kant's categorical imperative

The Journey toward Moral Certainty
Immanuel Kant, 1724-1804
 Grounding/Groundwork
for a
Metaphysics of Morals, 1785
3 themes:
1. The Categorical Imperative
2. Rational Beings are Ends-In-Themselves
3. The Kingdom of Ends
First you establish: does a person have “good
How? By looking at his or her intentions:
Can they be said to involve a respect for a
universal moral law? Such as, “this is the kind
of thing everybody should do”?
If yes, then the person has good will, and it
“shines by its own light, like a jewel.” It is
intrinsically valuable. Consequences of one’s
actions are unimportant as long as one has
good will.
Kant would say, “I’m glad you asked.”
First, a detour:
Hypothetical imperatives: If I want X, then I
must do Y. But if I don’t want X, I don’t have
to do Y.
So hypothetical imperatives are “conditional
commands,” depending on the situation.
They are not morally relevant.
True moral commands, however, have no
conditions; they are always valid, independent
of situations and consequences.
 So: they are categorical. A categorical
imperative = an absolute command.
 An example: the store owner’s four options.
The Question: Should I cheat my customers?
 Yes, whenever I can get away with it.
No, I might get caught and lose my store and
go to jail.
No, I like my customers too much to ever
cheat them.
No, it just wouldn’t be right!
“Always act so that you can will that your
maxim can become a universal law.”
State your maxim (the principle for your
2. Universalize your maxim
3. Ask, Is that rational? If not, don’t do it. If
yes, you may do it.
Example: the man who wants to borrow money
For Kant, every rational being is an
“autonomous lawmaker.”
So won’t we end up with each person just
setting their own rules?
No, because Kant thinks reason is universal,
and will always work the same way. If you use
the categorical imperative, you will come to
the same conclusion as everyone else using
the same method.
J.S. Mill: Kant claims that consequences don’t count,
and yet he “universalizes the maxim.” isn’t that
asking about consequences?
Not all moral conflicts are between duty and desires.
So how can the cat.imp. help if we have a conflict
between duties?
There is a loophole in the cat.imp.: If we make our
maxim so specific that it only applies to ourselves
when universalized, we can get away with anything.
What exactly does Kant mean by rationality, and
isn’t it possible that different people with different
agendas could disagree?
Kant allows for no exceptions to a duty, but that is
unreasonable. Sometimes we are in situations where
we need exceptions to a rule.
Because Kant puts the idea of the Golden Rule
into a rational formula that can indeed offer
solutions to all moral problems.
Because Kant shows an enormous amount of
respect and faith in the human ability to
reason, liberating humans from authorities
who claim they know better.
Because it leads to the next section in Kant’s
“Grounding”: respect for all thinking beings.