Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

The "Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals" or "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals" (] A good will is the moral compass that always seeks good; even if a person fails, it is not the fault of the good will but of his/her ability to carry it out.

In chapter one, Kant explains what is commonly meant by moral obligations and duty. It is fairly common sense, he says, that when an act is done out of inclination to yourself, it is not considered moral. For example, a shopkeeper with honest prices does so foremost to be respected by his customers, not for the sake of honesty. That person "deserves praise and encouragement, but not esteem." [Kant, Immanuel, "The Moral Law", trans., ed. H. J. Paton (London: Hutchinson & Co. Ltd., 1964), p. 66. ISBN 009036032X ] It is common knowledge that the people for whom there is no reward are acting the most morally. Kant expands this to say they are the only people acting morally. We esteem a person who gives up his life because he gains nothing. "Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the [moral] law." ["The Moral Law", p. 68.] Following the moral law, the intrinsic sense of right and wrong, is the greatest obligation.

Four cases of ethical action

In the Groundwork ["Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed.", p10-12] , Kant outlined four possible cases where a decision is carried out in respect to duty.

*Case 1 involves those actions which are contrary to duty (such as stealing)
*Case 2 involves actions which are dutiful but only done because of fear of penalty or sanction (such as paying taxes)
*Case 3 involves actions which accord with duty but which the person is already inclined towards as it is pleasurable in some way (such as a labour of love)
*Case 4 involves actions which accord with duty but are contrary to inclination (such as not committing suicide, despite being in unbearable distress)

Examples of moral conduct used in the Groundwork

In order to illustrate his philosophy, Kant uses four examples of what he considers immoral conduct throughout the Groundwork:

# One who is sick of life and contemplating suicide
# One who wants to make a false promise so as to secure a loan that he does not intend to repay
# One who does not wish to pursue a special talent that benefits society
# One who is financially secure and does not donate to charity

On the Supposed Right to Lie Because of Philanthropic Concerns

Published as a supplement to the Groundwork, "On the Supposed Right to Lie because of Philanthropic Concerns" ["Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed.", p63-67] Kant examines again the example of lying. Let us determine if this behavior is immoral, according to Kant's contradiction test. If the behavior leads to a contradiction (is internally incoherent or cannot be willed by an ) then the behavior is immoral. Lies only work in an overall environment of truthfulness. One still wants everyone else to tell the truth, since if everyone else were to lie then no one would believe anything anyone said, and lies would no longer be effective. Thus, we cannot will that our subjective maxim of lying be universalized without self-contradiction; if everyone were to do it then the behavior would not work. Thus, in this system lying is immoral.

For further normative interpretation of these examples see "categorical imperative"

Kant's argument: autonomy and freedom

Why should we want to act morally? That is, why should we will in a rationally consistent manner? Why can't I make an exception of my self and for my case? Kant's arguments stem from the concept of freedom. Kant argues that the very idea of morality, the limiting of yourself from engaging in certain behaviors because they are 'immoral', is the highest expression of the concept of freedom.

Freedom, at least, means freedom from being influenced by outside forces, influences external to a person and their mind. For example, if a person is influenced by want of an object, or fame or revenge, or for any other reason, then Kant would say that they are not free; they are beholden (enslaved) to these outside influences. The state of being beholden to these outside influences Kant labelled as . But freedom, for Kant, also means adhering to the moral law -- having one's will determined not, as above, externally, but only by its own nature. The state of being free is the state of one's will being , literally, in the state of "giving the law to oneself."

:"Autonomy of the will is the property that the will has of being a law to itself (independently of any property of the objects of volition)" ["Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed.", p44]

This can be contrasted with:

:"If the will seeks the law that is to determine it anywhere but in the fitness of its maxims for its own legislation of universal laws, and if it thus goes outside of itself and seeks this law in the character of any of its objects, then heteronomy always results." ["Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 3rd ed.", p45]

If one wishes to be autonomous then one must not be compelled to act by external influences but instead be governed by one's own mind and rational thoughts. One such logical principle is the law of non-contradiction. P and not P (P and ~P) cannot exist simultaneously. For example, the snow is either white or not white, it cannot be both white and not white at the same time.

To act rationally is to abide (at least) by the law of non-contradiction, here, not willing that something be both true and false simultaneously. Thus if a person engages in any behavior that is not governed by rational thought (i.e. is being irrational) then they are being influenced by external forces and are then beholden to these external forces (again like wants for objects, desires). Immorality, then, is simply and deeply irrational. Not being free is to have abandoned one's rational faculties. If, by contrast, the behavior is governed by rational thought, and thus not contradictory, then that behavior is permissible.

Not all external forces are external to the person, however. Inclinations such as greed or anger can be a part of a person, but are still external to the will. This is a clear example where Kant's view of freedom differs from the opposing view of the freedom to do what one wants. When consumed by anger, people want to do certain things. But once the haze clears up, they realize that they did something morally wrong (such as hurting another person). They were driven by factors external to their will. Inclinations, then, enslave us at times, and Kant's theory of freedom is one of the few that take this into account.

