Chapter 9  Kantian Theory : The Categorical Imperative
Section 5. Categorical Imperative

What is the "Categorical Imperative"?

The Categorical Imperative is supposed to provide a way for us to evaluate moral actions and to make moral judgments. It is not a command to perform specific actions -- it does not say, "follow the 10 commandments", or "respect your elders". It is essentially "empty" -- it is simply formal procedure by which to evaluate any action about which might be morally relevant.

Since by nature (according to Kant) the moral law is universal and impartial and rational, the categorical is a way of formulating the criteria by which any action can pass the test of universality, impartiality, and rationality. That is its only function.

It has several forms or expressions and you need to know the first two . Kant believes that these two forms of the CI are, ultimately, equivalent, and that what one forbids the other forbids also. I suppose you might say that they are two ways of looking at the same "moral reality." How are these two forms related? How are they equivalent? Well, they are equivalent because that which makes human beings intrinsically valuable (this is the focus of the second expression of the CI) is reason and freedom, and it is precisely the demands of rationality (which is the precondition of freedom) that provide the criteria for evaluating moral actions in the first expression of the CI. In other words, it is because other people have (universal) reason and freedom that you should never treat them as merely means to your own ends, and it is that rationality which provides the criterion for evaluation found in the first expression of the CI.

Both forms of the CI are intended to be expressions of the common, ordinary moral sense that we (most of us, anyway) have that there are some actions that are simply wrong.


The CI is NOT the Golden Rule!!!  Why not?  Read this and learn why not>

Not the Golden Rule

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Copyright Stephen O Sullivan and Philip A. Pecorino  2002. All Rights reserved.

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