PHL 212
Instructor: Dr. Bob Zunjic


The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals

An Outline


Having elucidated the a priori conditions of human knowledge in the realm of natural necessity (The Critique of Pure Reason, 1781) Kant set out to examine the universal principles of human conduct in the realm of freedom (The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 1785). In the manner paralleling his effort to draw the boundaries of all possible human knowledge he wanted to define the limits of human strivings to satisfy our inclinations. Kant was resolved to accomplish his task in an absolutely binding way which necessitated to establish a further parallelism between the two parts of critical philosophy. As the theoretical philosophy was concerned with the a priori grounds for judgments about experience so the practical philosophy should be interested to explicate the a priori grounds for moral action and our judgments of the good. The determination of human conduct and setting limits to our desires must be based on the fundamental awareness of the universality of moral law. Consequently the moral obligation derived from the pure reason as it alone formulates universal and non-empirical rules of action. The ellectronic text of the treatise in Abbott's translation could be consulted at the following site:

I A Rationalist Conception of Morality

Point of Departure: Kant openly admits that he wants to "construct" a "pure" philosophy of morality. In other words, he wants to create a philosophy of morality freed from everything empirical and proceeding from purely a priori principles. These principles will represent the lasting and firm foundations of ethics (which explainst the totle of the work). Since they are not empirical (in fact, they are supersensible) the second part of the title perfectly befits their status (= The Metaphysics of Morals).
Note: It is tempting to compare Kant's title with Newton's Mathematical Principles of the Philosophy of Nature. The inspiration is common as long as we think of a priori legislation (connecting all appearances by virtue of an innexorable law and binding all individuals by the universality of moral obligation) but one must not forget that the realm of nature is the realm of necessity while the realm of morality presupposes freedom.


Why do we need such a philosophy of morality?


Because otherwise we shall have a philosophy of morality (= ethics) only by name while the content would belong rather to anthropology, psychology or sociology. "Moral force" should not be based on empirical considerations of what people actually want but on the power of the will guided solely by reason.

Note: Kant's view stands in a stark contrast to utilitarianism and its stress on the need to ground philosophy of morality on strictly empirical concerns, for instance on what people actually prefer to do. For Kant, moral philosophy is about binding obligations and not about actual feelings and natural inclinations (the "value of pleasures"). This explains a differnce in self-perception of these two concurring moral philosophies. While Bentham denies that the philosophy which describes actual preferences should be regarded as a novelty (as it allegedly only states what people have been knowing since the time immemorial) Kant does not shun from claiming to create an entirely new construction that would enlighten people about the true nature of morality.

Factuality: A pure philosophy of morality did not exist yet at the time. What existed under the name of philosophy of morality was based either on human sentiments (Scotish moralists) or on inclinations (Utilitarians).


Kant was convinced that it was wrong (and strictly speaking impossible) to derive what people ought to do from what they feel or actually do. What people actually do is not necessarily in conformity with the universal law of reason.

Indication: But is a "pure" philosophy of morality possible at all and does it have any backing in reality?
Kant's answer to both questions is "Yes". He invokes as evidence the way how ordinary people understand the idea of duty and moral law. All people possess an innate intuition that morality is about sticking to a set of compulsory rules. People may disagree on particular norms or even breach them but this does not invalidate the binding force of the law. Even common consciousness assumes that a moral law is something binding regardless of all natural or cultural factors. If something is law then it must be universally binding.
Note: In his essay "On common saying: This could be right in Theory but it's not valid for Praxis" Kant claims that an eight year old boy would be able to distinguish that what is dutiful from that what is only beneficial. Kohlberg's idea of post-conventional morality (or more precisely its second stage grounding on universal principles) builds upon this insight. A full moral competence requires autonomous adoption of universal moral principles.
Obligation: Moral obligation must be universally valid and necessary ("carry absolute necessity"). If you ought, you must.
For instance, "Thou shall not lie" is valid for everyone anytime. This is a strong evidence in favor of really existing premises for a purely rational morality.
Condition: The rules of morality must be valid not only for all humans, regardless of their cultural background or social rank. Moral principles should be conceived as binding for all rational beings. Universal validity in this sense is the precondition not only for morality but for rational discourse in general. Therefore lying is wrong first and foremost because it is not rational, not because it is not in accord with certain desirable habits, external circumstances or some good traits of human nature.
Note: Compare the statement of Aragorn in J.R.R. Tolkien's "The Lord of the Rings": Good and ill are not "one thing among Elves and Dwarves and another among Men".
Presupposition: Humans are rational beings. Therefore they must accept rational morality. But a tenable philosophy of morality must be formulated so to be valid for all rational beings.
Why it is necessary to include into the class of moral subjects all possible rational beings?
Kant's answer is short: Plainly because logic applies universally and rational beings would be bound by it.
Note: The range of rational beings is certainly wider than the class of humans as it includes superhumans, aliens or some other unknown but possible intelligent beings (gods). Kant is not doing science fiction or rationalization of religious morality. Here he is targeting the view of Samuel Pufendorf, who claimed a century earlier that God could not be bound by the moral law. In contrast Kant contends that since rational principles are valid for all rational beings they must apply to God as well because God must be conceived as rational.
Elimination: Relying on current conditions and human nature misses the crux of rational morality. Moral law cannot be grounded on how we understand the nature of man or existing human circumstances. Moral considerations are totally separable from our contingent animality or sociability.

