Maxim (philosophy)

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A maxim is a concise expression of a fundamental moral rule or principle, whether considered as objective or subjective contingent on one's philosophy. A maxim is often pedagogical and motivates specific actions. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines it as:

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Generally any simple and memorable rule or guide for living; for example, 'neither a borrower nor a lender be'. Tennyson speaks of 'a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter's heart (Locksley Hall), and maxims have generally been associated with a 'folksy' or 'copy-book' approach to morality. [1]

Deontological ethics

In deontological ethics, mainly in Kantian ethics, maxims are understood as subjective principles of action. A maxim is thought to be part of an agent's thought process for every rational action, indicating in its standard form: (1) the action, or type of action; (2) the conditions under which it is to be done; and (3) the end or purpose to be achieved by the action, or the motive. The maxim of an action is often referred to as the agent's intention. In Kantian ethics, the categorical imperative provides a test on maxims for determining whether the actions they refer to are right, wrong, or permissible.

The categorical imperative is stated canonically as: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law." [2]

In his Critique of Practical Reason , Immanuel Kant provided the following example of a maxim and of how to apply the test of the categorical imperative:

I have, for example, made it my maxim to increase my wealth by any safe means. Now I have a deposit in my hands, the owner of which has died and left no record of it. . . . I therefore apply the maxim to the present case and ask whether it could indeed take the form of a law, and consequently whether I could through my maxim at the same time give such a law as this: that everyone may deny a deposit which no one can prove has been made. I at once become aware that such a principle, as a law, would annihilate itself since it would bring it about that there would be no deposits at all. [3]

Also, an action is said to have "moral worth" if the maxim upon which the agent acts cites the purpose of conforming to a moral requirement. That is, a person's action has moral worth when he does his duty purely for the sake of duty, or does the right thing for the right reason. Kant himself believed that it is impossible to know whether anyone's action has ever had moral worth. It might appear to someone that he has acted entirely "from duty", but this could always be an illusion of self-interest: of wanting to see oneself in the best, most noble light. This indicates that agents are not always the best judges of their own maxims or motives.

Personal knowledge

Michael Polanyi in his account of tacit knowledge stressed the importance of the maxim in focusing both explicit and implicit modes of understanding. “Maxims are rules, the correct application of which is part of the art they govern....Maxims can only function within a framework of personal (i.e., experiential) knowledge”. [4]

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Applied ethics refers to the practical application of moral considerations. It is ethics with respect to real-world actions and their moral considerations in the areas of private and public life, the professions, health, technology, law, and leadership. For example, the bioethics community is concerned with identifying the correct approach to moral issues in the life sciences, such as euthanasia, the allocation of scarce health resources, or the use of human embryos in research. Environmental ethics is concerned with ecological issues such as the responsibility of government and corporations to clean up pollution. Business ethics includes questions regarding the duties or duty of 'whistleblowers' to the general public or their loyalty to their employers.

Ethics Branch of philosophy that discusses right and wrong conduct

Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that "involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior". The field of ethics, along with aesthetics, concerns matters of value, and thus comprises the branch of philosophy called axiology.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher (1724–1804)

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher and one of the central Enlightenment thinkers. Kant's comprehensive and systematic works in epistemology, metaphysics, ethics, and aesthetics have made him one of the most influential figures in modern Western philosophy.

Normative ethics is the study of ethical behaviour, and is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the questions that arise regarding how one ought to act, in a moral sense.

In the social sciences, value theory involves various approaches that examine how, why, and to what degree humans value things and whether the object or subject of valuing is a person, idea, object, or anything else. Within philosophy, it is also known as ethics or axiology.

Categorical imperative Concept of Kantian philosophy

The categorical imperative is the central philosophical concept in the deontological moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Introduced in Kant's 1785 Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, it may be defined as a way of evaluating motivations for action.

<i>Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals</i>

Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals is the first of Immanuel Kant's mature works on moral philosophy and remains one of the most influential in the field. Kant conceives his investigation as a work of foundational ethics—one that clears the ground for future research by explaining the core concepts and principles of moral theory, and showing that they are normative for rational agents.

In moral philosophy, deontological ethics or deontology is the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action. It is sometimes described as duty-, obligation-, or rule-based ethics. Deontological ethics is commonly contrasted to consequentialism, virtue ethics, and pragmatic ethics. In this terminology, action is more important than the consequences.

<i>Critique of Practical Reason</i> 1788 book by Immanuel Kant

The Critique of Practical Reason is the second of Immanuel Kant's three critiques, published in 1788. It follows on from Kant's Critique of Pure Reason and deals with his moral philosophy.

