18th century German philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) presents a criterion of moral obligation, which he calls the categorical imperative. Kant rejects these traditional theories of morality and argues instead that moral actions are based on a "supreme principle of morality" which is objective, rational, and freely chosen: the categorical imperative. Kant’s clearest account of the categorical imperative is in the Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals.
Kant argues against traditional criteria of morality, and explains why the categorical imperative can be the only possible standard of moral obligation. He begins with a general account ...view middle of the document...
" Morality, then, consists of choosing only those actions that conform to the categorical imperative.
In Section 2, Kant explains key terms, presents different formulations of the categorical imperative, and illustrates the categorical imperative with examples of specific immoral acts. He begins by distinguishing between types of imperatives. Imperatives in general are commands that dictate a particular course of action, such as "you shall clean your room." Hypothetical imperatives are commands that depend on my preference for a particular end, and are stated in conditional form, such as, "If I want to lose weight, then I should eat less." In this case, the command to eat less hinges on my previous preference to lose weight. There are two types of hypothetical imperatives. Problematic-hypothetical imperatives involve rules of skill based on preferences that vary from person to person (such as "If you want to be a doctor then you should go to medical school"). Assertoric-hypothetical imperatives, by contrast, involve rules of prudence based on the preference everyone has to be happy (such as, "If you want to be happy, then you should go skydiving"). None of these hypothetical imperatives, however, is moral imperatives, since the command is based on subjective considerations that are not absolute. A categorical imperative, by contrast, is an absolute command, such as "you shall treat people with respect," which is not based on subjective considerations. Thus, the supreme principle of morality is a categorical imperative since it is not conditional upon one’s preferences. Kant continues by describing the sources of the above types of imperatives. His discussion uses four technical terms:
* Analytic propositions: propositions that are true by definition, such as "All wives are women."
* Synthetic propositions: propositions that are not true by definition, such as "Jones is bald."
* A posteriori knowledge: knowledge attained through the five senses, such as the fact that the door is brown.
* A priori knowledge: intuitive knowledge attained without use of the senses, such as 2+2=4.
Kant argues that problematic-hypothetical imperatives are analytic or true by definition, such as, "If you want to be a doctor, then you should go to medical school." Assertoric-hypothetical imperatives are less clear since the concept of happiness varies so greatly, as in the statement, "If you want to be happy, then you should go skydiving." However, Kant believes that even this statement is true by definition since if we fully understand happiness, we will also know the...