Note: This statement is directed both against the utilitarians and the moralists who reason in the following way: Human nature consists in good sentiments or is conditioned on pleasures, therefore you should be compassionate or seek to increase the amount of pleasure in order to be moral.
Objection: According to Kant, the fatal weakness of any empirically based approach is the assumption that there is something external to moral acts for the sake of which we behave morally. But Kant asks what if you do not accept that external value. Are you permitted to violate moral rules if you do not seek eternal salvation, peace of mind or happiness? Obviously this option would be morally unacceptable. Why then ground morality on these contingent (albeit attractive) "ifs" instead on some permanent and universal principles?
Thesis: A "pure" philosophy of morality which elucidates universal and necessary principles of conduct "must be possible".


We should avoid relying on or adducing empirical grounds/reasons, such as human nature or specific circumstances of our actions:
(a) We can know human nature only a posteriori - as it changes (biologically and culturally).

(b) The circumstances are contingent on something present, not permanent and universal.

Foundation: The basis of morality should be sought a priori in the conception of pure reason away from empirically grounded precepts. For instance, the precept that kindness always pays off could be true, but it could be false as well. Therefore, if kindness is something morally valuable it should be demanded in principle regardless of its potential payoff.
Discipline: If moral principles are possible, they should be the subject of a priori knowledge (= Metaphysics of Morals).
Justification: Only reason can uncover the necessary rules of morality (not observation, tradition or polling). Reason is the source of moral legislation, not nature, external authorities or revelation. The dignity of man consists in the ability to make a universal law that he himself must obey. And man formulates the universal law by means of reason.
Note: This is clearly opposed to the idea that the law comes from without, from religious authority, powers that be or from inexorable drives of nature.

A priori
= preceding experience, innate;
A posteriori = coming after (or from) experience;
Pure reason = reason operating without interference of other faculties
(Kant has in mind especially imagination and the senses).

II Transition from Ordinary Rational Knowledge of Morality to Philosophical Knowledge

  Instead of trying to define the content of our volition that will be the most powerful driving force for our actions Kant seeks the law that would determine our will a priori and only in consequence of that the object of our volition. He contends that it was a grave mistake to derive the will from pre-existing object of its craving - the objects should be produced only by moral law if they are to be coveted. Kant does not give a list of desirable objects nor does he describe which actions should be taken; he only states that whatever actions we take they should spring from a will that determines itself in accord with the moral law.


The essence of moral goodness is the good will (= the goodness of moral agent). This proposition determines Kant's the place of emphasis in the structure of moral act.

  The Structure of Moral Act
  Every moral act presupposes the existence of the three moments: agent, action and effect.

Agent _____________ Action ____________ Effect

  Now Kant bases moral evaluations strictly on the quality of the agent (good character, good motives, conformity to the law).


The good will denotes the willingness of the subject to do the right thing from the right motive.
Note: Later on Kant defines the good will as "a faculty of determining itself to action in accord with the representation of certain laws".


For Kant the good will is the measure of moral value. It is the primary and the ultimate object of morality - determination of the will in accord with the moral law.

Quality: As the standard of goodness, the good will is the only thing good without qualification (good as such, good in itself, absolutely good, good in all circumstances).
Other Goods: Of course, the good will is not the only good thing. There are many other goods and goodies.
We can conveniently divide all goods into two big classes:



I Gifts of Nature:

(a) Talents of the Mind (intelligence, wit, judgment)
(b) Qualities of Temperament (courage, perseverance, resolution)

II Gifts of Fortune:

(a) Blessings of the World (power, wealth, honor)
(b) Essentials of Happiness (health, well-being, contentment)

Contingent Goodness:

All of the above are good, but none of them is an absolute good, the good without any qualification (i.e. a limiting specification).

(I) The gifts of nature are all good, but not in themselves. They can become bad if found in a bad character (Hitler, Stalin).
(II) The gifts of fortune can lead to pride and presumptiousness (Christian vices).