Kantianism Philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher

Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher born in Königsberg, Prussia. The term Kantianism or Kantian is sometimes also used to describe contemporary positions in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.

Rule utilitarianism is a form of utilitarianism that says an action is right as it conforms to a rule that leads to the greatest good, or that "the rightness or wrongness of a particular action is a function of the correctness of the rule of which it is an instance". Philosophers Richard Brandt and Brad Hooker are major proponents of such an approach.

<i>The Metaphysics of Morals</i> 1797 work of political and moral philosophy by Immanuel Kant

The Metaphysics of Morals is a 1797 work of political and moral philosophy by Immanuel Kant. In structure terms, it is divided into two sections: the Doctrine of Right, dealing with rights, and the Doctrine of Virtue, dealing with virtues.

On the Basis of Morality is one of Arthur Schopenhauer's major works in ethics, in which he argues that morality stems from compassion. Schopenhauer begins with a criticism of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, which Schopenhauer considered to be the clearest explanation of Kant's foundation of ethics.

Kantian ethics Ethical theory of Immanuel Kant

Kantian ethics refers to a deontological ethical theory developed by German philosopher Immanuel Kant that is based on the notion that: "It is impossible to think of anything at all in the world, or indeed even beyond it, that could be considered good without limitation except a good will." The theory was developed as a result of Enlightenment rationalism, stating that an action can only be good if its maxim—the principle behind it—is duty to the moral law, and arises from a sense of duty in the actor.

Moral rationalism, also called ethical rationalism, is a view in meta-ethics according to which moral principles are knowable a priori, by reason alone. Some prominent figures in the history of philosophy who have defended moral rationalism are Plato and Immanuel Kant. Perhaps the most prominent figure in the history of philosophy who has rejected moral rationalism is David Hume. Recent philosophers who have defended moral rationalism include Richard Hare, Christine Korsgaard, Alan Gewirth, and Michael Smith.

In philosophy, objectivity is the concept of truth independent from individual subjectivity. A proposition is considered to have objective truth when its truth conditions are met without bias caused by a sentient subject. Scientific objectivity refers to the ability to judge without partiality or external influence. Objectivity in the moral framework calls for moral codes to be assessed based on the well-being of the people in the society that follow it. Moral objectivity also calls for moral codes to be compared to one another through a set of universal facts and not through Subjectivity.

Radical evil is a phrase used by German philosopher Immanuel Kant, one representing the Christian term, radix malorum. Kant believed that human beings naturally have a tendency to be evil. He explains radical evil as corruption in a human being that takes over them entirely. It has their desire acting against the universal moral law. The outcome of one's natural tendency, or innate propensity, towards evil are actions or "deeds" that subordinate the moral law. By Kant, these actions oppose the universally moral maxims and displayed from self-love and self conceit. By many authors, Kant's concept of radical evil is seen as a paradox and inconsistent through his development of moral theories.

Inclination (ethics)

Aristotle defined inclination in the first paragraph of Metaphysics with the statement "all men by their nature, desire to know." Thomas Aquinas proposed that humans have four natural inclinations - a natural inclination to preservation (life), an inclination to sexual reproduction (procreation), sociability, and knowledge. Inclination in the modern philosophy of ethics is viewed in the context of morality, or moral worth.

The general concept or principle of moral universalizability is that moral principles, maxims, norms, facts, predicates, rules, etc., are universally true; that is, if they are true as applied to some particular case then they are true of all other cases of this sort. Some philosophers, like Immanuel Kant, Richard Hare, and Alan Gewirth, have argued that moral universalizability is the foundation of all moral facts. Others have argued that moral universalizability is a necessary, but not a sufficient, test of morality. A few philosophers have also argued that morality is not constrained by universalizability at all.

<i>The Right and the Good</i>

The Right and the Good is a 1930 book by the Scottish philosopher David Ross. In it, Ross develops a deontological pluralism based on prima facie duties. Ross defends a realist position about morality and an intuitionist position about moral knowledge. The Right and the Good has been praised as one of the most important works of ethical theory in the twentieth century.

References

  1. Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy, Maxim (Oxford University Press 2008) p. 226
  2. Kant, Immanuel (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed . Translated by James W. Ellington. Hackett. pp.  30. ISBN   0-87220-166-X.
  3. Kant, Immanuel (1997). Critique of Practical Reason. Translated by Mary Gregor. Cambridge University Press. pp. 25/5:27. ISBN   0-521-59051-5.
  4. Quoted in Guy Claxton, Live and learn (1992) p. 116