Slides for an Introduction to Philosophy course at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada. These slides discuss the first form of the Categorical Imperative as well as Kant's notion of the "good will.
Immanuel Kant’s ethics
Philosophy 102, Christina Hendricks
Except parts noted otherwise, this presentation is licensed CC-BY 4.0.
Icons not attributed were purchased from The Noun Project.
Moral scenarios from Mill doc
• Breaking a deathbed promise to
a friend for sake of greater
• A company donating to charity
because they want more
A little about Kant
o Kant: 1724-1804
• Mill: 1806-1873
o Königsberg, Prussia
• now Kaliningrad, Russia
Painting of Kant by Becker, 1768,
public domain on Wikimedia Commons
Map of Kaliningrad, licensed CC BY-SA 3.0
on Wikimedia Commons
The fundamental principle of
How you determine which actions are morally right
Mill’s fundamental principle of morality
Are acts sometimes morally good even regardless of consequences?
If so, what might their moral goodness be based on?
Good consequences: happiness
Acts are right
Kant’s fundamental principle of morality
The “Categorical Imperative”
Several forms (we’ll look at two)
First form, CI(1):
o Act only in such a way that you could will your maxim to be a
universal law (Kant, Early Modern Texts, p. 4)
o “An act is morally acceptable if, and only if, its maxim is
universalizable” (Schafer-Landau, p. 157)
What is a maxim?
A kind of rule you’re following
1. What you intend to do
2. Why you will do it; your
reason for doing it
Example of a maxim
“When I could make a false
promise to get myself out of
difficulty, to avoid harm to
myself, I will do so.”
-- e.g., gambling debt
Your view on morality of this?
Is this maxim universalizable?
Can the goal of my action be
achieved if everyone acted on
Lying promise example: No!
(Kant, Early Modern Texts p. 5)
Why does universalizability matter?
• If maxim can’t be universalized, you are doing
what couldn’t will others to also do; you are
unfairly making an exception for yourself (Schafer-
Landau p. 161)
• If you have a good reason to do something, it
should be good for all; if you can’t will it for all,
then you’re being inconsistent in saying it’s a good
reason for you but not for others.
How to tell what’s morally right?
Use the fundamental principle of morality:
oCategorical Imperative; CI (1): can you universalize the
oImportant because of fairness and consistency
How do we act morally rightly?
oAct with a “good will”
How do we act morally rightly?
Don’t just do what the Categorical Imperative requires, but do it in the right way
Is there anything
• good in itself and in all
circumstances, never bad?
(Kant text p. 1)
What about happiness?
Only a “good will”…
Children image from pixabay.com, licensed CC0
A good will
• Intending to do the morally right thing, because it’s morally right
oIntention: to do what morality says, to do your moral duty
oMotive: because that’s your moral duty
• Always good; can never be bad (even
if bad consequences)
• This puts morality in our control;
consequences out of our control
Acting from duty/merely according to duty
• Acting from duty: because that is the morally right thing
• Acting merely according to duty: doing the right thing but for
some other reason/motive
Kant pp. 2-3
Some questions that may be coming up
• Why is it important to act from
the motive of duty?
• Is Kant saying we can only be
acting morally if we dislike
doing our duty but do it
No! Morally good!
One more question
Are acts done merely
according to duty
They just aren’t morally
praiseworthy in the
Some differences from Mill
Focus is on intention and motive—
good will is good even if bad
Happiness is not the highest good, the
most good thing
oInstead, it’s a “good will”
Summary so far
How do we tell what acts are morally right?
• Use the fundamental principle of morality, the Categorical
Imperative (several forms)
• CI (1): can you universalize the maxim?
How do we act morally well?
• A good will: do your moral duty, from the motive of duty (act
from duty, not merely according to duty)
Categorical and hypothetical
Why is Kant’s fundamental principle called the “categorical imperative”?
Statements about what you ought to do if you want something
else (if-then statements):
If you want then you should
Only required if
you want the
Hypothetical imperatives, cont’d
Actions recommended are good only instrumentally, as a
means to something else (Kant 6).
b/c goal is
want the goal
Tell you what to do just because it’s intrinsically good, good in
itself, not because it leads to some other goal (Kant 6).
What actions could be intrinsically good, always
good no matter what else they lead to?
Moral rules are categorical imperatives
Apply to everyone (not just those
who want certain goals)
Strong obligation: outweighs our
individual desires, goals
Why is Kant’s fundamental moral
principle the categorical
Africa & Europe from a million miles away, image by NASA.
Not copyright restricted.
Applying the CI (1): Kant’s
Universalizing the maxim for each one leads to a contradiction of some kind
Suicide, lying promise examples
Suicide maxim: "For love of
myself, I make it my principle to
cut my life short when
prolonging it threatens to bring
more troubles than
satisfactions." (Kant 7)
ocontradictory to use the feeling of
self-love to destroy that self
“When I can make a
false promise to get
myself out of
difficulty I will do so.”
• I will not develop my talents
because I want to just indulge
myself in pleasure (Kant 7)
• Contradiction if universalized:
willing both that no one
develop talents and that people
o we need people to develop
talents to get many things done,
including what’s needed for
Photo by Anthony de Kroon on Unsplash
• I will not help others when they are in
need, even if I have the means to do so,
because I want to keep my money and time
• Contradiction if universalized: willing both
that no one help others and that someone
help you when you need it (Kant 8).
o we require some things to continue to exist as
rational beings and so must will we get help
with those when needed.
• CI (1): how to tell if an act is morally right is to see if its maxim
can be universalized
o Is the goal of the action still achievable?
o Is there a contradiction if the maxim is universalized?
o Kant gives four examples to illustrate.
• In order to be acting morally well, we not only have to act
according to what the categorical imperative says, we have to
do so with a good will:
o Do our moral duty, from the motive of duty.