Someone recently remarked to me in the light of the recent North Carolina ban on same-sex marriage being overturned, that Christians who oppose same-sex marriage do so on the grounds of what the Bible says, but if you do away with the Bible you can’t present a rational or philosophical argument why it is wrong. For the Christian the Bible is the final authority on what is moral and immoral. The Bible is clear that homosexual behavior is morally wrong and nowhere in the Bible is same-sex marriage sanctioned; marriage is always between a man and a woman. But what if one doesn’t believe the Bible? If one supports same-sex marriage and that lifestyle and rejects the Bible which forbids such behavior, then the question is posed, “What other rational and philosophical argument do you have beside the Bible that such behavior is morally wrong?”
The question arises for those who don’t accept the Bible as morally authoritative, is there a philosophical argument that such a lifestyle is morally wrong and that same-sex marriage is wrong? I believe there is. By adopting the ethical system of philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804), called “categorical imperative” (a law of duty) one can determine if such behavior is morally and ethically acceptable or unacceptable.
Kant, born in East Prussia in the 18th century, was a brilliant thinker who believed it was man’s duty to act in a moral way unconditionally independent of any personal motive or selfish impulse. We are to live morally because it is our duty. He is one of the central figures in modern philosophy whose influence in moral and ethical matters is still valuable and relevant today. Kant believed that there is a universally binding moral law, which he called “categorical imperative” (a law of duty). In his ethical system he believed one was under a moral obligation to act in a way that was universally binding. He taught that one must do only what all others should do under similar circumstances. When considering an action Kant would suggest one ask what would occur if what I am about to do became a universal law. He stated, “Act so that the maxim [the rule or action] of your will could at all times serve as a universal law.” The action that you are considering could it be applied on a universal scale? If it can then the action is deemed to be moral, if it cannot the action is deemed to be immoral.
Kant believed his categorical imperative allows one to determine which actions are moral and which are not. In Kant’s view the immoral occurs when the categorical imperative is not followed: when a person attempts to set a different standard for themselves than for the rest of humanity. He contended that to act morally is to exercise freedom, and the only way to fully exercise freedom is to act morally.
Kant gave several examples of how his “categorical imperative” is to be applied. Should one commit suicide seeing that the world seems to be filled with more heartache than happiness? To determine if suicide is morally acceptable, what would happen if everyone followed that logic if it was a universal law or principle? If everyone followed that action then everyone would take their life and humanity would cease to exist. Suicide then is not an action that the rule of one’s will could at all times serve as a universal law, therefore, it is immoral. Let us suppose a person possess great gifts and talents, but neglects to develop them for the pursuit of his own self pleasure and the neglect of benefiting others and society. Kant would say neglecting one’s gifts is not reasonable to do for a rational being as it would create chaos in society if everyone took such an action and could not be a universal moral law; therefore, such action would be immoral. Or, suppose a man finds himself in financial difficulties and borrows money promising to pay it back, all the while knowing that he is not going to ever do so. What would happen to society if this became a universal law and everyone was dishonest and broke their promises? The answer is obvious that everyone would be dishonest and turmoil would result in society, therefore, such an action would be immoral.
Now let’s apply Kant’s “categorical imperative” to same-sex marriage. Again, in Kant’s view one is to “act so that the maxim [the rule or action] of your will could at all times serve as a universal law.” What would happen if every single person on earth became homosexual and united in a same-sex marriage? The answer is clear, there would be no reproduction in society and the human race would in time become extinct, therefore, since such behavior or action could not become a universal law without the human race becoming extinct then homosexuality and same-sex marriage is immoral. Since same-sex marriage cannot be made into a universal law without the human race dying out, it is then morally wrong. Again, In Kant’s view immorality occurs when the categorical imperative is not followed: when a person attempts to set a different standard for themselves than for the rest of humanity. Same-sex marriage proponents seek to set a different standard for themselves in the matter of the natural marriage relationship.
Kant‘s categorical imperative seeks to connect rationality with morality, and he sees behavior that cannot be universally applied as immoral. Kant believed that to be moral was our duty and morality must be based upon reason and not upon one’s selfish desires or impulses. While Kant’s categorical imperative isn’t meant to be a complete decision formula, it clearly allows one to approach moral concepts and decisions on practical grounds and not on one’s self-centered motives. One must continually ask themselves if the action they are about to engage in corresponds to a rule which should be applied universally asking what would society be like if everyone took same action or engaged in the same behavior.
While the Christian is to oppose immoral behavior and actions of any kind on Biblical grounds, which for the Christians is our inspired and final authority for faith and morality, the anti-traditional marriage agenda of today can also be opposed on logical philosophical grounds when Kant’s ethical and moral formula of categorical imperative is applied.
One thought on “DETERMINING WHAT IS MORAL”
Kant is certainly a tough read. He makes a case in the Critique of Pure Reason that he has silenced the critics of morality and religion forever through his critique of the scope and limits of human understanding.