Kant’s Moral Theory
Kant’s Moral Theory becomes relevant when we intend to analyze the ethical and moral dimensions of human actions. The duty that is majorly inclined towards ethics has come to be termed as deontological. Perhaps Kant’s theory is the greatest in trying to establish the rationality of peoples’ actions and whether such actions go in line with human moral and ethical code. In his notion, morality seems to be based on the intentions of an action rather than the consequences or objectives achieved from them (Hill, 1992). Kant intended to inspire a rational principle that would act as the grounding of all other judgments that are based on ethics. His theory enables us to draw inferences in understanding morality as categorical rather than being hypothetical. Robert Wolff examines that ‘morality and humanity so far as it is capable of morality, is the only thing which has dignity’ (Wolff, 2011). As such, morality and ethics should not rely on our individual options or abilities. This theory has been relevant for many decades. Importantly, it has come handy in attempting to evaluate and judge human decisions in the contemporary United States of America with regards to accepting Syrian refugees desperate for a place to settle. This paper will explore the decision of the United States regarding the Syrian refugee crisis against the obligations of the Kant’s theory of ethics and morality.
This summer, Americans have faced difficult choices that touch on integrity. The inflow of refugees was a litmus test for the integrity of the people of America due to the strain on their rationality in a bid to make difficult choices. The U.S government spectacularly failed the test that will let history judge contemporary policy makers harshly. Closing down borders and treating people in need as a potential threat to national security was received in the bad light by many who cared to follow up on the events as they developed. People that seemed to support the acceptance of refugees, argued on the basis of humanity. Contrary, critics that strongly opposed the issue of immigration regarding Syrian refugees questioned the benefits of accepting them in comparison with the numerous perceived threats of letting foreigners in. Kant’s morality theory is relevant to every aspect of this debate. According to his school of thought, ethics is essentially judged on immediate actions rather than the expected benefits of such actions (Hill, 1992).
Policy makers in the United States err in thinking that human rationality is applying one’s means in the most efficient way to meet one’s ends. Many scholars think that applying actions to meet traditional obligations is a primary aspect of human reasoning. They fail to understand that this thinking only makes humans an exceptional type of animals. Perhaps, it is this instrumental approach that was the basis for decision making regarding the issue of refugees that were seeking to settle in the country (Vietti & Tibaldeo, 2015).
This debate slipped into the economic foundations of the United States as many critics used this as the basis for the argument against accepting Syrian refugees. Analysts have continually questioned the economic benefits of allowing Syrian refugees into the country. However, this cost versus benefits evaluation seems to miss completely the whole point. Many philosophers think that one cannot possibly judge humanity against economics since humans are noble compared to all other worldly things, and perhaps this makes us different from all other animals.
Students of philosophy may easily get lost in this endless debate that raises arguments and counter arguments for and against the acceptance of Syrian refugees. However, Kant’s theory can allow one to decipher easily the essential details that enable one to classify morality. Evidently, Kant seems not to adhere to the principle of acting rationally based on instrumental approaches such as the one applied by the contemporary US. In his school of thought, such rationality principles would perfectly apply to sophisticated robots or trained animals and not human beings.
Kant’s notion is that we ought to display actions, which when summed up, result in coherent outcomes. For instance, choosing to lie cannot be categorized as a coherent action, since, if this was universalized and every single person were to lie, people would lose trust in anyone and even language would lose its basic coherence. Vividly, the majority of the people avoid lying from the fear of being discovered. However, Kant’s philosophy does not classify such instrumental reasons like refraining from lying as being rational. In his notion, the rational and moral aspects of an action reconcile when one chooses to act in line with the categorical imperative. In this concept, one chooses to act in a ‘universalisable’ manner without considering the consequences of their actions. According to Robert Wolf, Kant’s ‘philosophy is based on three main foundations; humans are inherently rational creatures capable of weighing decisions and making the right ones, second, persons have unmeasurable levels of dignity that alienates them from all other things considered valuable in this world and finally, that humans define moral law and, therefore, obliging by the principles is not slavish rather it is dignified in every sense’ (Wolff, 2011).
Taking refugees into the United States ought to have followed the categorical imperative. According to Kant’s philosophy, we do not accept refugees based on the perceived benefits we hope to achieve. The fact that the country may incidentally draw benefits from the settlement of refugees becomes irrelevant in this concept. Further, the debate on how future historians will perceive current decisions on the matter is unnecessary. Ethics based on this theory demand that we act based on the current status and tasks according to our obligations and not according to the possible repercussions of such choices. Moreover, according to this school of thought, rational acts cannot be judged based on potential gain or what others would do if they were found in the same situation. Perhaps, choosing to do the right thing would probably put a glow in someone’s heart. But, this seems to be just a repercussion of Kant’s theory and not the motivation for it.
The United States is faced with choices that will be judged by future generations based on the possible repercussion of such choices. But, Kant hopes that we partake our current actions based on the moral obligations of our acts rather than the consequences that arise later one. A relevant example is the case of Bulgaria in which, in 1943, Bulgarian policy makers achieved in preventing the deportation of over fifty thousand Jews from their nation. For many years afterward, this became a reason for national pride for having fulfilled their moral obligations. Interestingly still, Bulgarians failed to halt the deportation of over eleven thousand Jews from areas of Greece and Macedonia despite there being a heavy presence of Bulgarian military forces in the region. A contrasting episode that failed to show the moral obligation of the Bulgarian people. This has been used as a model for a moral tally of the European nations in the 1940s (Odello, 2007).
On the same note, when the dust regarding the current Syrian refugee status settles, one of the most disturbing questions will be, ‘who were the countries that failed to uphold humanity and take in refugees that were in dire need of help and basic needs?’ Besides, one of the serious issues raised will be whether the US was able to find an amicable solution to the refugee crisis touching on Syrian nationals that are in dire need of shelter and settlement (Vietti & Tibaldeo, 2015). However, when analyzed on all aspects, the Syrian refugee crisis seems to offer a complex question, not just to the U.S but to Western nations planning on offering asylum.
In conclusion, the hope is that the United States and its policy makers will ignore the centrifugal forces and populist propaganda that is in play to prevent the settlement of refugees. Populism seems to be taking root in the United States, perhaps causing a hurdle to decisions being made that touch on vital issues within and without the borders. Keeping Kant’s philosophy in mind, the U.S riddle seems to be a tough one to solve. This is due to the compound nature of US. Politics and the various forces that are in play. Whether the US will succeed in formulating policies to allow the settlement of refugees is a very crucial question. But, even more pressing is whether the US will succeed in fulfilling its moral duty and political obligation in acting on the refugee crisis despite the fear of future repercussions such as undermining of national security. Kant’s theory of ethics and moral responsibility is perfectly in line with the situation in the United States. If decisions were to be made in accordance with this theory, the moral duty dictates that the U.S should accept refugees who are desperate for help and that this should be a priority above economics, finance, and partisan arguments (Amstutz, 2013).
Amstutz, M. R. (2013). International ethics: concepts, theories, and cases in global politics.
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Hill, T. E. (1992). Dignity and practical reason in Kant’s moral theory.
Odello, M. (2007). The Ethics of Refugee Policy. International Journal of Refugee Law, 19(2),
Rawls, J. (1980). Kantian constructivism in moral theory. The journal of philosophy, 515-572.
Vietti, F., & Tibaldeo, R. F. (2015). A Human Rights and Ethical Lens on Security and Human
Dignity: The Case Study of Syrian Asylum Seekers. Information & Security: An International Journal, 33, 35-53.
Wolff, R. (2011). About philosophy (11th ed., pp. 150-160). Peachpit Press.
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