Insufficiency: Without a good will other goods lose orientation and constancy. This is why (a) the isolated features of good character, or (b) the unfailing outpouring of luck are not sufficient indicators of moral goodness.
Good Luck : Note: This last remark is directed against Aristotle who emphasizes the importance of external goods and luck for morality almost as much as of the good character. For Kant, these factors are "far from deserving to be called good... although they have been so unconditionally praised by the ancients". The principle of moral action should be tailored to fit its own end, not some external objectives, as the stress on these external factors may suggest. Kant warns that it is an unfortunate and detestable event to see people without moral merit enjoying prosperity or even the benefits of their crimes (cf. Phalaris, the tyrant of Agrigentum, Archelaus of Macedon, or recently O.J. Simpson - if he has committed the alleged crime).
Happiness: As a being who belongs to the realm of nature man has a strong desire and inclination to make himself happy. But happiness in itself does not warrant moral quality, it does not even indicate it. Kant believes the moral import of happiness is overrated. Hence he vigorously opposes the tendency of many to condition moral objectives on happiness by openly reversing the order of virtue and happiness. His reversal is so radical that happiness ceases to be the determining factor of our actions. This does not mean that we should not strive to be happy - it remains a strong natural tendency and ideally happiness should be the outcome of virtue. Unfortunately, since happiness does not come in exact proportion to morality it should not be taken as attesting the moral quality of the agent. And the same holds true of its absence.
Note: Kant regards happiness just as a psychological feeling of "contentment with one's conditions", that is to say as a subjective self-ascriptive characterization. He does not consider more objective dimensions of happiness like welfare or fulfilment and consequently avoids any substantial definition of its content.
With good reasons he was convinced that considerations of this kind do not belong to he philosophy of morality but to a practical art of living.
Permanence: The good will constitutes the good character of any moral agent. In fact, it is the subtance of the good character that Aristotle could not define beyond pointing to some prudent role models. By grounding it on the moral law Kant is capable to show how it, in the form of good character, becomes the guarantee for the persistence and permanence of moral attitude.
Necessary Condition: The good will is the precondition of goodness in all moral acts. Nothing is good morally without the involvement of the good will. Not even those features that are conducive to the intrinsic worth of a person or even its constituents (moderation, self-control).
Extenuating Condition: Some features of good character (for instance, calm deliberation) could be more dangereous and abominable than their absence if they occur in a person deprived of the good will. Thus a villain who prepares and performs a crime in calm deliberation is morally worse and more dangerous person than the perpetrator who commits the same deed because he cannot control his emotions and temper (in a feat of passion).
This explains some justified discrepancies in modern penal system. Bad temper and bad anger management could be sometimes regarded as extenuating circumstances, while some characteristics of good character could be aggravating factors, all depending on the absence or presence of the good will.
Sufficient Condition: Every action is good if the good will is involved no matter what it performs or attains. The good will is good irrespectively of its effects. It is not good because it succeeds. It is not bad if it does not succeed. The good will remains good even if it fails to accomplish its purpose. Usefulness or fruitlessness do not add or take away any moral value to our actions.
Non-Consequentialism: This principle holds under the assumption that we have tried everything within our power and not simply expressed our good wishes for the best without even trying to do anything.
Note: Because of this view Kant is often accused of paying much more attention to the right motive than to the right thing that needs to be done. To be sure, he says that an agent should not stay by sheer good wishes requiring instead that we summon "all means in our power", but it still remains that the quality of the will unambigously determines the moral quality of a deed, not the potential effects.
Intrinsic Good: The good will is good for its own sake, by virtue of pure volition, not instrumentally (as a means for something else).
The Pre-eminent Good: (1) The good will is better than any particular end we might strive to attain.
(2) The good will is (morally) better than anything it may produce favorable to any inclination.
(3) The good will is better than anything good in terms of the sum total of inclinations (= happiness).
The good will is the condition of being worthy of happiness. Being worthy of happiness is morally more important than being actually happy.
The Constitution of Moral Agent

The good will is the real foundation of good character. Its governing principle is reason. This duo secures that duties are performed as they should.
Based on the above explications the constitution of a good person performing duties could be represented as a rhomb with the following designations at its edges:
Good Character
Good Will
Energy of Duty




1. First Proposition of Morality

Principle of Good Will: The sole unconditional good is the good will which acts for duty's sake.*
  Note: This is a reconstruction of what Kant might and should have said, not his own wording of the first proposition. Due to an oversight he apparently failed to phrase the first proposition explicitly. However the numbering of the subsequent propositions clearly indicates that something close to this statement should have come first. It is obvious that, for Kant, an action must be done from a sense of duty if it is to have moral worth.
Admission: Kant is aware that asserting the absolute value of the good will regardless of its consequences is not a self-evident idea. Especially not if everything rests only on what the good will chooses while guided by reason - which does not necessarily coincides with the pleasant and advantageous effects.

People believe that the will should follow the purposes of nature. If so, why should reason and not some other faculty guide the good will? Why not pleasures? What about love for other people or desire for happiness? Are not they stronger and more important moral forces?
Note: The assumption is that the will in itself is blind. The direction of volition has to be determined by something. The question is only which power will take the lead. Here is the list of candidates with their respective shortcomings.

Considerations: Pleasures stem from inclinations that disregard the distinction between right and wrong.
Love is a passion, which means it is something empirical that may assume different forms. Furthemore, it is often inspired by non-moral motives (pleasure or desire for recognition).
Desires are in general morally unreliable to be given a leadership role - they could be easily enticed in any direction by prospective benefits.
  Thus we are left with reason which is the necessary requisite for the good will and its guide in one.
Thesis: Reason is the foundation of the good will.
Definition: An organism is a whole suited to the purpose of life.

(a) Every organ in a living organism has a purpose. Functional Teleology.

(b) Every existing organ is best adapted for its current function. Optimal Teleology.
Note: The above premises are Aristotelian.

Objective: In order to be able to determine the proper function of reason in an organism we need to find out what is the purpose of the whole?
Hypothesis: Let us suppose that the purpose of life is happiness. (H)
Note: Happiness is the best case scenario that could happen if we secure preservation; welfare being the intermediate state.
Means: If the purpose of life is happiness, instinct would be the most effective organ in serving it.
Casting: (a) Nature would then instinctively choose both the ends and the appropriate means for survival. In the Critique of Judgment Kant says that if inclinations would leave us "it would be foolish to be scrupulous as regards the means which procure it for us" (§ 4). People would be then evaluated by their effectiveness in seeking pleasure not as to how considerate they may be.
(b) If this situation comes to pass reason would receive a subsidiary role only - to assist us in appreciating the given constitution of nature and expressing our gratitude to the "beneficient cause" (God) for an instinctively regulated life.
(c) Reason itself would be barred from designing the "plan of happiness" and will be denied practical influence on its realization.
Factual Statement: However, reason does influence our practical decisions. (F)
Outcome: On the other hand, those who follow reason fall short of true satisfaction for their needs. Instead of providing immediate gratification of our wants reason demands that we postpone it or even suspend it if it could not be regarded as morally acceptable.
Correlation: The more reason controls action, the less satisfaction ensues (we get disappointed and even disillusioned).


