What Does Universalizability Mean in Kant’s Morality of Duty?

What Does Universalizability Mean in Kant’s Morality of Duty?

June 27, 2021 Off By Felso

Kant thinks that for an action to be moral, the maxim that forms its basis must be universalizable.

It must be a binding maxim for all under the same circumstances. You need to be neutral and not see yourself as an exception. In this respect, for example, if you stole a book based on the maxim “If you are too poor to buy what you want, always steal”, this maxim applies to everyone in your situation. Of course, this does not mean that every maxim that is universalizable is a moral maxim, whatever it may be, because it is universalizable. It is clear that many absurd maxims, such as “When you see someone taller than you, always stick your tongue out at him” can easily be universalized, even if they have little or no moral relevance. Some universalizable maxims, such as the maxim I used about stealing in the previous paragraph, can also be considered as immoral maxims.

This principle of universalizability is a slightly different variant of the Christian Golden Rule, “Treat others as you would like to be treated”. If someone acts according to the maxim “Always live a parasite at the expense of others”, that person’s action will not be a moral act, since it is impossible for his maxim to be universalizable. Such a maxim is “Well, what if everyone were parasitic?” raises the question. And if everyone were parasites, then there would be no one left for the parasites to live on. This maxim cannot be a moral maxim because it failed Kant’s test.

On the other hand, we can quite easily universalize the maxim “Never torture babies”. It is clear that it is possible and desirable for everyone to obey this commandment, although there may be those who do not obey this maxim. Those who do not comply with this maxim by torturing babies are acting in an immoral way. With maxims like these, Kant’s principle of universalizability obviously gives an answer that corresponds to many people’s most direct intuitions about right and wrong.

Prepared by: Sociologist Ömer YILDIRIM
Source: Omer YILDIRIM’s Personal Lecture Notes. Atatürk University Sociology Department 1st Year “Introduction to Philosophy” and 2nd, 3rd, 4th Grade “History of Philosophy” Lecture Notes (Ömer YILDIRIM); Open Education Philosophy Textbook; “Introduction to Philosophy” / Nigel Warburton