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Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals

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The nature and theoretical underpinnings of ethics have been an intellectual driving force animating the pursuits of great scholars. In the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Immanuel Kant, one of the most powerful philosophical minds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, inquires into the true nature of morality. In rejecting the results or c The nature and theoretical underpinnings of ethics have been an intellectual driving force animating the pursuits of great scholars. In the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Immanuel Kant, one of the most powerful philosophical minds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, inquires into the true nature of morality. In rejecting the results or consequences of action as the foundation of moral judgments, he denies that good or bad effects have any relevance in the moral evaluation of human behavior. Instead, we must rely upon the Good Will for guidance. What is this Will upon which so much emphasis is placed, and how does it act as the foundation for behavior that can be assessed as truly moral? In this groundbreaking work, Immanuel Kant outlines an ethical perspective that has been a vital force in the Western world.

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The nature and theoretical underpinnings of ethics have been an intellectual driving force animating the pursuits of great scholars. In the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Immanuel Kant, one of the most powerful philosophical minds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, inquires into the true nature of morality. In rejecting the results or c The nature and theoretical underpinnings of ethics have been an intellectual driving force animating the pursuits of great scholars. In the Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) Immanuel Kant, one of the most powerful philosophical minds of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, inquires into the true nature of morality. In rejecting the results or consequences of action as the foundation of moral judgments, he denies that good or bad effects have any relevance in the moral evaluation of human behavior. Instead, we must rely upon the Good Will for guidance. What is this Will upon which so much emphasis is placed, and how does it act as the foundation for behavior that can be assessed as truly moral? In this groundbreaking work, Immanuel Kant outlines an ethical perspective that has been a vital force in the Western world.

30 review for Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals

  1. 5 out of 5

    Hadrian

    People ask me how I become so well-read. Although I huff and bumble around the question, the fact is I am not yet well read. I have not read any of the Four Great Chinese classics, none of Kant's Kritiks, gave up on Proust half-way, nothing by Heidegger, no Canterbury Tales in the Middle English, no Gargantua and Pentagruel, no Ulysses, no Lacan (though I've heard he's a shit), no Vico, no Gadamer, none of Beckett's novels, etc., etc. There is always more and it is always calling. The point of th People ask me how I become so well-read. Although I huff and bumble around the question, the fact is I am not yet well read. I have not read any of the Four Great Chinese classics, none of Kant's Kritiks, gave up on Proust half-way, nothing by Heidegger, no Canterbury Tales in the Middle English, no Gargantua and Pentagruel, no Ulysses, no Lacan (though I've heard he's a shit), no Vico, no Gadamer, none of Beckett's novels, etc., etc. There is always more and it is always calling. The point of this egoistic diversion is that this is a necessary book about ethics which I had ignored. The Categorial Imperative is one of those big philosophical concepts that influenced a lot of people after Kant, and is still a big part of modern political liberalism today. This, of course, does not mean that you have to agree with him, just recognize that he was influential. The Categorical Imperative is a deceptively simple idea - act only in ways that you would wish every person to act. This idea is not the Golden Rule as seen in every religious faith: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." Instead it is more of a logical exercise: "If everybody did this, would society function?" Would such a moral behavior lead to logical contradictions? Ethics is only a part of Kant's thought, however, as this idea relies upon Kant's concepts on human liberty and government, which are in turn based upon his conception of human reason. Kant's discussion on human reason is largely contained within his cathedrals - the three Kritiks on Pure Reason, Practical Reason, and Judgment. To be fair, the categorical imperative does have its criticisms, many of which are often applied to Kant's thought as a whole - it is easy to imagine exceptions to every ethical rule, human beings are not always rational creatures, and so on. However, what is relevant from Kant to a level of personal 'popular' ethics is the question of making exceptions for yourself when it comes to ethical dilemmas. "The only moral X is my X" is no real ethical system, and serves as an excuse for villainy.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Trevor

    When I was studying this book there were no copies available to buy for some reason - but then I found it in the local library in a hard back edition printed in the 1930s or something. I borrowed it and showed it to my lecturer and he said, "You ought to steal that - they only charge you what it cost the library to buy and that would have been cents back then." I said, "You want me to steal a book on morality?" Needless to say, he was much better at lecturing on Neitzsche. This is a remarkably di When I was studying this book there were no copies available to buy for some reason - but then I found it in the local library in a hard back edition printed in the 1930s or something. I borrowed it and showed it to my lecturer and he said, "You ought to steal that - they only charge you what it cost the library to buy and that would have been cents back then." I said, "You want me to steal a book on morality?" Needless to say, he was much better at lecturing on Neitzsche. This is a remarkably difficult book to read - not as hard as some of Kant's other works - the Critique of Pure Reason *which I've started many times - and will probably start many times more) should only be attempted with fear and trepidation - all the same, it repays the effort. The main problem is Kant's endless sentences - he is the Henry James of the philosophy world. Some feel that his categorical imperative - act in a way that allows you to imagine the maxim that is guiding your action could be used as a universal law for anyone needing to act in similar circumstances (my longer than Kant take on it) is a fascinating basis for building a morality. Some say that the categorical imperative is just the Christian golden rule written in a way that makes it hard to follow. The golden rule not being 'he who has the gold makes the rules', but rather 'treat others as you would be treated yourself'. There is something to that, but I think it is a little more interesting when Kant does it. The idea that other people should be treated like ends and not means seems to me to be as good a basis of a moral system as anyone has, as yet, come up with. I'm terribly fond of Kant, almost protective of him, not because I think he is the greatest philosopher of all time, but because he was what we would today consider a boring little man who never left his home town, but thought remarkable thoughts. He even worked out why the solar system is a flat disk shape - pretty cool, if you ask me. He had world changing thoughts in some ways. I would go so far as to say that understanding his idea that one cannot know the thing-in-itself is perhaps one of the core ideas in understanding virtually all philosophy after him. If you were thinking of starting reading Kant and weren't sure where would be a good place to make such a start this wouldn't be too bad a book to buy. The other place to look, perhaps, is the Critique of the Judgement which is quite an easy read (for Kant) and fascinating stuff on taste - taste in art, that is.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Roy Lotz

