Talk:Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

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Destroying civilisation[edit]

I'm pretty sure the Categorical Imperative isn't supposed to depend on an assumption that destroying civilisation is wrong - I've always been under the impression that it stems from a desire for a sort of logical consistency in one's actions. e.g. Stealing is wrong, because it denies the existence of property rights, which therefore denies one's own right to property. And so on. Thoughts? Evercat 19:22 28 May 2003 (UTC)

I think you're correct on this. He does talk about actions that destroy civilization, but that's not the reason those actions are wrong: he considers it (perhaps as a premise) logically impossible that any rational person would want to destroy civilization, and thus impossible to truly hold a maxim that would result in that (like a maxim that lying is acceptable). So I think the reason he would say stealing is wrong is because one cannot universalize it (you might honestly say "I wish to steal", but not "I wish everyone would steal constantly, including stealing from me"). Of course if destroying civilization is okay with you, you might be able to universalize such a maxim, but I don't think he seriously considered that as an option. --Delirium 00:09 6 Jul 2003 (UTC)

I don't think it's true that every Western culture bases its morality on these principles, either. Onebyone 19:27, 7 Dec 2003 (UTC)

Agreed. Evercat 19:32, 7 Dec 2003 (UTC)


Hello, I took out a lot of crap from this article that was discussed above, the crap about the basis of morality being that of the non destruction of civilzation.

I added a lot of stuff, i have a back up if you want to play around with it. However, it maybe a good idea to post here beforehand any problems with wording since a lot of my language was exact as I was doing a logical arguement.

I also think that this article should be moved to "Grounding for the Metaphysics of morals" since, at least in English where this article is written ;), the most common title is the Grounding. I will have someone move it over later if there are no objections, and have this page redirect to our new place.--ShaunMacPherson 17:52, 22 Mar 2004 (UTC)

I'd go with Groundwork instead of Grounding - the normal translation is H.J. Paton's, and it goes with Groundwork. --Snowspinner

The argument beginns by explaining the categorical imperative, which basically states that a maxim must be universalizable. However, I don't think it is necessary to explain the categorical imperative in this article, since there is a separate article named "categorical imperative" doing just the same. Why don't we just delete all that and improve the discussion of the examples given in the groundwork? Actually, these examples have been disputed over and over again among philosophers. Therefore, it seems appropriate to introduce them here! Kilian Klaiber

Groundwork of - Fundamental Principles of[edit]

Isn't it a good idea to add information about Abbott's translation called Fundamental Principles of... in addition to Paton's? After all the link to the e-text is to Abbott's. Might lead to confusion... Right? Or am I wrong? --Benjaminmyklebust 22:11, 6 May 2005 (UTC)


I'm probably missing something, but the statement "Immorality, then, is simply and deeply irrationality" does not seem to follow from the argument.

The argument shows that sometimes we lack autonomy—that is, by a certain definition of freedom we act under outside influences and so lack freedom. And, from there, by a certain definition of rationality we would be acting irrationally. But in order to go from the notion that acting under outside influences is irrational to the identification of immorality with irrationality we have to connect morality to freedom. The only connection I have found is the statement, "But freedom, for Kant, also means adhering to the moral law -- having ones will determined not, as above, externally, but only by its own nature."

This could mean two things: that freedom is the same as adhering to moral law, or that a condition of freedom is adhering to moral law.

If it means the two are identical, this of course is a nontrivial statement. It would make the argument clearer to say something about this. I don't think the reader should be expected to accept it without some justification.

If it means that adhering to moral law is a condition of freedom, then the conclusion above does not seem to follow. It is true that, if I behave immorally in this instance I lack autonomy and therefore am behaving irrationally. But coming from the other direction, perhaps in some instance I have adhered to moral law, but failed to meet another condition of freedom. This would mean that I lack autonomy but have behaved morally. Hence, I have behaved morally but irrationally. Identity has not been established.

