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  • Peter Bornedal, General Lecture, 203
  • • Kant lived in the Prussian city Königsberg his entire life. He never traveled, and is famous for his methodic and rigorous lifestyle and high work ethics. He would begin his lecture-schedule seven o’clock in the morning (and was so popular with students that they had to arrive an hour early to secure themselves a seat). As he raised to fame, scholars from all over Europe would travel to Königsberg to see him lecturing. It is said that the lectures that preceded the work we are reading, Grounding of a Metaphysics of Morals, were so gripping to the audience that they felt they were listening to a revelation. • After work, Kant would have his famous afternoon walk, being so punctual about this exercise that the German writer Heinrich Heine once quipped that the wives of Königsberg adjusted their clocks after him passing by. • Kant was never married; nor did he have – as far as we know – any kind of romantic relationship. This methodic, monotonous, and rigorous life might indicate a rather dry personality, but apparently he was not. Anecdote has is that Kant was an entertaining, engaging, and witty conversationalist. He seems to have been popular as a guest in the better society, and seems to have had a good sense of humor – although we admittedly do not find much humor in his philosophical work.• Kant is undoubtedly regarded as one, if not the greatest, ofGermany’s philosophers. He has dealt with almost allaspects of philosophy and even science. His three so-called“Critiques” – Critique of Pure Reason, Critique of PracticalReason, and Critique of Judgment – deal respectively withthe three most important branches of philosophy:Knowledge/Mind, Ethics/Morals, and Aesthetics. Besidesthese works, he wrote important treatises about physics,astronomy, logic, religion, anthropology, politics, and Kanteducation. Kant Lecturing
  • • Kant wrote on Ethics and Morals in four different works. His first preliminary Quotations:study is the Grounding of a Metaphysics of Morals (1785), which we read.Thereupon follows his Critique of Practical Reason (1788). About ten years later Even if there never havehe publishes his Metaphysics of Morals (1797), and finally one year later his been action springingAnthropology from a Pragmatic point of view (1798). from such pure• In the three first works, moral behavior has a strictly ideal formulation. Kant sources, the questionwants to set up moral principles that are ideal, meaning they are not meant to at issue here is notdescribe actual human behavior. In the last work, ethical behavior is studied from whether this or that hasa practical perspective, meaning that he studies actual human behavior – not happened but thatideal principles that ought to regulate human behavior. The first three works deal reason of itself andwith ethics from a metaphysical point of view, while the last work deals with independently of allethics from an anthropological. experience commands• When one studies metaphysics of moral, one sets out to determine the general what ought to happen.and universal principles that have to guide moral action, whether or not people (Kant, ibid., p. 19)actually follow these principles. They [philosophers• We can illustrate the idea with a couple of examples taken from Kant himself. advocating self-interestKant says: “even if there has never existed a sincere friend, sincerity in and self-love as basicfriendship is an idea that is still required of every man.” Or “even if an unselfishact has never been performed, unselfishness is still the ideal for moral action.” human motives] have spoken with sincere• So, even if the motives for our actions are impure and selfish, Kant’s moral regret as to the frailtytheory prevails, because it deals with what ought to be the case. Moral law does and impurity of humannot depend on experience, but on reason. Moral principles must be grounded in nature, which theypure a priori concepts, not mixed with anything empirical. think is noble enough• Kant claims that even if ideal moral principles are rarely or never carried out, to take as its preceptwe always presuppose these principles. For example, 1) when we lament how an idea so worthy ofcorruptible and dishonest the human being is, we spontaneously presuppose respect but yet is toointegrity and honesty as ideal regulatory principles – principles that ought to weak to follow his idealregulate human behavior; 2) in the image we form of God as all-benevolent, we reason, which shouldpresuppose ideal moral principles. God is in his essence, what we can only legislate for humanstrive to be in our existence. We cannot be all-benevolent like God, but we canset up benevolence as an ideal, and we do so in the image we form of God. nature. (Kant, ibid., p. 19)• The upshot is, we may not believe in the actual execution of ideal moralprinciples; still, Kant insists, we always presuppose that they ought to exist.