    Confession of Stupidity: Lately, I’ve been had long and agonizing conversation with my friend about the categorical imperative. I was insisting that it didn’t make sense; my friend insisted that it did, and that I merely misunderstood it. After much deliberation, I found to my embarrassment that he was right: I had misunderstood it. I had misunderstood it badly. Now, fortunately, I think I’ve got a hold on the concept, which indeed is not terribly complex (though, for my brain at least, a bit t Confession of Stupidity: Lately, I’ve been had long and agonizing conversation with my friend about the categorical imperative. I was insisting that it didn’t make sense; my friend insisted that it did, and that I merely misunderstood it. After much deliberation, I found to my embarrassment that he was right: I had misunderstood it. I had misunderstood it badly. Now, fortunately, I think I’ve got a hold on the concept, which indeed is not terribly complex (though, for my brain at least, a bit too much). Having thought a lot about it, I wish to give a fairly pedantic examination of the theory (forgive me!). But first, I’d like to explain what it is not, and the various ways that I managed to misapprehend it. My Mistakes: I was under the impression that the categorical imperative was this: “Before you do an action, consider whether it would work as a universal law; if it would, it’s okay; if it wouldn't, then it’s forbidden.” But I thought to myself “I could will almost literally anything as a universal law. I could will universal suicide or a universal fight to the death, just so long as I was willing to commit suicide or fight to the death myself.” The thought experiment Kant instructed us to perform seemed completely arbitrary; he might as well say “before you do an action, imagine if it could be performed on a spaceship.” Also, I thought “if I give enough qualifications, almost anything could work as a universal without anything catastrophic happening.” For example, I could say “if you are tired, going to work on a Tuesday morning, hate your job, are six foot three inches tall, and need to urinate, it’s okay to be push people on the street.” The conditions given for this action are so specific that nothing would really change. Similarly, I could say “if you’re really really desperate, it’s okay to steal,” and it could work. In fact, I bet that’s already the case. The second formulation also confused me: “treat people as ends, not means.” For one, I couldn’t see any connection between this formulation and the previous one: what does treating people with respect have to do with willing universal laws? What’s more, the command seemed preposterous. I thought, “but I treat people as means all the time. When I order coffee I don’t do it for the sake of the person selling the coffee.” I also thought that there was a contradiction between doing an action for the sake of duty and doing it for the sake of another person; what’s the real ‘end’, the person or the duty? All of my objections managed to completely and totally miss the point. My friend got frustrated because I was bringing up all these irrelevant objections, and I felt very confused. Hope came when I took a long walk, and decided that I would attempt to start from Kant’s assumptions (which I knew roughly from his Critiques) and see if I could get to something that resembled the categorical imperative. Here is what I found. My Attempt to Derive the Categorical Imperative: When we look at nature, we often find determinism. Equations determine the movement of particles and the temperatures of stars; chemical structures determine the qualities of materials; instincts honed by natural selection determine animal behavior. Sometimes, we also see random chance. We run into an old friend in a distant country, or we accidentally drop our mug of beer. But freedom is incompatible with either determinism and chance: to be free, we cannot be said to be determined by anything else, nor can we attribute our actions to some random process. Nonetheless, we cannot help but suppose ourselves free; otherwise, we can never decide what to do—since all decision-making presupposes freedom. We can relieve this tension in one of two ways. One way would be to declare freedom illusory. We presuppose freedom when we decide, but this is just a feeling of freedom; we are just as determined by natural laws as anything else in nature, and just as subject to random processes. And here we might ask ourselves, what is freedom, anyway? Well, maybe it's easier to answer: when are we not free? When we are compelled to follow a law or directive foisted on us by somebody in power, we aren't free because we aren't determining our own actions. But, when a drug addict sells their property to get a fix, we also say they aren't free, even though they aren't following some external directive, because their desires are determining their actions. Last, we don't hold accountable a person whose house was destroyed by a hurricane, and is reduced to penury, because the hurricane might be said to have struck by chance. So we say a person is free when they make coolly rational decisions, not forced by some outside party, not overwhelmed by some strong desire, and not affected by some random process. But is this justifiable? Is this really freedom? And do we have it? It seems that, even when we're making coolly rational decisions, we're still subject to the laws of nature, to random events, and are still guided by our wants and needs. So is freedom—at least in the fundamental sense of an action being undetermined by all previous events, nor at all random—is this freedom possible? Kant thinks it is; but he has a job to do in proving that it is possible. We can attempt to resolve these conflicts by hypothesizing that there is a part of us that is neither determined nor subject to chance. But what would this part of us be? I can find two possibilities, not mutually exclusive: consciousness and rationality. Humans are distinguished from other creatures by our self-consciousness and by our ability to reason. First, let us suppose it is consciousness only that makes us free. But what are we conscious of? Hunger, thirst, exhaustion, desire, and various other things in our surroundings. If something external to our bodies forces us to do something, we are obviously not free, just as a dog is not free when being trained by its master. Consciousness seems to make no difference in that case. But we also seem not to be free when following some desire. For example, a dog is probably conscious of hunger, too, yet we do not usually think that dogs have free will when they pursue food. Perhaps you can say you are free because you can chose which desire to satisfy; but then what is the criterion by which one makes such a decision? Another desire? Clearly, something extra is needed: rationality. Our ability to use reason is what sets our decision-making apart from that of dogs and cats. Using reason, we can establish criterion that are not themselves desires. We can reign in desire for fast food if we realize that it will have negative long-term effects; we can abstain from buying that expensive new luxury car by considering how it would affect our children’s futures. Ah, but that's not quite enough! Because, even when we refuse to eat fast food, all we're doing is balancing our desire for something salty against our desire for long life. In a sense, we're still in the position of a drug addict balancing his desire for a fix against his desire for a coat. So not only must reason be the criterion, but reason must be the motivation, for free decisions. We must both be determining our own actions and not pursuing some desire. Now we are in a position to ask ourselves: what is morality? To be moral is to decide to do the right thing; it requires decision-making, and therefore can only apply to rational creatures. Not only can morality only apply to rational creatures, but morality can only apply to creatures insofar as they are rational. Anything non-rational, therefore, cannot be moral. Animals and inanimate objects cannot reason, so morality cannot apply to them. We have previously determined that things like hunger, thirst, and other desires are non-rational; so such things are not the basis of morality. Neither is morality concerned with achieving any particular goal in the world, because all goals derive their value from desiring them. Phrased in a slightly different way, all goals are contingent: they are only operative when the desire for them is operative; and we know that our desires are ever-changing. Nor can morality even have anything to do with human nature, since all other rational creatures—human, alien, or angel—would be equally subject to it. So morality, being derived from rationality and only applicable to creatures insofar as they are rational, must not have anything to do with empirical reality; it is, in other words, a priori. Now, morality deals in oughts, commands, or imperatives—what we should do. Since morality cannot take into account states of fact, the commands of morality must apply under all conceivable conditions. Also, since every rational creature is equally subject to the commands of morality, all moral imperatives must apply equally to all rational creatures. In short, morality is equally operative no matter who you are or what you’re doing. It is not dependent on any circumstances: it is a categorical imperative. From this alone we can draw the conclusion that any action which makes an exception of the actor cannot be moral. In other words, any action which could not be universalized is immoral (since the categorical imperative applies to everyone equally at all times). Also, since morality applies to all rational agents equally, any actions which treat a rational agent as not deserving of equal respect is immoral. This is to say, any action which treats a rational agent as a non-rational part of nature is forbidden; there is no valid reason for doing so. This test is a negative test. The categorical imperative cannot tell you what to do; it can only tell you what you may not do. You may not make an exception of yourself; you may not treat another rational agent as a part of nature. In other words, act only on maxims that can be willed as universals; never treat other rational agents as means only, but as ends in themselves deserving of respect. The Categorical Imperative in a Nutshell: So Kant does a very clever thing here. Kant essentially makes morality and freedom synonymous. You are only free if you are motivated by reason; and when you are motivated by reason, you are abiding by the categorical imperative, and are thus moral. Rationality is, for Kant, the basis of free will. So when rationality fully determines the will, it is the will giving a law unto itself. This removes the paradox of freedom. We are not free when we are following a law from outside ourselves, nor when we are following our own desires; we are only free when we are following the laws we created for ourselves (you can see the Rousseau influence here). And not only must we abide by these self-made laws, but we must abide them purely for the sake of abiding by them, because only then are we free and moral. Some Implications: Before examining whether Kant’s premise holds, let us take a moment to ponder out some of the implications of his conclusion. In Kant’s system, many things commonly regarded as immoral are forbidden: lying, stealing, raping, murdering. Stealing, for example, treats people as ends and not means; to steal makes an exception of yourself from a general rule; it cannot be willed as universal. This consonance with popular opinion is (at first sight, at least) an encouraging sign. But consider further. Because Kant has divorced morality from all consequences, and founded it purely on consistency, all moral actions are equally moral, and all immoral actions are equally immoral. This is apparent at once, when one considers that one can either be consistent or inconsistent, not half consistent; one can either treat someone as an end or not, not half as an end. Therefore, lying and murder are equally immoral and equally forbidden. The white lie you told your wife puts you on a level with the murderer in prison. This is a chilling conclusion, as any punitive system which doles out punishments in proportion to the crime’s consequences (such as ours) is itself immoral, or at least ammoral. Another odd implication of Kant’s conclusion is that non-rational creatures are completely exempted from the system, as they do not (according to Kant) have free will, and therefore cannot be bound by morality. This means that all bets are off regarding animal cruelty. Because animals are non-rational, there is no restrictions on how one must treat them. To pick a grim example, slowly torturing a squirrel to death can certainly be willed as a universal without contradiction; the act doesn’t treat a rational agent as a means; thus, it is permissible. Kant says so much himself: Beings whose existence depends not on our will but on nature’s, have nevertheless, if they are irrational beings, only a relative value as means, and are therefore called things; rational beings, on the contrary, are called persons, because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves, that is as something which must not be used merely as means, and so far therefore restricts freedom of action (and is an object of respect). One wonders whether this exemption from the strictures of morality applies to young children and the insane, who are also not capable of reason. If so, infanticide is permissible, as is the mistreatment of the mentally ill. Another chilling conclusion. But perhaps the most striking thing about this chain of reasoning is that, as a result of Kant's disdain for empirical facts, a moral person has no reason to expect happiness. In fact, a person acting in accordance with the categorical imperative may reasonably expect to be miserable; their unerring code of behavior would make them easy prey for anyone who wished to take advantage of them. This is not a theoretical objection to Kant. But one may reasonably ask, "then why be moral?" The only thing Kant can say is, "to be free." And if you ask, "why be free?" Kant's famous response is "to be worthy of happiness." But I'm sure many would rather take happiness than worthiness. But was Kant Right? Kant’s argument rests on the premise that, when one acts rationally, one is not determined by anything else. Rationality, for Kant, is not part of the world of nature, and is therefore the basis of freedom. I am extremely skeptical that this is the case. I do not see how anybody could make an absolutely free decision, independent of the normal laws of nature. We cannot, so to speak, take ourselves out of the stream of causation. It therefore seems more likely that freedom is an illusion, or a particular kind of ignorance. In Spinoza's words, "men are mistaken in thinking themselves free; their opinion is made up of consciousness of their own actions, and ignorance of the causes by which they are conditioned. Their idea of freedom, therefore, is simply their ignorance of any cause for their actions." Thus, acting in accordance with Kant’s principles would not make a person more or less free. Refraining from stealing based on the categorical imperative is just as "free" a decision as eating lunch because of hunger, or sleeping because of exhaustion. We are always both subject to random processes and to deterministic laws, and all our decisions are just as motivated by desires as the drug addict's. (Even the strict Kantian is motivated by his desire to abide by the categorical imperative.) Kant makes the subtle and interesting argument that even if rationality doesn’t actually make us free, the categorical imperative is still operative because, in order to act, we must assume we’re free. In other words, Kant says that, even if freedom is an illusion, his conclusions still hold. But if freedom is an illusion, acting according to his principles might be literally impossible for sentient creatures (as I suspect is the case); so striving after some “ideal of reason” (as Kant calls it) hardly seems like the sensible thing to do. Moreover, because we are not capable of completely free decisions, and because morality apparently does have its basis in empirical fact—if it can be said to exist at all—it behooves us to take into account things like human psychology, empirical conditions, cultural and historical forces, and consequences. A moral system that treats lies as equivalent to murder is impracticable; and a moral system that only binds rational agents may lead to inhumane acts. Finally, no person can be reasonably expected to abide by a moral system that will not lead to their own happiness. Parting Thought As I reread this book, a feeling suddenly took hold of me: admiration. I found myself almost in awe of Kant—both of his boldness and his genius. Even if I don’t believe his premises are correct, I can’t help but think it would be a beautiful thing if such a kingdom of ends were possible. It just so happens that the world isn’t as beautiful as Kant’s mind.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Darwin8u

