Kantian Philosophy of Morality

Kantian philosophy outlines the Universal Law Formation of the
Categorical Imperative as a method for determining morality of
actions. This formula is a two part test. First, one creates a maxim
and considers whether the maxim could be a universal law for all
rational beings. Second, one determines whether rational beings would
will it to be a universal law. Once it is clear that the maxim passes
both prongs of the test, there are no exceptions. As a paramedic faced
with a distraught widow who asks whether her late husband suffered in
his accidental death, you must decide which maxim to create and based
on the test which action to perform. The maxim "when answering a
widow's inquiry as to the nature and duration of her late husbands
death, one should always tell the truth regarding the nature of her
late husband's death" (M1) passes both parts of the Universal Law
Formation of the Categorical Imperative. Consequently, according to
Kant, M1 is a moral action. The initial stage of the Universal Law
Formation of the Categorical Imperative requires that a maxim be
universally applicable to all rational beings. M1 succeeds in passing
the first stage. We can easily imagine a world in which paramedics
always answer widows truthfully when queried. Therefore, this maxim is
logical and everyone can abide by it without causing a logical
impossibility. The next logical step is to apply the second stage of
the test. The second requirement is that a rational being would
will this maxim to become a universal law. In testing this part, you
must decide whether in every case, a rational being would believe that
the morally correct action is to tell the truth. First, it is clear
that the widow expects to know the truth. A lie would only serve to
spare her feelings if she believed it to be the truth. Therefore, even
people who would consider lying to her, must concede that the correct
and expected action is to tell the truth. By asking she has already
decided, good or bad, that she must know the truth. What if
telling the truth brings the widow to the point where she commits
suicide, however? Is telling her the truth then a moral action
although its consequence is this terrible response? If telling the
widow the truth drives her to commit suicide, it seems like no
rational being would will the maxim to become a universal law. The
suicide is, however, a consequence of your initial action. The suicide
has no bearing, at least for the Categorical Imperative, on whether
telling the truth is moral or not. Likewise it is impossible to judge
whether upon hearing the news, the widow would commit suicide. Granted
it is a possibility, but there are a multitude of alternative choices
that she could make and it is impossible to predict each one. To
decide whether rational being would will a maxim to become a law, the
maxim itself must be examined rationally and not its consequences.
Accordingly, the maxim passes the second test. Conversely, some
people might argue that in telling the widow a lie, you spare her
years of torment and suffering. These supporters of "white lies" feel
the maxim should read, "When facing a distraught widow, you should lie
in regards to the death of her late husband in order to spare her
feelings." Applying the first part of the Universal Law Formation of
the Categorical Imperative, it appears that this maxim is a moral act.
Certainly, a universal law that prevents the feelings of people who
are already in pain from being hurt further seems like an excellent
universal law. Unfortunately for this line of objection, the only
reason a lie works is because the person being lied to believes it to
be the truth. In a situation where every widow is lied to in order to
spare her feelings, then they never get the truth. This leads to a
logical contradiction because no one will believe a lie if they know
it a lie and the maxim fails. Perhaps the die-hard liar can
regroup and test a narrower maxim. If it is narrow enough so that it
encompasses only a few people, then it passes the first test. For
example, the maxim could read, "When facing a distraught widow whose