  • According to Kant, we are endowed with two essentially different kinds of knowledge: scientific knowledge and moral knowledge.• The reason why we so often do not follow ideal Scientific knowledge studies the laws of natureregulatory principles, which we ought to follow, is that we of the external world; moral knowledge studiesas humans have a free will. If we were objects, we would the laws of freedom of the internal world. Innot have a choice. A stone cannot decide whether or not itwants to follow the laws of nature, but as subjects we can Scientific knowledge one studies causes. Inchoose not the follow the laws of morals. Because of our Moral knowledge one studies motives. Bothfreedom of the will, the metaphysical ethical laws Kant kinds of knowledge have their own kinds of adeduces as applying specifically to human beings are not priori laws. In his work, Critique of Practicallaws of nature, but laws of freedom. Reason, Kant states.• In his work, Critique of Pure Reason, Kant had been “Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasingstudying the ‘laws of nature.’ These he would separate in admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadilyan empirical part and a rational part. The empirical partwould consist of sensations, and the rational part of the one reflects one them: the starry heavens above me and theso-called categories of understanding. The categories moral law within me. I do not need to search for them andwere in themselves abstract or pure, and they acquired an merely conjecture them as though they were veiled in obscurityempirical content before they could be applied to and or in the transcendent region beyond my horizon; I see themmake sense of the world of appearances. before me and connect them immediately with the• Without getting into Kant’s epistemological work, we consciousness of my existence. The first begins from the place Inotice that when Kant in his ethical work studies so-called occupy in the external world of sense { . . . ] the second begins‘laws of freedom,’ also these laws have an empirical and from my invisible self, my personality, and presents me in arational part. Addressing the empirical part, one studies world with has true infinity but which can be discovered only byhow people actually behave (like in Anthropology,Psychology, Sociology, or History). Addressing the rational the understanding, and I cognize that my connection with thatpart, one studies how people ideally ought to behave (like world [ . . . ] is not merely contingent, as in the first case, butin Metaphysics of Morals). universal and necessary. The first view of a countless multitude• We can set the Kantian distinctions up in this table: of worlds annihilates, as it were, my importance as an animal creature, which must give back to the planet (a mere speck in Empirical part (Sensations) the universe) the matter from which it came. The second, on theLaws of nature -- Physics contrary, infinitely raises my worth as an intelligence by my Rational part (Categories) personality, in which the moral law reveals to me a lifeEmpirical part (How people actually do behave) independent of animality and even of the whole sensibleLaws of freedom -- Ethics world.” (Kant: Critique of Practical Reason, Cambridge Rational part (How people ideally ought to behave) University Press; p. 133-34.)
  • • That a moral imperative is a priori implies that it applies to all peoples in all histories, and under allcircumstances, whether or not they live by it or obey it. It is a priori because it is already part of our rationalconstitution; Kant therefore only “deduces” (i.e., he articulates and makes explicit) what is already there asimplicitly known. The result of the ‘deduction,’ the abstract moral law, can therefore also not be an object fordiscussion or negotiation. Universal moral law is part of our implicit rational knowledge, which we as such ‘know’is true as rational beings.• Kant starts his deduction of pure morals by asserting such an unconditional moral law (something we all‘know’ is true when it is made explicit to us): “There is no possibility of thinking of anything at all in theworld, or even out of it, which can be regarded as good without qualification, expect a good will.” (Kant,Grounding of a Metaphysics of Moral, p. 7.)• This is Kant’s first example of an unconditional moral law: the good will. Notice here that Kant does notsuggest any specific quality as moral, as numerous other moral philosophers have done, such as honor,generosity, self-control, intelligence, courage, perseverance, fortune, wealth, etc. Only the good will can qualifyas moral law, because without the background-motivation of a ‘good will’ all the qualities mentioned above –generosity, self-control, intelligence, etc. – can be abused, or may have been executed for selfish purposes.• Two examples: A) If a man is generous because he expects something in return, he is generous for selfishpurposes, not out of a purely good will. B) A villain in perfect self-control is not a virtuous man acting with ‘goodwill,’ but rather a more dangerous villain. The same applies if he is courageous, intelligent, etc.• Therefore Kant continues that a good will is good not because it effects some end, or achieves some personalbenefit or profit. It must be “good in itself”: “A good will is good not because of what it effects oraccomplishes, nor because of its fitness to attain some proposed end; it is good only through its willing,i.e., it is good in itself.” [ . . . ] “[The will] is not merely good as a means to some further end, but is goodin itself.” (Kant, ibid., p. 7 & 9.)• Because we have a “freedom of the will” we can influence and direct our will; we can choose between willingan action that is a means to some further end, or willing an action that is good in itself.
