Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In The Critique of Practical Reason, Immanuel Kant argues that principles are subjective (and therefore maxims) if one person considers them; they are objective (and therefore imperatives) if every rational being considers them. Imperatives are either hypothetical or categorical. A hypothetical imperative demands a course of action to achieve a specified result; for example, “If I want to stay dry in the rain, then I should take my umbrella with me.” A categorical imperative demands a course of action under all possible circumstances; for example, “Thou shalt not commit murder.”
According to Kant, hypothetical imperatives respond to desires, while categorical imperatives constitute rationality. Subjective principles and hypothetical imperatives are empirically oriented; neither can be a fundamental determiner of moral motivation since they serve self-interest. Proper moral motivation cannot follow fleeting pleasures or displeasures; it must follow a noncompromising rationality. Rational beings must imagine their maxims as practical and general laws that fit into a mold of moral rationality. No matter what one plans, the logical form of rationality urges a logical analysis of one’s actions. To test one’s decisions, one uses an imperative, which is immutable. A basic requirement of morality, autonomous motivation, undergirds this immutable law. Any heteronomy entails random authority (Willkür).
(The entire section is 1776 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of Critique of Practical Reason Summary. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!