    “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” ― Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Picture: Words & Phrases: Freedom, Autonomy of the Will, Categorical Imperative, Intuitions of Sense, Morally Aught, Universal Laws, Pure Practical Reason, Pragmatic, Practical, Rational Beings, Universality, Moral Law, External Conditions, Happiness, Empirical Interests, Obligations, Reciprocal Conceptions, Heteronomy, Causali “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” ― Immanuel Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Picture: Words & Phrases: Freedom, Autonomy of the Will, Categorical Imperative, Intuitions of Sense, Morally Aught, Universal Laws, Pure Practical Reason, Pragmatic, Practical, Rational Beings, Universality, Moral Law, External Conditions, Happiness, Empirical Interests, Obligations, Reciprocal Conceptions, Heteronomy, Causality, Things In Themselves. Meaning: In some ways the Categorical Imperative appears like a philosophically formal and universally binding adaptation of the Golden Rule, **kind of**. When one sees how many different versions of the Golden Rule have appeared independently in space and time, perhaps Kant was onto something. Anyway, I enjoyed reading this if only because a lot of what I've studied in political philosophy and moral policy was either born out of Kant's thoughts or as a reaction to it. Rawls' Veil of ignorance seems to be a recent, direct descendent, as Kant's social contract was a child of Rousseau, Hobbes, and Locke.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

    I was the annoying guy in class who kept insisting that the categorical imperative was the Golden Rule with a thick, convoluted veneer of the most difficult writing in philosophical history slathered all over it. Of course it is slightly different than the Golden Rule, but I'd say only trivially so. I understand Kant's influence, importance, etc, I just can't stand his writing. And I do think that his ideas, as influential as they were, were often failures. And again, the writing is painfully ba I was the annoying guy in class who kept insisting that the categorical imperative was the Golden Rule with a thick, convoluted veneer of the most difficult writing in philosophical history slathered all over it. Of course it is slightly different than the Golden Rule, but I'd say only trivially so. I understand Kant's influence, importance, etc, I just can't stand his writing. And I do think that his ideas, as influential as they were, were often failures. And again, the writing is painfully bad, regardless of the intelligence within, every fan of Kant's philosophy admits this as far as I know: great philosopher, terrible writer. Also, I find deontological ethics (moral precepts divorced from their consequences, "goodness for goodness sake", etc) to be a failure, especially in light of superior consequentialist positions like preference utilitarianism. One can be a moral realist without recourse to positing imaginary realms divorced from human happiness and suffering where ethics magically emerge from. I mean, how smart can a person be who really believes that lying is always unethical regardless of the circumstance? It takes about two seconds to conjure up a situation in which lying would absolutely be the right thing to do: Nazis looking for your Jewish friends that are hiding in your attic. According to the genius Kant it would be wrong to say that they're not upstairs. For an antidote to reading a book like this look to work on ethics done by Peter Singer, Bernard Williams, Simon Blackburn, and Derek Parfit.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Edward

    Translator's Preface Commentary and Analysis of the Argument - The Approach to Moral Philosophy, Outline of a Metaphysic of Morals, Outline of a Critique of Practical Reason --Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals Notes Index

  7. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

    It's probably a product of having been in grad school for too long, but somehow I found myself really liking this piece. I don't even care that it's not applicable to real life, at least his methods are based on tying human action to univsersal principles that anyone can participate in instead of trying to create this really creepy classist/elitist system of morality which the ancient greeks oozed over. And unlike the clunky, inhuman ethical systems espoused by more anylitic thinkers, Kant is at It's probably a product of having been in grad school for too long, but somehow I found myself really liking this piece. I don't even care that it's not applicable to real life, at least his methods are based on tying human action to univsersal principles that anyone can participate in instead of trying to create this really creepy classist/elitist system of morality which the ancient greeks oozed over. And unlike the clunky, inhuman ethical systems espoused by more anylitic thinkers, Kant is at least willing to acknowledge the connundrum of trying to act from a rational principle with no recourse to lived experience. And the way he tries to conceptually map out the different parts of the psyche, while it's probably wrong and kind of creepily mechanistic, is still a refreshing break from the messy, useless soup of abstractions that a lot of other thinkers would subsequently indulge in i.e. Hegel. If nothing else, it forced me to confront my own complacency about not even being willing to really listen to Kant's arguements.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Christopher

    I like Kant, but there are some fairly obvious issues with deontology. That is not to say that this is not good stuff. I think it should be required reading for humans generally. The issue is that ethics is not easy. Understatement. If you have it in you after this, read The Critique of Pure Reason. If you want the light version, read The Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. If the Critique is a shot of espresso, the Prolegomena is light and sweet.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Gary Beauregard Bottomley

    Never trust what modern writers say about classic works of Philosophy. Kant is not only relevant because of the influence he had on latter day thinkers, but, as with this work, he has something to say which makes mince meat out of most of the present day writers. If this book had been published for the first time last year, most readers would have thought it was the greatest book they had read in the decade (or even in their lifetimes). There is a little bit of getting used to the special languag Never trust what modern writers say about classic works of Philosophy. Kant is not only relevant because of the influence he had on latter day thinkers, but, as with this work, he has something to say which makes mince meat out of most of the present day writers. If this book had been published for the first time last year, most readers would have thought it was the greatest book they had read in the decade (or even in their lifetimes). There is a little bit of getting used to the special language that Kant uses, but it's really not hard to follow if you are familiar with Kant (I am not a philosopher but I want to learn my purpose and how best to be 'good'). He'll use 'synthetic' and 'analytic', the trick I use is since 'synthetic' starts with 's' think 'senses', and analytic is another word for math so think 'math', for 'a posteriori' and 'a priori' (I put them in this order because 'a posteriori' relates to the senses (synthetic) and is after the fact or after experience, 'a priori' relates to 'analytic' before the fact or from first principles or deductively as in a mathematical system. Two other Kantian words are 'subjective' (think 'self' sense it starts with 's' and 'objective' is an 'object' (or thing) outside of yourself. Kant is really not hard to follow and this work in particular was clearly written such that any one can really follow it because he obviously wants as wide an audience as possible for what he is going to tell the reader. (Now, I will admit that "Critique of Pure Reason' was hard at first but once I looked up those words in the above paragraph I ended up loving what he had to say and how he said it. With Kant you always get a unique way of looking at something and it's not always as important what he concludes as how he gets there. He even says something like that at the end of CPR, but with this book how he gets there and what he says are both well worth the effort). The reason he wants such a wide audience is because what he's going to tell the reader is an answer to one of the two great universal truths we all seek: 1) knowledge (justified true beliefs) about the world (Aristotle starts his Metaphysics with this fact), and 2) knowledge of the good (or divine) (Plato's formulation). This book is all about the second truth we all want, and to know about the 'good' one must first understand what the good is. This is what he does within this book. Kant builds a 'ground' based on reason to get at what our unconditional duties are in which we need to grasp the unconditional practical reason (morality) as maxims (universal laws) or as he says 'categorical imperatives'. Or in other words, he uses the infinite to get at our finite understanding of how we should approach life. His methodology is always a pleasure to behold and will teach anyone (including me) how to think better, and his conclusions are one of the best guides on how to live a moral life that I've encountered. I like the Golden Rule (and parts of the Sermon on the Mount), I like J.S. Mill's utilitarian philosophy, and I just love Kant's Categorical Imperatives. A combination of all three is how I choose to live. In the end, we earthlings, need to understand what it means to be good. All moral philosophy at its root combines empathy with reciprocity of some kind and call for us to be 'good' in some fashion, but 'what is the good (or divine)' is not obvious except usually in some circular fashion, and this book gives an extraordinarily good account for it. Don't worry about the technical language, because overall it is written to be understood, and is an incredibly good self help book that could easily replace almost all the rest of the current best sellers especially the vile self help books which I walk past in the bookstore.

