Based on Kant's "duty-based" ethics, are the following actions moral: giving money to a homeless person to impress someone and lying about a cousin's work ethics to help them get a job?

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Both of these actions result in good ends. In the first example, the unfortunate man gets $20 he desperately needs, and in the second, your cousin gets a job, which he presumably needs as well. In the first example, you have undertaken a good act with less than noble intentions, and in the second, you have acted dishonestly, but with good intentions. Immanuel Kant, however, would look at these actions in a different way. Kant believed strongly that all actions should be consistent with one's duty, by which he meant one's obligation to morality. What this really means is that it is not the act itself that is moral, but the motive. In the first example, you gave the homeless man money not because of an obligation to moral law, but to impress your partner. According to Kant, this less-than-noble intent means that the act of giving money cannot in itself be considered a moral act. It is the motive that counts.

The second scenario is is a good example of what Kant called the "categorical imperative." He articulated this in different ways, but basically he thought that lying, even if it brought about a good end, was never moral. He argued that a person's morality was an end in itself, not contingent on anything else. In addition, reason told Kant that each act could only be judged by larger consequences if it was to become a universal behavior. In other words, if I would accept that my behavior should be universal, then it meets the categorical imperative. But we would never say that it was acceptable that everyone lied in every circumstance. Therefore, for Kant, lying, even for a socially or personally desirable end, was not a moral act.

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