I’m sure I’ve missed an important point. Any clarification is appreciated. Eric 04:48, 2 September 2005 (UTC)

No, moral law is that we act consistently with the condition of freedom. A free being may still choose to act according to a particular interest, and despite this, he would still be a free being. But he would be behaving irrationally, according to Kant. Does that answer your question? --causa sui talk 19:09, 16 September 2005 (UTC)

Original research[edit]

The language in this article is excessively colloquial and reads like a personal essay. --causa sui talk 19:07, 16 September 2005 (UTC)

Categorical Imperative[edit]

I think the discussion of the categorical imperative could use some improvement. First it must be made clear that it is a constraint on maxims of action, that is proposals to act in certain ways under certain circumstances to achieve certain ends. Kant proposes as examples:

(1) "From self-love I adopt it as a principle to shorten my life when its longer duration is likely to bring more evil than satisfaction."

(2) "When I think myself in want of money, I will borrow money and promise to repay it, although I know that I never can do so."

(3) "[T]o indulge in pleasure rather than to take pains in enlarging and improving [one's] happy natural capacities."

(4) "Let everyone be as happy as Heaven pleases, or as be can make himself; I will take nothing from him nor even envy him, only I do not wish to contribute anything to his welfare or to his assistance in distress!"

Next, one must consider whether one could will these maxims to be universal laws. There is some dispute among scholars as to what this means. As a first approximation, we can consider a distinction Kant himself draws between two ways in which a maxim can fail to satisfy the universalizability requirement. After discussing the maxims listed above, he notes:

"Some actions are of such a character that their maxim cannot without contradiction be even conceived as a universal law of nature, far from it being possible that we should will that it should be so. In others this intrinsic impossibility is not found, but still it is impossible to will that their maxim should be raised to the universality of a law of nature, since such a will would contradict itself."

The first type of contradiction arises when it is inconceivable that a maxim could be a universal law of nature. To see what is meant by this, try to imagine a world where everyone followed (2). Kant suggests that in such a world, no one would take promises seriously, since they would never kept. How does this give rise to a contradiction? Well, consider what is meant by the word promise? Definitions may differ, but at a minimum, promising must involve a commitment to do something that is ordinarily kept. In our imaginary world, however, there is no promising at all under this definition, since the commitments made in promises are never kept. The idea is that the practice of promising can only exist where most people keep their promises. In a world where no one does, it would not make sense to speak of promising at all - in such a world the words "I promise" would be empty and meaningless.

The contradiction may still be unclear. To be precise, the universalization of (2) assumes the existence of a working practice of promising (otherwise one could not get money on the basis of promises) but then asserts conditions logically inconsistent with that practice (never keeping promises). While this account satisfies some scholars (e.g. Barbara Herman), others (e.g. Christine Korsgaard) resist the claim that never keeping promises is logically inconsistent with making them because one can imagine (although perhaps with difficulty) a world where everyone makes and accepts promises and is then always surprised and disappointed when no one keeps them. People in this world would be perhaps foolish or irrational, but not impossible. Those who resist the logical contradiction view, propose an alternative, often called the practical contradiction view. This view is based on position, often called the principle of hypothetical imperatives, adopted by Kant earlier in the Groundwork:

"Whoever wills the end, wills also (so far as reason decides his conduct) the means in his power which are indispensably necessary thereto. This proposition is, as regards the volition, analytical..."

The idea here is that to adopt some end is, by defintion, to choose effective means to that end. But if we universalize (2) it becomes aparent that anyone acting on it would be violating this requirement: if no one kept their promises, no one would take promises seriously, and so promising would never succeed in securing one money. Thus, the universalization of (2) involves a profound irrationality or contradiction - one adopts a course of action that one knows is certain not to achieve one's ends. Here it seems plausible to say that some one who claims to have adopted an end and yet chooses means he knows will not achieve it must be contradicting himself - either he hasn't really adopted the end, or he doesn't think the proposed means will be unsuccessful.

As Kant perceptively notes, (2) can escape practical contradition only if most people don't follow it, that is only if it is not universalized:

"If now we attend to ourselves on occasion of any transgression of duty, we shall find that we in fact do not will that our maxim should be a universal law, for that is impossible for us; on the contrary, we will that the opposite should remain a universal law, only we assume the liberty of making an exception in our own favour or (just for this time only) in favour of our inclination."

For Kant, this type of reasoning is the hallmark of immoral conduct.