(a) Misology - hatred of reason - emerges among those "who are most experienced in the use of it".

(b) Envy toward those who follow instincts and do not indulge themselves in the "luxuries of understanding".
Note: Cf. "Do you read something?" Joke.



The fact that we do not rave about the advantages of reason for happiness is not a sign of ingratitude toward God or Nature. Nor does it manifest the moroseness of our temperament. Just candidness and sincerity. But consider F along with (a) and (b).

Inference: If reason yet operates in life its purpose, given all its practical blunders, could not possibly be happiness. It must have a different, far nobler end (a higher purpose) than happiness.
Objection: First, reason could still be in charge for happiness although not alone but along with other faculties. There is no necessity that only one organ serves a complex purpose. Second, reason could in the long run prove more conducive to happiness than immediate gratification or avoidance of obligations prompted by instincts. Some people even make lofty eulogies about the effectiveness of reason in attainement of happiness (Aristotle regarded intelligence as an instrument of happines).
- But reason is not the best guide toward happiness; on the contrary, it is not even neutral - Kant thinks that in fact it interferes with happiness;
- This is not surprising given the accepted definition of happiness - the sum total of inclinations. Reason appears as an impediment to many of these. Plus, reason can never accept enjoyment as something worth in itself.
Note: Happiness defined as "the sum total of inclinations" is less subjective than the one based on the feeling of contentment, but it still does not include objective factors of well-being the way Aristotle tried to conceive. It is rather utilitarian than Aristotelian. Aristotle has faces the same problem as Kant and in order to avoid the depreciation of reason he significantly reduced the range and the intensity of inclinations. Pleasures were, for him, more concomitants than the constituents of happiness.
Premise 1: Reason is not particularly keen in leading the will toward the full satisfaction of our wants (it even multiplies them by preventing instant gratification and missing the opportunities). Reason only troubles mind and complicates our life choices by inserting more deliberation, hesitance and procrastination.
Premise 2: Instinct would lead the will toward this goal with much greater certainty (instinct is the "big reason of the body", as Nietzsche would put it).
Corollary 1: But we see that the "small" reason (intellect) operates as a practical faculty, thus influencing directly the will.

Corollary 2:

As nature generally adapts the means to her ends these facts point to the real purpose of reason. It needs to be sought somewhere else, not in the realm of gratification and satisfaction.
Conclusion: Reason, therefore, is not designed as a means for happiness, i.e. to produce a will merely good for something but a will good in itself. This also represents a higher destination of nature as such than happiness.
Complaints: Many people complain that reason has not made them happy unless it had made the perhaps even unhappy. Does this mean that these people are ungrateful to the Creator ("the goodness") or that reason is useless and otiose like an appendix in the body?
Special Purpose: None of the above. Those who complain are not ungrateful people, only not apprehensive about the true role of reason. Truly, by giving us reason Nature has not provided an organ without purpose. Reason has its purpose, only it is of a different kind. Its purpose is the supreme good, the good will, as the condition of every other good, including the desire for happiness.
Interference: Is this in contradiction with the claim that reason interferes in many ways with the attainment of happiness? No, because reason and the good will are not means for happiness - they allow it but are not instrumental in seeking it.
Note: If the good will is the moral condition of happiness then reason is certainly indispensible for happiness as well but only insofar as happiness is something good.
Inconsistency Resolved: Reason interferes with happiness in this life, but this is not contradictory to its service to the good will. Happiness and the good will (character) are not purposes of the same kind.
Primary Purpose: The goal of reason (i.e. of a rational being) is moral worthiness. It is the only unconditional value of morality.
Secondary Goal:

To be happy (to have the feeling of contentment with one's conditions and to be able to display essential features of wellbeing) is a natural inclination as is the striving to satisfy our desires. But it is just a secondary end in the totality of human purposes. A secondary goal is certainly an acceptable goal, not an obligatory goal at all costs.

Chart of Goals:
Primary Goal Secondary Goal
Unconditional Value Conditional Value
Worthiness Happiness



Kant is very candid about the secondary role of happiness in moral life. If I am both worthy and happy, fine. But there is no guarantee that we shall be able to attain that combination. It is more likely that these strivings may be in a conflict. The question is then what to do if there is a discrepancy or even a conflict between the two? Which one is to be given prirority? For Kant, this is not a real dilemma:

(a) The ends of inclination (personal purposes, "private ends") must, for the most part, be postponed or entirely abandoned for the sake of the higher purpose determined by reason.

(b) If striving for happiness stands on the way to the good will it should be annulled. Happiness has to move away to make room for morality. Otherwise we'll sacrifice our moral autonomy to our desires.

(c) If happiness is not attained, nature has not failed.

