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Kants Groundwork, Section 2

In Section 2, Kant focuses on moral reasons, and


investigates what sort of reasons these are.
He distinguishes two types of practical reasons,
hypothetical reasons and categorical reasons.
According to Kant, moral reasons are categorical.
In arguing for this, Kant refers to reasons as
imperatives.
Imperatives ! rational demands issued to imperfect
wills. "hese are e#perienced $y imperfect wills as
rational constraints.

"hey say things li%e Such and such is the rational, and
the only rational, thing to do &in your condition' and
reason says you ought do it.
Hypothetical imperatives em$ody means(end reasoning.
)e can distinguish $*w the Hypothetical Imperative
and more specific hypothetic imperatives.
The HI ! One ought to take the necessary means in ones
power to achieve ones ends (or else give up the ends).
+#amples of specific HIs,
If you want to drive that nail into the $oard, then you
ought to use a hammer.
If you want to pass your $iology test, then you ought to
study for it tonight.
An imperative ! hypothetical when the rational
constraint that it e#presses is $ased on the fact that
ta%ing certain means is necessary to achieve your
personal ends &rules of s%ill' or to further your
happiness &counsels of prudence'.
How is it that "he Hypothetical Imperative is true-
Kant, It is analytically true.that is, it is true simply
in virtue of the meaning of the terms. "o will an end,
says Kant, simply is to will at the same time the
necessary means to that end.
)e can escape the constraints of HIs $y giving up our
specific end, revising our conception of happiness, or
temporarily suspending pursuit of our own happiness.
/y contrast with HIs we cannot escape the constraints
of categorical imperatives $y revising our ends etc.
"he idea ! certain acts are rationally re0uired in
themselves, not 1ust as means to a further end.
2ow, recall from our earlier notes any genuine rational
principle of conduct will $e universally valid &that is, all
principles can $e stated in generic forms that all people
should accept'.
/ut although all rational principles have universal
validity, we can distinguish $*w universal and non(
universal $indingness.
Hypothetical imperatives are universally valid, $ut are
not rationally $inding in all circumstances, since they
apply only to people who aim at the ends they specify.
/y contrast, categorical imperatives ! universally valid,
and rationally $inding in all circumstances. "his is the
hallmar% of a moral reason, one cannot escape its
$indingness simply $y changing ones desires, goals, or
feelings.
As in the case of hypothetical imperatives, with
categorical imperatives we can distinguish $*w
The ategorical Imperative, and other more specific
categorical imperatives.
The ategorical Imperative ! I ought never to act e#cept
in such a way that I could also will that my ma#im
should $ecome a uni(versal law.
+#amples of more specific categorical imperatives,
3ne ought not to ma%e a lying promise.
3ne ought not to steal $oo%s from the li$rary.
In Section 2, Kant gives four famous e#amples of "he
4I in action,
". The suicide e#ample$
a
5
! the act of suicide the man is thin%ing a$out doing
6a#im 6&a
5
'

! )henever continuing to live will $ring
me more pain than pleasure, I shall commit suicide out
of self(love.
Kants argument,
5. 6&a
5
'

cannot $e a universal law.
2. If 6&a
5
'

cannot $e a universal law, then no one can
consistently will that 6&a
5
'

$e a universal law.
7. a
5
is morally right if and only if the agent thin%ing
a$out doing a
5
can consistently will that 6&a
5
' $e a
universal law. (The ategorical Imperative)
8. "herefore, a
5
is not morally right.
%. The lying&promise e#ample
a
2
! the lying(promise the man is thin%ing a$out doing
6a#im 6&a
2
' ! )henever I need money, then I shall
$orrow the money and promise to repay, even though I
%now I will not repay.
Kants argument, same as in e#ample 5, 1ust replace
a
5
with a
2
.
'. The (usting Talents )#ample
a
7
! the act of letting all of ones talents rust
6a#im 6&a
7
' ! )hen I am comforta$le as I am, I shall
let all of my talents rust.
Kants argument,
5. +veryone necessarily wills that some of his or her
talents $e developed.
2. If everyone necessarily wills that some of his or her
talents $e developed, then no one can consistently
will that 6&a
7
'

$e a universal law.
7. a
7
is morally right if and only if the agent thin%ing
a$out doing a
7
can consistently will that 6&a
7
' $e a
universal law. (The ategorical Imperative)
8. "herefore, a
7
is not morally right.
*. The Helping Others )#ample
a
8
! the act of giving nothing to charity
6a#im 6&a
8
' ! )hen I am flourishing and others are in
distress, I shall give nothing to charity.
Kants argument,
5. +veryone necessarily wills that he or she $e helped
in desperate circumstances.
2. If everyone necessarily wills this, then no one can
consistently will that 6&a
8
'

$e a universal law.
7. a
8
is morally right if and only if the agent thin%ing
a$out doing a
8
can consistently will that 6&a
8
' $e a
universal law. (The ategorical Imperative)
8. "herefore, a
8
is not morally right.
"hese four e#amples are all applications of Kants
4ategorical Imperative, Act only in accordance with
that ma#im through which you can at the same time will
that it $ecome universal law.
Interestingly, Kant gave several different formulations
of the 4ategorical Imperative, which he claimed to $e
e0uivalent in meaning.
"he version a$ove is %nown as the 9ormula of :niversal
;aw.
Another well(%nown version is the 9ormula of the +nd
in Itself, So act that you treat humanity, whether in
your own person or in the person of any other, always
at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.
Kants idea here is that one should not treat others in
ways they couldnt rationally assent to.
)hy does Kant thin% these two formulas are
e0uivalent-
<erhaps the connection is this, If I cannot will ma#im
6 as universal law, then I am acting for reasons that it
is not possi$le for everyone to share. /ut to act toward
people on the $asis of reasons they cannot possi$ly
share is to use them, to treat them as a mere means to
my goals.