Kant's Categorical Imperative

AS Religious Ethics Revision


Immanual Kant

  • Deontological
  • Based on Duty
  • To act morally is to do one's duty and one's duty is to obey the moral law
  • One should act out of duty, not emotion or feeling
  • "Ought implies Can"-moral statements are 'prescriptive'
  • Summum Bonum-ultimate end which humans seek, smaller ends must be pursued to lead to this, our souls are immortal as it can't be reached in this life
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The Moral Law

  • The objective moral law is known through reason
  • Statements of Knowledge-a priori analytic:knowable without reference to experience, a posteriori synthetic:knowable through experience using empirical measurements
  • Moral Statements are a priori synthetic-our knowledge of it is gained through pure reason-we may be mistaken, thus moral statements may be right or wrong.
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Good Will & Duty

  • Good Will is the highest form of Good-not dependent on consequences.
  • The Will is supremely autonomous and free. (Freedom is necessary for morality to be possible.)
  • A Good Will is one that acts out of duty alone.
  • Actions performed for the sake of duty have moral worth.
  • Duty is acting out of reverence for the law, which is objective and universal.
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The Imperatives

  • A Hypothetical Imperative is a requirement for something if you want to achieve something else: a means to an end.
  • Morality prescribes behaviour and the Categorical Imperative gives parameters to moral law.
  • The Categorical Imperative is universal: an end in itself.
  • The only actions to be followed are those that can be universalised.
  • Suggested morals that are only right in certain circumstances are not valid.
  • You must act as if you live in a kingdom of ends.
  • Humans should be treated as ends in themselves.
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  • K.E provides a powerful set of principles to enforce moral conduct that we would commonly accept, based on reason.
  • Treating people as ends in themselves underpins the idea of human rights.
  • Kant distinguishes duty from inclination so that our moral conduct does not become influenced by an individual subjective view.
  • The moral rightness or wrongness is intrinsic through a process of reason.


  • As moral situations differ, how are the parameters to be set to determine what is universalised?
  • There may be times when duties conflict.
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In Conclusion...

  • By basing his ethics on reason, Kant avoids dependence on a 'divine' natural law, or mystical Platonic Forms, to justify his deontological ethics.
  • Kant's theory upholds the concept of human rights.
  • There are some difficulties with the internal workings of the Categorical Imperative for it to be a complete success...
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Key Terms

  • A Priori Synthetic : moral statements as they are known before experience through reason and yet may be right or wrong.
  • Categorical Imperative : only acting according to universalisable principles, treating people as ends in themselves, and acting as if you lived in a kingdom of ends.
  • Deontological : ethical theories that focus on acts instead of consequences.
  • Duty : doing only that which is approved by the Categorical Imperative out of Good Will.
  • Good Will : the highest good; the impetus to follow duty rather than emotion or personal inclination.
  • Hypothetical Imperative : acting only if a specific outcome is desired and not otherwise.
  • Moral Law : an objective moral law known through the application of reason...
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