Moral necessity is the idea that specific imperatives bind the actions of a moral agent regardless of his or her personal goals or wishes. Contemporary ethicists have debated whether the moral system of Immanuel Kant includes rules which do in fact bind necessarily on the moral agent. This paper will argue that Kant's categorical imperative does not bind necessarily. The three different formulas given for the categorical imperative can each be used to derive different moral rules. If varying and conflicting rules can be constructed depending on which formula is used, then it is impossible to know which rule, if any, binds necessarily. Thus the Kantian deontological system, though based in reason, does not show how moral necessity can be derived from reason. However, this failure does not preclude the existence of moral necessity. It is even still possible that necessity could rest its foundations on reason, though Kant has not shown that such a foundation exists. It is important to note this failure since many modern-day Kantian ethicists argue for necessary moral rules and actions based in reason and the categorical imperative. Their arguments and moral prescriptions must be ignored or substantially amended if the Kantian perspective is suspect. Furthermore, a failure or contradiction present in Kantian philosophy would mean that a new, sound deontological morality would be needed.
Harris, Mark E.
"Examining Moral Necessity in the Kantian Categorical Imperative,"
The Catalyst: Vol. 2
, Article 2.
Available at: http://aquila.usm.edu/southernmisscatalyst/vol2/iss1/2