Teaching Ethics 16 (1):37-53 (2016)

Tobey Scharding
Stanford University (PhD)
To use Kantian ethics in an applied context, decision makers typically try to determine whether the “maxim” of their possible action conforms to Kant’s supreme principle of morality: “I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law” (4:402). The action’s maxim is a way of expressing the decision maker’s (a) putative action and (b) conditions that prompt the action in a (c) preposition of a form that will allow her to perform (d) tests, specified by Kant’s moral principle, which determine the action’s moral permissibility. Despite the clear importance of crafting this maxim—e.g., so it meets standards (a)-(d)—for using Kantian ethics to answer real and pressing ethical questions, existing accounts do not offer sustained guidance about maxim crafting. This paper offers such guidance. The paper also shows that properly crafting maxims, using guidelines that Kant implies but does not himself set forth, allows Kantian ethics to defeat classic objections. Both projects contribute to the aim of showing that Kantian ethics should play a role both in debating current ethical challenges and in teaching ethics.
Keywords Kantian ethics  Maxims  Formula of Universal Law
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ISBN(s) 1544-4031
DOI 10.5840/tej201633130
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