The Metaphysics of Morals

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The Metaphysics of Morals
The Metaphysics of Morals (German edition).jpg
The German edition
Author Immanuel Kant
Original title Die Metaphysik der Sitten
Translator Mary J. Gregor
Country Germany
Language German
Subject Ethics
Published 1797
Media type Print

The Metaphysics of Morals (German: Die Metaphysik der Sitten) is a 1797 work of political and moral philosophy by Immanuel Kant.


The work is divided into two main parts, the Rechtslehre and the Tugendlehre. Mary J. Gregor's translation (1991) explains these German terms as, respectively, The Doctrine of Right, which deals with the rights that people have or can acquire, and the Doctrine of Virtue, which deals with the virtues they ought to acquire.

Rechtslehre has also been translated as the Science of Right (Hastie) or the Metaphysical Elements of Justice (Ladd). It is grounded in republican interpretation of origins of political community as civil society and establishment of positive law. Published separately in 1797, the Doctrine of Right is one of the last examples of classical republicanism in political philosophy.[1] The Doctrine of Right contains the most mature of Kant's statements on the peace project and a system of law to ensure individual rights.

The Doctrine of Virtue develops further Kant's ethical theory, which Kant first laid out in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785). Kant particularly emphasizes treating humanity as an end in itself; in fact Kant's retake of the second formulation of the categorical imperative (e.g. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals) makes possible to deduce duties. The duties are analytically treated by Kant, who distinguishes: 1) duties towards ourselves; 2) duties towards others. The duties are: 1) perfect duties; 2) imperfect duties. Kant thinks imperfect duties let a latitudo: i.e., the possibility of choose maxims. The perfect duties instead do not let any latitudo and determine exactly the maxims of actions.


In the English-speaking world, The Metaphysics of Morals is not as well known as Kant's earlier works, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and the Critique of Practical Reason, but it experienced a renaissance in the last few decades through the pioneering work of Gregor.[2]

English translations[edit]

Translations of the entire book:

Translations of Part I:

  • Kant, Immanuel. The Philosophy of Law: An Exposition of the Fundamental Principles of Jurisprudence as the Science of Right. Translated by W. Hastie. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1887; reprinted by Augustus M. Kelly Publishers, Clifton, NJ, 1974. [introduction and all of part I]
  • Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysical Elements of Justice; Part I of the Metaphysics of Morals. 1st ed. Translated by John Ladd. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965. [introduction and most of part I]
  • Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysics of Morals. In Kant: Political Writings. 2nd enl. ed. Edited by Hans Reiss. Translated by H. B. Nisbet. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991. [selections from part I]
  • Kant, Immanuel. The Metaphysical Elements of Justice; Part I of the Metaphysics of Morals. 2nd ed. Translated by John Ladd. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1999. [introduction and all of part I]
  • Kant, Immanuel. Metaphysics of Morals, Doctrine of Rights, Section 43-section 62. In Toward Perpetual Peace and Other Writings on Politics, Peace, and History. Edited by Pauline Kleingeld. Translated by David L. Colclasure. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2006. [selections from part I, concerning public right]

Translations of Part II:

  • Kant, Immanuel, The Doctrine of Virtue. Translated by Mary J. Gregor. New York: Harper & Row Torchbooks, 1964; reprinted by the University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971.
  • Translated by James Wesley Ellington, in Ethical Philosophy. Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983 [1964]. [Part II]
  • Translated by John William Semple, "The Metaphysic of Ethics." Edinburgh: Thomas Clark, 1836; Reprint editions include 1871, ed. Henry Calderwood (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark). [Introduction and portions of part II]


  1. ^ Manfred Riedel, Between Tradition and Revolution: The Hegelian Transformation of Political Philosophy, Cambridge 1984.
  2. ^ See in particular her 1963 book, Laws of Freedom.

External links[edit]