Notes on Kantian Ethics

Deontological (or duty-oriented) theories of ethics (e.g., divine- command theory, Kantian formalism) assume that the first task of ethics is to determine what we are obligated to do.  By doing our duty, we do what is valuable (not the other way around).  Divine-command theory says that something is good for no other reason than that God commands it.  Kant's ethics is called formalism because it focuses on the form or structure of a moral judgment (the fact that all moral directives have the form "you ought to do X").  The fundamental aim of Kant's ethical theory is to determine how a command can be a moral command with a particularly obligating character.

Kant's Ethics

[Note how Kant's Categorical Imperative is different from the Golden Rule ("Do unto others as you would have them to unto you"): it is not based on what you want but on what is necessary for any being to act rationally (that is, universally, without consideration of his/her own self-interest).]