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Kant's Imperative


To begin with, it might be appropriate to notice that Immanuel Kant has managed to elaborate the principle of categorical imperative in his “Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals”. According to the philosopher, the categorical imperative should be regarded as a way in which the action is evaluated as necessary of itself without reference to any other end (Kant 32). As the case stands, the categorical imperative is the core philosophical concept in the moral philosophy of Kant.

Therefore, it should be asserted that the thesis statement of the current study is formulated as follows: The categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant is a composite concept which manifests the apparent links between the individual autonomy of actions and moral restrictions of humanity which together form a very specific type of command in the frames of moral law.

Approach One: The Categorical Imperative is too permissive without due constraints of individual acts

As the foregoing discussion must suggest, the essence of the categorical imperative is very complicated and sometimes contradictory. The author of “Groundwork to the Metaphysics of Morals” is disposed to think that the imperative designates which of potential actions may be good. Thus, the categorical imperative gives a rise to the practical rule in respect of the human will. In this connection, it should be ascertained that Kant’s categorical imperative has at least three types of formulation.

The first formula of the categorical imperative may be defined as follows: “Act and do only on the maxim whereby thou canst at the same time shall that it would become the universal law” (Kant 39). Hence, the first formula of the categorical imperative demonstrates that the categorical imperative declares a practical action to be objectively necessary in itself without being correlated with any purpose or any other end (Kant 33). Also, the first definition of the categorical imperative elucidates that human acts need to be guided by the will directed towards the establishment of a universal law.

In view of the above, it should be noted that some thinkers are prone to believe the categorical imperative to be a fairly permissive concept without sufficient constraints imposed on the individual acts. Kant prescribes that humans must act as they wish, if their will correspond to the universal law. In this connection, it might be appropriate to state that the categorical imperative discerns from other types of imperatives: laws and commands. In the context of the concept, Kant explicates that a general imperative expresses practical necessity of an action as a mean towards the attainment of some purpose.

Besides, Kant asserts that the command of the categorical imperative is not confined by any condition and manifests an absolute practical necessity which is universally valid. Such approach to the categorical imperative elucidates the principles of pragmatism and therefore may be associated with the redundant allowance.

For instance, a human being may wish to conclude the gay marriage and desire that everyone in the world has the possibility to do so. Therefore, such act being opposing to the moral principles may correspond to the man’s inner maxim and his interpretation of the universal law.

Approach Two: The Categorical Imperative is too restrictive imposing unnecessary limitations on actions

Apart from the above, it should be claimed that the categorical imperative of Immanuel Kant is considered immoderately restrictive placing limitations on personal actions. The fact is that the categorical imperative of Kant has the direct nexus with morality and its laws. As far as the concept of morality is concerned, it should be presumed that the moral law is connected with moral duties. Thus, the categorical imperative being “a priori” necessity reflects certain moral duties. On the other hand, moral duties should be comprehended as a wide range of self restrictions in favor of the collective welfare.

The second formula of Kant’s categorical imperative prescribes that a person performing an act is obliged to treat the humanity never simply as means, but always and at the same time as an end. In addition, a mental note should be made that the second definition of the categorical imperative lucidly demonstrates that the imperative imposes a number of duties on the actor. Also, in Kant’s opinion, it is not sufficient that the action does not encroach on the humanity in the actor’s own person as an end in itself, because the action needs to be harmonized with humanity (Kant 47).

Taking into consideration the fact that the second interpretation of the categorical imperative indicates the actor’s duty to harmonize his personal actions with the humanity, it is possible to agree with the disputable opinion that the imperative is considered very restrictive in particular cases. Contemplations with regards to Kant’s conception of harmonization provide reasonable grounds to claim that humanity places a wide range of limitations on an individual who is refrained from implementing his individual will under the pressure of the demanding humanity. In like manner, it should be presupposed that the restrictive nature of the categorical imperative requires from the person to verify his actions with the possibility for everyone to act in the same way. If it is impossible for the humanity to act in like manner, the actor is ought to not act according to his testified maxim. The unnecessary restriction should be exemplified by the case when a man (in some countries) is obliged to serve in the army, in order to occupy the desired position in the civil service.

Application of the Categorical Imperative to the Moral Problem of Capital Punishment

With the help of the categorical imperative, Immanuel Kant elaborates on many controversial issues of the contemporary society. As far as the issue of capital punishment is concerned, it should be clarified that Kant’s contemplation leads to the idea that it is inevitably wrong to punish people because of utilitarian reasons (Stairs). The above-mentioned explorations have manifested that the categorical imperative embodies the features of utilitarianism (the most radical level of pragmatism), because the imperative expresses the practical necessity of an action as a tool towards the attainment of some purpose (happiness). The purpose of such achievement should be recognized as utility. Therefore, from the utilitarian reasons Kant believes the capital punishment to be wrong and unnecessary. Also, Stairs expresses confidence that each sort of legal punishments must always be a response to guilt.

However, if the major motive in punishing some person lies in the deterrence of others, or the protection of society, or the provision of an example, then, the punishment is a lack of necessity. To Kant’s way of thinking, the principle of equality should be recognized as the core principle in selecting a punishment. The principle of equality correlates with each formula of Kant’s categorical imperative when the personal maxim must be both reciprocal with the universal law and harmonized with humanity. Nevertheless, the principle of equality provides reasonable grounds to justify the capital punishment as both permissible and obligatory in case of murder. In this connection, Kant implies that the only thing which is equivalent to the crime of killing another person is the execution of the murderer (Stairs).

Apart from the above, even a violent and brutal murderer should not be tortured before the execution, because it is contradictory to the humane principles and the second formulation of the categorical imperative (“end in itself”). In accordance with Kant’s theorizing, it is possible to purport that the philosopher regards a murderer as a human. Thus, a punisher (an actor) is obliged not to violate humanity harmonizing his actions with it.

Evaluation of Kant’s Categorical Imperative

After everything has been given due to consideration, it is possible to conduct the most comprehensive evaluation of Kant’s categorical imperative. In this connection, it should be added that the third formula of the imperative claims that the act needs to enable the will to regard itself in the same time as making the universal law by means of its maxims (Kant 56). The aforesaid formula of the imperative is fairly significant because it praises the autonomy of the personal will, making it the supreme principle of morality. Thus, it should be conceded that Kant’s categorical imperative is a composite theory which seeks to establish the reliable connections between the peculiarities of a personal self (will, autonomy, maxim) and general principles of morality (universal law, humanity, necessity, duty). Similarly, it might be appropriate to notice that Kant’s categorical imperative is not controversial, as it is represented by many critics.

The essence of the imperative consists of its synthesis of sometimes inconsistent parts obtained due to the philosopher’s most profound analysis. A mental note should be made that the conception of categorical imperative has been explicated in the second section of Kant’s piece of work dedicated to the moral philosophy – “Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals”. This notwithstanding, it should be acknowledged that the primal suppositions with regard to the categorical imperative have been also elaborated Kant’s  previous writings about practical reasoning. In the final analysis, Kant’s categorical imperative is correct and well-substantiated, but it is necessary to be properly prepared, in order to prevent a misinterpretation of his theory.


It is possible to arrive at a conclusion that Kant’s categorical imperative consists of the presuppositions regarding the individual autonomy of actions in conjunction with the moral restrictions of humanity which are combined into a fairly peculiar form of command in the frames of the moral law. 

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