Immanuel Kant’s was a German philosopher during the eighteenth century. His theory of ethics is deontological, ‘deon’ meaning duty. Therefore, the basic of the ethic is duty. Kant said that morality must be completely self-contained and independent from any other view and he believed that this morality could only be found in a priori reason, (priori meaning before experience). This is a reasoning, which establishes basic principles. In the sense of duty, acting out of self-interest is wrong for Kant.
For example, being honest because doing so helps your business, or acting out of love or sympathy is insufficient. This is acting to satisfy yourself and therefore it is a selfish act. Inclinations or desires are therefore not complete as you are being self-interested rather than moral. Kant said that only morality motivated by itself could satisfy him. You have to be moral, purely because being moral is the right thing to do. Kant believed that you command yourself to act morally, innately.
For him, the principles of ethics are self-governing of religion and also that every individual is morally autonomous and can make their own moral decisions. From the above, Kant developed his thoughts on goodwill, which he believed to be the sole intrinsic good. He said that it is good in itself and requires no further qualification. As Kant said, “the good will shines forth like a precious jewel”. In deontology, good will is the highest form of good and it is not dependant on decisions that we come to.
So, it establishes the means by which we should proceed, not the end. Kant then tried to establish a set of principles, to answer that willing the good depends on knowing what the good is and means. He spoke of imperatives, or types of command, as this is where he says that the mind commands itself. The first kind of imperative was known as hypothetical and these prescribed what you should do as a means to an end. Kant said that it is not the consequences of an action that make them right or wrong, but the motives of the person who carries out the action.
This is because consequences could have come about without meaning to in an action, which was meant to be bad, or cause harm. The second kind was called Categorical Imperatives. These principles were absolute in the process of moral reasoning and could be applied anywhere and at anytime. In his first imperative, Kant said that to determine a genuine moral imperative, it must be universifiable. He said, ‘ act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that should become a moral law. This universal law applies to everyone in that same situation and it is a pragmatic approach to moral issues. It also assumes that everyone is equal. In his second imperative, Kant said you must act as if you were a law-making member of in a kingdom of ends. And that you shouldn’t pursue moral rules that assume others are not going to behave morally. In his last imperative, Kant said that all people have to be regarded as valuable and should not be used as a means to an end.
Furthermore, according to Kant, our behaviour is determined from the point of view of an external observer but we experience ourselves as being free. Therefore, although we are free in thought, our choices and moral decisions are determined for us already. In conclusion, Kant’s theory and Categorical Imperatives are absolute in that in order to be moral and make moral decisions, one must do so out of duty and goodwill. Also, any decisions that are come to are made autonomously and should be made for everyone to follow, in that situation, anywhere they are.
How helpful would this theory be when faced with the question of abortion?  As I wrote above, Kant’s theory is a theory, which he believed to be universifiable. Placing this is the context of abortion would be difficult to universalise to a range of differing situations. For example, if a woman was raped and this lead to her being pregnant then she may want to terminate the baby. For some, to abort it, may be a form of duty and goodwill, to prevent her from suffering psychologically as the child grows up.
However, if the foetus was terminated it would become a universal law, so what would happen if someone became pregnant out of carelessness? Would it still be someone’s duty out of goodwill to abort this unborn child? In addition, when Kant says that all people are regarded as valuable, how exactly do we respect others in a situation? This Kant does not explain. Each person has different ideas of respecting and they may do so through their own personal feelings and interests, so it is hard to apply to everybody and be universal when each of us is different.
An act will never benefit everybody; there will always be people who oppose it, thus this part of Kant’s theory is difficult to apply in political life and thus, back to abortion, one doctor’s opinion on abortion and duty may differ to another. Mary Warnock, who wrote ‘An Intelligent Person’s Guide to Ethics’ said that it is unreasonable to place reason as the only principle on moral decision making: given that humans may act out of compassion or love. Deontology does not take this into account, but instead tells s to act out of duty, not care.
It is also possible to claim that Kant’s view is inconsistent with psychology, because humans cannot not gain emotional satisfaction from what they do. Kant discourages the fact that the end should be thought of when making a moral decision but can the future result be forgotten when deciding? Also, how can someone know that they’ve made the correct decision out of duty and goodwill when the outcome is bad? In conclusion, this theory in relation to abortion would not be classed as helpful, because the end result of the baby should be thought of when making a decision, as it too is a person.
If the mother was too young to look after and bring up a child then adoption could be considered for the benefit of the child and the mother who would perhaps in the end be both deprived; the mother of a childhood and the child of full care and love. So, the best thing to do should be an act of love and care, not of duty. Also, using the above criticisms, the decision of what to do when contemplating abortion should not be made universal, because each situation within it will be slightly different and the doctor’s opinions and feelings on what is classed as duty may be different.