Ought implies can

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Ought implies can is an ethical formula ascribed to Immanuel Kant that claims an agent, if morally obliged to perform a certain action, must logically be able to perform it:

For if the moral law commands that we ought to be better human beings now, it inescapably follows that we must be capable of being better human beings.[1]

The action to which the "ought" applies must indeed be possible under natural conditions.[2]

Kant believed this principle was a categorical freedom, bound only by the free will, as opposed to the Humean hypothetical freedom ("Free to do otherwise if I had so chosen").[3] There are several ways of deriving the formula, for example, the argument that it is wrong to blame people for things that they cannot control.[4]


  1. ^ Kant, Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, 6:50, p. 94.
  2. ^ Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, A548/B576 p. 473
  3. ^ "Ought implies can." The Blackwell Dictionary of Western Philosophy. BUNNIN, NICHOLAS and JIYUAN YU (eds). Blackwell Publishing, 2004. Blackwell Reference Online. 4 December 2011
  4. ^ Stern, Robert (2004). "Does ‘Ought’ Imply ‘Can’? And Did Kant Think It Does?". Utilitas 16 (1): 42–61. doi:10.1017/S0953820803001055.