Justification: We all want to be happy, but happiness is elusive and not a realistic project. We cannot be sure that we can attain it even in a whole life time. Very few people can say they are happy. Therefore, already because of this we cannot stake our life on it. Thus we need something attainable for everyone in life. The goal we can all attain within our lifetime is worthiness to be happy.
Problem Question: How to command to a finite human being to neglect happiness as his natural desire if it stands on the way of morality? What should prompt man to act contrary to his natural inclinations?
Answer: The feeling of respect for moral law.
Question: How it can become the subjective motive of action?
Answer: By developing a good will.
Task: Elucidate a notion of a will esteemed for itself.
Distinction: For Kant, to be esteemed and respected is not the same as to be praiseworthy. The former is a moral category, the latter a social and educational one.
Basis: Our starting point should be the sound natural reason that already envisions something like a necessary moral obligation.
Status: Moral obligation should be explicated as existing, not taught from above as a sheer norm in the sense of an "you ought". It exists in the form of duty as conceived in the common understanding of men. Its form is "you must".
Preliminary Definition: Duty is what one is expected/required to do.
Recourse: Kant introduces the notion of duty as comprising the notion of the good will which in turn presupposes the moral law.
Restrictions: Duties rest on some universalizable demands but they are not formulated in a plain air. Particular duties imply experience of human nature and the knowledge of concrete situations. (They are those "subjective restrictions" and "hindrances" that define the context within which duties are being performed.)
  Duty Related Division of Actions:
  In order to be able to identify truly dutiful actions Kant elaborates a very intricate taxonomy of actions beginning with involuntary and voluntary actions and ending with actions that ar in accordance with duty as opposed to those that are done from duty.
  Involuntary Actions
I   1) Actions Against Duty
2) Actions
Neutral to Duty  
II     1) Actions Not Required
2) Actions
Required by Duty
II       1) Actions Done in Accordance with Duty 2) Actions Done From Duty
  Kant specifically discusses actions I1, III1 and III2.
I1. Actions Inconsistent with Duty

Actions conflicting with duty could be of two kinds:

(a) Those directly negating a duty or failing to abide by it.
Abusing a deposit.

(b) Those that, while violating a duty, could be useful in some respects.
Example: Donating the borrowed money to a charity instead of returning it to the lender.

For Kant, neither (a) nor (b) can be moral. The former is clearly opposed to duty, the latter covertly although it might be something useful and "good" in some other respect.

III1. Actions in Accord with Duty

The actions taken only in accord with duty cannot be moral because they lack the right motive. Their conformity could be also of two kinds:

(a) Without a direct personal inclination - if they are impelled by some external inclination.
Returning a found stolen property in order not to violate probation.

(b) With a personal inclination - if they result from a desire for some advantageous consequences.
Sticking to the best business policy because it utlimately pays off.

In case of 2b there is a direct inclination toward the action but it springs from a selfish calculation and not from the favor for the action itself (i.e. the action is not done from a personal inclination for the buyers).

III2. Actions From Duty Only actions of this type are moral because they are done out of duty: doing something simply because it is right and doing it even against inclinations.

Preserving one's own life because duty requires to carry on despite a total loss of life joy.
It is difficult to ascertain whether an action is 2b (just in accord with duty) or 3 (really dutiful). It is much easier to determine the defective moral character of an action of the type 1a, 1b or 2a since these types lack a good moral motive. The moral motive is decisive in determining the character of an action when it is evidently present as its sole motive or clearly absent from it.

Motivation ________ Action _______ Inclination
  We can demonstrate when our actions are dutiful (morally worthy) by analyzing several examples of actions that may be pursued both as duty requires and because duty requires. Only the latter is moral, while the former may be just praiseworthy.

Application 1:


It is a duty to maintain one's life (either because it was given as a divine gift or because others depend on us). The question is when our care to carry on has a moral import?

Fact: We already have a direct inclination to keep living.
Consequence: Anxious care to preserve life does not have any intrinsic worth.
Distinction: Preserving life as duty requires is not the same as because duty requires.
General Rule: Only when preservation of life procedes from duty it acquires moral value.

Action From Duty - Moral Worth In accord with Duty - Morally Neutral
Carrying on If we are weary of life If we find pleasure in living
Motive Because of duty As duty requires

Application 2:
Being beneficent is a duty. Which philanthropic action is really moral?
There are several possible motives for philanthropy:
  (1) Giving out spontaneously from compassion.
  (2) Helping needy people for the mere pleasure of satisfying others.
  (3) Giving out possessions to get detached from the world.
  (4) Giving out possessions due to an overwhelming personal grief.
  (5) Donating goods callously from the sense of responsibility.

(1) Spontaneous Philanthropist Gives out from sentiments No moral worth / deserves praise
(2) Sympathetic Philanthropist Gives out from inclination No moral worth / deserves praise
(3) Unintentional Philanthropist Gives out to liberate himself No moral worth / deserves praise (?)
(4) Distressed Philanthropist Gives out in emotional condition No moral worth / probably neutral
(5) Indifferent Philanthropist Gives out from duty Possesses genuine moral worth

Note: It seems that Kant almost confounds 3 and 4 with 5, although the motives in these cases are not identical. Upon careful reading it turns out, however, that he regards 3 and 4 as preparatory stages that precede 5 in creating the distinguishing state of indifference which allows that the sense of duty become operative.
General Rule: The moral worth of an agent is established when his/her action is beneficent from duty, not from other motives. By doing his duty, a grumpy and insensitive person can procure a "higher worth" for himself than a "good tempered man".


If an action is done from duty and at the same time produces pleasure for the agent, why should it not be regarded as moral and respectable?

In the Foundations Kant is not explicit on this point for several reasons: (a) he wants to distinguish moral motives clearly from non-moral motives; (b) a moral motive appears unequivocally as decisive only when it is the sole motive; (c) it is not possible to predict whether the person who shares different motives would act in accord with duty once the non-moral motive is gone (Kant requires a moral commitment).
It is clear however that, for Kant, a good natured person does not act morally if he acts only due to his sentiments. A bad tempered person can act morally if he does his duty even while being grumpy. But there is no line in Kant which could be cited as compelling evidence that he denies the goodness and moral respectability of an act inspired both by moral and good non-moral motives, especially if the effects of inclination are concomitant and not the leading ones. Otherwise inclination and pleasure cover the necessary inner struggle that one needs to overcome in order to be able to accept rationally the constraint of duty. Of course, the attitude of a person who acts from duty with pleasure is better than the attitude of a person who acts solely from duty and with "gritted teeth", but the attitude should be a manifestation of a good character based on the good will not a spontaneous reaction stemming from a sentiment. Some passages from the Metaphysics of Morals seem to suggest that Kant has recognized the advantages of acting from duty with pleasure.

