Talk:Categorical imperative

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to: navigation, search
WikiProject Philosophy (Rated C-class, High-importance)
WikiProject icon This article is within the scope of WikiProject Philosophy, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of content related to philosophy on Wikipedia. If you would like to support the project, please visit the project page, where you can get more details on how you can help, and where you can join the general discussion about philosophy content on Wikipedia.
C-Class article C  This article has been rated as C-Class on the project's quality scale.
 High  This article has been rated as High-importance on the project's importance scale.
WikiProject Germany (Rated C-class, High-importance)
WikiProject icon This article is within the scope of WikiProject Germany, a collaborative effort to improve the coverage of Germany on Wikipedia. If you would like to participate, please visit the project page, where you can join the discussion and see a list of open tasks.
C-Class article C  This article has been rated as C-Class on the project's quality scale.
Checklist icon
 High  This article has been rated as High-importance on the project's importance scale.


I rewrote this article completely and replaced the existing version. The old version and its talk are archived at Categorical imperative/temp. --malathion talk 07:51, 5 August 2005 (UTC)

Hi, I like your article a lot, however I feel that the part about abortion and animal rights expresses your personal point of view. I agree with this statement: "Only rational and autonomous beings are held to have intrinsic worth under this account, and objects or creatures that are not autonomous are held to have no moral worth at all" From this you conclude that animals and fetus have no intrinsic moral value. But this conclusion may only be drawn, if you knew for sure that animals and fetus are non-rational beings. How do you know? I'm sorry, but you really don't know. For a Kantian philosopher a human being acquires a moral status, once it becomes a rational being having a free will. But, when does this happen? Nobody really knows for sure. In somewhat religious terms, one may ask: When does the soul enter the human body? Kilian Klaiber

This is a problem with writing style. When I wrote the original article, I was saying "according to Kant" almost every third sentence and it was getting tedious. Therefore, I wrote at the top of the article that "[The argument] is outlined here according to the arguments therein." and removed a bunch of the qualifiers. If you can think of a better way to clarify this, I would appreciate it. --malathion talk 04:39, 13 August 2005 (UTC)

I would have to agree about the abortion section. I agree that Kant would probably have followed the line of reasoning you describe, but I don't think that including that section is warranted without citing direct textual support from a work by or about Kant, and I don't personally know of any work arguing that Kant would have held such a position. -BLC

The source for the abortion argument is the Korsgaard book listed at the bottom. --malathion talk 04:42, 13 August 2005 (UTC)
By the way, I'm not exactly saying that this was Kant's position. I'll add something clarifying what exactly I am doing in the interpretation section. --malathion talk 04:47, 13 August 2005 (UTC)

The Second, fourth, and fifth formulations and some other issues[edit]

I'm considering making the following changes to this article, and would like to hear your thoughts:

First, the Formula of Humanity as an End is erroneously described here as the second formulation, when it is in fact the third. This certainly ought to be corrected.

On that note, it only seems appropriate to add the second, fourth, and fifth formulations. I possess the James W. Ellington translation, which I notice is already cited in this article, and so will happily do this.

I also notice that the section about the golden rule is completely uncited, and I'm also uncertain about its relevance to the article. Though it would be great to include some responses to the CI in this article, like Philippa Foot's, I'm not sure about that one. If someone doesn't come up with citations, I may remove it.

Finally, I don't think the section on Eichmann is relevant enough to include, and I'm also inclined to remove it.


-A B.A. in philosophy. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Bardcollegerulez (talkcontribs) 23:02, 8 December 2011 (UTC)

"Universalizable" a word?[edit]

Interestingly enough, this word doesn't seem to appear in any dictionary, and yet it gets 11,000 Google hits [1], including academic publications. It also appears several times on Plato [2].

I'm not sure which version is better; I just wanted to point this out. --causa sui talk 19:54, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

To quote Kalvin: "Verbing weirds language".
Webster had the best list of near misses when I did my research before making the change. I did think it might have been a quote as you had it italicised.
I won't feel hurt if you change it back.
--GraemeL (talk) 20:06, 23 August 2005 (UTC)

"Universalisability" is the concept developed by R.M. Hare, and shouldn't be confused with Kant's notion of universality (they're closely related, but not the same). It is most certainly a word, though (perhaps the U.S. "z" was the problem? I've often seen it spelt that way, though), and has been in use since the early/mid twentieth century. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 10:16, 2 September 2005 (UTC)

"Universalizability" (with a 'z') is listed in the Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy (S. Blackburn 1994/2005 2nd Ed) as being presentin and important to Hume, Smith, Kant and Hare (not invented by Hare - only championed by). vwoodstock (talk) 14:13, 21 November 2008 (UTC)


Added a NPOV template since the earlier section about objections [3] has been deleted and the supposed link about criticism do not show any. Ultramarine 16:11, 31 August 2005 (UTC)

Maybe you would like to add some criticisms to the other article, then? --causa sui talk 21:33, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
Btw, this doesn't strike me as an NPOV dispute, but rather a problem with a lack of content. --causa sui talk 21:38, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
Deontology is a much broader concept. Criticism of the Categorical imperative should be in this article. Ultramarine 21:38, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
A lack of criticism is a NPOV dispute. Wikipedia should not hide arguments. Ultramarine 21:40, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
No one is hiding anything here. It just hasn't been written yet. --causa sui talk 21:44, 31 August 2005 (UTC)

Could we please have some Diffs and explanation for the NPOV banner? Banno 21:43, August 31, 2005 (UTC)

See this section which has been deleted [4]. Ultramarine 21:46, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
My explanation for deleting that section is a bit broad.
  1. I had recently rewritten the entire article and that version didn't "jive" with what I had written. This is related to my redirecting the criticism to the broader subject of Deontological ethics. I don't think the categorical imperative, as an idea, is something that is subject to criticism in the traditional ethical sense. One could criticise the meta-ethical question of whether we have freedom (but that should go in Libertarianism (metaphysical), or, if we do have freedom, whether the categorical imperative follows from it. But the previous version only gave counter-examples to the broader deontological theory that is not necessarily associated with Kant's ethics. I don't know if there is an article specific to Kantian ethics, but judging from the awful state of the article on Deontological ethics in general, I'm going to guess that it isn't.
  2. Much of the criticism offered in that section is unencyclopedic or original research. Some examples of things I had a problem with:
Indeed the uses and implications of the categorical imperative are vast.
Personal opinion
However, many philosophers characterize these objections as fanciful thinking, impractical for real world situations.
Weasel language
Of course this imperative is actually hypothetical, but the condition is merely omitted. One could say that you should always inscribe your name inside a new book, if you want it to be returned. The categorical imperative on its own cannot differentiate between a prudential maxim and one that is truly moral--this requires a longer and more complex method of reasoning.
The difference between what is moral and what is merely prudential cannot be understood except with reference to the second maxim. One can certainly act in any way one chooses on a local scale and consider oneself moral: but this involves only a local group of people, not the universal whole. True morality can only be found when one acts with mindfulness of the interests of all people. :Original research, apparently advancing a particular view
The categorical imperative sometimes seems to give false negatives in terms of what is permitted behaviour.
Looks like original research. It needs a citation
In general, I think there should be a criticism of deontological ethics, and if possible, one of the categorical imperative as well. But I doubt that what I have in mind for a criticism of categorical imperative is what you have in mind. --causa sui talk 21:59, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
You may be right about parts of the previous criticism. But much of it is from philosophers. That should be included. If you argue that they are wrong and their criticism not apply to the Categorical imperative, then you should publish this outside Wikipedia. Ultramarine 22:11, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
I happen to think they are wrong, but that is not my reason for removing it. My reason is that the criticisms in that section apply to deontological ethics more broadly, not the categorical imperative itself, as a metaphysical concept. A criticism of the categorical imperative itself would attack Kant's demonstration of its existence, not the normative ethics it would appear to proscribe on us. I'm sure that such attacks exist, although I am not familiar with them, so I have not written on it here.
This debate has also made me realise that I was wrong to put the interpretation section here. It, too, should go in deontological ethics, I think. But it needs better referencing first. --causa sui talk 22:19, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
Deontological ethics would include theories by W.D. Ross and Locke. It would be very awkward to have a common criticism section for all these theories. However, if you manage to do it, fine. Until then, the NPOV sign should remain. Ultramarine 22:42, 31 August 2005 (UTC)
I see that you have removed interpretations. This seems like a good solution and thus I think we can remove the NPOV template. OK? Ultramarine 22:47, 31 August 2005 (UTC)

Perhaps the problem is with the Deontological ethics article, rather than this one. However, I feel that some of the criticisms which were cut out should be put back in SOMEWHERE, rather than simply deleted from one article and NOT inserted into the other, where it is claimed they should go. I am sure the criticisms have many problems, as did the rest of the article (which now looks good BTW). I have put all of them, in toto, into Deontological Ethics. I suppose I would appreciate a better reason for deleting them rather than 'they should be somewhere else'. WhiteC 18:45, 1 September 2005 (UTC)

