In Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (1785; Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Ethics, 1895; better known as Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, 1950), Immanuel Kant introduced the concept of the categorical imperative, the absolute moral law for his duty-based, or deontological, ethics. Kant presented the categorical imperative in five different but closely related formulations, which are generally referred to as 1, 1A, 2, 3, and 3A: “Act only according to the maxim which you could will to become universal law,” “Act only as if, by your will, the maxim of your action would become universal law,” “Act only so that you treat humanity as an end and never as a means,” “Act only as if your will, by its maxims, were the universal lawgiver,” and “Act only according to the maxims of the universal lawgiver in the potential realm of ends.”
The premise of Kant’s entire ethical philosophy, including his philosophy of religion, is the categorical imperative. It is derived from the principles of individual freedom that he developed in Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1781; Critique of Pure Reason, 1838), one of the most revolutionary books in the history of philosophy. For Kant, only a free person can be a moral agent, because moral action requires ethical decision making, and only a rational being with free will is capable of that kind of thought. Moral action consists in freely obeying one’s duty as known through conscience, without coercion or compromise and regardless of one’s personal feeling, inclination to the contrary, or expectation of certain results. Kant seeks to purge emotion from ethical reasoning, moral action, and religion. Conscience, as a gift of God, reveals the categorical imperative to each individual in each problematic ethical situation.
Because Kant reduces not all...
(The entire section is 771 words.)