ETHICS
Chapter 9  Kantian Theory : The Categorical Imperative
Section 4. Moral Law

What is the "moral law"?

When Kant speaks about the moral law, he is essentially referring to that sense of obligation to which our will often responds. We all know the experience -- we are sometimes pulled in a certain direction, not because we desire to act in that way, but in spite of our desire to act in the opposite way.

This pull is toward that moral sense which Kant believes each of us has, in virtue of being rational and free. It is conscience. Actually, it is deeper than conscience, because our conscience can be mistaken. Conscience arises because of certain structure of human consciousness -- it is the structure of human reason and human will.

The moral law is not given to us from outside. Kant does not associate the moral law with what God commands. Nor with civil law. Nor with what society recommends.

The moral law is nothing other than rational will -- the will which is entirely "devoted" to, or guided by impartiality and universality of reason.

The nature of reason itself is universal -- this is made most clear in logic, in mathematics, and in science. We look for universal laws by which the universe is guided. Well, so in practical affairs of human moral existence.

Therefore, to obey the moral law is nothing else than to obey the basic structure and drive of human reason that is in each and every person, and that is also the source of human freedom and autonomy.

The test of a genuine moral imperative -- the test of the moral law -- is that I can universalize it, that I can will that it become a universal law. This "test" is what the Categorical Imperative is for -- to provide us a way to examine the rationality and therefore moral acceptability of an action.

The source of the moral law is US -- it is human nature, human freedom, human reason.

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

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