That wasn't my only reason for deleting them, as I explained above. --causa sui talk 21:06, 1 September 2005 (UTC)
After looking at the deleted material [5], I'm not convinced that the current arrangement of referring "Objections" (a.k.a. "Criticisms") to the deontology section is the best way to divide the material. (1) Historically, much of the material now included in the Deontology section was specifically directed at Kant. It may be the case that all criticism of Kant could apply more broadly as a criticism of all deontology, but that's a bold claim that is IMO suspect, or at least non-obvious. At the least, presenting the material in accord with that principle ("all criticism of Kant is criticism of deontology") has the effect of deemphasizing its historical context. And if that principle is not intended, then why structure the articles as if it were? (2) Rolling the criticisms of Kant into the Deontology section creates an article structure that could be confusing to someone researching either Kant or Deontology. As it is, the Deontology section reads "Deontology"..."Contrasted with Consequentialist Ethical Theories"..."Criticisms of Kant." Yikes. (3) What's the prize for moving "Objections" out to another article? There's no rule -- is there? -- that says that material cannot be duplicated across articles. If certain criticisms of Kant might also be criticisms of deontology, then including the overlapping criticisms in both articles would take ... what ... 2kB, max, on a Wiki server somewhere? (4) I'm not sure that I agree with Ryan's claim that the CI is beyond criticism in the traditional ethical sense. For example, Constant's "Murderer at the Door" scenario uses traditional ethical methods to attack the CI: (a) here's a scene (b) here's the CI applied to the scene (c) An intuitively ethically immoral result occurs (d) the CI is wrong. All of this is very traditional ethics, and it is entirely without reference to deontology in general. But perhaps I misunderstand you, Ryan.
As it stands, I'm uncomfortable with the state of both the Kant *and* the deontology articles. The one seems to have lost a valuable "Objections" section (ref. by ultramarine above); the other seems to imply that Deontology == Kant. The whole arrangement seems tendentious, designed around a POV of equating "Kantian ethics" with "Deontology." But I'm relatively new here, and I'm open to being wrong.
Discuss? --jrcagle 04:00, 20 September 2005 (UTC)

General comments[edit]

This is pretty good, I'd say. I've made one or two minor changes,; the only point at which I have more serious reservations concerns the comments on property and lying in perfect duty, but I'll think about that, and come back to it later. --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 10:19, 2 September 2005 (UTC)

Leave a message here when you have had more time to think about it, and we'll work it out. Thanks. --causa sui talk 02:45, 3 September 2005 (UTC)

For Mel:

it is not enough that the act be consistent with duty, but carried out from duty.

I don't understand what this means. It seems to be self-contradictory. --causa sui talk 23:00, 8 September 2005 (UTC)

The current discussion seems to be discussing "perfect duty" as being due to logical contradictions ("logical annihilation"), which is one of the major interpretations, but not the only one. Christine Korsgaard (one of the better-known latter-day Kantians) argues fairly strongly for a "Practical Contradition" rather than "Logical Contradiction" interpretation, and there is a third interpretation (another "[x] Contradiction") that slips my mind at the moment. I will have to refresh my memory before diving into the article though, unless someone here is more knowledgeable... --Delirium 04:25, September 13, 2005 (UTC)

I don't really see Ryan Delaney's point, I'm afraid. Setting aside different interpretations of Kant, there's a clear distinction between acting in a way that happens to be consistent with x and acting from a recognition of x. To use a non-Kantian example, imagine two poliemen who both arrest pimps; policeman A does it because the pinp hasn't paid his bribes on time, while policeman B does it because he's doing his job to the best of his ability. In both cases the arrests are in accordance with their duty, but only B is acting from duty.
Kant is clearly concerned with our recognition of and our acting from duty (not the following of rules, for example, which might happen to coincide with duty, or which were made by someone else in accordance with duty). --Mel Etitis (Μελ Ετητης) 14:05, 13 September 2005 (UTC)
Maybe part of the reason you don't see my point is that I wasn't making one :) I just think that wording isn't perfectly clear about the distinction between an act carried out only because of the duty to do it, and an act that happens to be consistent with duty, carried out because of some other interest. --causa sui talk 06:17, 14 September 2005 (UTC)

Criticism section[edit]

I added a "stub" Criticism section in order to get the ball rolling. It needs to be polished up by those with more knowledge of Kant and more experience writing WP articles.

--jrcagle 22:12, 18 September 2005 (UTC)

I merged much of what you wrote into Deontological ethics since it was redundant with what was written there. --causa sui talk 05:33, 19 September 2005 (UTC)
That's good, although there are some Kant-specific criticisms from within Deontology that might be mentioned here. Not all deontologists would agree that duty is the motive to be pursued, nor would they agree that the Categorical Imperative is the tool for discerning the motive to be pursued. --jrcagle 03:09, 20 September 2005 (UTC)
What did you have in mind? --causa sui talk 10:15, 20 September 2005 (UTC)
Most of what I have in mind is expressed in the "NPOV" section above. I think criticisms historically leveled at Kant should remain in this section, along with responses to those criticisms. I think broader issues of deontology can be linked over to deontology. And I think there's probably enough material in each to make a substantive section. --jrcagle 14:59, 20 September 2005 (UTC)
What do you think of my comments above? Of course, I don't think it would be a terrible thing if this article had some broad criticisms of Kant, but it doesn't make sense to me to put a discussion of normative ethics into this article, since the categorical imperative itself has no direct connection to applied ethics. Does this point at least make sense? --causa sui talk 20:11, 20 September 2005 (UTC)
Thoughts about your comments above:

(1) (humorous aside) The original objections section [6] is already loose in the wild: [7].

(2) I've already indicated that I think that the CI can be subject to traditional ethical criticism, such as that of Constant.

(3) I agree that much of the "Objections" section has the appearance of original research. Perhaps all that is needed is clearer citations, or else a more careful re-writing. However, the skeleton of headings in the "Objections" section is (a) fair, (b) historically accurate in that real people did raise those objections specifically at Kant, and (c) helpful to someone trying to learn about Kant.

(4) Because Kantian ethics is a subset of Deontological Ethics, it is improper (IMO!) to have a section entitled "criticisms of Kant" in the Deontological Ethics article. That is, unless you want to begin enumerating *all* deontological theories and their criticisms there. :-)

It's just an organizational complaint, I think -- unless you have a Reason for sticking criticisms of Kant over in deontology. Then it's POV. Heh.

(5) I'm not sure if the point makes sense to me. I understand "normative ethics" (of which Kant is considered a subset: (quick Google) [8], [9]) to be very different from "applied ethics", so I got lost in the connect. Sorry to be obtuse.

--jrcagle 01:37, 21 September 2005 (UTC)

I agree that it's a bit unwieldy to have Kant-specific criticism in the Deontological ethics article, but I hope you can see why I think it's unwieldy to have it here, as well. Maybe there ought to be a Kantian ethics article, or a subset of the article on Immanuel Kant that deals with this specifically.
What I mean is that I think the categorical imperative, itself, as a metaphysical concept, is very different from the normative demands it appears to make. Heck, there is some controversy about just what the categorical imperative can be held to require, for example on the issue of suicide. Since we don't even have anything in this article about that, it would seem to be leaving a big hole to jump right into a normative criticism when we haven't even talked about the various interpretations of what the categorical imperative even means. To look at it from yet another perspective, I don't think it makes a great deal of sense to spend the whole article talking about the metaphysical concept and then suddenly shift into a normative argument about its proscriptions. It would be unclear what was being criticised, since the criticism section would essentially be criticizing something that the article isn't even about.
What I'm more interested in seeing is a criticism of Kant's demonstration of the existence of the imperative at all. It strikes me as strange that there is no discussion of this in the other criticism section, since it would seem that if the categorical imperative does exist, then the "counter-examples" would be irrelevant and we must behave as it dictates, however repugnant we may find it to be. --causa sui talk 01:55, 21 September 2005 (UTC)
Ah, now I (think I) understand where you are coming from! So, criticisms/discussion of whether Kant's imperative exists should go in this article. And normative criticisms into Deontological ethics? Perhaps (assuming no major disagreement), this should be spelled out at the top of the criticism section.
I'm sorry that I had to put both bad and good criticisms back into Deontological ethics. Personally, I am not an expert in any of Kant, CatImp or DeontEth . So I guess I am trying to learn the hard way here, in this case by understanding the motivations for deleting bits. Or wanting to move them. Just so I understand which is which. I'm perfectly willing to help clean things up over there if I can. WhiteC 04:31, 21 September 2005 (UTC)

