Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: Preface (Ak 4:387-392 = Wood, pp. 3-8)

The title

Morals = morality

Metaphysics of morals

  The “pure” rational part of morality

  Applies to all rational beings (not just humans)

  Contrast: “practical anthropology” (empirical part, depends on observed facts about human nature)

Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals

  Lays the foundations for the metaphysics of morals

  Search for “the supreme principle of morality” (Ak 4:392)

Kant’s conception of ethics

  Morally valid laws are absolutely necessary. (Ak 4:389)

  Hence the ground of obligation is a priori in concepts of pure reason. (389)

  A priori (“from before”) = independent of experience (for its justification).

  Contrast term: a posteriori (“from afterwards”) = dependent on experience (for its justification) = empirical.

  Pure part of ethics applies to all rational beings: a “metaphysics of morals”.

  Empirical part applies pure part to human beings using information about human nature.

Think questions (for tutorial)

Does Kant have a good argument that morality must be grounded a priori in concepts of pure reason?

  1.  What does Kant mean by saying that morally valid laws  are absolutely necessary?  Are they?
  2. Does it follow that obligation has an a priori ground?
  3. State one other way in which someone might ground obligation.
  4. What could Kant say against this other way of grounding obligation?
  5. What could a proponent of this other ground say in favour of it or against Kant’s appeal to pure reason?

Think question (for right now)

  Kant argues that moral obligation must be grounded a priori in concepts of pure reason.

  How else might someone propose to ground moral obligation?

  Write down one or more possibilities.

  Share with a neighbour

  Refine one of them for sharing with the class.

Rival material grounds: Kant (Critique of Practical Reason Ak 5:40)

Role of the Groundwork

something like a critique of pure practical reason (391, to complement his Critique of Pure [Speculative] Reason)

but not completely developed

and not carried through into a metaphysics of morals

a laying of the ground: establishment of  the supreme principle of morality (392)

Sequence (392):

  common rational moral cognition à philosophical moral cognition (Section 1, 393-405)

  philosophical moral cognition à metaphysics of morals (Section 2, 406-445)

  metaphysics of morals à critique of pure practical reason (Section 3, 446-463)


Preface (Ak 4:387-392, pp. 3-8).

  Read and digest. If it helps, compare to my summary, or consult “Kant made simpler”, both on ELM.

  Jot down your questions for clarification, comments, issues of concern.

  Raise them at the beginning of class next week.

First Section: Transition from common rational moral cognition to philosophical moral cognition (Ak 4:393-405, pp. 9-21

  Please read and digest. No assignment on this section.


  Argument that only the good will is good without limitation

  Acting from duty vs. acting in conformity with duty

  Moral worth of an action derives from its maxim not its effects

  Hence duty = necessity of an action from respect for the law

  The Formula of Universal Law (FUL)

  Application to an example

  Common moral cognition: transition

Second Section: Transition from popular moral philosophy to the metaphysics of morals (Ak 4:406-424, pp. 22-42)

  Reflection due by midnight Sunday (Sep. 20)


  Arguments for basing morality on pure reason (406-411)

  Practical reason as ability to act from representation of laws: commands and imperatives (412-413)

  Hypothetical vs. categorical imperatives (414-420)

  Maxims (420)

  First formulation of the categorical imperative (two versions):

  The Formula of Universal Law (FUL, 421)

  The Formula of the Law of Nature (FLN, 421)

  Application to four examples (422-424)