Kant and utilitarianism

Throughout his work, Kant does not encourage acting in order to attain happiness or any supreme state of pleasure. That action is also the source of all sorts of evil, so it cannot be both good and evil. "They can also be extremely bad and hurtful . . . power, wealth, honour, even health and that complete well-being and contentment with one’s state which goes by the name of ‘happiness.’" (p 61, emphasis his) The categorical imperative demands that we work for the universal good without any regard for our own happiness.

In the same way, our actions towards others should be irrelevant of our own happiness. " [E] very rational being, exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means for arbitrary use." ["The Moral Law", p. 95.] By nature of being rational deserves what Kant calls an end, "a subjective ground of its self-determination.” ["The Moral Law", p. 95.] In simple words, when we ignore ourselves and think of the good of another, we will treat them well.

Critical reaction

In his book "On the Basis of Morality" (1840), Arthur Schopenhauer presented a careful analysis of the "Groundwork". Schopenhauer's criticism of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals is an attempt to prove, among other things, that actions are not moral when they are performed solely from duty. Schopenhauer specifically targeted the Categorical Imperative, and labeled it cold and egoistic. While Schopenhauer publicly called himself a Kantian, and made clear and bold criticisms of Hegelian philosophy, he was quick and unrelenting in his analysis of Kant's inconsistencies throughout his long body of work.

English Editions and Translations

*1934 " [ Fundamental principles of the metaphysics of ethics] ", tr. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (1829-1913). London, New York [etc.] : Longmans, Green and co.::*1949 "Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals", tr. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (1829-1913); introduction by Marvin Fox. Indianapolis, NY: Bobbs-Merrill. ::*2005 "Fundamental principles of the metaphysics of ethics", tr. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (1829-1913). Mineola, NY: Dover Publications. ISBN 0486443094 (pbk.)::*2005 "Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals", tr. Thomas Kingsmill Abbott (1829-1913), edited with revisions by Lara Denis (1969-). Peterborough, Ont.; Orchard Park, NY: Broadview Press. ISBN 1551115395
*1938 "The fundamental principles of the metaphysic of ethics.", tr. Otto Manthey-Zorn (1879-). New York, London: D. Appleton-Century Company, Incorporated.
*1948 "The moral law", tr, Herbert James Paton (1887-). London, New York: Hutchinson’s University Library.::*1967 "The moral law; Kant’s Groundwork of the metaphysic of morals", tr. Herbert James Paton (1887-). New York, Barnes & Noble.::*1991 "The moral law : Kant’s groundwork of the metaphysic of morals", tr. Herbert James Paton (1887-). London; New York: Routledge. ISBN 0415078431
*1959 "Foundations of the metaphysics of morals, and What is enlightenment?" translated, with an introduction by Lewis White Beck (1913-1997). New York: Liberal Arts Press.::*1969 "Foundations of the metaphysics of morals", tr. Lewis White Beck (1913-1997), with critical essays edited by Robert Paul Wolff. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill.::*1990 "Foundations of the metaphysics of morals and What is enlightenment (Second Edition, Revised)", translated, with an introduction by Lewis White Beck (1913-1997). New York: Macmillan; London Collier Macmillan. ISBN 0023078251
*1970 "Kant on the foundation of morality; a modern version of the Grundlegung", translated with commentary by Brendan E. A. Liddell. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. ISBN 0253331714 (pbk)
*1981 "Grounding for the metaphysics of morals", tr. James Wesley Ellington (1927-). Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co. ISBN 0915145014, ISBN 0915145006 (pbk.)::*1983 "Ethical philosophy : the complete texts of Grounding for the metaphysics of morals, and Metaphysical principles of virtue, part II of The metaphysics of morals", tr. James Wesley Ellington (1927-); introduction by Warner A. Wick. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co. ISBN 091514543X (pbk.), ISBN 0915145448 (hard)::*1993 "Grounding for the metaphysics of morals; with, On a supposed right to lie because of philanthropic concerns (Third Edition)", tr. James Wesley Ellington (1927-). Indianapolis: Hackett Pub. Co. ISBN 0872201678, ISBN 087220166X (pbk. : alk. paper)::*1994 "Ethical philosophy : the complete texts of grounding for the metaphysics of morals and metaphysical principles of virtue", tr. James Wesley Ellington (1927-). Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Pub. ISBN 0872203212, ISBN 0872203204 (pbk.)
*1998 "Groundwork of the metaphysics of morals", tr. Mary J. Gregor (1928-1994), with an introduction by Christine Korsgaard (1952-). Cambridge, U.K.; New York: Cambridge University Press. ISBN 0521622352 (hardcover), ISBN 0521626951 (pbk.)
*2002 "Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals", tr. Arnulf Zweig, edited by Thomas E. Hill, Jr. and Arnulf Zweig. Oxford; New York: Oxford University Press. ISBN 019875180X
*2002 "Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals", tr. Allen W. Wood, with essays by J.B. Schneewind (1930-), et al. New Haven: Yale University Press. ISBN 0300094868 (cloth : alk. paper), ISBN 0300094876 (paper)
*2005 " [ Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morals] ", tr. Jonathan F. Bennett (1930-). []


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