Thank you. I'm much closer to understanding you now. I think one important consideration here would be to understand the full scope of Constant's criticism. In my limited understanding, Kant presented "Thou Shalt not Make a Lying Promise" as a *logical* outcome of the CI. That is, if the CI exists, then Thou Shalt not Lie. Therefore, I understand Constant's objection to mean "the CI gives an intuitively ridiculous result; therefore, it does not exist." And, I understand Kant's counterobjection to mean "Yes it does; deal with it."
So I think one of the things that makes our discussion so hard is that Kant's programme was to establish an entirely rational basis for ethics. He saw the commands that flow out of the CI as inescapable. Therefore, it becomes very difficult to separate out criticisms of the CI *results* from criticisms of CI's existence.
So: I'm willing to go along with your plan. In fact, I would be happy to work on a discussion of Kant's argument for the existence of the CI. I just ask that other criticisms of Kant show up *somewhere* in a "Kant"-related article. --jrcagle 12:22, 21 September 2005 (UTC)

I don't like the criticism section. It mainly states the opinion that the concept of freedom and a deterministic world are incompatible. This is not really directly related to the categorical imperative. This is a general philosophical problem, which must be adressed in any ethical system. Kant apparently believed that a deterministic phenomenal world does not rule out a non-deterministice (free) noumenal world. Therefore, he believed freedom is possible, however he failed to prove that man is free. The criticism section seems to refute this idea. But what is the link to the categorical imperative? The categorical imperative is not valid because man is not free? Well, in this case any ethical system would be a hoax. This criticism may be moved to the Kant article. Maybe someone might try to argue that the term freedom is linked to the categorical imperative in the autonomy formulation. The term autonomous means self legislating. It is a particular kind of freedom and not freedom per se. There is an article about free will, that's where this topic should be discussed. Kikl 09:51, 1 February 2006 (UTC)

I think you are underestimating the importance of free will to Kant's ethics. Kant is not merely saying that morality is possible becase of the fact of free will. Free will is not only necessary for morality, according to Kant, but it is sufficient as well; that is, free will is the premise from which all of his moral philosophy is derived. Kant's ethics is a process of determining whether a particular action is consistent with the idea of man as possessing a rational free will. Kant believes a person does have a free will while simultaneously being subject to external inclinations, and the moral law is his only way to deal with these inclinations in a rational way. Immoral behavior is irrational because it gives up our freedom for nothing.
The point of all this is that the criticism of Kant's conception of free will gets right to the heart of the issue. If freedom is undermined, the rest of Kant's ethics collapses with it. --causa sui talk 15:51, 1 February 2006 (UTC)

My point is, if freedom collapses any ethical theory not just Kant's ethical theory collapses. Therefore it is not immediately related to the categorical imperative. It is related to any ethical theory. I know that free will is central to Kant's philosophy. But the criticism section doesn't deal at all with the categoricalimperative, its justification or its implications. It deals with Kant's arguments for believing that a free will may exist in a deterministic phenomenal world. I think the criticism section as it is fits better to an article dealing with free will per se. (Kikl 23:11, 1 February 2006 (UTC))

I think you're right that the criticism section is incomplete; there is a second possible avenue to attack Kant's ethics, and that would be to challenge his assertion that the categorical imperative follows from the concept of freedom. Kant thinks that following the categorical imperative is the only way for a will to assert its free rationality in the experienced world. But a critic may deny this. I would like to see something to that effect included, but I'm unaware of any good sources who have made this kind of argument. Any ideas? --causa sui talk 23:23, 1 February 2006 (UTC)

Good point, as far as I know Kant seems to suggest that not acting according to the categorical imperative means not acting autonomously. I've come across the same argument and I remember that Kant introduced different concepts of freedom, negative freedom (=freedom of choice) and positive freedom (=autonomy). Many more points could be criticized. The neglect of consequences of actions. The formalistic approach to ethics. Kant neglected the meaning of feelings and valued only rational motives. Kant's focus on the good will, the motive of the action. The examples discussed by Kant. Kant's claim that there is only a single categorical imperative whereas the different formulations seem to introduce new concepts (end in itself, kingdom of ends, autonomy, natural law, perfect duties/imperfect duties) ... (Kikl 23:57, 1 February 2006 (UTC)).

Okay, I think some of these are interesting ideas, but as I discussed above, probably belong in a criticism section of a different article. This article is on the categorical imperative, not Kant's ethics broadly. With that in mind:
  • The neglect of consequences of actions. Kant himself asserts that consequences are utterly irrelevant to moral deliberation so to say he neglects consequeces isn't much of an accusation, because he will agree with you fully. The article already mentions that Kant regards consequences as irrelevant and the reader can decide for his or her self whether that is a problem; there is no need to introduce it as a criticism.
  • The formalistic approach to ethics. Kant neglected the meaning of feelings and valued only rational motives. Again, Kant agrees here, and I think the article covers this. Generally, appeals to feelings don't carry much weight in philosophical discussions, but if you can find a reputable source who makes this kind of attack, we could work it in.
  • Kant's claim that there is only a single categorical imperative whereas the different formulations seem to introduce new concepts (end in itself, kingdom of ends, autonomy, natural law, perfect duties/imperfect duties) This is a misconception about what Kant is doing, I think, and I doubt you will find any sources that make this kind of attack. Kant asserts that there is one categorical imperative (the formula of the universal law) and then derives the other formulations from it. That is, Kant believes it is necessarily wrong to treat a person merely as a means because to do so necessarily violates the first formulation. The second and third formulation are based on the first formulation but since they follow necessarily from it, they actually do not introduce any new information; they merely affirm what was implied by the first formulation. --causa sui talk 00:40, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

Quote: "The article already mentions that Kant regards consequences as irrelevant and the reader can decide for his or her self whether that is a problem; there is no need to introduce it as a criticism." I don't buy this argument. First of all, the criticism section should only contain criticism of what Kant actually believed. Therefore, it is not surprising that the reader should come across this proposition before it is criticised. Secondly, anybody can judge for himself, whether he follows Kant in his arguments. In this case, we may get rid of the criticism section altogether. The relationship among the different formulations is a topic of discussion. In my mind the "end in itself" formulation departs from the concept that the only content of the categorical imperative is the form of the law (universalizability). See: " 10:05, 2 February 2006 (UTC))

This debate is academic anyway since it doesn't particularly matter what we think. I would just be surprised to see any kind of interesting criticism along the lines of "Kant ignored the consequences" since such an attack would also have to explain why it's bad to ignore consequences if it were to mean anything. But if you can find a reputable source that makes this criticism then we could include it. Unfortunately, the link you posted doesn't work. :-( --causa sui talk 10:43, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

I'm surprised to hear that neglecting the consequences hasn't been criticised. Here's another link:, one more link, I highly recommend:

O'Neill's metaphysical objection[edit]

Okay, I did some research and found what I think is a criticism of whether the Categorical Imperative exists. I quote from Onora O'Neill's article/chapter 14 "Kantian Ethics", which is contained in Blackwell's Companions to Philosophy: A Companion to Ethics, edited by Peter Singer. This particular quote is from p180:

"This [most central] objection is that Kant's basic framework is incoherent. His account of human knowledge leads to a conception of human beings as parts of nature, whose desires, inclinations and actions are susceptible of ordinary causal explanation. Yet his account of human freedom demands that we view human agents as capable of self-determination, and specifically of determination in accordance with the principles of duty. Kant is apparently driven to a dual view of man: we are both phenomenal (natural, causally determined) beings and noumenal (non-natural, self-determining) beings. Many of Kant's critics ahve held that this dual-aspect view of human beings is ultimately incoherent."

This seems to me to be a metaphysical objection based on an incompatibilist view of free-will -v- determinism. Kant apparently did not give a compatibilist response to this objection--I'll continue the quote:

"In the Critique of Practical Reason Kant tackles the difficulty by proposing that we accept certain 'postulates' we can make sense of the idea of beings who are both part of the natural and of the moral order. The idea is that if we postulate a benevolent God, then the moral virtue at which free agents aim can be compatible with, indeed proportioned to, the happiness at which natural beings aim. Kant speaks of such perfect coordination of moral virtue and happiness as the highest good. Producing the highest good will take a long time: so we have to postulate immortal souls as well as divine provenance. This picture has been lampooned time and again. Heine depicted Kant as a bold revolutionary who killed deism: then timidly conceded that practical reason could 'prove' God after all. Nietzsche less kindly likens him to a fox who escapes--then slinks back into the cage of theism."

A long quote--sorry. I'll wait for any advice on how much of this I should quote directly from O'Neill and how much I should paraphrase--(there is a third paragraph in which she claims that Kant later changed the form of his rebuttal in "The End of All Things"). Or any basic objections to the argument, or my interpretation of it. WhiteC 07:11, 30 September 2005 (UTC)

I hope you don't mind that I moved this into a new section. This looks great though, and I'm headed to bed but I'm very excited about working out how to get this into the article, so I'll respond later. Thank you! --causa sui talk 10:28, 30 September 2005 (UTC)

In my opinion Mrs. O'Neil's criticism deals with Kant's conception of the possibility of freedom. If man were not free, he would have no moral obligations. Consequently, the categorical imperative would not apply. But, freedom is far more fundamental. It ist not just a necessary conception for Kant's moral philosophy. It is central for moral philosophy per se, since it is useless to conceive of moral vs. immoral actions or maxims if the moral agent (actor) may not obey the moral rules due to his lack of freedom.

