Kant’s Moral Philosophy and Genetic Engineering

According to Kant, duty is a person’s charge to act morally according to what they believe is right. If individuals, based on the categorical imperative believe that an action is right, then they have a moral duty to do it. On the contrary, if they believe it is wrong, they have a duty not to do it (Korsgaard, 2020). This idea differs from utilitarianism in that it looks a moral action from a universally moral rule. In contrast, utilitarianism looks a moral action from the consequences a person derives from it. 


The relationship between goodwill and the duty of Kant is that an action is good only if there is goodwill connected to it. It means that the morality of an action depends on the motive behind it and not on its outcome. We cannot control the outcome of what we do, but we can control our will behind it. Therefore, whether the outcome of an action is achieved or not, what is important is to determine the motive behind it in terms of whether there is some goodwill attached to it.

The first formulation urges individuals to act according to a universal maxim and can become a law of nature. It is different from the second formulation that urges individuals to treat humanity or act according to their rational beings as ends and not just as means (Johnson & Cureton, 2004). The key difference is that the first formulation is based on objective conditions where individuals must act according to the law of nature. In contrast, the second formulation is based on subjective conditions of using rational beings.

The first formulation applies to genetic engineering in that it views the practice of genetic engineering as wrong because it cannot become a universal law. Adding a new DNA or a gene into an organism cannot become the law of nature because everybody has body autonomy or the power to decide what happens to their bodies. It means that genetic engineering cannot apply to everyone and thus, cannot become a universal law. The second formulation also qualifies genetic engineering as wrong because it treats people as objects that can be genetically modified and fail to recognize their value and capabilities in their natural forms. It treats humans as means and not as ends.

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 Based on Kant’s moral theory, genetic engineering is right because the motive of the practice is to save lives. For example, in medicine, genetic engineering is applied in manufacturing drugs and vaccines, aiming to save lives. The moral duty, in this case, is to save people’s lives through drugs and vaccines. In this case, the outcome of whether the patients die after taking the drugs does not matter. What matters is that the drugs are made to save lives. It also applies to the modification of human genes; they are modified to save a life. Whether a person dies afterward does not matter; what matters is that their genes are modified to help them live longer. This is true because striving to save a life is right no matter the outcome of the action.

My maxim is that genetic engineering is right because it saves lives can be universalized. After all, the ultimate goal of everyone is to live longer. If the practice helps people live longer, and living longer is what people strive for, then it should be made a universal law. The maxim fulfills the first formulation: saving lives is a universally accepted rule, and it is a law of nature. It fulfills the second formulation because it uses rational thinking that transferring a DNA factor can help save a life. Also, it recognizes the value and capabilities of human beings in terms of how their make-up can help save another life. Saving lives means treating people as ends and not as means.


Johnson, R., & Cureton, A. (2004). Kant’s moral philosophy.

Korsgaard, C. (2020). Kant’s analysis of obligation: The argument of Groundwork I. In Immanuel Kant: Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals in focus (pp. 121-153). Routledge.