  10. 5 out of 5

    laura

    i read the groundwork (finally finally) cover to cover in an airport in washington dc, where i spent a fourteen hour day watching one flight after another cancelled cancelled cancelled, and i have to tell you that people are near to their worst (that average daily sort of worst) in airports as their flights are cancelled. everyone was fighting for seats on future flights which would also be cancelled. everyone was arguing their cases to helpless airport staff, and the staff, in turn, treated us i read the groundwork (finally finally) cover to cover in an airport in washington dc, where i spent a fourteen hour day watching one flight after another cancelled cancelled cancelled, and i have to tell you that people are near to their worst (that average daily sort of worst) in airports as their flights are cancelled. everyone was fighting for seats on future flights which would also be cancelled. everyone was arguing their cases to helpless airport staff, and the staff, in turn, treated us like defensive children to be managed, and then as volatile cargo to be shipped. and my toothpaste had been confiscated. in the middle of this i sat and read about the kingdom of ends, where all people are treated as ends in themselves, never mere means, and about evil as a kind of enslavement, and good as a kind of freedom-- freedom from our own programatic worst natures-- and i have to say that there couldn't have been a moment where i was more receptive to this kantian line that i've been skeptically eyeing for all these years. not that i buy it. or fully grasp it, i'm sure. but i'm going to keep at it. i'm giving it four star with this caveat: they're four stars of admiration, not of enjoyment, exactly, and certainly not of agreement. i read with my eyes squinted and my mouth set. but i did occasionally nod. of course i also occasionally nodded off.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    Everyone seems to complain that the text is dry and hard to follow, but honestly, it's not bad at all. I read it as a freshman, and it was probably the first philosophy that I'd read that dealt so strongly in absolutes. I was impressed by his vehement (and gutsy) assertion that a priori principles must still apply empirically, regardless of the situation's specific details. It's been years since I've read this, and Kant still stands out in my mind as one of the most powerful philosophers that I' Everyone seems to complain that the text is dry and hard to follow, but honestly, it's not bad at all. I read it as a freshman, and it was probably the first philosophy that I'd read that dealt so strongly in absolutes. I was impressed by his vehement (and gutsy) assertion that a priori principles must still apply empirically, regardless of the situation's specific details. It's been years since I've read this, and Kant still stands out in my mind as one of the most powerful philosophers that I've ever studied. I shall try as best I can to explain why, but memory being what it is, many of the details are fuzzy. Those familar with Kant's works will not be surprised by the meticulous detail, the unimpeachable logic, and the sound reasoning behind his arguments. He has a way of getting right at the heart of an issue and analyzing the bejabbers out of it, for want of a better expression. One example from this text is Kant's study of motive's effect on morality: he examined different ways of thinking that could be selfish or altruistic, demonstrated how they could coexist within the same mind, and just kept delving deeper and deeper. With Kant, there always seems to be another layer, and even when he concludes that it is impossible to be sure even of one's own motivation (and therefore the extent of one's moral fortitude) he has still provided, if not an answer, the next best thing. Kant gives readers a frame for thinking through these issues; he lays out his philosophy, but then he tests it repeatedly, even brutally, which shows not only the strength of his arguments but also his eagerness to fully understand the ideals he seeks and to apply these same parameters consistently to the many changes and unpredictabilities of daily life. I kind of admire Kant for not trying to come up with a philosophy that can be changed during specific situations. Instead, he maintained that because of the great variety of circumstance, it was absolutely necessary to have a philosophy that would never change.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Luís C.

    Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Nr.1: The moral seeks to define what should be done, what should happen. In this respect differs from the knowledge whose laws determine universally what is or what happens. Kant sought to demonstrate that it was possible to formulate universal laws as the moral of scientific knowledge. These laws had to be made a priori, that is, without take into account the acts actually charged, whether they were good or bad. The supreme legislator of morality is human Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Nr.1: The moral seeks to define what should be done, what should happen. In this respect differs from the knowledge whose laws determine universally what is or what happens. Kant sought to demonstrate that it was possible to formulate universal laws as the moral of scientific knowledge. These laws had to be made a priori, that is, without take into account the acts actually charged, whether they were good or bad. The supreme legislator of morality is human reason. Nr.2: Kant's moral is based on a formal principle: what interests the morality of an act is respect for the moral law itself, and not the interests, purposes or consequences of the act itself. A good will, guided by reason acts according to a categorical imperative (duty). Nr.3: Kant conceived phenomenal reality (absolute reality) as intelligible, which can only be achieved by a route not theoretical but a practical way, moral. Therefore, morality (practical reason) must be pure, without sensitive content. This intelligible purity gives the primacy of knowledge (theoretical reason), in which the intelligible element is necessarily contaminated by sensitive data. SOURCE: http://afilosofia.no.sapo.pt/12KantIn...

  13. 5 out of 5

    Erik Graff

    Work on an M.Div. thesis entitled "Immanuel Kant's Influence on the Thought of C.G. Jung" had me read all of the Kant that Jung had read as evinced by the books in his library and the citations given in his writings. Now, two years later, having returned to school to study philosophy, I had incentive to continue the study of Kant's writings beyond those with which the psychiatrist had been familiar. The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals was read for Loyola University's PHIL 309: History of Work on an M.Div. thesis entitled "Immanuel Kant's Influence on the Thought of C.G. Jung" had me read all of the Kant that Jung had read as evinced by the books in his library and the citations given in his writings. Now, two years later, having returned to school to study philosophy, I had incentive to continue the study of Kant's writings beyond those with which the psychiatrist had been familiar. The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals was read for Loyola University's PHIL 309: History of Classical Modern Philosophy. As a part of our unit on Kant I presented a lecture on his Critical Programme to the class and a few interested auditors.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Khashayar Mohammadi

    If you have a rudimentary knowledge of the Categorical imperative, don't waste your time with this book. Its 100+ pages of explanation on the simple concept of the categorical imperative. Its a great book for beginners, but I do NOT recommend it to those who have a fundamental understanding of Kant.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Otto Lehto