I do not see the point at all. Kant deals with the issue of freedom in the Critique of Pure Reason. He does not claim that we are completely determined as phenomenal beings. Nor does he claim we are free as noumenal beings. They are two contradicting claims forming an antinomy he elaborates on. So the "incoherent view" attributed to him is addressed in detail in the first place.
The antinomy can be solved and only be solved, according to Kant, by conceding at least the possibility of freedom. It is one of the core points of Kantian philosophy. You do not have to agree, but the specific quote of Ms. O'Neill is misleading at least. Maybe she develops the argument elsewhere, but I'd suggest deleting this part entirely. '- 23:40, 1 May 2006 (UTC)'
I'm far too late to this discussion, but can I just note: 1. that O'Neill is stating a standard objection to Kant, that he leaves himself with the apparent contradiction that humans are both completely determined by natural law, and completely free to follow moral law; and 2. That she's Dr O'Neill, or Baroness O'Neill of Bengarve, but not Ms or, especially, Mrs. Cheers, Sam Clark 16:29, 30 September 2006 (UTC)

Imperfect Duties[edit]

Comment: I think Kant's argument for the imperfect duties is less consequentialist than the summary suggests. As I read him, his point is that although being a rational agent doesn't commit one to any particular goals, one can't be a rational agent without having some goals or other. Since having a goal rationally commits one to aiming at the means to one's goal, being a rational agent rationally commits one to aiming at all-purpose means, i.e. means that are generally useful regardless of what particular goals one may have. (This isn't a consequentialist argument because it makes no appeal to to the value of the goals; it's a purely conceptual point.) Hence any rational agent is committed a) to desiring to be generally helpful/useful to herself, and b) to want other people to be generally helpful/useful to her; universalised, these yield duties of self-improvement and of charity. --BerserkRL

Yeah, I don't think I meant to imply that imperfect duty is in any way consequentialist -- the point is, as you explained, that if you are going to set a goal for yourself, you have to set that goal for all rational beings as well. I agree completely with everything you've said here, so please feel free to edit the article and we'll see what we can come up with. --causa sui talk 17:41, 4 November 2005 (UTC)


Some anon just gave the article a big rewrite. I'm not sure if the new version is better. Seems like some material is worth incorporating though. --causa sui talk 14:41, 15 November 2005 (UTC)

On a second reading, some of this looks quite good, barring some writing style problems. --causa sui talk 15:13, 15 November 2005 (UTC)

Some more thoughts:

  • The first formulation that appears in the Groundwork is termed the formula of universal law and it is given in both the first and second sections of this work in slightly different forms. In the first section Kant derives it from his understanding of the good will and suggests that it is part of common sense morality. The arrival of it from common sense morality leads to the following formulation: "I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become a universal law".

This just seems dead wrong. I don't think Kant was deriving the first formulation from "common sense morality" but he simply thought our common sense morality was in line with the categorical imperative, or our moral intuitions were moving in that direction already. I think this section is very unclear.

Note that the first chapter of the Groundwork is titled "Transition from the common rational knowledge of morality to the philosophical" (trans. T. K. Abbott). This is a pretty strong suggestion that he's trying to formulate a philosophical rule from common sense. -- vwoodstock (talk) 14:18, 21 November 2008 (UTC)
  • The examples that follow after the statement of the universal law of nature have been controversial with much discussion following concerning the nature of what Kant is claiming by means of them. But there is at least this much agreement concerning them which is that they fall into two classes. There are four examples and it is generally agreed that the test that is emerging from the procedure of application of the categorical imperative is two-fold. The first two examples are cases where failure to follow the categorical imperative will lead one to self-contradiction or involve what is termed "contradiction in conception". These concern suicide and (as in the first section) promising. The second two examples are ones where a contradiction does emerge but not one based on a contradiction in the very thought of the thing in question. Rather what is generally agreed is that these examples concern "contradictions in the will" as in these cases whereas there is no self-contradiction in stating a maxim opposed to the categorical imperative it would be impossible to will that a world structured by such maxims could exist. These examples concern cultivation of talents (or what we would now term self-development) and beneficence.

This is describing the distinction between perfect and imperfect duty, but I am not sure how this explains the distinction any better than the previous version. I think it would be more confusing to the unititiated reader.

  • The third example of a formula concerns the connection between the concept of the will of a human person and the notion of ends in general and specifies effectively the shape of permissible ends. Kant views this as indicating an objective principle from which all laws of the will must be able to be derived. It is stated also as being "the practical imperative" and is extensively used in the Metaphysics of Morals.

This doesn't explain how the mean-as-end formulation is derived from the first formulation, a vital step in my mind.

  • This formula is stated to give the supreme limiting condition of freedom but notably, unlike the formulas that refer to law it gives a positive ground of permission for certain sorts of actions, not a negative ground of indicating which actions are prohibited.

Again, this will make no sense to the uninitiated reader.

--causa sui talk 15:23, 15 November 2005 (UTC)

Merger of "Specific Criticisms of Kant's Ethics" section from Deontological ethics with this article[edit]

The titles say it all. Ultramarine 16:36, 30 January 2006 (UTC)

No. --causa sui talk 15:46, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
Explain.Ultramarine 15:50, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
The discussion of this question already took place in the "Criticism section" part of this talk page. I don't have anything further to add to what was said there. --causa sui talk 17:25, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
You seem to be pretty alone in arguing that the criticism should be in another article. This makes "Deontological ethics" look like a POV-fork since mostly is criticisms. Also this article looks like an opposite POV-fork with very little criticism. As such, I will shortly be moving the appropriate criticism here.Ultramarine 18:02, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
No, the other editors I discussed it with agreed at the end of the discussion and we resolved the issue. You are the first person to bring it up since then. --causa sui talk 22:12, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
Hm, I see no agreement. Could you point out where they agree that moving is unnecessary? Ultramarine 23:40, 1 February 2006 (UTC)
The agreement was to take the criticisms out, a decision which you are now attempting to reverse. --causa sui talk 04:37, 2 February 2006 (UTC)
I cannot find this. Please quote. Ultramarine 11:47, 2 February 2006 (UTC)
More importantly, what are the arguments for excluding criticism. This seems to be a violation of NPOV.Ultramarine 13:29, 2 February 2006 (UTC)
The discussion took place in the section titled "Criticism section" above. --causa sui talk 14:52, 2 February 2006 (UTC)
I see lot of criticisms of the criticism here. It seems that people got tired of arguing with you and left, rather than agreeing. Please read Wikipedia:Neutral point of view "The neutral point of view is a means of dealing with conflicting views. The policy requires that, where there are or have been conflicting views, these are fairly presented, but not asserted. All significant points of view are presented, not just the most popular one. It is not asserted that the most popular view or some sort of intermediate view among the different views is the correct one. Readers are left to form their own opinions." Many important views are excluded now.
Instead, a POV-fork has been created to avoid NPOV. This is forbidden. "A POV fork is an attempt to evade NPOV guidelines by creating a new article about a certain subject that is already treated in an article often to avoid or highlight negative or positive viewpoints or facts. This is generally considered unacceptable. The generally accepted policy is that all facts and majority Point of Views on a certain subject are treated in one article." Ultramarine 15:01, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

If you want to know their feelings, you might want to ask them. I don't agree with your interpretation. In any case, those criticisms apply to Kant's ethics broadly, which is not the subject of this article. They belong somewhere on Wikipedia, but not in this article. --causa sui talk 17:13, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

