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Kant's Groundwork Of The Metaphysics Of Morals

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Sandra Watson
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Summary – Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
In the Critique of Pure Reason Kant demonstrates the limitations of speculative metaphysics.
But this paves the way for an extension in the power of practical reason. As Korsgaard puts it,
“bringing reason into the world becomes the enterprise of morality rather than metaphysics,
and the work as well as the hope of humanity”.
For Kant, the fundamental principle of morality – the categorical imperative – is the law of an
autonomous will. Immorality involves a violation of the categorical imperative and is
therefore irrational. So, as Robert Johnson points out, at the heart of Kantian moral
philosophy is a strong conception of reason reaching into practical affairs.
Thomas Hill argues that Kant’s aims in the Groundwork are not primarily to illustrate how to
apply his formulas to particular problems, but to the basic presuppositions of practical reason.
In the Metaphysics, where Kant turns explicitly to working out intermediate principles for
guiding ethical judgements in areas of human life, the humanity-as-ends formula is most
often appealed to.
Structure of the Groundwork
Robert Johnsons summarises the fundamental – though not sole – aims of Kant’s moral
philosophy as follows:
1. To seek out the foundational principle of a metaphysics of morals – the aim of the first
two sections of the Groundwork. There his process is, as Korsgaard puts it, “analytic”:
he analyses our (apparently) common-sense notions of morality to come up with a
precise statement of the principle underlying our moral judgements.
2. In the third section Kant attempts to show this foundational principle is a demand of
each person’s own rational will.
Moral goodness
Kant uses an account of the principles of ethics to determine what it is to have a good will. To
be morally good, an action must be done for the sake of the law – and not just in conformity
with it. It is not sufficient just to do as the law commands, but according to one’s own
inclination. Instead, one must act as duty requires, because duty requires. An action has moral
worth only so far as it is done for the sake of duty.

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Kant's Groundwork Of The Metaphysics Of Morals

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