    Like the black hole of Königsberg, Kant sucks in everybody who gets too close. There are not many singular geniuses in the history of philosophy on the level of Kant. It is impossible to mistake his writing for the writing of anybody else. The tireless construction of a metaphysical system, in his philosophy, meets the surprising open-endedness and skeptical honesty of his proposed solutions. He was simultaneously a source of new dogmas and the destroyer of old - and even, ultimately, of his own Like the black hole of Königsberg, Kant sucks in everybody who gets too close. There are not many singular geniuses in the history of philosophy on the level of Kant. It is impossible to mistake his writing for the writing of anybody else. The tireless construction of a metaphysical system, in his philosophy, meets the surprising open-endedness and skeptical honesty of his proposed solutions. He was simultaneously a source of new dogmas and the destroyer of old - and even, ultimately, of his own: the skeptical undertone in his architectonic work lead to constant self-deconstruction. In other words, Kantian philosophy is constructive only to the extent that reason, thereby, finds its own limits, and realizes the relative groundlessness of its own lofty aspirations and dreams. In morality, too, one cannot find huge systems of moral grandeur - but one CAN know something. "Groundwork" is a masterpiece of dizzying proportion. It is also much shorter than his forbidding three major critiques. It lays the epistemological, metaphysical and ethical foundations of human action from a perspective that is maddeningly complex and outrageously difficult to understand. (The translation by Allen W. Wood, however, managed to tone it down to manageable levels.) The style is occasionally mind-numbingly repetitive and constantly furiously labyrinthine. Some sentences are miniature puzzles, where the elusive goal is to spot the semantics behind the syntax. But it is not nonsense. It takes time, but it also rewards. It contains an honest engagement with our intuitions, painstaking logical argumentation in a dialectical method (to the death), an analytical treatment of our common sense notions of ethics, an anthropological account of human thinking, and a religiously utopian scheme for a future society of free and rational beings - and everything else in between. His philosophy revolutionized modern philosophy. Still today, in many ways, contemporary analytical AND continental philosophy is simply footnotes to his work; and justifiably so, for there is a tiny revelation on every page and a gem of wisdom in every sentence. That said, some of the arguments themselves can be taken apart. The intuitive appeal to Christian morality of altruism and self-effacement is never truly reconciled with reason. The metaphysical justification for duty-based ethics is left wanting a solid proof. The weaknesses of Kant's arguments have been exposed by many philosophers after him. I do not attempt to contribute to this endeavour here, because that would take a whole treatise. (In fact, I am currently writing one.) A literal reading of the book as a metaphysical justification for transcendental duties of pure reason - which forbids suicide, lying, thievery, hedonism, utilitarian calculus and self-love - requires leaps of faith. The package deal is a hard sell. One would have to swallow some dubious leaps of logic, and stay silent in the face of some ineffable mysteries, to buy the whole thing. But Kant himself says, about the very core of his assumptions, that the books deals - in the vein of the skepticism of Hume - about the "boundaries of human reason." These are murky waters indeed. Some of the core concepts - freedom, duty, morality, rationality - which are posited as a priori necessities of our action, are hard or even impossible to justify empirically or even rationally. We should read Kant as grasping for the limits of human understanding, especially the limits of human understanding from the perspective of Christian morality and rationalist philosophy. He writes that the idea of the intelligible world - which shows us the need for freedom under rational and moral action - "signifies only a 'something' that is left over if I have exluded everything." About this world I can say very little, and know even less. It cannot really be proven or disproven; it can only be shown to be something that all of humanity, as rational agents, must presuppose. The Categorical Imperative - which Kant claims is "categorical" in the sense of not being dependent on circumstances - states that we ought to act so that we could imagine our actions being universalized as general laws of action for all of humanity. In other formulation, it exhorts us to treat the dignity of rational beings as "ends in themselves." This crucial notion is derived from the perspective of "pure reason" as exhibited by an ideally rational being with an air of "holiness" and "purity" about him. Such a person, of course, never really exists, except in theory. Kant claims, nonetheless, that all human beings, not only philosophers, have one foot in the realm beyond the senses, but, in a proper Platonic fashion, our knowledge of this world is very weak. Our freedom, which is our rational self-legislation, partakes vaguely in this "noumenal" world. This allows us to grasp - says Kant - the necessity of a separation between Nature and the "I," even if we can say very little about the realm of pure reason beyond a few general axioms of thought. Overall, whatever the ultimate merit of Kant's philosophy, the quality of his thinking is out of this world. The exorbitant uniqueness of his analysis stands. He presents us, in the form of a daringly modern and challenging intellectual architecture, a perilous chamber of beauty, sadness and terror. What one draws out of that structure is largely a matter of preference and interpretation. But one cannot go in and come out without having been shaken to the very foundations of one's being. For myself, I am convinced that a lot of his terminology and core ideas - autonomy, freedom, self-legislation, rational duty, dignity of humanity, "the realm of ends" - are still important. The end result does not have to be acceptance. Visceral rejection is perfectly permissibe. But indifference to his philosophy is only possible, I think, if one has failed to understand what the old chap - my favourite German prude - meant by his jargon, whether out of a culture shock, boredom or lack of patience. This would be a perfectly understandable if regrettable state of affairs. Behind the facade of the impenetrable philosopher, see, is a series of enlightening observations, conceptual revolutions and rather simple and efficient propositions that can rock your world.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Philippe-Antoine

    Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals is without a doubt one of the most important texts in moral philosophy, and in Western philosophy more generally. It helped to shape the way in which we approach ethical questions, and its influence is unmistakable in the notions of universal human rights, of human dignity, of intrinsic worth, and of autonomy that continue to mark ethical and political debates, both within academic philosophy and outside it. Contrary to received opinion, Kant is a h Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals is without a doubt one of the most important texts in moral philosophy, and in Western philosophy more generally. It helped to shape the way in which we approach ethical questions, and its influence is unmistakable in the notions of universal human rights, of human dignity, of intrinsic worth, and of autonomy that continue to mark ethical and political debates, both within academic philosophy and outside it. Contrary to received opinion, Kant is a highly skilled writer. Admittedly, his sentences are often lengthy and difficult to follow; however, the patient reader is rewarded for his efforts, as Kant writes not only with extreme precision of language and clarity of thought, but also with the conviction of an impassioned genius. The purpose of the Groundwork is discover the “supreme principle of morality". Kant begins with the notion of morality as that which is good without restriction or qualification. Nothing conforms to this description, he maintains, except a good will, for all other potential candidates – talents, dispositions of character, good fortune – may be used either for good or for ill. Their goodness is therefore conditional. The good will, in contrast, is good in itself, quite apart from its capacity to accomplish its intention. Kant goes on to develop this notion of the good will by analyzing the notion of duty. Duty, Kant maintains, is “the necessity from acting from respect for the law”. To act according to duty, then, is to act in such a way that the principle or maxim underlying our action has the form of a law, i.e. that it have universal validity. In beings whose will is not necessarily determined by the law, but is rather subject to inclination, its determination according to objective law must be conceived as a constraint, thus as a commandment of reason taking the form of an imperative. This leads Kant to formulate his Categorical Imperative, from which all particular duties may be derived: “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law”. Now the possibility of there being an imperative of this sort – one that holds for all rational beings regardless of their inclinations – depends upon the existence of an end that is not merely subjective but objective, i.e. an end in itself. Human beings, Kant maintains, constitute ends of this sort. Hence the supreme practical principle may be formulated as follows: “Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.” This moral law, though objective and constraining, does not constrain the subject from outside, so to speak, but rather has its seat in the will of the autonomous subject as universally legislative. It is precisely this autonomy that distinguishes human beings as ends in themselves and confers upon them their dignity. This notion of the subject as universal legislator leads Kant to the hypothesis of a Kingdom of Ends of which all subjects treat each other as ends, and not as means. This leads him to the third formulation of the categorical imperative: “Every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends”. Having thus established analytically what is contained in the notion of morality, there remains for Kant to demonstrate the possibility of the Categorical Imperative, which he has identified as its supreme principle. This leads him to the question of freedom. The notion of a reasonable being, Kant claims, brings with it the concept of the will, and this in turn requires the presupposition of the Idea of freedom. Each one of us apprehends him or herself from two points of view: first, as a sensible being subject to the laws of nature, and second, as an intelligible beings subject only to the principle of reason or of autonomy. Now the actions of a purely rational being would always conform to the principle of autonomy; however, insofar as human beings are also subject to the inclinations of sense, this principle takes on for them the form of an imperative. Thus, from the necessity of considering ourselves from these two points of view stems the possibility of their being for us a Categorical Imperative. The final section of the book aims to set limits to the discipline of moral philosophy. For while there is no doubt that human beings are constrained by practical reason to think of themselves as free and that they do take a certain interest in morality, Kant maintains that it is impossible to explain either how freedom is possible or even how a practical use of reason is possible. This is because both of these questions would require that reason extend itself beyond the bounds of possible sense-experience, something which Kant has claimed to be impossible in the Critique of Pure Reason. Difficult, beautiful, always intriguing, and occasionally convincing, Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals is indispensable to students of philosophy and of political science. It has marked both the Anglo-American and European philosophical traditions to such a degree that an adequate grasp of the current philosophical landscape – as it appears, for example, in the figures of John Rawls, Ronald Dworkin, Derek Parfit, Alain Renaut, Jürgen Habermas, and Karl-Otto Apel – requires some familiarization with Kant’s deontological theory as set forth in this book, which has, as H.J. Paton once remarked, “exercised on human thought an influence almost ludicrously disproportionate to its size”.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Kyle van Oosterum

    This was flummoxing (or mind-fucking, if you wish) to say the least, such abstract and abstruse philosophical thought made me have to go back and forth constantly. From what I've extracted from this book, the kernel idea that Kant wishes to convey is the glorious Categorical Imperative. What the Categorical Imperative suggests is the following: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. " In other words, "do unto your neighbors This was flummoxing (or mind-fucking, if you wish) to say the least, such abstract and abstruse philosophical thought made me have to go back and forth constantly. From what I've extracted from this book, the kernel idea that Kant wishes to convey is the glorious Categorical Imperative. What the Categorical Imperative suggests is the following: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law. " In other words, "do unto your neighbors as you wish would be done unto you". It's a noble concept. It is our duty to perform an action that would benefit everyone collectively. Morality, it follows, derives only from the motive that went behind the action. Now, that is some cool shit right there. Kant is probably the driest and prosaic writer there is, but his ideas are pragmatic as hell. His only problem is not following the march of history, in that he does not understand that human ideals are so easily corrupted. There's the beauty of the human spirit though; it recognizes that reason should reign, but it acquiesces to the reality that its sensibility is the one that really commands.