Alright, here's my opinion (whether it was spelled out in my previous postings or not)... a) Criticisms of Kant's ethics need to find a home on hopefully only one page, instead of being spread out all over Categorical Imperative, Deontoligical Ethics and Kant as they are at the moment (or deleted from all 3 as they were at points in the past). It would be extremely helpful if we could figure this out ASAP. b) Some of these criticisms may be invalid, but if so I would prefer to see reasons why they are invalid instead of just a "They don't belong here" comment. I know some people (such as Kikl) have pointed out criticisms of them on different pages, which may be valid... unfortunately the disagreement about where to put the criticisms has kind of overshadowed this for now. c) I don't really follow the reason why normative criticisms don't belong here, but I acknowledge my lack of expertise--if other people disagree with this idea, I would prefer to see the discussion reopened. d) This is supposed to be an NPOV discussion of Kant's Categorical Imperative, not a discussion based on an assumed acceptance of Kant's Categorical Imperative...
So, once again Ryan, for clarity, Why don't normative criticisms of Kant's Categorical Imperative belong on this page? WhiteC 21:11, 3 February 2006 (UTC)
I think they are all wrong, or ministerpretation of Kant's ethics, but that has never been my reason for saying they should not be included in this article. I also wholly agree with your point D, and I'm a bit frustrated by my apparent inability to make clear that I do not oppose the inclusion of criticism per se, but I only oppose the inclusion of criticism that is not relevant to the topic of this article. My reason, as I explained above, was that this article is -- as written -- about Kant's logical demonstration of the existence of the categorical imperative and its formal implications. It does not discuss interpretation or normative ethics at all, so to include criticsms of the normative kind makes no sense whatever.
To make an analogy, it would be akin to having an article on Darwins theory that all organisms share a common ancestry and then in the "criticism" section inserting a long essay about inconsistencies in the fossil record that suggest the earth is only 10,000 years old. Of course those criticisms should exist somewhere to make plain the controversy between evolutionists and young-Earth creationists, and both views should be presented in a neutral way. But that doesn't mean that just because this article is on one of Kant's ideas, that any criticism of Kant whatever is fair game for inclusion.
In our previous discussion, I lamented the nonexistence of a Kantian ethics article and the abysmal state of the Deontological ethics article, since either of these would be a decent place to discuss normative criticisms of duty-based ethics. But it makes no sense to put them in an article of such a strictly formal nature. The kinds of criticsms that merit inclusion are the kinds of criticisms that actually attack the subject matter; the O'Neill attack on free will is a great example and I certainly think it merits inclusion. Another kind of criticism I would like to see, as I discussed with Kikl, would be a criticism of Kant's assertion that the categorical imperative follows necessarily from the idea of free will, but I'm unfamiliar with any such criticism personally. --causa sui talk 01:55, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
The name of this article is not "Kant's logical demonstration of the existence of the categorical imperative and its formal implications." If it had this title, then maybe your argument would be acceptable. However, it is not and there is no valid excuse for excluding material relevant for the categorical imperative. I find your comparison to evolution very strange, that article does indeed mention many objections to the theory and does not only present the theory and and some subset of the implications.Ultramarine 03:16, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
I agree that in general, criticisms of Kant's explanation of the categorical imperative and his demonstration of its existence should be included. But you aren't responding to my argument any more than to flatly contradict me without explanation; as far as I can tell, what you've just said could be summed up with "No it isn't." So I'm not sure how to proceed at this point. --causa sui talk 16:51, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
What argument? I only see your opinion regarding what this article should contain and that you have written the contents to reflect your own view. However, this view is contradicted by the title and NPOV. Ultramarine 17:48, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
Once again: The criticisms that were removed do not apply to the content of the article. They criticise something that this article is not about. --causa sui talk 17:55, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
You do not own the article or the contents. The title states Categorical Imperative, thus all material necessary for NPOV should be included. You seem to argue that one may not add new contents because it is not already in the article. Very strange.Ultramarine 18:15, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

I am aware that I do not own this article, and my argument is not that it can't be added because it isn't already there. I'll try one last idea for resolving this: Given that the criticisms are attacks on deontological ethics and not the categorical imperative itself, why do you think this article is a better place for those criticisms than Deontological ethics? --causa sui talk 19:25, 4 February 2006 (UTC)

"this article is -- as written -- about Kant's logical demonstration of the existence of the categorical imperative and its formal implications. It does not discuss interpretation or normative ethics at all, so to include criticsms of the normative kind makes no sense whatever." i) The article is this way because of your previous edits to the article, and it can be changed again. ii) The article SHOULD discuss both interpretations and normative criticisms. To leave such things out seems biased. I don't really see why a separate article called Kantian Ethics should be required. WhiteC 20:52, 4 February 2006 (UTC)
Well, the previous article was all over the place. Since the categorical imperative is strictly formal, trying to make it normative would be mixing oil and water. I've given it some thought though, and I have an idea for possible compromise- we could fix up the interpretation section, with some better discussion of how the categorical imperative is interpreted (both by Kant and modern moral philosophers), and then it would make more sense to have criticisms of these interpretations. --causa sui talk 16:29, 5 February 2006 (UTC)
Thankyou, this looks much better. My only current criticism is that "Several philosophers have criticized these normative interpretations as incompatible with a realistic moral philosophy" needs at least one name, rather than the weaselish "several philosophers." In spite of our disagreements, I do appreciate the effort you have put into this article overall. WhiteC 00:07, 8 February 2006 (UTC)
Agree, very good. Ultramarine 00:17, 8 February 2006 (UTC)
Thanks. As for weasel language, I think the names you seek are coming in that section. I definitely think that introduction could use some expansion though. --causa sui talk 01:11, 8 February 2006 (UTC)

Request: CC and CW tests[edit]

I think this article would benefit from a section relating the different forms Kant related that the CI test can formally take: the contradiction in coneption test (CC) and the contradiction in the will test (CW). I think these tests relate directly to the FUL (hence the emphasis on contradiction, which is directly opposed to unviersalizability), but am not that familiar with their chracterizations, so am refraining from writing the section myself until I can do some further research. Shaggorama 09:16, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

This is just different terminology for the distinction between perfect and imperfect duty. If a maxim results in a contradiction in conceivability (because we cannot even conceive of it as instituted as a universal law of nature), it is inconsistent with "strict" or perfect duty. If it results in a contradiction of the will (because we cannot will it to be a universal law of nature), then it is inconsistent with "meritorious" or imperfect duty. You make a good point that it would be a good idea to include these terms in the section discussing perfect and imperfect duty. --causa sui talk 10:46, 2 February 2006 (UTC)

Abortion section deleted[edit]

Here are my reasons. The reader will actually recognize that Delaney has reintroduced the section about abortion and animal rights although several user's have hinted at the fact that his opinion is speculative and there is no textual support for his opinion. Nevertheless Delaney = Malathion reintroduced this section without giving textual support. It seems appropriate to delete this.

I rewrote this article completely and replaced the existing version. The old version and its talk are archived at Categorical imperative/temp. --malathion talk 07:51, 5 August 2005 (UTC)

Hi, I like your article a lot, however I feel that the part about abortion and animal rights expresses your personal point of view. I agree with this statement: "Only rational and autonomous beings are held to have intrinsic worth under this account, and objects or creatures that are not autonomous are held to have no moral worth at all" From this you conclude that animals and fetus have no intrinsic moral value. But this conclusion may only be drawn, if you knew for sure that animals and fetus are non-rational beings. How do you know? I'm sorry, but you really don't know. For a Kantian philosopher a human being acquires a moral status, once it becomes a rational being having a free will. But, when does this happen? Nobody really knows for sure. In somewhat religious terms, one may ask: When does the soul enter the human body? Kilian Klaiber

This is a problem with writing style. When I wrote the original article, I was saying "according to Kant" almost every third sentence and it was getting tedious. Therefore, I wrote at the top of the article that "[The argument] is outlined here according to the arguments therein." and removed a bunch of the qualifiers. If you can think of a better way to clarify this, I would appreciate it. --malathion talk 04:39, 13 August 2005 (UTC) I would have to agree about the abortion section. I agree that Kant would probably have followed the line of reasoning you describe, but I don't think that including that section is warranted without citing direct textual support from a work by or about Kant, and I don't personally know of any work arguing that Kant would have held such a position. -BLC

Kikl 17:25, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Well, you've really put me in a "Damned if I do, damned if I don't" situation since people here (Ultramarine, WhiteC) have insisted on discussing interpretation in this article. If you think this section is not as good as it could be, I encourage you to improve it, rather than delete it. --causa sui talk 18:07, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Well I am starting to doubt your good will. You have been criticized many times for introducing your personel point of view and weasel words to the article. Nevertheless you continue doing that. Your recent changes start with the proposition: "The interpretation of the categorical imperative is, in most cases, descriptive and uncontroversial" How can you say something like that? "in most case"... What is a descriptive interpretation? Uncontroversial, that is simply not true. How can you say the interpretation of the categorical imperative is uncontroversial and then talk about all the controversies?

If you remember our recent discussion, I said that there was controversy about Kant's claim that there is only a single categorical imperative. You're response was I quote "I think, and I doubt you will find any sources that make this kind of attack" How can you say that? Please look at what you've written: "That is, the murderer who asks Jim where his victim is does not know that Jim knows he is a murderer, so this maxim could be conceived as a universal law of nature with no problem at all. However, Korsgaard goes on to argue that the lie is nevertheless morally impermissible, because it contradicts perfect duty interpreted through the second formulation." The different formulations apparently lead to different consequences, at least according to Mrs. Korsgaard.

The abortion section is POV, pleas read the first paragraph of this article. If this is Mrs. Korsgaard interpretation of the categorical imperative, then this should be mentioned explicitely and all references to Kant should be deleted. I do remember that Kant said something about treating animals, but I'm not so sure what it was. I'll find out.In my opinion, the universal oath-breaking and Eudomonia sections are really bad. Oath breaking is an action and not a maxim. The categorical imperative is about unversalizing maxims and not actions. Therefore, the whole starting point of the argument is false. Then Mr. Ross seems to suggests theat the consequences of universal oath breaking would lead to a world just as effective and reliable as a world where everyone kept their promises. That's a consequentialist argument isn't it. I don't know Mr. Ross, but his criticism, at least what I can tell, is not worth quoting. The same must be said about Mrs. Rand's argument: "The deduction that the entire human race has a duty to die is entirely consistent with the Categorical Imperative provided that the deducer agrees that he himself, or she herself, has a duty to die too." That is a circular argument which presupposes what it is trying to prove. The presupposition is "provided that the deducer agrees that he himself has a duty to die". Deducing a duty shold be the result of the application of the categorical imperative and not the presupposition. This is just nonsense.