  • • If we act with an unconditional good will, even if our action achieves nothing, or perhaps achieves the opposite of what we intended, our action has a moral content. The ‘good will’ shall “shine by its own light as something which has its full power in itself.” (Kant, ibid., p. 8.) • It seems that intention has become the quintessential criteria for the morality of an action; it seems as if, insofar as we act with the intention to do good, our action has moral content. • Is now a ‘good will’ identical to ‘good intentions’? – Well, not quite! -- And why not? – Because the definition would be redundant and meaningless! One cannot explain a good will with good intentions, because it is the same thing. Kant wants to deduce universal moral principles, he wants to know what is inherent in exhibiting ‘good will.’ If a ‘good will’ simply were to have ‘good intentions,’ he would still need to explain what is inherent is exhibiting ‘good intentions.’ His problem would not have been solved; it would not have gone away. • Furthermore, if a ‘good will’ were reducible to ‘good intentions,’ we would be referring to a psychologically determined ‘good will’ rooted in a compassionate subject. But the moral principle cannot be determined from neither individual psychology, nor from compassion. The moral principle is formal and universal, never concrete and individual; and it is rooted in reason, never passions. • The upshot is, forget the compassionate subject – the ‘warm heart,’ as Nietzsche often puts it in his somewhat misunderstood mockery of Kantian positions.Forget the following equation: The ‘Warm Heart’/the Compassionate Subject = Good Intentions = Good Will → Moral ActionApply instead the following deduction: Freedom of the Will  Respect for Universal Law  Duty toward Maxims Prescribed by Law  Good Will  Moral Action
  • • Let us first explain what is meant by the statement above• What is it to ‘act from duty’? – It is 1) to act, not just according to a law, but also for the sake of a law thattranscends the individual (that is, for the sake of a formal principle, not a psychological principle, like the ‘warmheart’). 2) it is to act contrary to inclinations (desires, self-interests, personal benefits, profit, etc.). 3) It is toadopt an action because reason commands of us this course of action (not because passions or compassionsurge us on).• What is a maxim? – A maxim is a brief articulation of an instruction that the individual follows in his action.• What is Law? – Law is the set of imperatives prescribing moral actions. Moral Laws are always categorical,meaning that they are not up for discussion or negotiation. Metaphorically speaking, moral laws are as if carvedin stone, like the Ten Commandments Moses brings down from Mount Sinai. However, the Ten Commandmentsare divine rules of conduct, while Kant’s categorical imperatives are rational rules of conduct.• In order to illustrate his principle, ‘acting from duty,’ Kant gives us four different examples of action, where onlythe last has moral content. One is contrary to duty; two are in accordance with duty but are still performedbecause of self-interests; only the last is performed ‘from duty’ and ‘contrary to inclination.’ Only the lastqualifies as truly moral. The four examples are the following:1) Some actions are contrary to duty, and performed out of self-interest and inclination, like stealing, cheating,lying, etc. Obviously, they are not moral.2) Other actions are performed according to duty, but because of some mediate self-interest. A person pays histaxes on time according to duty, but he knows that he thus avoid fines, and society gives him back varioussocial benefits. He acts according to duty, but not from a duty free of self-interest, and is thus not a true moralsubject.3) Other actions are performed according to duty, but because of some immediate self-interest. If a man doesnot commit suicide, he acts according to duty, but if he loves his live, he also acts according to inclination. Henever contemplated suicide since he is happy and everything is going well. Thus, he preserves his lifeaccording to duty, but not from a duty free of self-interest, and is thus not a true moral subject.4) Finally, there are actions, which are in accordance with duty, and moreover, are performed from duty contraryto inclination. These are true moral actions, whose maxims constitute the subject as moral.