Application 3:

To secure one's own happiness is a duty, "at least indirectly".
When does it get moral?

Objection: How happiness could be a duty if it does not possess an intrinsic moral value and is not a moral goal?
Answer: If we can feel content it is our duty to prefer this state over the opposite other conditions being equal. There is nothing morally wrong in being happy if we are doing our duty. If we can feel content why not do what is conducive to happiness without hurting moral worth (in this sense happiness could be a duty "indirectly"). All the more so if we can perform better other duties when satisfied.
Note: In his essay "On the common saying: This could be right in Theory but is not valid for Praxis" Kant rejects the interpretation according to which he asks from man to give up his natural purpose - happiness - while pursuing duties. Kant was aware that this demand would not be possible for any finite being; therefore, he only demanded that moral agents abstract from happiness when responding to the call of duty. This is necessary in order to avoid positing happiness as the condition for obeying the law. If we disregard the advantages of happiness we demonstrate that duty is self-sufficient as a commandment. This does not mean that we should entirely reject happiness: Kant has realized that disgruntled persons are more prone to disregard ("transgress") duty.
Definition: Happiness is a feeling of contentment resulting from a combination of all inclinations. (This is only slightly different from the previous definition in the sense of the sum total of all inclinations.)
The question is, however, which one to choose and which one to forgo.
And how to create the right combination of them all? Kant was skeptical on this matter. It seems that a man can never form any definite and certain conception of the sum of satisfaction resulting from all inclinations.
Choice: The precept of happiness in the sense of comprehensive satisfaction often interferes with some particular inclinations.
Under these circumstances, one definite inclination usually gets the upper hand and overcomes the fluctuating idea of happiness. Or some present pleasures overpower all other options leading to a more general happiness. Thus the dilemma: Sacrifice present pleasures for the sake of general happiness or indulge in present pleasures even if they in the long run harm the prospects of lasting happiness (for instance, by smoking).
No matter what we choose, the present pleasure - due to a strong addiction, or health - by refraining from the pleasure, our choice does not have any moral worth if does not spring from a duty. Not even if we pursue general happiness and health.
  In general, if happiness is our objective, conflicts are unavoidable because people will have at their heart only their welfare and not general moral norms.
Fact: All people already possess striving to happiness as the strongest and most intimate inclination.
Usefulness: Happiness is beneficial in decreasing ever existing temptation to transgress duty but its moral value is negligable.
General Rule: One should promote happiness ensuing from duty, not from inclination. Unfortunately, we cannot command the feeling of contentment. But we can command actions leading to it (other conditions being equal).

Action From Duty - Moral Worth In accord with Duty - Morally Neutral
Striving for Happiness Securing it along the way Focusing on it as the main objective

  Precisely in the same way in which it makes sense to command actions leading to happiness Kant interprets the famous moral precept from Jesus' sermon on the mount.
Application 4:
To love others is a duty. How can we command affections and emotions?
Christian Message: "Love your neighbor!" "Love your enemy; do good to those who hate you." (Matt., 5; 44)
Absurdity: Taken literally, this passage is beside the point. No one can command us to feel love for somebody. Therefore, love does not have moral merit.
Ambiguity: Love is here not meant as an affection stemming from sensuous attraction ("pathological love" = i.e. "passional love") or sympathy, but as an intentional effort to be kind for the sake of duty ("practical love"). The former comes from "the propensions of sense" the latter from the firmness of the will.
Solution: Jesus commands to act beneficially, not to experience an emotion. The love proceeding from the will can be commanded as a principle of action even if it is hindered by a natural aversion for a particular person. Benefit for "duty's sake" has moral worth.
General Rule: Only when we act from duty does our action acquire moral worth. When we act out of feeling, inclination or self-interest, our action is not morally worthy even if it conforms to duty.

2. Second Proposition of Morality

Formulation: The moral value of dutiful actions procedes from the maxim.
Definition: Maxim is the subjective principle of action (the rule that guides a person's conduct).
Linkage: Maxim explicates the principle of volition (will) - this is what we call the motive of action.
Non-Consequentialism: Moral value is derived from the principle of volition (motive) and does not depend on the realization of the object(ive) of the action nor on the will directed toward those objectives. Thus the will itself is not decisive for the moral worth but the principle that determines it.
Crossroads: We can represent the potential determinations of the will (at the parting of two directions) in this way:

(a) Maxim __________Will ___________(b) Purpose
/ \

A priori principle
Formal Goodness
Objectives of Desire
A posteriori principle
Material Goodness


If the will is determined by (a) the action is moral. If it is determined by (b) the action is at best beneficent.

Conclusion: An action could be good because of its underlying principle but it could be good without having moral value.

