Evaluation of Kant’s theory and examples

Question 2


This part, the paper will evaluate Kant’s theory deliberately. It will focus the three parts of his theories including “act only on maxims which you can will to be universal laws of nature”, “always treat the humanity in a person as an end, and never as a means merely” as well as “so act as if you were a member of an ideal kingdom of ends in which you were both subject and sovereign at the same time” (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002). And meanwhile it will use some examples in the business world to describe Kant’s theories thoroughly and at the same time it will also analyze these limitations of his theories.

Kant’s theory

The German philosopher Emmanuel Kant is one of the key contributors of deontological theories, whose famous ethical theories are known as “Categorical imperative” (Crane & Matten 2007). He advocated that morality is a question of certain eternal, abstract, and unchangeable principles- a set of a priori moral laws- that humans should apply to all ethical problems (Crane & Matten 2007, p.97). And meanwhile, he held that ethics is an ethics of duty rather than an ethics of consequences, so good will is the only thing that is good in itself (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002).

The categorical imperative of Kant includes three parts as the follows (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002, p. 62). The first part is “act only on maxims which you can will to be universal laws of nature”. The second part is “always treat the humanity in a person as an end, and never as a means merely”. The last part is “so act as if you were a member of an ideal kingdom of ends in which you were both subject and sovereign at the same time”.

Evaluation and examples

The first part of Kant’s theory is “act only on maxims which you can will to be universal laws of nature” which means every action of an individual should be under the rules of the universal law and then it can be right and never arouse any conflict with itself including the business world (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002). Let’s use the following example to understand the first maxim of Kant’s theory. And there is an example about the theft by workers, consumers and even the managers in business world which is a big problem (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002). For instance, a worker in a business organization is often discriminated by other peers and has also been receiving unfair evaluation from the boss due to his race. So the employee considers stealing from the firm to make up for himself. Facing such kind of situation, most of the people may choose the same action as the employee. While according to Kant’s theory, the idea which leads to this kind of action couldn’t become the universal laws, because no maxim could permit stealing for any reasons (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002).

So from the above example, we can see the essence of the first maxim of Kant’s theory is that the universal laws which guide individual’s ethical action should be morally obligated.

The second part of Kant’s theory is “always treat the humanity in a person as an end, and never as a means merely” (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002). Although we always use people as means especially when we hire people or pay money to people to receive goods or services from them, we can’t only consider them as means to achieve ourselves’ interest. That means we should respect people with their autonomy and human dignity (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002). And the following example will thoroughly help us understand this maxim.

Let’s just take layoffs of firms as an example. According to Kant’s theory, these employees are just being used as mere means to achieve their employers’ goals. But this kind of action really ignores the human dignity of the employees, their needs and expectations. So according to Kant, it is immoral.

The third part of Kant’s theory is “so act as if you were a member of an ideal kingdom of ends in which you were both subject and sovereign at the same time” (Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002). That means in the business world an organization should treat its employees with dignity and respect, and meanwhile the rules which govern the employees should also be accepted by them. So according to Kant’s theories, the organization is viewed as a moral community in which every member of the organization has a kind of moral relationship with others and there should be a proper kind of mutual respect between the employees and the organization (Crane & Matten 2007).

Generally speaking, Kant’s ethical theory held that the action only under the guidance of universal law has moral worth and moral action must be motivated by moral obligation alone (Beauchamp & Bowie 2004). The following example can help us understand Kant’s ethical theories deeper.

In order to help a patient who has suffered breast cancer, a physician told a lie to the organizer of a large scale multi-center study which focuses on the function of a new drug on survival patients of breast cancer. But it only allows the patients who have received surgery no more than 3 months to enter. While this physician’s patient has received the surgery 6 months ago and he knows that the new drug really can help the patient. So the physician changes the dates of the surgery for the patient and then the patient can enter the study to receive the treatment (Trevino & Nelson 2007). Although we know that the physician telling lies is due to a good will to help patients. But if other physicians also dealt with the study like that the whole result of the study can’t be trustworthy. So based on Kant’s ethical theories, this view guiding the physician’s action isn’t suitable to become the universal law for us to follow.


Although Kant’s ethical theories do contribute a lot to moral philosophy, which still have some limitations (Beauchamp & Bowie 2004).

Firstly, Kant’s ethical theories have little consideration of human emotion and sentiment (Beauchamp & Bowie 2004). His theories are over based on rationale, which don’t fit every circumstance. Because human beings have emotion which can affect their actions and not every one at every moment is so intellectual. For example, it is a universal law that organ donation should be free which is on the basis of moral obligation. So if one guy wants to sell one of his kidneys to make money it is immoral. But if the guy who wants to sell his kidney really needs the money badly to pay for his mother’s surgery and at the same time the person who wants to buy this kidney is rich enough and does need the kidney so badly to save his life, this deal is reasonable to happen. But Kant’s ethical theories must go against such situation because it can’t become a universal law to sell one’s organ for profit.

Secondly, Kant’s ethical theories focus too much on the universal obligation but ignore some particular obligation of individuals (Beauchamp & Bowie 2004). Although Human beings have some universal obligations to answer for, they also have other motivations due to some kind of relationships. Sometimes it can’t avoid the conflict of the universal obligation and motivations, because people not only have the universal duties but some other duties as friends, spouse or a family member. For instance John is working in a bank as the manager, who is in charge of commercial loan. And there are two applications, one is from his friend’s company and the other is from another company. And both of the two companies are trustworthy but John can only choose one company according to the plan of the bank. John gives his friend’s company the loan offer because he knows this loan can help his friend and at the same time, the bank can also gain from the commercial loan. Although the decision making is based on John’s personal feelings and emotion, it is benefit for both his company and friend. So Kant’s theories that the behaviors of human beings should only under the guidance of universal laws are too narrow to cover every situation.

Thirdly, Kant’s ethical theories undervalue the outcomes (Crane & Matten 2007). Generally speaking, bribery is immoral. And of course, it goes against the universal law. But in today’s society some times there are so many things that can’t be decided by us. For example, to gain a business, you have to pay bribery to a key person. And according to Kant’s theory, it is obviously wrong to do so. But we sometimes should also consider the benefit and cost just as the consequentialist theories do (Trevino & Nelson 2007). If the briery can help your company and its employees, and this action won’t let you go to jail as well, you may choose to bribe the key person. So under such circumstance, it is difficult for you to sacrifice the benefit of your company to merely obey the moral obligation. Because if you obey the universal law and won’t conduct bribery, your company will suffer a big loss which may directly affect your life. So we can see sometime the outcome is also a crucial condition to consider, while Kant’s theories don’t refer much enough of this part.


This paper uses some examples of the real business society to elaborate Kant’s ethical theories which includes three basic parts. And it also analyses these limitations of Kant’s theories such as the insufficient consideration on human emotion and sentiment, undervaluing the outcomes and so on via examples. All in all, we can see although Kant’s theories have already contributed a lot to the deontological theories, which still have limitations. So when we adopt Kant’s theories to the real situation, we had better involve them into the most proper circumstance.


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Beauchamp & Bowie 2004, Ethical theory and business, 7th edn, Pearson Education,London.

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Crane & Matten 2007, Business ethics: Managing corporate citizenship and sustainability in the age of globalization, 2nd edn, Oxford university press, New York.

Donaldson, Werhane & Cording 2002, Ethical issues in business: A philosophical approach, 7th edn, Prentice Hall, New Jersey.

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Trevino & Nelson 2007, Managing business ethics: Straight talk about how to do it right, 4th edn, John Wiley & Sons, Inc, USA.

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