Eric Massengill's Ethics Class Blog

Categorical Imperative | November 1, 2008

According to Kant’s theory of categorical imperative, an action can only be deemed moral if it would be possible for everyone to do the action at once, without the rule becoming self contradictory or self destructive. This is easily applied to cheating.

In order for it to be moral to cheat on a test, the statement behind it (to get a good grade, cheat) would have to be universalizable (everyone would have to be capable of doing it at once, at the very least). If you think about it, this isn’t possible with cheating. If everyone cheated at the same time, then at the very least the teacher would fail everyone, which would prevent anyone from getting a good grade. Thus, the statement is self contradictory, so no moral rule could be made from it. Or, what would happen is if this happened long enough tests would be eliminated, and so you could not cheat on them to gain a good grade. Thus the statement is self contradictory, so no moral rule could be made from it. Essentially, the rule is proved to be incomplete, since it only works when a few do it, and so it is incomplete, and not universal. Kant, Mill, and most moral philosophers, argue that a moral rule has to be able to be applied to everyone equally, but if only 1% at a time could follow the rule without it canceling itself out, then it isn’t much of a moral rule at all.

This ultimately comes down to equilibrium. Human social interaction, and survival, is based on maintenance of equilibriums: if we farm every single plant and animal off of the planet, then we ourselves will die, etc. Actions like cheating are leaching actions, that take something but provide nothing in return to the general group. Such actions cannot be sustained, in the same way that if one person hunts an animal then it is alright, but if everyone hunts them then the animal dies out. Everyone can’t cheat at once; cheating requires a majority to be doing the right thing, which the cheater leaches off of. Kant’s argument against ever performing such an action is essentially: what makes you so special? Why would you be allowed to cheat and no-one else? But if everyone cheats then it becomes pointless, so to be fair, no-one must cheat.

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I am a person. I am alive. I am capable of mechanical motion. My respiratory system is functional, as is my digestive, and circulatory system. My neurons operate.

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