Therefore, I think that the abortion section should be completely changed. It should be clear that Kant didn't (as far as I know) put forward an opinion with regard to abortion, DNA and what have you. If this is Mrs. Korsgaards opinion, I feel it may be included to the article as Mrs. Korsgaards opinion.

Best regards

Kikl 23:35, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

Korsgaard didn't write much about it. Incidentally, I wanted the interpretation section left out, but as I said, Ultramarine and WhiteC were quite adamant that it should be left in. I'm left to repeating myself: If you think it should be improved, then let's get to work on improving it. Let's look for sources. But please check all accusations about my good faith at the door. --causa sui talk 23:42, 12 February 2006 (UTC)

I changed the paragraph. If you would like to quote from the "metaphysics of morals", please get an english translation. I don't want to translate the paragraph, because it's very difficult. Kikl 18:35, 14 February 2006 (UTC)

A quick comment on my changes, since this section is in dispute: The claim that non-rational objects or agents (is there a non-rational agent?) "have no moral value at all" is plainly false. In fact, the "intrinisic moral value" of rational agents is valid only because it is necessitated by the only thing with intrinsic moral value, in the more traditional sense, reason (all this, of course, following Kant's account, e.g. the derivation of the second formulation of the categorical imperative, and not my own). It is because non-rational objects and agents do not possess intrinsic moral value (or, rather, universally valid moral value) that Kant derives a prohibition against cruelty to animals based on one's duty to oneself. That abortion shares the same fate is possibly a controversial topic, since Kant himself (as far as I know) never made any pronouncements on abortion. However, this argument has been convincingly advanced by Don Marquis. Whether this is all that can be said from a Kantian perspective on abortion is an open question, but probably a subject that would be labled "original research". Ig0774 09:23, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

It's a difficult point, since practically every Kantian I've talked to has been pro-choice and cited Kant's moral philosophy as justificiation. I do this as well. I find it difficult to imagine how a Kantian could have any other view. But to say that Kantianism leads to a pro-abortion stance smacks of original research, which is why I wish I had a citation for this. --causa sui talk 13:50, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

@ If0774: Thank you very much for adding reasonable changes to the article and providing sound arguments. Best regards Kikl 09:30, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

@Delaney "which is why I wish I had a citation for this" That's a good point. Unfortunately, you don't find it necessary to add citations to your remarks on the page. I wish you would start doing that instead of speculating on Kant's stand on abortion. Best regards Kikl 14:20, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

I'm not spectulating about Kant's stand on abortion, because Kant himself had no stance on it. However, Kant is not the be-all-end-all of deontology and interpretation of this idea has gone on without him. I repeat that other editors have demanded that the interpretation sections be included in the article and I wish you would stop busting my balls over the fallout and problems that have arisen as a result of the section that I didn't even want to be in this article at all. Improve the article yourself or stop complaining to me about it. --causa sui talk 18:08, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

You introduced the recent adddition. Therefore, you are responsible. Therefore, you should provide evidence, in particular citation. If no evidence is provided, then the unsubstantiated paragraphs should be deleted. Best regards, Kikl 19:29, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

We're all responsible to improve the encyclopedia. Forgive me if I think complaining without suggesting a solution isn't productive. --causa sui talk 21:00, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

No, I'm not responsible for providing citations for the paragraphs you introduced. You are responsible and don't blame other people. If you can't find any citations, then please delete these unsupported paragraphs. Best Regards Kikl 21:21, 15 February 2006 (UTC)

Removed intro to Normative Criticism section[edit]

This text "Several philosophers have criticized these normative interpretations as incompatible with a realistic moral philosophy." was removed, because the 'several philosophers' have not been identified, and this is not NPOV. I also feel that the intro to the previous section shows Kant's attitude to normative criticisms quite well. WhiteC 14:35, 23 February 2006 (UTC)

The "several philosophers" are the philosophers identified in the section itself. Please improve, not remove. --causa sui talk 14:48, 23 February 2006 (UTC)
Ah. Well Christine Korsgaard is criticizing the normative interpretations as being wrong, but the previous two are using normative interpretations to criticize the CI. I suppose I would say that Korsgaard is reponsding to the criticism. I'll think about it and try to come up with a better intro. WhiteC 20:49, 24 February 2006 (UTC)

Rand argument[edit]

At present, the "Eudaimonia assumed" section seems unclear. I also think it's irrelevant. Some anonymous editor dropped it in on 2 Jan 2005 and it's been unimproved since. Is there some reason it's been kept? I can think of one, but I'd rather believe it's an oversight. —vivacissamamente 21:37, 10 September 2006 (UTC)

The argument is very bad in my opinion, but that's only my opinion. The real issue is whether the article is made better by its inclusion. Since Ayn Rand's influence in philosophy is practically zero, I'm leaning toward no. --causa sui talk 01:08, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
I think it's, at the least, written badly. I think the first part is roughly arguing against Kant's conclusion in the suicide example that if everyone agrees suicide is their duty, then it's basically okay after all, counter to his argument. The second part seems to similarly be claiming that if everyone agrees, it's universalizable enough, I think. Can anyone concur? Is anonymous Randite still with us? —vivacissamamente 02:27, 11 September 2006 (UTC)
I'm no Randite (if fact i feel her world view is deeply flawed, not to mention dangerous), but this charge of assumed eudaimonia seems to a layman like me to be a valid criticism of Kant. surely it has been raised by other philosophers, right? 16:19, 18 September 2006 (UTC)

Prudential vs. moral maxims[edit]

This section contains what seems (to a layman like me) an unfair dismissal of Beck's argument: "Of course [Back's] imperative is actually hypothetical, but the condition is merely omitted. One could say that you should always inscribe your name inside a new book, if you want it to be returned." One *could* say that, but that's not what Beck said. People *could* tack their own hypotheticals on to any proposed categorical. this feeds into the dicussion of the Rand argument as well. In short, every categorial imperative includes some presumption of "the good", which could be rendered as a hypothetical. Example: "You should never lie, *if* you don't want to destroy the meaning of language." 16:19, 18 September 2006 (UTC)

That's an incorrect interpretation of Kant, but since this is not a discussion board, I will not respond here. Perhaps some earlier section should be edited to make it more clear that perfect duty is a contradiction in conceivability, not in a contradiction in the will, which is imperfect duty. It's clear to me that Beck and Rand did not understand this distinction, and thought Kant referred only to contradictions of the will. --causa sui talk 22:44, 30 September 2006 (UTC)
It may not be a discussion board per se but sometimes it is necessary to discuss issues being written about in order to establish a consensus as to the meaning or truth of those issues. I think if you state why it is an incorrect interpretation in your opinion then a fuller agreed interpretation can ensue. FWIW. Pbhj (talk) 01:32, 20 July 2009 (UTC)

Kant's other applications of the categorical imperative[edit]

Sucide was mentioned in the article with Kant's application of the C.I. to it. Kant also applied the C.I. to three other moral issues (promises, charity, and laziness) in Grounding and thus I added them to the article, albeit while not realizing I didn't auto sign-in on this PC. Good book for $5, and it came with the essay On a Supposed Right to Lie... Sabar 21:50, 22 September 2006 (UTC)

Wow, this page has improved considerably, since Mr. Delaney has stopped editing it. Good Work! Kikl 14:02, 22 November 2006 (UTC)

I haven't gone anywhere. Please maintain civility in your comments. Thanks. --causa sui talk 05:46, 24 November 2006 (UTC)

Repeated Text[edit]

In interpreting the CI, there has been an almost word for word duplication of information between Deception and Intent to break promise. Could we combine these two points since they really do speak of the same thing?—Red Baron 15:11, 10 April 2007 (UTC)

That is a glaring problem with this page. Someone should definitely take care of this when he can find the time to do so. PeterMottola 13:33, 7 May 2007 (UTC)

"If I wish to satisfy my thirst, then I must drink something."[edit]

Just because our grammatical laws allow a sentence to be structured in some way, doesn't mean we ever should structure it so. Would it surprise us if Kant wrote so himself? Should we not say "I must drink something, if I wish to satisfy my thirst"? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 14:01, 3 September 2007 (UTC)

These sentences are simply inversions of one another; the assertion is unchanged. Nothing to get worked up over. --Adoniscik (talk) 19:43, 13 December 2007 (UTC)
In any case, it would be: "I must drink something if I wish to satisfy my thirst" (no comma); the comma is only used in the original because the dependent clause precedes the independent clause.-- (talk) 05:52, 23 July 2011 (UTC)

The fourth and fifth Formulations[edit]

Why aren't the fourth and fifth Formulations of the Categorical Imperative on this page? They may not be considered as important as the first three, but I'd still like to know what they are. —Preceding unsigned comment added by Aaronfledge17 (talkcontribs) 16:12, 23 October 2007 (UTC)

No problem. They are the Formula of the Law of Nature (Grounding, p. 30, Ak. 421) and the Formula of Autonomy (p. 44, Ak. 440). And they are actualy the second and fifth in order, by the way. They go like this:

"Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature."


