The Formulations and Justification of Kant’s Categorical Imperative

The Formulations and Justification of Kant’s Categorical Imperative

Kant is never satisfied with one formulation of the categorical imperative. Thus, he presents us with five different formulae, although he tries to speak as if there were only three. The system applied in numeration is simply to bring out the special connexion between different formulae and to certify to the view that there are three main formulae:

  •              Formula 1 or the formula of Universal law
  •              Formula 1a or the formula of the law of nature
  •              Formula 11a or the formula of the end –in- itself.
  •              Formula 111 or the formula of autonomy
  •              Formula 111a or the formula of the kingdom of ends.

It is good to observe that the five formulae have relations to one another. However, formula 111 and formula 111a are the most important since they constitute as it were, the main hinge on which the argument of the Groundwork turns. The objective of this present discussion is to formulate precisely the supreme principle of morality. Moreover, the value of his formulae is one thing, and the method of their application is another.


The categorical imperative merely encourages us to act in accordance with universal law as such .This means that it bids us act on a principle valid for all rational beings as such and not merely on one that is valid if we happen to want some further end. Hence, it advises us to accept or reject the material maxim of a contemplated action as it can or cannot be willed as a universal law. This formula may be better put in this way: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”[1]

The categorical imperative enjoins us to obey the unconditioned principle. The one which rational agent despite his particular desires for particular ends, would necessarily obey if reason had complete control over his passions. Kant, however, expressed only one categorical imperative; and we may call it “the categorical imperative”. Hence, the unconditioned principle of pure practical reason is the principle of action good in itself. Even though the categorical imperative expresses it as a principle of obligation that is as one which in our imperfect rationality we ought to obey. In his formula of the universal law of morality Kant vividly noted that:

To say that the ultimate moral law must be universal is to say that every particular moral law must be objective and impersonal, that it cannot be determined merely by my desires, and that it must be impartial as between one person and     another.[2]

Kant introduced maxims in his doctrine to help him as intermediaries between the abstract universal moral law and the concrete individual action. The maxim in question is the material maxim of the action and formal moral maxim. Perhaps, Kant wishes to emphasize the interpenetration of the formal and the material maxim. He does this by using the curious preposition: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.” However, the material maxim of action is concerned with ends and consequences, and so alone can it be judged.

Kant strictly warned that we cannot will that our immoral maxim should be universal law. He still maintains the canon of moral judgment that we must be able to will that a maxim of action should become a universal law.

To purchase the complete Project Material, Pay the sum of N3, 000 to our bank accounts below:



ACCOUNT NUMBER: 0044056891

After paying the sum of N3, 000, send your full name, email address and the title of the project topic as text message to our phone: 07033378184

We will send your complete project materials to your email within 10 Mins after payment.



Before now, we have been concerned with a universal law of freedom. One on which any rational being would act as far as reason had full control over passion. The difference between this formula and the previous one is sharp, and should not be slurred over. The formula of universal law of nature makes use of analogy between moral law and natural law. Kant advises that the maxim of our action should become at the same time a universal law of freedom. In the sense that we can will our action as an instance of a principle valid for all rational agents and not merely be adopted arbitrarily for ourselves. Hence in this new formula, Kant properly says: “Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature”.[3]

The use of this formula puts us imaginatively in the position of the creator and supposes that we are making a world of nature of which we ourselves are a part. In the Critique of practical Reason Kant puts his formula in a more elaborate way:

Ask yourself whether you could regard the action which you propose to do as a possible object of your will if it were to take place in according to a law of nature in a system of nature of which you were yourself a part.[4]

It is obvious that in applying this formula we take for granted empirical knowledge of nature (particularly of human nature), and its general laws. More still, the moral law remains a priori even when applied to men, but if we are to bring particular cases under it and enabling it to affect human wills, then, we must have judgment sharpened by experience.

All the same, a law of nature is primarily a law of cause and effect. However, when Kant asks us to consider our maxims as if they were laws of nature, he handles them as purposive (or teleological) laws. In all, it is good to understand that Kant is putting forward the doctrine that the ideal coherence of human purposes and human wills is the test or criterion, but not the essence of moral action. This is simply why there is a distinction between moral law and law of nature which could be seen as regards kindness of benevolence .His illustrations with duties of kindness, promises to repay loans, suicide and culture brought to bare what he meant by universal law of nature.