  • • Whether one acts ‘according to’ or ‘from’ • In this Kantian definition, there is no room for the ‘warmduty, one acts out of respect for Law. But only heart.’ If a ‘warmhearted’ man enjoys spreading joy andactions done ‘from duty’ have moral content, happiness around, he is acting according to duty (andbecause they are done ‘for the sake of’ duty, certainly, nobody blames him), but his action has thewithout considerations of inclinations or characteristics of the third case above: he acts according topersonal benefits. duty, but also according to immediate inclination.• They are done out of nothing but pure Therefore, his action has no true moral content.respect for Law. • If on the contrary, this man, in his personal life carries• Notice that a so-called ‘good will’ is a rational great sorrows, but nonetheless still has the power towill to respect Law, with no other motives than benefit and spread joy among others, then his action isrespect for Law. performed from duty contrary to inclination, and it has a true moral content.“Duty is the necessity of an action done out “If adversity and hopeless sorrow have completelyof respect for the law. [ . . . ] Hence there is taken away the taste for life, if an unfortunate man,nothing left which can determine the will strong in soul and more indignant at his fate thanexcept objectively the law and subjectively despondent or dejected, wishes for death and yetpure respect for this practical law, i.e. the preserves his life without loving it – not from inclinationwill can be subjectively determined by the or fear, but from duty – then his maxim indeed has amaxim that I should follow such a law even moral content.” [ . . . ] “Even though no inclinationif all my inclinations are thereby thwarted. [ moves him any longer, he nevertheless tears himself. . . ] The pre-eminent good which is called from this deadly insensibility and performs the actionmoral can consist in nothing but the without any inclination at all, but solely from duty –representation of the law in itself.” (Kant, then for the first time his action has genuine moralibid., p. 12-13). worth.” (Kant, ibid., p. 10 & 11)
  • • We have learnt that to act with a ‘good will’ is to act from, ‘for the sake of,’ duty in respect for Law and nothingbut Law. From this deduction, Kant formulates his famous categorical imperative. In its first formulation, it reads:“Since I have deprived the will of every impulse that might arise for it from obeying any particular law,there is nothing left to serve the will as principle except the universal conformity of its actions to law assuch, i.e., I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim should become auniversal law.” (Kant, ibid., p. 14.)• Kant’s example: “when I am in distress, may I make a promise with the intention of not keeping it.” In otherwords, is it okay under some circumstances to lie? – Now, one might argue that a person should avoid lying,because it would be detrimental to him in the long run. A lying shopkeeper would eventually be exposed, andthus loose customers. The argument presupposes that one should be truthful because of some ends orconsequences; it presupposes a so-called ‘hypothetical imperative,’ an if-then relation: if I don’t lie, then mybusiness will thrive, and I will prosper: if I do so and so, then I will achieve this or that.• Therefore, a hypothetical imperative is not ‘categorical.’ it is not unconditional, universal, and absolute. A‘categorical imperative’ is asserted out of respect for Law, without other concerns. A hypothetical imperative isasserted out of concerns for benefits or profits. It does not determine the moral content of an act.• So, now we ask again, but from the perspective of the categorical imperative, is it okay under somecircumstances to lie? – The answer is still ‘no,’ but with a different explanation. Observing the categoricalimperative, I avoid lying because of respect for universal Law. My reason tells me that lying cannot be acceptedas universal Law. My reason tells me that if I will lying as universal Law, then I will everybody to lie, and then itis no longer possible to make promises at all. Under the obligation of a universal law to lie, every promise is acontradiction in terms. “I immediately become aware that I can indeed will the lie but can not at all will auniversal law to lie. For by such a law there would really be no promises at all, since in vain would mywilling future actions be professed to other people who would not believe what I professed, or if theyoverhastily did believe, then they would pay me back in like coin.” (Kant, ibid., p. 15).• If now I do not will a universal law to lie, then I must admit that neither do I will my first proposal: may I make apromise with the intention not to keep it. I must reject this proposal. Therefore, when one ‘respects law,’ onedoes not respect a particular law, but a law requesting universal validity in an action.