3. Third Proposition of Morality

Formulation: Duty is the necessity of acting from respect for the law.
Definition: Law is the objective principle of action (the practical rule of conduct).
            of                \
(a) Respect / Esteem                                                                   (b) Praise / Approval

Energy of the Will
The Law of Itself


Respect: Esteem (or respect) is the immediate determination of the will under influence of the law and awareness of this determination. It differs from a simple feeling by being a "self-induced from a rational concept".
Question: Why only (a) could be the object of respect while (b) deserves just praise?
Answer: Because (a) is the more "rugged" way whereas (b) simply follows desire.
Requirement: An action done from duty must wholly exclude the influence of inclination. Only then we can be sure that the action is moral and indicative of the good moral character. Therefore a struggle with inclinations testifies about the moral capacity of the agent to give precedence to duties.
Proof: All effects could be produced without good will and respect for the law. Only the supreme good - the conception of law itself requires the good will and respect for law.

Law is the practical principle for all rational beings capable of controlling desires and overpowering inclinations.

Action done from Duty

Conclusion: The moral good rests in the idea of law as such.
Note: This conclusion does not contradict the statement that the good will is the absolute and supreme good - the good will and the moral law are different aspects of the same relation. Respect for the law is the basis for the good will.
Presence: This good is not to be sought in the outcome of the action since it is already embodied in the good character of the agent who has acted from duty.

4. The Fundamental Principle of Morality

Law as Such: The ultimate object of respect is law as law. Not a particular law. Therefore the law that determines the will cannot be any law regulating how certain effects hould be brought about. Since Kant has stripped the will of all inclinations and of all ellegiance to any particular principle, what remains is an empty formal principle, "the universal conformity" to "law in general".
Form: What we respect in a law is its form: the Universality of law which is at the root of its unlimited binding force.
Question: How do we show respect for the formal component of law (Universality)?
Answer: By abiding to the fundamental principle of morality.
Axiom: Simple conformity to law in general is conformity to universal legislation.
The Fundamental Rule:
Positive Phrasing:
Always act so that that the maxim of your action could be a universal law.
Negative Phrasing:
Never act so that you cannot wish the maxim of your conduct be a universal law.
Condition: Without this principle the notion of duty loses ground (and becomes a chimera). In that case we would be left only with involuntary actions or actions from inclinations.
Achievement: The ultimate rule of morality provides a standard to determine:
(a) when our actions conform with moral goodness, and
(b) whether our motives are moral or not.
Direction: How do we know what morality requires? By finding out what is our duty. We learn this by applying the rule of universalization.
Universability Test: Confront your maxim with the law! A moral rule must be consistently universalizable.
Common Reason: A common parallel to Kantian principle is to be found in the question: "How would you like if everybody did the same?"
Example: Should the maxim "When pressed hard extract you from the trouble by making a false promise" be anybody's duty?

Should I make false promises (1) Prudence (2) Morality
(A) In the short run Sometimes it is advantageous Never make promises you do not intend to keep
(B) In the long run It is safer not to


Prudence advices to be truthful from the apprehension of possible injurious consequences (B 1), but morality commands to be truthful from respect for the law and to do the right thing accordingly (both A 2 and B 2) regardless of consequences.


Individually I may want to do what is right or convenient, depending on what kind of person I am (what kind of character I have). But as a rational being I cannot want that a violation of law becomes a law. As Kant puts it: "I can will the lie. I cannot will that lying should become a universal law."


A cheat needs that other people keep their promises. Otherwise he would not be able to deceive anybody. But a universalization of his practical maxim refutes his own practice. He cannot propose lying and cheating as a universal law. A law advising false promises would eliminate promises as a meaningful concept altogether. This means: I cannot without contradiction will to be truthful and to be lying at the same time.


We are in breach of the binding universality if (a) we want to be an exception to the rule ("I am special"), or (b) if we want that other people act differently than we do ("Nobody should follow my example").


Logical reasons command respect for law, not appeals, good feelings, religious concerns or potential benefits.

Requirements: What kind of person can make his will good and conformable to the law?
Eligibility: Everyone who can check whether his maxim can pass the test of universability.
Competence: In order to be moral one does not need to be a genius, an expert, let alone an incarnation of Wisdom. Just a person capable of using reason.
Implication: Reason requires immediate respect for a possible universal legislation. And by making my action necessary in accord with the law, the respect for moral law transforms it into my duty.
Worth => Duty
Duty => Maxim
Maxim => Moral Law
Obligation: Not all universalizable maxims are duties. And even if the maxim expresses a duty this is just a first step. Knowing what is our duty is a necessary condition of morality, but not sufficient. We need to perform our duty from duty (for duty's sake).

III Transition from popular Moral philosophy to a Metaphysics of Morals

Moral Instruction:

How good is teaching by examples and models?


(a) Great examples could serve as exhortation.

(b) They ostensibly demonstrate the feasibility of moral principles.


(a) They do not furnish the conception of morality (the principle) even though they presuppose an already existing principle which they a posteriori illustrate.
(b) No matter how inspiring they fall short of the original. Therefore it is always possible to ask whether they represent the archetype of an action (i.e. the pattern).


Even God must be first compared with our ideal of moral perfection before we can recognize Him as good. God is not good because He is God, but because His will is in conformity with the moral law.
Note: In another place Kant repudiates Abraham as an abominable character because of his willingness to sacrifice (= kill) his son Isaac. Abraham should have known that God could have not ordered something like that. If the voice Abraham had heard has pronounced such an order the incompatibility of that order with a universal law should have been a definitive proof that the voice was not the voice of God. Consequently Abraham should not have obeyed and since he did he deserves to be regarded as a lunatic.

True Original:

The idea of moral perfection both surpasses and grounds all examples.

Conclusion: We cannot base morality on examples and characters that should be imitated. The fact that Kant starts with the analysis of common understanding does not mean that he derives his principles from experience. We can learn of law through experience, but we recognize it as law only through reason.


