ETHICS
Chapter 9  Kantian Theory : The Categorical Imperative
Section 6. Other Forms of the Categorical Imperative

What is the relationship between the two forms of the Categorical Imperative?

An imperative is a command. "Close the door!" "Brush your teeth!" "Study hard!" "Don't forget to button your shirt." According to Kant, however, these commands are abbreviations.


They are "hypothetical imperatives" -- Kant means that the commands depend upon the goals to be fulfilled. These are particular goals that depend upon personal situations, particular human goals and desires and dispositions. Hypothetical imperatives are commands that apply only in particular circumstances, for particular people who happen to have these desires, these goals.

The Categorical Imperative is universal and impartial -- universal because all people, in virtue of being rational, would act in precisely the same way, and impartial because their actions are not guided by their own biases, but because they respect the dignity and autonomy of every human being and do not put their own personal ambitions above the respect that others deserve.

Notice that the above is NOT a description of how everybody does behave -- as an ethical theory, it is concerned to describe how people ought to behave.

Kant is not condemning hypothetical imperatives. In fact, he agrees that these are the sorts of imperatives that we live by are hypothetical in nature. But they are not moral. (They are not immoral -- they are non-moral.)

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

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