The Categorical Imperative is taking “the golden rule” and completely dissecting and analyzing its meaning. Taking it and literally taking it to another level. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is a good “rule of thumb” how to live your life Godly, generalizing The Ten Commandments. In the first part of Kants view, he’s basically saying one should only act or intend or choose to do things that can become a “universal law”. In other words, lying would be seen as immoral and what you ought not to do and telling the truth is what one ought to do, telling the truth is morally correct and could be made a universal law.
Everyone should tell the truth however, not everyone does. To always do good, no matter the outcome. Which is why utilitarianism does not work for Kant. The second part Kant talks about never treating others as a means to an end, I would interpret this as always making sure you reward, pay or recognize a person as a person and dignify their actions. Don’t take advantage of people. Don’t make people a means to our own end. ?“Don’t do to anyone else what you wouldn’t want done to you”, could be looked at as the exact same thing as “do unto other as you would have them do unto you” right?
But, the bottom line is the Golden Rule is simply meant for good. I treat you with respect because that is how I would like you to treat me. If I were to say, I don’t treat you with respect because I don’t want to be treated with respect, that would be a negative thing. Who doesn’t want to be treated respectfully? That completely contradicts what the golden rule is meant for in the first place. So in that sense, Kant did not think the Categorical Imperative was simply another version of the Golden Rule.
In the video, “The Morality of Murder” by Michael Sandel, he talks about moral reasoning, consequentialist and categorical. He talks about the fat man being pushed over to stop the trolly from killing five people. Instead killing only one. Would you push that man over? I wouldn’t. Sandel states, “It’s the quality of the act itself, consequences be what they may” when speaking about categorical reasoning. He defines categorical moral reasoning as; “locates morality in certain duties and rights regardless of the consequences”.
Would Kant see the categorical reasoning in this scenario as eing moral? For example, she stole food to feed her starving kids, is that ok? “It is always possible to do what is wrong” (Wolff, pg170p6) he’s right. I could see that example falling under “not doing to anyone else what you don’t want done to you”. Can you “will” stealing to become a universal moral law? No. According to Wolff, “Kant thought it contained the same basic notion” (Wolff, pg155p1) and it does, so living by either isn’t a bad thing.
But I feel rational moral agents take the “Golden Rule” as being to broad of a statement and complicates it when it doesn’t need to be. Persons, as rational agents, as ends-in-themselves, and as autonomous-these are the basic building blocks out of which Kant constructs his proof of the Categorical Imperative. ” (Wolff, pg155p2) Because these people base everything on “reason” or “infinite worth or dignity” only, its very easy to see why they would prefer Categorical Imperative to the golden rule. They need to know that everything is only moral and not subjective to how someone might read into it. “Its a community” Kant states, “a kingdom of ends” (Wolff, page157p3).