Kant basics…

Kant in thread

Hypothetical vs. Categorical Imperatives..

IF you want to get to Omaha from Minneapolis, take I-35 south to I-80, take I-80 west and stop when you cross the Missouri river — If you don’t want to go to Omaha (like most people) then you shouldn’t follow those directions.  That’s a hypothetical imperative — it’s conditional.. If you want X, then do Y.

Contrast that with a Categorical Imperative, which is a command — only do things you’d want to be universal law — or always treat persons as an end, and never as a means only.  It’s DO X (in this case, because it’s the moral thing to do).

The universal formulation —

Act only on those maxims which, by your action, would be universal natural law —

The thing about this is that it doesn’t mean you should only do the things everyone else CAN also do — that would be weird and boring.  Not everyone can take good photos, but my husband and I can — does that mean we shouldn’t do so — and that our doing so is immoral…no, of course not.  Just like everyone can’t necessarily (for whatever reason) get a Ph.D. in philosophy — that doesn’t mean that Kant would reject the idea of doing either of those things.

Think about this like a test — 1) Is it logically POSSIBLE for you to do what you want to do if everyone else knew what your maxim is?  Something that fails this is a lie — if everyone else knows you’re lying, you can’t (and aren’t going to) get away with lying.  2) Would you want to live in a world in which others acted on that motive?

If your action passes those two tests, then it’s fine by Kant…


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