Categorical Imperative Formulations


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Deontology denotes an ethical approach that is used judging the morality of any situation or action on the basis of how well it adheres to rule/s. Emmanuel Kants three formulations of the categorical imperative are perhaps the most popular deontological approaches that are based on an absolutist view of judging actions. Kants first formulation states that one should act only in accordance to a rule (maxim) which one would also wish to be a universally accepted law.

The second formulation states that one should not simply treat people as a means; but rather as an end too. The third formulation  states that a person should act as though the standards established by his/her actions were a universal blue print of universal rules, in other words actions should conform to universally accepted or acceptable standards. This paper reviews real life cases in the light of these formulations to judge peoples actions in cases that are seemingly wrong  and morally crooked (Furrow, 2005).

On a visit to a ranch in Laredo Texas (name withheld) I witnessed the use of illegal immigrants to deliver cheap labor in the ranching activities. The owner of the ranch had enlisted several Mexican immigrants into his legal workforce consisting of a minority of Americans. The owner of the ranch paid very low wages to the illegal immigrants, who were seemingly contended, despite the fact that any average American would consider such wages as pea nuts and a waste of time. Interestingly, despite the illegality involved the owner managed to keep his actions under cover, through various machinations.

Firstly, he ensured that he offered the few Americans in the workforce high ranking positions and a better pay to keep them shut about the whole issue, because of the fear that it may attract legal suits against him from the immigrations department.

Secondly, he threatened any illegal immigrants that demanded a higher pay or refused to conform to his requirements, by telling them that he would expose them to the immigration offices for deportation. Through such machinations he was able to run his ranch with a very cheap workforce, which mainly consisted of illegal immigrants. In the deontological view this clearly against the second formulation of Immanuel Kants categorical imperative.

The second formulation requires that people should not use other as a means only, but rather both as a means and an end (McPhee, 2008). The ranch owner in this case was using the illegal immigrants workforce as only a means and not both as a means and end. The ranch owner was using the aliens to supply him with cheap labor whilst paying them very little in return, in actual sense their remunerations were not commensurate to the work that they did, and thus; this can be termed as exploitation despite the fact that there may have been a mutual agreement in place.

This is a classical example of a person using other people as a means, which in plain language is the exploitation of other people for ones own good. This example portrays a disregard for dignity of people or humanity, because it is exploitative in nature and it does not take into consideration the needs and situation of others.

A part from lowering human dignity, in view of the first formulation this act cannot be termed as moral because definitely neither the owner of the ranch nor his workers (both American and aliens) would wish to have his actions made universal and applicable in every situation regardless of the locality (Furrow, 2005). The people engaging in offering the owner cheap labor are living under a compromise situation where they have to trade their being in America with offering cheap labor because of the fear of deportation.

A large number of these people have run from poverty and unemployment in their nations and they are in search of the American Dream, and therefore; they have to work under poor conditions and accept poor pay without compromise. Under the first formulation people are required to do whatever they at the same time would wish to be acceptable universally, therefore; the owner of the ranch in this case is supposed to offer his workers a pay that is commensurate to the work that they do-a pay that he too would be comfortable to work for as an American citizen (McPhee, 2008).

In other words the wages should be commensurate to the work and equal to whatever an American citizen employed in the same ranch would work for. Additionally, the owner of the ranch and the legal workers are compelled to accept and live with the situation because of the incentives that it bears, and not because it is a good or morally upright thing to keep, and they would not wish to have the same happen to everyone including  themselves in it is taken as a universal truth. Conclusively, these actions are not morally upright  when viewed from whichever angle of each formulation.



Furrow, D. (2005),. Ethics, Continuum International Publishing Group


McPhee, M. I. (2008),. Kants categorical imperative, retrieved on 11th February, 2011 from


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