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The Categorical Imperative Confronts Modern Business

Autor:   •  March 8, 2011  •  Essay  •  2,522 Words (11 Pages)  •  1,378 Views

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The Categorical Imperative Confronts Modern Business


Immanuel Kant grounds moral judgement in the nature of the human being–the human being can see the universal in specific instances of life, and hence, is an embodied universal that needs to be treated as such. It is difficult, but not impossible, to reconcile Kant with modern capitalism and business. This paper attempts to see means whereby politics can realize Kant in practice, with a strong reference to Kant's nemesis, utilitarianism.

Immanuel Kant's moral vision is well known. It contains two general components, both together making up what is commonly called the "Categorical Imperative." These two statements are: a) act such as your actions can thus constitute a universal law (of action); and b) that, as a constituent element of (a), that one's actions treat other human beings as ends in themselves (as opposed to means).

This paper then, will analyze these two statements, and explore how they correspond to modern capitalism and the business climate of early 21st century America. We will take each in turn.

A) Act such as your actions can thus constitute a universal law (of action.)

Moral theory derives from the will. That is, it deals with action and presumes a certain amount of control over those actions. Kant, believing humanity to be different from the rest of nature–that is, that which is bounded by space and time and hence, determined–in that humanity is free and hence, responsible.

But we know the human being is different because of the nature of the human will–the human will can will itself, and hence, the will is not part of nature, and not part of the space/time nexus so important to Kant's epistemology. If an object can will itself through itself, then it is immaterial and "spiritual" object that is immediately sensed (rather than filtered by the categories) and immaterial objects are not determined by natural laws the way material objects are.

But the notion of a truly moral act derives from not willing a specific thing, or even being worried about consequences, but derives from the notion of a "spiritual" will of itself. The human individual can will the universal, defined by Kant as the will willing itself through itself. The will is hence a spiritual, autonomous object, and this constitutes its dignity. It constitutes the very nature of morality (Kant, 1993).

But what does this have to do with being "good?" The central issue is that the sheer form of the will is universality. The human will is hence a "communitarian" object that affects many people around it. But more importantly, if the will is an immaterial object and hence free, it is in precisely its freedom–the


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