categorical imperative

<kantian ethics> an absolute unconditional command, allowing no exceptions. The commands of morality, according to Kant, are all of this type and are all derivable from a single root imperative -- the Categorical Imperative -- akin to the Biblical golden rule ("Do unto others as you would have them do unto you"). Kant gives at least two seemingly different formulations of this basic Categorical Imperative. The first formulation says, "Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become universal law" (see maxim). This first formulation speaks more directly to justice, disallowing self-interested favoritism: it deems only those maxims you'd be willing for everyone (not just yourself) to act on to be morally acceptable; those you would be willing to universalize. The second formulation says, "Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end." In this second formulation the appeal seems to be more directly to rights, specifically a right of autonomy or self-determination. What it forbids is using others without their informed consent to achieve one's owns purposes. Whether these two formulations are really equivalent -- just saying the same thing in other words -- as Kant maintains, is controversial. Contrast: hypothetical imperative.

[Philosophical Glossary]


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Nearby terms: Cartesian scepticism « Cassirer Ernst « casuistry « categorical imperative » categorical logic » categorical proposition » categorical syllogism