  18. 5 out of 5

    Karl Hallbjörnsson

    I really liked the book, despite having been kind of an anti-Kantian for a long time prior to reading it. Deontological ethics are the worst ethics, I'd always echoed someone or other — be it Nietzsche or some other text — but now after reading the actual work (although I do recognize that it feels rushed and underdeveloped philosophically at times) I've changed my mind. I wouldn't call myself a deontologist or anything but I do hold that the doctrine contains an important kernel or nugget of tr I really liked the book, despite having been kind of an anti-Kantian for a long time prior to reading it. Deontological ethics are the worst ethics, I'd always echoed someone or other — be it Nietzsche or some other text — but now after reading the actual work (although I do recognize that it feels rushed and underdeveloped philosophically at times) I've changed my mind. I wouldn't call myself a deontologist or anything but I do hold that the doctrine contains an important kernel or nugget of truth about the nature of morality and ethics. Reading Hegel's Philosophy of Right in tandem has also been elucidating to my understanding of where Kant was going with his theory. Even if it does have some flaws, ones which smarter people than I have delineated before and thus don't call for my attention here, I've come to appreciate Kant more for having read it.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Pinkyivan

    I understood about 10% but liked what I've read 10/10

  20. 4 out of 5

    Jon Gill

    "Thus, we do not indeed comprehend the practical unconditional necessity of the moral imperative, yet we do comprehend its incomprehensibility, and this is all that can reasonably be required of a philosophy that in its principles strives up to the boundary of human reason." ~Concluding sentence (p. 72) My paraphrase of this sentence and indeed this book: "Thus we do not indeed comprehend Immanuel Kant, but we do comprehend his incomprehensibility, and this is all that can be reasonably required "Thus, we do not indeed comprehend the practical unconditional necessity of the moral imperative, yet we do comprehend its incomprehensibility, and this is all that can reasonably be required of a philosophy that in its principles strives up to the boundary of human reason." ~Concluding sentence (p. 72) My paraphrase of this sentence and indeed this book: "Thus we do not indeed comprehend Immanuel Kant, but we do comprehend his incomprehensibility, and this is all that can be reasonably required of an armchair philosopher reading an English translation 232 years later." [Review Part 1: In Which I Describe How Painful to Read This Is For People Who Like Syntax] The 4 stars are for the depth and importance of the ideas. As for the writing itself, it's hard to decide whether to give it 2 stars for its (in)comprehensibility, or 5 stars for the towering castles of grammar that he constructs. It’s as mesmerizing as it is infuriating what he can do with syntax. Reading Kant is like driving down the highway in first gear: it feels like you're really cooking, it takes an incredible amount of work, and then all of a sudden you're out of fuel and you've only covered a few miles, slowly. I remember losing track of one sentence about halfway down a page, and tracing back to find the beginning of the sentence...on the previous page. It's far more than a "slog"; it's more like being dragged behind a horse galloping at full speed. As hard as we try to take it in, so much faster does his mind create, examine, re-examine, explain, re-explain, clarify, qualify, and ultimately present his ideas. I read a lot of good, hard, old, deep, and philosophical writing. I have multiple degrees in language, and teach grammar and writing. This challenges all of those at once. I have read nearly all of the Complete Works of Shakespeare, and I'm currently reading a novel in German (despite having only amateur competence in German), and I found those to be easier. None of this is exaggeration, though it's probably true that practiced students of philosophy (again, I am an amateur here) will find his ideas more familiar and his writing style less uniquely esoteric. Review Part 2: In Which I Admire His Ideas and Their Importance I felt I needed to read Kant because of how often he comes up in every other philosophical conversation. He is perhaps one of the top 3-5 major milestones in the history of philosophy (I'll let you all argue who the others are), and most of what has been written since him either agrees and expands on his base, or attacks it because it is important enough to attack. I was also attracted to his philosophy because, as I have explored philosophies, I have discovered that my own ethics and values are at least partially Kantian, and if you’re going to have to say you’re Kantian, you should have at least read some Kant, right? …Otherwise you Kant say that… (I promise that’s my one Kant pun; I just had to get it out of the way!) As for the timing of choosing this particular book, I recently read a 1998 paper by Jerome Shestack called the “Philosophic Foundation of Human Rights,” in which he outlines a survey of how various schools of philosophy support (or don’t support) the existence of fundamental human rights. It was this paper that helped me see that I identify with the “neo-Kantians” most, and which got me curious to read this book in particular. (The paper is fascinating, by the way, and much easier to read than this, if that’s something you’re interested in – it’s from the May 1998 issue of Human Rights Quarterly) Metaphysics itself is an interesting concept, and I had never encountered it as such in my reading; the concept that something exists outside the physical world (meta-physical) is, of course, largely covered in religious circles, so it’s by no means foreign to me, a Christian. But Kant does a good job truly thinking through – and challenging – every metaphysical foundation that the religious and non-religious take for granted. Interestingly, both the religious and the atheist will be challenged by his ideas – not because he is trying to prove or disprove God’s existence, but because he goes far beyond that. Christian theologians, for example, can grasp that they believe in morals because they believe God exists and has mandated them for mankind. This is Augustine’s (another landmark philosopher) position, and still largely the position of most modern moralists. But Kant takes “God” somewhat out of the picture by focusing more on the capability of reason – and reasonable beings – to arrive at morality (specifically, the categorical imperative) regardless of whether they have or have not read it in a text or heard it in a sermon. Some could call this “conscience” – that we, as rational beings, know what is right to do, even when we don’t always do it. He brings the idea of a Higher Power back in when pure reason, will, and duty need perfect versions, or show that reason and purity themselves have a metaphysical existence. There are numerous smaller ideas that flow from this that many will find useful or profound, but they are not the main idea here. This “groundwork” book, which he intends as a prequel to his more famous “Critiques,” is already an impressive work in itself. In order to establish this “groundwork,” he must establish many things most of us take for granted: (1) that we have the capability to reason; (2) that we are also motivated by practical and sensual desires that may conflict with pure reason; (3) that we don’t always act reasonably or in accordance with morals, but that we can still know what morality is, through reason; and many other fundamental things. He then argues that we do in fact have moral duties, and that we can and do know when we are fulfilling them or not. While the syntax itself proved a challenge for understanding, in the ideas themselves Kant leaves no room for an easy way out. While many later philosophers have taken issue with Kant, they’ve had to work very hard to do so. To the utilitarian who says we all work in our equal self-interest, Kant says it’s possibly quite unreasonably selfish to do so. To the existentialist who says God did not necessarily imbue us with morality, Kant says reason alone still leads us to it, and if reason exists, so do morals. To the nihilists and absurdists who say morality is an illusion, Kant says that the existence of reason itself must be taken as a given or no reasonable conversations can be had. To the supporters of positive law, Kant exalts freedom as the natural and necessary state for reason and morality to take place. To the atheists, Kant shows that the existence of metaphysical reason can reasonably assume a paragon of metaphysical entity. To the religious, he cautions claims to “know” God because if God is truly God, he may in fact be incomprehensible to our limited reason. Of course, this is not all necessarily addressed in this way here – it’s just that Kant is so thorough in his analysis that he leaves no stone unturned, no idea unchallenged (including and especially his own), and no grammatical structure untried. However hard we have to work to read him, he’s clearly already worked harder just thinking it all through. Review Part 3: In Which I Help You Contemplate Whether To Read This The other reviews here on Goodreads were very helpful for me, as were the many papers and other works that have referenced him. It’s too bad that he packaged such important ideas – like them or not – in such a difficult-to-open package, but if you can manage it, take it on as a challenge. This particular translation and edition were helpful (Cambridge Texts, translated and edited by Mary Gregor and Jens Timmermann), and for the language issues I fully blame Kant, not Gregor. This is definitely the longest time I’ve spent on such a “thin” book, but it feels good to have done it. Conclusion? Read this if you really, really need to. Otherwise, just make sure you really, really understand the content, impact, and importance of his ideas – through the explanations of other writers who use normal grammar. Or, as Kant might put it, “write only according to the style through which you can at the same time will that it become a standardized syntactic prescription.”

