cannot motivate action, but Kant believes that moral actions are only caused by reason, or the categorical imperative. To me, both Hume and Kant’s theories are not satisfactory just by themselves because Hume is unable to make possible of a universal idea of morality if basing it off an individual’s sentiment, and Kant is unable to give evidence of the categorical imperative existing.I agree that human beings have the ability to reason but it is by nature that we are emotional beings as well. Hume believes morality is rooted in emotion and Kant believes morality is rooted in reason, but I believe that both elements are necessary to enhance the concept of morality. In regard to Hume’s notion of morality, we are unable to have one universal idea of morality since basing it on individual sentiment would only mean that every individual would simply just have his or her own morality to compare.
Hume takes in consideration of individual sentiment as the center of his argument, but if this were true, virtue would be a matter of choice of the individual, and there would not allow for a universal concept of morality. Kant, on the other hand, believes emotion is not intertwined with morality, as it would lack reliability if based on human senses. Because Kant’s basis in morality theory is not observable but strays away from humanity and into divinity, it lacks the credibility to apply to situations in real life. In my view, morals that do not have reason to buffer us from emotions would create extreme action, and rationality that lacks emotion would create senseless actions, which would essentially lead to chaos for humanity.
Hume and Kant had developed their own view of morality, which help in perceiving its moral worth, but each denies the other’s elements essential to a balanced moral theory.