The second type of contradiction is described a contradiction in the will. The idea here is that some maxims could be universally adopted by all agents without immediate contradiction. If, for example, everyone were to follow a maxim like (4), they could consistently avoid the time and expense required to help others. But as Kant realizes, we all have more than just this end - whatever our ends may be they must involve more than merely the desire to avoid helping others - and our other ends, whatever they may be, will most likely require the aid of others if they are to be achieved. A will which adopted such ends and then adopted a maxim certain to deprive itself of one indispensable means to acheive these ends would violate the principle of hypothetical imperatives expressed above. Here the pratical contradiction is not contained in the maxim itself, but rather in a will, which presumably contains both this maxim and other ends.

It is important to note here that Kant is not claiming that maxims like (1) - (4) are irrational or that one is irrational to act on them. It may be that these maxims are quite beneficial to those who adopt them. Kant's point is that (1) - (4) would be irrational if everyone adopted them. The question asked by the categorical imperative is therefore not, is it rational to adopt this maxim? but rather, could it be rational for everyone to adopt it? The preceding unsigned comment was added by (talk • contribs) 00:13, 16 October 2005.

You have some interesting points. Maybe you'd like to have a look at the article on the categorical imperative and comment there? In general I agree that this article needs some work. --causa sui talk 01:03, 16 October 2005 (UTC)

The article claims that the Golden Rule is flawed in a case where you yourself want to be humiliated, for you still should not humiliate someone else etc. I think this claim of flaw is flawed. One just has to think a little deeper and realize that if one wants to be humiliated then he is getting what he wants and 'that' is what should be practiced in relation to others, giving others what they want.


This article is in grave need of repair. I will hopefully be able to devote some time to it this week, but any help would be wonderful. It reads as if it were copied, sloppily, from an unacademic secondary source. In addition to that, parts of it are just plain wrong. Case in point, examine the section on lying. It doesn't matter to Kant if you will a lie only in cases that it is beneficient overall - lying denies autonomy from a person and thus also denies their human dignity. It violates all the formulas Kant gives in description of the CI. Not only that, but to even consider it true that lying only in cases where it is beneficient overall is to sneak empirical propositions into a priori principles. Sam 04:34, 27 September 2006 (UTC)

On a similar note, shouldn't there be an 's' in the title of this page, there are already redirects working to move it to 'metaphysic' - this strikes me as incorrect. - Sam 06:06, 29 September 2006 (UTC)

Kant's title was Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten which translates to Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.Lestrade 17:40, 29 September 2006 (UTC)Lestrade
OK, I see that. But what (English) published materials refer to it as the "Metaphysic" and not the "Metaphysics"? The Cambridge University Press edition, trans by Mary Gregor, has it as the Metaphysics of Morals, 1797 and the Hacket edition trans by James Ellington, has it as Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, 1785... - Sam 20:48, 29 September 2006 (UTC)
I'm having the same problem at the The False Subtlety of the Four Syllogistic Figures article. No matter how wrong the published translation is, we're supposed to automatically accept it over the obviously correct translation.Lestrade 01:46, 30 September 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

Hello folks. For whatever it's worth, I suspect that many English-speaking readers, like me, will know Groundwork in Paton's translation as The Moral Law, subtitled Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (1948). Presumably that's why the article has the title it does. Incidentally, the 1797 Metaphysics of Morals is a different book: Groundwork was first published in 1785 (although Gregor has also translated it, as ...MetaphysicS...). More generally, the article definitely needs work, and I'd be happy to take a part in doing it. I suggest that the first job is to decide on an ordered division into sections. A first go at that:

  • Place of Groundwork in Kant's oevre
  • Tasks of Groundwork (vindication of ordinary morality; critique of practical reason)
  • Duty
  • Categorical imperatives (1: the formula of universal law; 2. ends not means; 3. kingdom of ends - summary of Categorical imperative)
  • Autonomy, morality and free will
  • Significance and influence
  • Prominent criticisms

Not so sure about the last two sections, to be honest: done properly, they might turn into a history of the last two hundred years of ethics, and swamp the rest of the article. Any thoughts on that or on the rest of it? Cheers, Sam Clark 16:20, 30 September 2006 (UTC)

I agree, I think that a Criticisms and Significance/Influences sections would have to be carefully edited to stick only to the Groundwork, and leave as much elaboration as possible to other relevant articles linked inside the sections. As far as the order of divisions, I think it may be a better idea to follow Kant's own format (preface and three sections) as there are already separate articees for the Critique of Practical Reason, the Categorical imperative, Duty, Autonomy, Morality and Free will.

