Chapter 9  Kantian Theory : The Categorical Imperative
Section 8.  Who Determines the Maxim: the moral Law ?

Who determines what the moral law requires?

The Pope? Nope.
The President? Congress? Nope.
Your parents? Nope.
The Bible? Nope.
The majority of those in your community or culture? Nope.

It is not a person, nor a group of persons who determine what the moral law requires of you. It is YOU. It is your reason.

And that is not because "nobody knows your life better than you." It is not because you think differently than others. It is not because you have different personal goals. It has nothing to do with the fact that you are different than other people. It has nothing to do with you as an individual.

For Kant, what determines what the law requires is exactly the same as that which makes you infinitely valuable -- your freedom, your ability to choose. And it is your reason that allows for that. Without reason, there is no freedom. Without reason, there is no capacity to choose. Therefore the life of morality requires that you/we all act in accord with reason -- because it is reason which is the source of our freedom, our autonomy, our dignity.

In short, you determine the right thing to do by appealing to your own universalizing and impartial rationality. It so happens that, since all human beings are rational in precisely the same way -- in virtue, that is, of being able to think abstractly and in terms of universal laws -- what you ought to do in situation A,B,C is exactly the same as what someone else ought to do in situation A,B,C.

Proceed to the next section of the chapter by clicking here>> section.

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

Return to:               Table of Contents for the Online Textbook