On this ground, Kant divided duties as duties towards self and duties towards others, and again into perfect and imperfect duties. A perfect duty is one which admits of no exception in the interests of inclination. For example the ban on suicide and on making false promise in order to receive a loan. In the case of imperfect duty, there is certain “latitude” or “playroom” for mere inclination; example is seen in the maxim of developing our talents. Kant’s idea of duty towards self assumes that our various capacities have a natural function or purpose in life. For duties towards others, we have a perfect duty not to thwart the realization of a possible systematic harmony of purposes among men. It is also a positive, but imperfect duty to further the realization of such a systematic harmony. In the final analysis, Kant postulates that man and indeed any rational being is an end-in-itself. This qualifies as ground for a supreme practical principle or law.


This new formula may be said to enjoin respect for personality as such. It reads thus:

So act as to use humanity, both in your own person and in the person of every other, always at the same time as an end, never simply as a means[5]

The words “at the same time” and “merely” are of importance. It is not possible for us to help make use of other human beings as means. It is in virtue of this characteristic that we are bound to treat ourselves and others, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as ends.

We are familiar with the concept of “end” but it is never altogether simple to define. An end is ordinarily taken to be “an effect which the will seeks to produce.”[6] However, it must further analyze that the idea of this effect or the idea of producing this effect determines the will. This is done in making us adopt certain means towards the production of the end. So far, we may with Kant define an end as: “An object of a free will, the idea of which determines the free will to an action whereby the object is produced.”[7] Only rational agent or persons can be ends in themselves. As they alone can have an unconditioned and absolute value, it is wrong to use them simply as means to an end whose value is only relative. If there is no such ends in themselves there would be no unconditioned good, no supreme principle of action, and so –for human beings –no categorical imperative. However, the formula of the end in itself follows from the very essence of the categorical imperative provided we bear in mind that all action must have an end as well as a principle.

Granted that a categorical imperative enjoins the treatment of rational agents as ends-in- themselves, but, what grounds can we say that rational agents are of a categorical imperative? The categorical imperative has its ground in the will of rational agents who are not completely rational. Thus, formula 11 is a supreme practical principle from which all other laws of the will may be derived. Kant distinguished between perfect and imperfect duties. It forbids us to use rational agents simply as a means and so to override the rational wills of moral agents in order merely to satisfy our own inclination. This is the background of perfect duties, and it forbids such wrongs as murder, violence, and fraud, as also suicide and lying. All said and done, the will of man considered as a rational being must be regarded as the source of the law which he recognizes as universally binding. This is the principle of the autonomy, as contrasted with the heteronomy of the will.


In our discussion on the imperatives, we said that all imperatives which are conditioned by desire or inclination, or in the idea of Kant, by interest are hypothetical imperatives. A categorical imperative, must be unconditioned. Accordingly, the moral will which obeys the categorical imperative, must not be determined by interest. Therefore, this formula is based on the principle that a rational will makes or gives itself , the laws which it obeys hence the principle of autonomy. It is expressed as follows: “So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxim.”[8]

Kant holds that the autonomy of the will is the supreme principle of morality. Hence, the sole principle of all moral laws and the corresponding duties. On the other hand, the heteronomy of the will according to Kant is the source of all spurious principles of morality and, far from being able to furnish the basis of obligation is much rather opposed to the principle of obligation and to the morality of the will. Suppose we accept the heteronomy of the will, we welcome the assumption that the will is subject to moral laws which are not the result of its own legislation as a rational will. However, the concept of rational beings as ends in themselves, coupled with that of the rational will or practical reason as morally legislating, takes us to the concept of a kingdom of ends.


—This article is not complete———–This article is not complete————
This article was extracted from a Project Research Work/Material Topic

THE   CONCEPT   OF   GOODWILL   IN   KANT’S CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE. will only provide papers as a reference for your research. The papers ordered and produced should be used as a guide or framework for your own paper. It is the aim of to only provide guidance by which the paper should be pursued. We are neither encouraging any form of plagiarism nor are we advocating the use of the papers produced herein for cheating.

About articles

Speak Your Mind


Click To Call Us