  • Imperatives says that something would be good to do or to refrain from doing, but they say it to a will thatdoes not always therefore do something simply because it has been represented to the will as somethinggood to do. That is practically good which determines the will by means of representations or reason andhence not by subjective causes, but objectively, i.e.. on grounds valid for every rational being as such.(Kant , ibid., p. 24).• What is here established is that we have wills, meaning that we have the choice to follow a rational decision ornot. If purely subjective interests determine this choice, it is not a moral choice, but if our will be governed byobjective moral laws, then we are following, not personal interests, but an imperative.• We can only rationally choose moral imperatives, because our wills in themselves are not moral, rational, orobjective. We are not gods, and we have no holy wills, we have only human wills. If we were gods, we wouldnot need moral imperatives.• In the categorical imperative, the so-called maxim of the action (i.e., the instruction as articulated to thesubject describing the action) should conform to universal law. In this conformity the maxim makes itself into auniversal law. This correspondence or conformity is alone what is necessary by the imperative, therefore thereis only one imperative and it reads (in two different versions):Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become auniversal law. [ . . . ] Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal lawof nature. ( Kant, ibid., p. 30)• An example of Kant’s: A suicidal man! – Is he allowed or not to take his own life according to the categoricalimperative? His duty to himself is to preserve his life. If he decides to commit suicide he does so because it isan easy way out of a life of suffering. Thus he commits suicide out of self-love. “I end my life out of self-love’”becomes the maxim of his action. Now he must ask himself whether this maxim could become “a universal lawof nature.” Here he realizes that ‘suicide from self-love’ could never be a universal law of nature, because itwould imply a contradiction. If his maxim is universalized, self-love, which normally is to preserve life, isdetermined as destruction of life, and we are under a universal obligation to destroy our lives – which is absurd.
  • Human Autonomy as Moral Imperative• Even if I tell a lie, I presuppose that one has an universal moral obligation to tell the truth, because I calculateand expect that the one to whom I lie believes I tell the truth. I tell the lie believing in universal law; I just don’tapply this universal law to myself.• In that case, I am using my fellow human being as a means to further my personal ends. While lying I recognizethat I am using the other person merely as a means.• This cannot be permitted, because in all cases where I use another rational being for my own ends, the maximsof the actions cannot be universalized. The maxim, ‘I shall use another rational being in order to further my ownend,’ cannot become an “universal law of nature,” because we would then place ourselves under a universalobligation to deprive ourselves of our rationality; that is, our free will to rationally choose different courses of action– and again, that is absurd. A rational being is characterized by its ability to make choices, according to the“practical law of freedom.” If I deprive a person of this ability, I deprive him of the “freedom of his will.”• The categorical imperative therefore has another famous formulation, namely that one must always use anotherrational being as an end in himself, never as a means (it Is often referred to as Kant’s “Principle of Humanity”):“Rational nature exists as an end in itself. [ . . . ] The practical imperative will thus be as follows: so act asto treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of any other, always at the same time as an endand never merely as a means.” . . . “Persons must exist as ends in themselves. [ . . . ] Such an end is one forwhich there can be substituted no other end to which such beings should serve merely as means, forotherwise nothing at all of absolute value would be found anywhere.” (Kant, ibid., p. 36).• According to this formulation of the categorical imperative, one always has a duty to use both oneself andanother person as ends in themselves, never as means. Kant’s suicidal man is for example using himself as a‘means’ – which is not permitted:“If he destroys himself in order to escape from a difficult situation, then he is making use of his personmerely as a means so as to maintain a tolerable condition till the end of his life. Man, however, is not athing and hence is not something to be used merely as a means; he must in all his actions always beregarded as an end in himself.” (Kant, ibid., p. 36).
  • • In his ‘deductions’ of the moral imperatives, Kant The Kingdom of Ends: presupposes that Man is capable of self-legislation – that is,Kant as the First Human we are able to give laws to ourselves, which we are able thereupon to follow. Rights Philosopher • We are able to make laws and choose to follow them thanks to our free will. We are not subjected to natural laws (in which case we are without choice in moral matters), but to ‘practical laws of freedom.’ • This freedom from natural laws in the human being must be preserved. Humans can only be subjected to ‘practical laws,’ and these laws are always of their own making. They are self-legislative and are thus testimonies of our free will. • If therefore ‘practical laws’ are fashioned as ‘natural laws’ it indicates a perversion of reason, and a violation of human freedom. • If a dictator dictates laws as if they were laws of nature, his maxim cannot be universalized, because it contradicts human freedom as such. The human being is a priori free or autonomous. This freedom cannot be violated. • Because of this fundamental autonomy, humans must never be deprived of their freedom to make rational decisions. They must always be treated as ends, and we must legislate as if we all belonged to a “Kingdom of Ends,” a society where we are free and have equal rights. • There can be no ‘scientific proof’ of this deduction, because it transcend the bounds of possible experience. It belongs to the noumenal, not to the phenomenal, world. It transcends the apparent world. Still, it nevertheless has existence as “regulative idea.”