  21. 5 out of 5

    The Brain in the Jar

    Regardless of what you think of Kant's philosophy, his ideas, how much sense they make and how useful they are - you have to respect him. The man tried to dig ridiculously deep into human thought. His is the drill that pierced philosophy. The difficulty in understanding Kant is not in his writing. The writing is fairly analytic and linear. What's difficult is the distance Kant takes from human thought. Human thought is built by layers upon layers. Spread all your ethical laws. Notice how you'll f Regardless of what you think of Kant's philosophy, his ideas, how much sense they make and how useful they are - you have to respect him. The man tried to dig ridiculously deep into human thought. His is the drill that pierced philosophy. The difficulty in understanding Kant is not in his writing. The writing is fairly analytic and linear. What's difficult is the distance Kant takes from human thought. Human thought is built by layers upon layers. Spread all your ethical laws. Notice how you'll find a hierachy between them. One law is derived from another. A classic example is that of rape. It's derived from the law of bodily autonomy, of not forcing people to do things against their will. In turn, this is derived from the law of freedom of action. That one is derived from the law of not causing suffering, since we assume here that violating freedom causes suffering. Now, this is an off-the-cuff example that doesn't require deep thinking. It's popular enough to make my point clear about these layers. Kant isn't satisfied in stopping where I did. He goes as high as he can, he tries to understand the bare skeleton of what moral thinking is. Kant goes so high that he doesn't even talk about humans anymore. He's obsessed with reason. In his world, only reason and the ways of thought he exists. When he talks about universal ethics, they exist way before Man himself exists. Although he separates the natural world (what we experience) and what is really there (which we can't access), his dissection of reason is like a mathematicians' dissection of the rules of nature. He creates a logic that everything is subject to. Only Kant deals with words, with terms that have loaded and not definite meanings. The task is automatically more difficult. Which is why it's so impressive. Once you understand how Kant functions, it's easier to read him. The Categorical Imperative becomes more than mere 'do what you want others to do'. That rule seems simple and intuitive but Kant removes the subjectivity from it. You can use that rule to justify theft. If you don't believe in public property, you can expect others to steal and not feel guilty about stealing. What Kant does is ask whether a behavior like this can actually exists. If everyone steals, then we don't have anything to steal since everything's stolen. When I respect someone's property rights and he respects mine, society doesn't fall apart. The main issue with Kant's idea is exactly how detached it is from human experience. In the end, the moral behavior has to come down to the World of Appearances. Once it does, it no longer exists in isolation. There are results. If a moral behavior in an individual instead happens to lead to results which give power to immoral people than how good is it? The problem with pure reason is that it tries to isolate things with its strict laws, but that doesn't actually happen. As an attempt to set a groundwork for discussing morality, this part is a bit of a let down. He moves too forward, and although the Categorical Imperative remains in the World of Reason, it naturally leads to the World of Appearances and that's where we'll test it. The better part, however, are when Kant discusses what exactly is moral. The Categorical Imperative becomes convincing once Kant defines what morality actually is compared to other things. His writings about free will feel as though he shuts down the whole discussion by solving the problem. Morality needs freedom. Rationality demands freedom. We cannot prove freedom exists because our notions of 'proving' relate mostly to the World of Appearances. However, once we think that freedom doesn't exist we can no longer think morally or rationally since we give in to natural impulses. Do you do this? Does anyone live only by natural impulses? Even if freedom doesn't exist, we have to act and think as if we're free. His definition of morality as fairly convincing - it is goodness, plain and simple. At first it seems overly simplistic, but it actually makes sense. By 'goodness', he means thinking beyond our natural impulses. Here you can see how Kant spent too much time thinking and not enough doing. This idea is understandable, but he has to connect it to the World of Apperances. Intelligence and morality may exist in the World As Itself which is important because it's the basis for the World of Appearances, but the World of Appearances is what we actually experience. So if I act morally, the results were bad (in various ways), does it matter if I were moral? The only blind side to Kant's case is that he never proves that reason is so awesome that it improves reality (or the World of Appearances). All the love he has for reason is convincing that it's important, but seeing that reason in action would be the final proof. The clearest benefit from Kant's way of thinking is how critical he is, how willing he is to vivisect ways of thought so it feels more like 'reason' and 'morality' are beasts he analyzes using microscopes and scalpels. At worst, the book lives up to its title. Since Kant goes so deep in his definitions and dissection, it does come off like the starting point for moral thinking. He separates morality from other ways of thought. He separates other needs and the free will and the moral action. Only he never puts them back together, but you can start forming your own Theory of Ethics using this. Later, McLuhan would criticize the Typographic Man for their linear, fragmented thinking. Kant is an excellent example of this fault. Everything is split up to tiny little pieces, which is useful to understanding them. If only Kant went the extra mile to connect these piece - he was sure aware that he should, but I guess we needed new technology to help us realize the world is happening all at once. Keep in mind this review was written by someone who just started his voyage on the seas of Philosophy. At the time of writing this, I haven't taken any courses and this book was difficult to read, almost incomprehensible at times. The final section especially felt like a great mental exercises going nowhere. Still, as a place to start it's great. It lays down the most important question and is fairly accessible, despite how huge the ideas are in here. 4 morals out of 5 metaphysics Also posted on my blog: https://brainweapons.wordpress.com/20...

  22. 4 out of 5

    Adam

    I read this electronic edition: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/k..., which did not strike me as particularly hard to read or understand, despite the fact that those are very common complaints re: this book. Actually, I was mostly impressed with Kant's reasoning and argument, apart from the unnecessary conditions of morality later in the book, but deontological ethics (focused on good in itself, etc. divorced from consequence or social contract etc.) just don't work, and the (first formulati I read this electronic edition: http://www.earlymoderntexts.com/pdf/k..., which did not strike me as particularly hard to read or understand, despite the fact that those are very common complaints re: this book. Actually, I was mostly impressed with Kant's reasoning and argument, apart from the unnecessary conditions of morality later in the book, but deontological ethics (focused on good in itself, etc. divorced from consequence or social contract etc.) just don't work, and the (first formulation of the) Categorical Imperative fails because it is so utterly restricted, ruling out the moral worth of going beyond duty's call, and of course also of actions that we would not will to become universal laws, but would perform in situations where there is real benefit as a consequence of that action not just for ourselves, but for others too. One may admire the concept and work within it, and believing in it may 'make exceptions' for herself, but this person also has to accept that her actions have no moral worth, are not good. That all falls apart. The biggest problem I have with Kant's ethical system is how utterly individual it is, and how essentialist. The thought behind deontological ethics is itself admirable; I do think we are really desperate to find a solid theoretical grounding for practical ethics, a grounding that various other sorts of metaethical positions just don't give us (the average non-Kantian gets all jittery if asked to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with rape in a state of nature, even though professional philosophers and such are willing to do so), but to accept Kant's system is to accept a deeply flawed one. I understand that it's more intuitively appealing to read The Humanity Formula and get the fuzzies than to read Hobbes, but at some point we surely ought to be able to get past what seems nice and confront the fact that the metaethical truth that allows for justice and beauty in practical application is probably going to have some seriously ugly theoretical side effects.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jesse

    What is so very fascinating about this book, and it is an accessible Kantian text I should say (he's very liberal with examples in this one, after all), is that Kant begins by saying that, certainly we have got reason for a reason, and if, as the empiricists claim, we have reason to make us happy, nothing is more unsuited to its purpose in the world! Therefore, reason is with us for a higher purpose. Now, everyone knows Kant says morality is derivable from reason alone, but not everyone realizes What is so very fascinating about this book, and it is an accessible Kantian text I should say (he's very liberal with examples in this one, after all), is that Kant begins by saying that, certainly we have got reason for a reason, and if, as the empiricists claim, we have reason to make us happy, nothing is more unsuited to its purpose in the world! Therefore, reason is with us for a higher purpose. Now, everyone knows Kant says morality is derivable from reason alone, but not everyone realizes that, when he launches this discussion by saying that everyone, after realizing that reason is unsuited for obtaining happiness, feels that there is some ineffable purpose for which we have reason, he proceeds to develop his thesis based on that sentiment, that feeling! And the whole time, Kant is convinced that the religious awe he has for duty, the intuition and respect for the moral law by which he acts, is not a feeling, and that it is not the case that morality comes from feeling. He says that morality cannot come from feeling because it is not universal, and what is moral must be universal. Is it not, however, the case that it is precisely our feelings which unite us and the reasons which divide us? Religion is not so diversified, after all, because of religious feelings, but, on the contrary, because of religious theology, religious reasoning; as Foucault says, "What governmentalization does not have its root in reason?" Nevertheless, Kant wants order, "governmentalization", to be predicated upon freedom; that is, you are free when you impose authority upon yourself (the categorical imperative)! This is a great insight, but it is certainly not a moral insight unless, with Rousseau, we ground it, not in any ideology (Kant's project, after all, is a eurocentric racism), but in the human heart and our non-alienated natural selves.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Frankie Della Torre

    Kant was a genius with an absolutely brilliant philosophical mind. The failure of his philosophical moral project, in many ways, precipitated postmodernity as such. This is a crucial work in the history of moral philosophy and epistemology. For starters, it pretty much invented the very idea of autonomy in this particular text (the only other thinker who might give Kant a run for his money is Rousseau). Within it, one will find mention of all sorts of fancy ideas like a priori and a posteriori Kant was a genius with an absolutely brilliant philosophical mind. The failure of his philosophical moral project, in many ways, precipitated postmodernity as such. This is a crucial work in the history of moral philosophy and epistemology. For starters, it pretty much invented the very idea of autonomy in this particular text (the only other thinker who might give Kant a run for his money is Rousseau). Within it, one will find mention of all sorts of fancy ideas like a priori and a posteriori truths, analytic and synthetic statements, the law of autonomy, free will, the will, the law, respect for the law, the notion of "rational beings" as such, hypothetical and categorical imperatives, maxims, harsh distinctions between the world of sensation (phenomenal world) and the world of understanding (noumenal world), and a harsh dose of the idealization of Reason - which is our capacity to think universal and necessary truths. Kant was indeed a giant; and philosophers - whether in agreement or disagreement with him - will never escape his shadow.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Leslie

    How can you say what you learn from someone who defined our moral culture to the extent that Kant did? I am learning about the formulations of the categorical imperative... Okay, I need to take a moment to rant here. I don't expect that anyone will read my review or care, but how can "Married to a Stranger" have better overall reviews than this book?!? Something that contributes nothing to the human race, that will not be read after this generation, as opposed to something that contributes profou How can you say what you learn from someone who defined our moral culture to the extent that Kant did? I am learning about the formulations of the categorical imperative... Okay, I need to take a moment to rant here. I don't expect that anyone will read my review or care, but how can "Married to a Stranger" have better overall reviews than this book?!? Something that contributes nothing to the human race, that will not be read after this generation, as opposed to something that contributes profoundly to the sum of human knowledge and will be relevant and informing the creation of new knowledge for as long as the human race exists? OK, I feel better now.