"Always choose in such a way that in the same volition the maxims of choice are at the same time present as universal law."

I'll withhold my interpretation of these, however. (talk) 02:18, 27 February 2008 (UTC)

Perfect Duty[edit]

Both the examples (stealing and lying) appear daft, on my first reading. First, all the stealing in the world can not eliminate property. If you take every man-made thing I have I can just go and grab a flower from the park or a pet from forest and call it my property. The amount of matter in this world is too large to be entirely appropriated. Second, if everybody stole, the property would merely play musical chairs among the thieves, not disappear. Third, one can not prove that there is no property left. Maybe you did not look hard enough? Regarding lying, the article says "...there must be language, but the universalization of lying would destroy the meaning of language." Lying admits degrees in severity and frequency. Most of us (i.e., those of us who are aware that lying exists) have the faculty to deal with this; to infer the truth from what has been said, rather than admitting it on a superficial level. A more mundane disproof is that everybody lies but language has not ceased to exist. As I said, it is a matter of severity and frequency.--Adoniscik (talk) 20:21, 13 December 2007 (UTC)

I second the previous post's complaint regarding the example of stealing. Furthermore, "it is permissible to steal" is not a maxim. A maxim must take the form of "I, the agent, will A in C in order to achieve E" where ‘A’ is some type of act, ‘C’ is some type of circumstance, and ‘E’ is some type of end that is achieved by A in C.

However, Kant uses the example of lying to demonstrate a perfect duty in the Groundwork. Why should we not use it in the article? After all, lying is premised on the notion that the listener will believe the lie to be the truth. If everyone were to lie, no listener would believe the statements made by others to be true, and the notion that lying is premised upon would cease to exist. That is where the contradiction in conception lies. It has nothing to do with destroying the meaning of language.

Lyndonentwistle (talk) 18:08, 22 November 2009 (UTC)

Law of Nature[edit]

What does Kant mean by this, in phrases such as "Now he asks the maxim of his action could become a universal law of nature."? The laws of nature, in the sense of the term I am familiar with, are not a matter of choice. Perhaps if he had said "be" instead of "become"...--Adoniscik (talk) 21:37, 13 December 2007 (UTC)


In the intro the article compares Kantian morality/deontology to utilitarianism. This seems implausible historically. I mean Kant was older than Jeremy Bentham. His works on morality precededs Bentham's and certainly Mill's. What do you guys think about this? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 05:46, 8 March 2008 (UTC)

The historical era to differing views on morals, should not be relevant to the content of an argument. Utilitarianism is merely used as a contrasting example, to help elaborate some of the points made by Kant. (Lucas(CA) (talk) 16:28, 15 October 2008 (UTC))
This might be a fair criticism since the article suggests that Kantian ethics were presented by Kant as an alternative to utilitarianism. If the timeline doesn't add up in the way the anon suggests, then that shouldn't be in the article. --causa sui talk 02:10, 16 October 2008 (UTC)
My philosophy professor has stated that Mill accused Kant of being a closet Utilitarianism. So, a person who helped define Utilitarianism claims that Kantian Ethics are in some ways similar, or at least worth comparing and contrasting. So, Kant cannot officially be called a Utilitarian, but discussion of Kantian Ethics vs Utilitarianism is worth keeping. --Dan 04:53, 23 October 2008 (UTC)
As I understood Mill, he thought Kant's theory reduces to utilitarianism, and by implication Kantians should just abandon all the theoretical confusion of Kantian ethics and become utilitarians instead. I don't believe that he thought Kant was intentionally a utilitarian at all. --causa sui talk 20:32, 25 October 2008 (UTC)

"Groundwork of..." vs "Grounding for..."[edit]

The 3rd edition, translated by James W. Ellington, published 1993 by Hackett Publishing Company, Inc is actually named "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals." All specific references given by this article refer specifically to the edition I just named and page numbers referenced also refer specifically to this 3rd edition by Ellington (I checked each and every one of them, footnote & page). Therefore, I changed the names of the work throughout this article to "Grounding for..."

So that I can be responded to, my name is Dan. 04:53, 23 October 2008 (UTC)

Dan - As a philosophy student, I can assure you that the work is referred to in all discussion as "The Groundwork" (see The Standford Encyclopedia Entry). Note also that the internal link goes to Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals not to "Grounding..." or to "Fundamental Principles..." as my translation would have it called. I fully appreciate that the translation you have so dedicatedly referenced has a different title, but I think for the purposes of an Encyclopaedia, it should be referred to by its more common title. -- vwoodstock (talk) 14:24, 21 November 2008 (UTC)

Acting solely from the motive of duty[edit]

At the end of the section "Good will, duty, and the categorical imperative", the article states that "an act can have moral content if, and only if, it is carried out solely with regard to a sense of moral duty" [emphasis mine]. This is not my reading of Kant's theory. Rather, he suggests that an act has moral worth if the motive of duty is the determining factor, but this does not preclude actions carried out from the motive of duty and the motive of, say, self-preservation, from having moral worth. Mine is a similar reading to that of HJ Paton in The Categorical Imperative (University of Pennsylvania, 1947, pp. 49), in arguing against Schiller, whose account is broadly in agreement with this Wiki article as it stands at the moment. --Benwilson528 (talk) 18:32, 19 April 2009 (UTC)

This is a subject of some debate among Kant scholars. I think you're right that the article misrepresents the issue as settled. I wrote most of this article all the way back in 2005 as a sophomore undergraduate, and my attitudes about a lot of this stuff have changed significantly since then, but I haven't had time to update this. The way I put it in the article is probably too strong, even from the standpoint of the self-constraint theorists. However I would have some considerable trepidation about saying that Kant is totally comfortable with overdetermined action having authentic moral worth, since there is still some controversy about that. For an example of a defense of the self-constraint conception, see Allen Wood's Kantian Ethics (ISBN 978-0521671149) where he argues that an act that is in mere conformity with duty, but not done out of self-constraint, cannot have authentic moral worth (although it would still be the proper object of praise and encouragement). I don't agree with his interpretation (and I just wrote a paper for him arguing against it), but his arguments are plausible and influential enough that I wouldn't be comfortable leaving them out of the article. --causa sui talk 23:16, 19 April 2009 (UTC)

The Golden Rule[edit]

A criminal on the grounds of the Golden Rule could dispute with judges or a man could refuse to give to charity, both of which are incompatible under the universality of the categorical imperative.

A man can believe that anarchy is best (free for all) and hence that theft should be universally allowed (ie no one should be allowed to deny, except by force, the right to anything. Yes, Kant addresses this but he's committed petitio principii assuming "property"; if you state it as "anyone can have anything they can forcefully acquire and keep" then there is no logical contradiction, I digress). Similarly a man can believe that charity should not exist and that anyone who can't look after themselves should perish. Neither position is inconsistent with the Categorical Imperative presented here.

Nor do I see what is meant by "A criminal [...] could dispute with judges [...]". Presumably it is being claimed that The Golden Rule requires that there be no punishment? That is not a necessary condition of The Golden Rule which kinda weakens the argument that this is a point of difference. IMO this badly needs revising to make logical sense, or if Kant was equally illogical to specify clearly where Kant supported this view. Pbhj (talk) 01:23, 20 July 2009 (UTC)

Dubious : "The concept of the categorical imperative is a syllogism."[edit]

This is a major statement and is presented as if it were a well-known fact. Unfortunately, I have never come across a reliable source making such a claim.

Given that this article treats a major philosophical concept and thus deserves a fair share of respect, I propose that unverified claims like this be removed until an appropriate, reliable source is found and discussed on this page - and even then, that the statement be made in more broad terms (for instance: "According to ... , the concept of the categorical imperative should be considered a syllogism" ). —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 03:34, 5 March 2011 (UTC)


I've been looking for a actual quote from Kant on the categorical imperative, and thusly turned to this article. Here I find this:

"Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law.",

with a reference to "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed.". I looked up the ISBN, and found a preview on Amazon: On page v I found the following

"This principle is nothing more nor less than the famous categorical imperative: Always act in such a way that you can also will that the maxim of your action should become a universal law"

The quote in the Wikipedia-article might be from some other page of the book, but I thought I ought to mention it. FSund (talk) 17:40, 27 April 2011 (UTC)

Conscientious Nazi[edit]

I am removing the section, "Conscientious Nazi." Killing all Jews can't be a categorical imperative; it could never be universally applied: not everyone can kill all Jews.

