Kenneth Ballenegger

Angel Investor, Engineer, Startup Founder

Categorical Imperative

In response to an annoying philosophy assignment, I go all meta on them and write about whether to write the essay…

At this very moment, I am faced with the dilemma of whether to write this paper. The brief clearly states to use a personal dilemma and relate it to Immanuel Kant’s Categorical Imperative, walking through one’s reasoning and eventual solution. However, a college student’s life does not make a good resource for interesting dilemmas.

More importantly, though, I am morally opposed to assignments that require an essay based on personal experience for several reasons. A personal dilemma is by definition personal, ie. something that one might not necessarily want to share with one’s instructors and peers. If the aim of this paper is to demonstrate one’s understanding of Kant’s Categorical Imperative, why force students to use a personal but dubiously related dilemma, instead of using a hypothetical example that would better illustrate the concepts taught? Lastly, it puts students who have had different life experiences and have been faced with various kinds of dilemmas on unequal ground. Thus a student with a better understanding of the concept at hand but a less interesting personal history is at a disadvantage.

Kant’s Imperative states that “I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law.” This means that one ought to act in a way one would find reasonable, were it applied as a rule to anybody else in the same situation. Kant has a concept of goodwill, which he explains as meaning that goodness comes from the intention. Acting to fulfills one’s duty is to do good, and one’s duty is to act in act in such a manner that one would want anybody else to act, in the same circumstances. Kant emphasizes reason over emotion, when faced with an ethically difficult situation.

Faced with the dilemma which puts my will to complete the assignment as best I can against my moral objection with the form of the assignment, I need to reason objectively about which is the morally optimal solution. According to Kant, I need to act in the same way I would want any fellow student to act. Considering how I would feel if one of my fellow student were to get off easily without doing the assignment (that he is lazy, and deserving when he fails the assignment), that option is out of the question. On the other hand, I would not look up to a student who gives in and either makes up a fake dilemma, thus not following the assignment’s requirements, or uses a uncreative and boring situation from his past.

What I need is a creative solution. One that will still follow the requirements and show that I understand the concepts taught, while minimizing my moral objections. In terms of absolutes, I chose to side with the assignment against my emotional distaste for essays based on personal experience. Hopefully, though, this is a creative and witty solution to a petty dilemma.