This rather simplistic, ethical formula was used by German philosopher Immanuel Kant to outline that if an individual is morally obliged to perform a certain action, that individual must thus perform the action logically as well. He pens:
“For if the moral law commands that we ought to be better human beings now, it inescapably follows that we must be capable of being better human beings.”
So long as the moral action falls under natural conditions; it should be possible to achieve it. Kant conjectured that his principle fell under a “categorical imperative”. This categorical imperative argued that humans were rational, self-conscious entities, with impure choices of freedom. Therefore, it could be argued that Kant believed that this principle’s only limitation was free will. However, there are other, more subtle and surreptitious limitations to this principle that have seemingly been overlooked.
A person might possess physical and/ or mental limitations which would restrain him/ her from accomplishing what they ought to do. Unobservant individuals will clearly not pick up on subtle clues, whilst dilettantes cannot get at the heart of any field of study, and idlers will be retrained from accomplishing anything due to their intrinsic lackadaisical state of mind. Therefore, free will is not the only limitation, since our individual physical and mental problems are also limitations. However, these limitations cannot be generalized, which could explain Kant’s seeming dismissal of these.
This passage’s main attribution goes along the Latin mantra “ad impossibilia nemo tenetur”. This asserts that an individual is allowed to dismiss a moral obligation, so long as it is impossible to fulfill or accomplish the given task or objective. Other philosophical interpretations conjectured that if one “can” accomplish a task, there is no reason he/ she should not then do what “ought” to be done.
The importance of the “Ought Implies Can” principle has been manifested in many fields, from moral and legal philosophy to deontic logic.
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