Oh - and I would also like to include Kant's five formulas: the Formual of the Universal Law (Kant 1785, 421), the Formula of the Law of Nature (Kant 1785, 422), the Forumula of the End in Itself (Kant 1785, 429), the Formula of Autonomy (Kant 1785, 431), and the Formula of the Kindom of Ends (Kant 1785, 433) While some appear to overlap or mimic others, each has a place in his deduction and they work to support each other. - Sam 17:34, 30 September 2006 (UTC)

An article that specifically "stick(s) only to the Groundwork " is Schopenhauer's criticism of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals.Lestrade 02:19, 1 October 2006 (UTC)Lestrade

Sounds like Sam D is the person to write the section on CI, then. Ordering of sections: actually, I intended it roughly to follow Kant's order. Tasks of groundwork = preface, Duty = chapter 1, CI and Autonomy = chapter 2, free will = chapter 3. There's a question here about what exactly the article should be. Is it an analytic account of the central claims and arguments of the book, or is it more like a plot summary, closely following Kant's own arrangement of the material? I prefer the first, which is what I was aiming for above. Cheers, Sam Clark 09:54, 2 October 2006 (UTC)

Major edit 13 Feb[edit]

I have removed section on proof of the moral law as it contained what appeared to be interpretations about Kant's work that were outside of the scope of the Groundwork. I have added a new section on cases. I have reordered the remaining sections. I have done some copy-editing, general rewording and rearranging hopefully to improve readability without removing or altering content too much; this includes a rewording of the introduction. I have also tidied up the references. In the spirit of being bold I have removed both maintenance tags. Any comments please paste here. --Vince 16:47, 13 February 2007 (UTC)

Proposed move[edit]

I recommend moving this page to Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten, and creating (or confirming) redirects at each of the following:

Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Ethics
Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics
Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals
Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals
Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
and, perhaps also, each of these preceded by the definite article, 'The'.

It seems to me that wikipedia shouldn't be favoring any of the multitude of translations of the title, and even if we were to assume one of these, it probably shouldn't be for a translation that is almost 60-years old that most scholars don't use anymore. KSchutte 16:09, 19 March 2007 (UTC)

Well, generally we prefer the most common English name, and most of those English names are more common (in English) than using the original German title directly. The trick is that no one of them is overwhelmingly dominant. I do agree that we should probably use one that is more common in the present day, though. Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals seems to be the most common title used by new English translations published in the past 10 years (both the Zweig and Wood translations use it). --Delirium 18:40, 7 September 2007 (UTC)
Hi, I don't know how to move pages or change page titles/links, but it seems wrong that the title of this page uses 'Metaphysic' as opposed to 'Metaphysics'. 'Metaphysic' without '–s' is virtually never used. —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 21:41, 7 March 2010 (UTC)
I am inclined to agree with the comment above. I have amended the first sentence to try and clear matters up a bit! --Vince (talk) 13:08, 8 April 2010 (UTC)

Change proposals on article text[edit]

Following professor Dcljr edit taken place about three months ago:

"(...) much less read (...)"
"(...) much less readable (...)"

I would like to propose a change to the entire three words:

"(...) much less readable (...)"
into "(...)
"(...) more enigmatic (...)"

with a nice hyperlink to the "(...) enigma (...)" english wikipedia article.
Because "much less" it is sounding to me as a double linguistic negation or an oxymoron and this could lead into misunderstanding.
May I please know what do you all think about it?
Thanks for your attention.
Maurice Carbonaro (talk) 08:57, 6 November 2010 (UTC)

Assessment comment[edit]

The comment(s) below were originally left at Talk:Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals/Comments, and are posted here for posterity. Following several discussions in past years, these subpages are now deprecated. The comments may be irrelevant or outdated; if so, please feel free to remove this section.

I have added this article to B class. The reason is that it has a lot of good content and is fairly well referenced. However, there is still significant room for the addition of new material and references and therefore does not fulfil GA class. --Vince 21:43, 13 February 2007 (UTC)

Last edited at 21:43, 13 February 2007 (UTC). Substituted at 16:46, 29 April 2016 (UTC)