  26. 4 out of 5

    Julian

    As a rule, one really can't 'rate' Kant, or any of his works, as one would rate a book. His philosophy is not written to be clever, charming, or even enjoyable. It is written to impart his interpretation of a logical structure of ethics to those who would apply and experiment with those ethics. That being said, my rating for this book is solely a rating of the translation from German. To rate Kant himself is the job of a power much higher than any critic or even scholar. To understand Kant is ou As a rule, one really can't 'rate' Kant, or any of his works, as one would rate a book. His philosophy is not written to be clever, charming, or even enjoyable. It is written to impart his interpretation of a logical structure of ethics to those who would apply and experiment with those ethics. That being said, my rating for this book is solely a rating of the translation from German. To rate Kant himself is the job of a power much higher than any critic or even scholar. To understand Kant is our duty.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Janelle Bouman

    Kant's complicated writing style makes this the single most difficult thing I've ever attempted to read, but his concept of a universal moral principle nonetheless utterly fascinates me. I was completely captivated to see Kant lay the groundwork for modern notions of universal human rights and dignity, putting aside the fact that every single page takes you a solid 10 minutes to read and fully understand. If only he had presented such brilliant ideas in a more comprehensible fashion. Also, the K Kant's complicated writing style makes this the single most difficult thing I've ever attempted to read, but his concept of a universal moral principle nonetheless utterly fascinates me. I was completely captivated to see Kant lay the groundwork for modern notions of universal human rights and dignity, putting aside the fact that every single page takes you a solid 10 minutes to read and fully understand. If only he had presented such brilliant ideas in a more comprehensible fashion. Also, the Kant puns are endless. I Kant.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Jon(athan) Nakapalau

    There is a joke in German...the German philosophy student who learns English because Kant was too hard to understand in German(!) The hardest book I have ever read...99% went over my head...Kant was a genius.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Goller

    Was awful, unclear, and generally the worst MLP fanfic I've ever read.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Rowland Pasaribu

    The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals was published in 1785, just before the Critique of Practical Reason. It is essentially a short introduction to the argument presented in the second Critique. In order to understand what Kant is up to in this book, it is useful to know something about Kant's other works and about the intellectual climate of his time. Kant lived and wrote during a period in European intellectual history called the "Enlightenment." Stretching from the mid-seventeenth cen The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals was published in 1785, just before the Critique of Practical Reason. It is essentially a short introduction to the argument presented in the second Critique. In order to understand what Kant is up to in this book, it is useful to know something about Kant's other works and about the intellectual climate of his time. Kant lived and wrote during a period in European intellectual history called the "Enlightenment." Stretching from the mid-seventeenth century to the early nineteenth, this period produced the ideas about human rights and democracy that inspired the French and American revolutions. The characteristic quality of the Enlightenment was an immense confidence in "reason"--that is, in humanity's ability to solve problems through logical analysis. The central metaphor of the Enlightenment was a notion of the light of reason dispelling the darkness of mythology and misunderstanding. Enlightenment thinkers like Kant felt that history had placed them in the unique position of being able to provide clear reasons and arguments for their beliefs. The ideas of earlier generations, they thought, had been determined by myths and traditions; their own ideas were based on reason. The common thread of all these criticisms is that Kant's position is too abstract to be useful. As human beings, we live in a particular place at a particular time. It is not necessarily possible or desirable for us to separate our rationality from the other features of our personality. We may reason about issues in abstract terms, and we may imagine the situations of other people, yet our starting point must always be our own life situation. It is a typical feature--a common "mistake," if you will--of Enlightenment thinking to presume that we can ignore our own particularities and discover universal principles of reason. This "mistake" may have been possible because Enlightenment philosophers came from a relatively homogeneous culture (that of eighteenth-century Europe) and from a relatively homogeneous class position (one of relative financial security). This homogeneity may have led Enlightenment thinkers to oversimplify certain questions, presuming that their answers were "rational" when they in fact depended on cultural assumptions. On the other hand, Kant's philosophy--and Enlightenment philosophy in general-- is by no means a philosophy of privilege. Indeed, Kant's ideas are radically egalitarian. According to Kant, moral truths are not received from on high through divine revelation or inspiration. Rather, they are based on reasons that make sense to all people (indeed, all rational beings) who bother to think about them. The passion with which people espouse moral views suggests that many people continue to share Kant's view that moral principles must be absolute and universal. Late twentieth-century people may be more aware of diversity than Kant was. As a result, we may have less confidence than him that what makes sense to us will make sense to other people. Nevertheless, in our day as in Kant's, people do tend to think that there is more to their moral beliefs than mere cultural prejudice. Like all great philosophers, Kant's arguments have provoked a wide range of responses, positive and negative. Whatever we make of Kant's views, it would be difficult to underestimate the historical impact of his "Copernican Revolution" in philosophy. Even today, nearly two hundred years after his death, Kant's arguments remain a powerful presence in philosophy. The distinction that Kant draws in the Preface between "pure" and "empirical" concepts is of critical importance to his philosophy. "Pure" or "a priori" concepts are ideas that occur to us when we think about things in our minds, "prior" to and independent of any experience of how things happen in the world. "Empirical" or "a posteriori" concepts are ideas that we derive from our experience of the world. In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argued that many of our basic ideas about the world--our notions of time, space, and causation, for instance--are a priori concepts; they are "hardwired" into our brains, rather than extrapolated from our experiences. This argument led him to a number of interesting conclusions about the limits of human understanding and the errors of traditional philosophy (see the Context section for more information on the first Critique). In this book, Kant makes a similar argument about moral philosophy. He identifies the basic principles of moral thinking that occur to us independent of any particular situation or experience, and he offers some criticism of philosophers who have advanced different bases for morality. Kant argues that his project makes sense in terms of our intuitions about morality. About halfway through the Preface, he claims that when we think about morality, we naturally presume that moral laws must apply to all people at all times. He bases this claim on the notion that moral actions are supposed to be undertaken for the sake of morality alone; we are supposed to have pure (as opposed to self-interested) motivation for moral actions. Yet as soon as particular circumstances enter the picture, it becomes impossible to think of motivations being entirely pure; in any particular situation, human beings will have interests and concerns that form a component of their motivation. This train of thought leads Kant to the conclusion that a secure understanding of morality must be based on the "pure," a priori concepts of reason. "Pure," a priori concepts are concepts that occur to us before we have any experience of the world. If moral ideas were drawn from experience, then they could not be assured universal validity, for they would be based only on the limited set of events that we have experienced. Moral ideas may be universally valid, Kant argues, only if they are based on the intrinsic validity of a priori concepts. Kant's distinction between "rational beings" and "men" may make this point more clear. Being a human being entails possessing a certain "human nature." We get hungry, we fall in love, we have emotional and physical needs. In Kant's view, this human nature should not be a consideration in moral thinking. Human nature is a particular circumstance that affects human beings. We could imagine some other form of rational being--an extraterrestrial life form, for instance-- possessing a different nature. But we would not excuse the cruel behavior of some monstrous creature; rather, we would judge the monster's actions according to the same moral standard that we apply to ourselves. According to Kant, this fact demonstrates that our moral thinking is not based on an understanding of "nature" or disposition, but rather on universally applicable concepts--and the only concepts that we can know apply in all circumstances are the concepts that occur to us a priori, independent of any particular experience or circumstance. You may be thinking at this point that Kant seems to want people to behave like robots. By his account, morality requires us to separate our rationality from our nature and act solely on the basis of logical principles. This idea is strongly rooted in the basic ideas of the Enlightenment (see the Context section for discussion of this period in European intellectual history). Like many of his contemporaries, Kant understands reason to be the source of fundamental truths that transcend culture and history. Rational ideas are ideas that makes sense to all people; they are universal. Kant believes the task of philosophy is to develop a stronger understanding of these ideas. He also believes that rational ideas have a strong claim to authority. A morality based on reason would make sense to all people; Kant thinks it would therefore be superior to a moral system accepted by only one particular group of people.

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