It's an interesting thing to think about, but I don't think we keep it the way it's written--maybe if someone provides a better argument from the reference text, we can put it back. — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 19:03, 16 March 2013 (UTC)

Golden Rule[edit]

Why choose to express the Golden Rule in archaic English quoted from the Christian Bible? Currently the article cites to Matthew and states: The 'Golden Rule' (in its positive form) says: "Therefore all things whatsoever would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them".

That seems like an overly confusing way to express it, and the only reason to select that formulation is to include someone's idea that the Golden Rule should be sourced to Christianity. Why not simply write, "Do unto others as you would have them do to you," and leave it at that? It hardly needs to be sourced in an article about the Categorical Imperative. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2602:30A:C08C:A6F0:21C:B3FF:FEC3:2572 (talk) 17:08, 6 February 2014 (UTC)

Section on "Formalization" of the Imperative[edit]

removed section:


Let p be a proposition making a moral assertion. One obtains a formula describing the categorical imperative in terms of formal logic using deontic, modal and doxastic operators


The identity reads: "It ought to be p if and only if it is possible that every agent c believes that it ought to be p". --[, original author] of the five edits in question ([10:48 to 13:01 to 28 May, 2014]).

I am going to revert the changes that added the section titled "Formalization". It caught my eye due to being (as far as I see) incorrect in several ways; first, there are several 'formulations' given by Kant, as mentioned in the article; second, this doesn't seem to restate any of them. In case support is found for this being a translation of the Imperative into a formal system, I have pasted it above; but there was no citation given, and I could not find reference to it, so I believe it not to be verifiable (against policy WP:V) and it also seems to be original research (against policy WP:NOR). Shelleybutterfly (talk) 13:06, 2 June 2014 (UTC)

NOTE: My undo was reverted two days later by a similar IP address to the one that made the addition in the first place, and without comment. I have placed a comment on the NOR noticeboard asking for review and never received a response. Rather than leave this material in I am going to undo it again; this is not the place to posit your own formalizations, any any added material should be verifiable and cited. I am tempted to explain why it's incorrect as well, but it is irrelevant, since the material simply doesn't belong here in the first place. Shelleybutterfly (talk) 08:32, 13 June 2014 (UTC)

conflicting imperatives when justifying an action criticism?[edit]

as this article alludes to with the Eichmann example, the use of categorical imperative as justification for dubious actions comes up against the question, which of the many conflicting relevant imperatives should be obeyed in any given case? E.g. for Eichmann there was "avoid murder" imperative and "do your job as loyal government official" imperative and these were obviously in conflict. Both of these are as categorical as it gets -- i.e. what will happen if everybody starts murdering people? or if all government officials stop obeying their superiors or let's say quit the moment they are told to do something they don't like? -- but when they are in conflict you cannot obey them both. I am pretty sure this is a standard critique of CI as a guide to moral action; surprisingly the current article doesn't seem to reflect it, unless it is worded in some round-about way I am missing. (talk) 02:13, 20 December 2014 (UTC)

Third formulation is wrong[edit]

The "third formulation" that this article lists is neither the third formulation according to Kant, nor is it the third formulation as acknowledged by Kant scholars. It is true that Kant formulates the categorical imperative in a number of different ways, but most scholars list three main formulations:

1. The formula of universality (which Kant puts together with the formula of the law of nature since laws of nature are by definition universal). Kant considers this his "first formulation" (see 4:431 where he references the two previous formulations. See also 4:436-437 where Kant explicitly mentions that there are three principles and explains how they are unified. Note that this occurs before he introduces the formulation of the kingdom of ends at 4:439).

2. The humanity [Menschheit] formula (at 4:429) which establishes that we must treat each person/rational being as an end in themselves. This is correct on the article.

3. The autonomy formulation (at 4:432) is the "idea of the will of every rational being as a universally legislating will". Note this is the only categorical imperative formulation that isn't actually formulated as a command. We know (and again, pretty much all scholars agree here) that this is the third formulation because Kant explicitly says so before introducing it: "this [previous sentence] occurs in the present third form of the principle, namely the idea of a will..."

After these first three forms (which Kant considers to be the three forms) (the first of which contains two formulations), Kant actually formulates the categorical imperative 8 more times (though these can easily be assimilated to the first three forms as Kant acknowledges before each). The last of those 8 is the "formula of the kingdom of ends" (at 4:439). It's also worth noting at this point that what the literature considers the "formula of the kindgdom of ends" is different than the one cited in the article (the cited passage occurs one page earlier at 4:438). The formula of the kingdom of ends reads:

"act according to maxims of a universally legislating member of a merely possible kingdom of ends" (4:439).

Every source I have consulted agrees with this division and Kant is pretty explicit that he wants things to be understood this way. I've checked the Sedgwick and Timmerman commentaries and I know that Korsgaard, Rawls, and probably many others, have papers on the matter. See also the SEP article on Kant's moral philosophy:

Unfortunately, I am not very familiar with how to edit wikipedia so I didn't want to ruin the page somehow by trying to fix things. What needs to be done is that:

1. the section on the third formula needs to be renamed so that it is a section on "The formula of the kingdom of ends". This formulation is most certainly considered important, so I wouldn't want to lose that section.

2. The citation in that section should be fixed. As it stands it does not currently cite the formula.

3. A new section should be created that outlines the actual third formulation, i.e. the formula of autonomy, which Kant writes about at 4:431-2.

As a further note, it is standard in the literature to cite according to the Akademie Ausgabe. Most translations nowadays will include references to those page numbers in either the margin or footer and so it is most useful to cite the groundwork in this way.

[PS: I hope I haven't messed up this talk page somehow.]

--a PhD candidate working on Kant's moral philosophy [[[Special:Contributions/2601:547:902:6CD0:4174:1B84:411B:261F|2601:547:902:6CD0:4174:1B84:411B:261F]] (talk) 19:53, 20 July 2016 (UTC)]

Thanks for that! If you wouldn't mind writing the proper third section you think is missing, just here on the talk page, I'd be happy to add it to the article and make the other changes you suggest along with it. Or you can attempt to do that yourself, and others can always clean up any mess you might make, or worse case scenario, just undo it. Be bold! --Pfhorrest (talk) 22:13, 20 July 2016 (UTC)
I will try to add it real quick to the page. If you see any mistakes, etc. please feel free to correct. I'll also try to add the academy citations as far as I'm able throughout, though that isn't strictly necessary. — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2620:102:4009:1CEC:D:1FE8:9AFB:4FA8 (talk) 20:24, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
I have added a number of changes, please feel free to change anything to bring it into line with wikipedia's standards. One thing I couldn't figure out: how do I link "autonomy" and "heteronomy" to their respective wikipedia pages? I discuss these in the section on the "Third Formulation". I think it would be useful to have those links there. Of course there's always more than can be done, but the three formulations should be right now :). — Preceding unsigned comment added by 2620:102:4009:1CEC:D:1FE8:9AFB:4FA8 (talk) 21:19, 21 July 2016 (UTC)
That all looks pretty good to me. Thanks for the contribution! You can make "autonomy" and "heteronomy" (or anything else) into links to the articles by those names by double-square-bracketing them [[like this]]. Also, the only markup gaffes I saw in there are your use of HTML bold and italic tags; it would be nice if you could convert them to Wiki markup, where you surround something with double-apostrophes ''like this'' to italicize it, and triple-apostrophes '''like this''' to bold it. I can do that for you if you like, but I thought you might want the practice.
I hope you'll be sticking around, WikiProject Philosophy can really use more knowledgeable editors around!
Also, please remember to sign your talk page post by using four tildes( ~~~~) which will automatically insert your username (or IP in this case) as a signature.
Thanks again! --Pfhorrest (talk) 22:25, 21 July 2016 (UTC)


I'm no native english speaker, but shouldn't it be "an universal law"?

The "u" of "universal" is pronounced as "yoo", not as "oo", so the word begins with a consonant sound and takes "a" rather than "an", even though it begins with a written vowel. Much like how "an herb" is proper (for American English; see "an historic" for a British English example) because the "h" is silent. --Pfhorrest (talk) 08:30, 3 December 2016 (UTC)
Dunno about American English, but in British English "'erb" and "'istoric", although common, are regarded as incorrect and "an historic" as pedantic (or, worse, francophile). Wikiain (talk) 02:47, 7 January 2017 (UTC)

"if I wish to acquire knowledge, I must learn"[edit]

Unlike relief of thirst and drinking something, acquiring knowledge and learning are the same. So it seems that "learn" should be replaced. Maybe with "study". Study is not the only way to acquire knowledge - my knowledge of road accidents was not acquired through study - but the question here is of deliberate acquisition, so "study" might be right. However, one can also acquire knowledge deliberately by placing oneself in a position where knowledge is likely to be acquired through experience - for example, to acquire knowledge of human nature by working in a bar. So "study" doesn't seem entirely right. Any other suggestions? Wikiain (talk) 02:40, 7 January 2017 (UTC)

Example changed to "If I wish to pass this exam, I must study" by User:Cdg428. Looks good to me. Wikiain (talk) 00:47, 9 January 2017 (UTC)