Results: (I) Formal a priori Principles of Morality


All moral concepts are derived from reason a priori (common and theoretical alike).

(a 1) The principles of morality cannot be derived from experience (by induction) because they do not represent contingent knowledge.

(a 2) The more empirical are the principles the less powerful and morally valid will they be.

  (II) Defining Pure Practical Reason



Rational foundation of morality should be established by mapping the realm of practical reason.

  (b 1) It is necessary to determine the scope of pure rational morality (i.e. of the faculty of pure practical reason).
  (b 2) The principles of pure practical reason should be derived from the "general concept of a rational being" (they should not be dependent on the particular nature of human reason).
  (III) Moral Philosophy as Metaphysics
  We need a metaphysical system of general and particular principles of duties.
  (c 1) the Metaphysics of Morals is necessary to determine the "moral element of duty in right actions for purposes of speculative criticism" (theoretical purpose).
  (c 2) It is necessary "to base morals on their genuine principles, even for common practical purposes, especially of moral instruction" (practical purpose).
Question: Would it be easier (expedient) to teach children to do good things for some reason instead of asking them to do them because it is just right?
Answer: Perhaps, but that would be tantamount to a dismissal of morality, because morality is not a means for any other purpose. If we give up certain purpose this will leave the precept that depended on that purpose hanging in the vacuum.
  5. The Possibility of a Categorical Imperative
Definition: Imperative is the expression of the rational awareness of an objective principle which constrains the will.
Problem: How the imperative of morality is possible?
Question: How an imperative constrains the will by imposing obligation on it?
Need: We need the elucidation of its possibility in order to be able to understand its nature rather than to establish it.
Division: There are two types of imperatives:
(a) hypothetical and (b) categorical.
Hypothetical: (a) imperatives are possible based on a hypothesis stating your wish (x) and then pointing to the steps or means leading to its realization (y).
Modality: The connection between x and y is conditional: you are obligated to do y only if you want to achieve x. You do not know what y requires before the condition x is stated.
Example: If you want to preserve your credit, do not make a false promise.
Obligation: The hypothetical imperative is entirely dependent on the accepted end. We cannot state the content of the obligation before the end is given. Then we determine the action by establishing an analytical connection between the end and the means: the concept of willing the end entails the concept of willing the means.
Pragmatic Precept: It formulates the best way to proceed in order to protect or foster one's own interests.
Assumption: The goal is to pursue one's own desires and interests. If the specific goal is abandoned the suggested means becomes otiose.
Categorical: (b) imperatives are based on an a priori synthetical proposition stating the objective necessity of acting (x) from the conception of the law (y). One knows immediately what the imperative requires because there are no conditions in its validity.
Modality: Connection between the personal maxim and the law is unconditional. You are obligated to do x no matter what are your personal desires and inclinations. The categorical imperative does not allow any liberty to choose the opposite or to refrain from choosing.
Example: Never make a false promise because it is something wrong in itself.
Obligation: The categorical imperative states the necessity that the maxim of the action should conform to the universal law. The will is determined by the law and the insight into the intrinsic nature of the action.
Practical Law: It formulates that a kind of action is bad as such and prohibits it for the sake of the law ('do not lie', 'do not kill', 'do not commit suicide', 'do not neglect yourself', 'do not refuse assistance to others',…).
Non-Empirical Nature: The reality of the categorical imperative is not given in experience. We cannot derive it from historical examples either - they can be at best illustrative.
The most serious defect of examples is that there is no way to exclude the presence of non-moral motives in the acts described by them. "Who can prove by experience the nonexistence of a cause when all that experience tells us is that we do not perceive it?" But that cause (ulterior motive) can be there either as an inclination or a fear of loosing credit or experiencing disgrace. Therefore it is always better to make reference to the pure a priori law.
Origin of the Possibility: The possibility of the categorical imperative stems from the possibility of a special (third type of judgments) which in a non-definitional way a priori synthesize our actions with the concept of the law. Although not analytical, the relation between will and reason is still a priori and necessarily valid.
General Formulation: Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
The Imperative of Duty: Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature.
Four Illustrations:  
  (1) Self-love cannot be adduced as a reason for suicide because that would be a self-contradictory argument and therefore cannot become a maxim of universal legislation.
  (2) Making a 'lying promise' to extract yourself from a dire need can never become a universal law because it contradicts the very idea of promise.
  (3) Neglecting natural talents for the sake of enjoyment cannot be a universal law of nature because a rational being cannot wish not to develop his faculties.
  (4) The decision not to contribute anything to the welfare of others is possible as a principle of nature but it is impossible to will that such a principle should have the universal validity of a law of nature.
  The first two examples violate some strict duties (therefore their maxims cannot be even conceived), the second two violate some laxer duties (their principles can be conceived without logical contradiction, but they cannot be wished).
Two Kinds of Duty:
  1. Strict or inflexible duties. The opposing maxim cannot be at all conceived as a universal law due to the inherent contradiction.
  2. Laxer or meritorious duties. Although there is no intrinsic impossibility in conceiving their opposites it is still impossible to will that the opposite maxim becomes a law.
Second Formulation: So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only…

Profile of the Deontological Man:

Rational, profound, rigid, uncompromising, dry, cold, formalistic, bossy, present-oriented, respectable…

Deontological Morality:
Good Will (Reason)
Dutiful Actions (Respect for Moral Law)
Worthiness (Integrity)


Top of the Page