Kant’s Groundwork, Second Section: Transition from popular moral philosophy  to the metaphysics of morals

Why base morality on pure reason?

   One cannot tell from experience if an action is from duty. (406-407)

   Basing it on experience fosters ridicule of morality. (407-408)

  Morality is valid for all rational beings, not just humans. (408)

  Examples must be judged by a principle of morality. (408-409)

  “Popular practical philosophy” is a mish-mash. (409-410)

  Basing it on reason provides a powerful motivation that cannot lead us astray. (410-411)

What objections can be raised to these arguments?

Rational beings

   have a will (= ability to act from representations of laws)

  Hence the will is practical reason. (412)

   will also subject to subjective conditions à determination by objective laws is necessitation (413)

  The representation of a necessitating objective law is a command.

  Its formula is an imperative. (413)

Types of imperatives (414-416)

                                 hypothetical                                      categorical

(means to a willed end)                (no reference to a further end)

 rules of skill                                       counsels of prudence

(possible end)   (actual end: one’s own happiness)

How are imperatives possible?

  1. Hypothetical imperatives (417-419)

  possible in virtue of the analytic proposition that he who wills the end also wills the necessary means to it in his control. (417)

  Analytic proposition

  for Kant: a proposition whose predicate is contained in its subject

  more generally: a proposition whose truth-value depends solely on its syntax and the meaning of its terms

  Contrast term: synthetic proposition

  1. Categorical imperatives (419-420)

  Their possibility must be settled a priori (since we cannot be sure in any example that the will is determined merely by laws).

  Only categorical imperatives can be stated as laws (since we can give up a hypothetical imperative by giving up its conditioning end)

  Their possibility is hard to establish (since a categorical imperative is synthetic).

  Note: The possibility is not established until the Third Section.

Formula of a categorical imperative

   no material end

  content: maxim must accord with the law (420-421, cf. 400)

  Formula of Universal Law (FUL): Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. (421)

  Formula of the Law of Nature (FLN): So act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature. (421)

Classification of duties


Applying FLN

  For each of Kant’s four examples:

  What is the maxim?

  How would people behave if this maxim were a universal law of nature?

  Why exactly does Kant think that it would be impossible for someone with this maxim to will that it be a universal law of nature?

  In particular, what kind of impossibility is involved?

  Has Kant applied his test fairly?

The four examples

  1. Is it contrary to duty to take my own life?
  2. Is it contrary to duty to borrow money that I need without intending to repay it?
  3. Is it contrary to duty to neglect my talent and just gratify myself with amusements?
  4. Is it contrary to duty for me, for whom things are going well, not to help those with great hardships?

Kant’s reflections on the 4 examples (424)

  Some maxims (e.g. 1 and 2) cannot even be thought without contradiction as universal laws of nature

  These conflict with narrow (unremitting) duty.

  With other maxims (e.g. 3 and 4) a will that they should be elevated to a natural law would contradict itself.

  These conflict with wide (meritorious) duty.

  In transgressing a duty, we make an exception for ourselves of a rule that we expect others to follow.

  Allowing ourselves only a few exceptions implicitly recognizes the validity of the categorical imperative.

Our reflections on the 4 examples

  What general points would you make about what is involved in applying FLN/FUL?

  FLN/FUL tests maxims, not actions.

  Test is negative, not positive.

  Maxim passes test à morally OK to act on it. But not necessarily morally required.

  Maxim fails test à morally wrong to act on it. But the same act might be morally OK with another maxim.

  Hence the first formulation is not a positive basis for a metaphysics of morals. (cf. n. 52, p. 41)

  Universalizing does involve thinking about consequences.

  It also involves appealing to general principles about nature.

Testing the FLN/FUL

  1. Consider a maxim:

   a general policy for acting in a specified way

   in a specified type of situation

   with a specified end in view

  1. Can a person with this maxim will that it be a universal law of nature? Why, or why not?
  2. Is your maxim non-universalizable but acting on it morally OK?
  3. Is your maxim immoral but acting on it morally wrong?

Review of second section, part 1

  Reasons for basing morality on reason rather than experience

  Concept of a rational being

  Commands and imperatives: types

  How imperatives are possible

  First formula of the moral law (FUL, FLN)

  Application to 4 examples corresponding to 4 types of duties

  2 ways a maxim can fail the test of FLN


Second section, part 2 (Ak 4:425-445)

Reflection due by midnight Sunday, Sep. 27


  2nd formula of the moral law: humanity as end in itself (FH) [important]

  Application to the same 4 examples

  3rd formula of the moral law: autonomy (FA) or the realm of ends (FRE) [not as important as the 2nd]

  Dignity vs. price

  Autonomy vs. heteronomy