MoralKant’s Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of MoralThe central concept of Kant’s Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics ofMorals is the categorical imperative. “The conception of an objective principle,in so far as it is obligatory for a will, is called a command (of reason), andthe formula of the command is called an Imperative.” (Abbott, 30) An imperativeis something that a will ought or shall do because the will is obligated to actin the manner in which it conforms with moral law.
The categorical imperativeis an obligation by the will to act so that the action can be classified as auniversal law. When one acts in conformity with the universal law at all times,they are following out the categorical imperative. This differs from thehypothetical imperative in that the hypothetical imperative acts on the basisthat the will in the end will gain something (not a means to an end). Thecategorical imperative is a means to an end, and the action to obtain the endmust have moral worth. Stipulations of the categorical imperative are that allactions should act only on the maxim, that actions have moral worth, and the endis necessary. From these stipulations, it can be derived that the categoricalimperative should be followed in order to live morally.
“If an action isconceived as good in itself and consequently as being necessarily the principleof a will which of itself conforms to reason, then it is categorical.” (Abbott,32) “There is therefore but one categorical imperative, namely, this: Act onlyon that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become auniversal law.” (Abbott, 38) The categorical imperative must be found A Prioriand it excludes all interests and desires.Kant uses four examples to better describe the working of the categoricalimperative in Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals.
The firstexample is of a man who is suffering from many misfortunes in life and wishes tocommit sucicide on the basis of self-love. Kant declares that this cannot bethe categorical imperative at work because the maxim derived from self-love, toshorten his life to avoid more pain, is a contradiction in itself for no man cankill himself painlessly and therefore cannot be a universal maxim. The actionof killing oneself would cause pain, which is not in conformity to the maximstated to avoid pain. The second example Kant gives is based on the basicpremise of lying. A man is forced to borrow money which he knows he will neverbe able to repay but he promises to do so anyway. This action is not consistentwith duty and the maxim could be expressed as: “When I the man think myself inwant of money, I will borrow money and promise to repay it, although I know thatI never can do so.”(Abbott, 39) The maxim cannot hold as a universal lawbecause if everyone lied about promises, the promise itself would becomeimpossible, and the end would be unattainable.
Telling the truth is an end initself. The third example is of a man who it bestowed a natural ability butdoes not use it to it’s full extent. Kant sees this as not a categoricalimperative because a rational being necessarily wills that he develop his skillsfor many possible reasons. Rational beings are an end in themselves, and if youdo not better yourself, you are not serving yourself.(Abbott, 40) Lastly, thefourth man, in great prosperity, has a chance to help others in need and doesnot. This can be viewed as a workable universal law, but it cannot be willed asthe good thing to do because if no one gave to society, society would not getthe aid when desired. The main basis of a categorical imperative is that “wemust be able to will that a maxim of our action should be a universal law.
“(Abbott, 41) A universal law where people betray the rights of men or otherwiseviolates them, cannot be true.The formula of the categorical imperative is to act so that the maxim canbe applied as a universal law. One must act on the maxim of the action as if itwere a universal law of nature.
The principle that determines the action is notbased on the goal of the action but on the ability of the maxim to be universal.From this paper, it was learned what Kant’s categorical imperative is, howit is derived, and some examples of the categorical imperative at work.According to Kant, all actions of the categorical imperative should be able toconform to a universal law and should be willed as well as obeyed by all.