Kant’s Ethics

It is rare for a philosopher in any era to make a significant impact on any single topic in philosophy. For a philosopher to impact as many different areas as Kant did is extraordinary. His ethical theory has been as influential as, if not more influential than, his work in epistemology and metaphysics. Most of Kant’s work on ethics is presented in two works. The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) is Kant’s “search for and establishment of the supreme principle of morality.” In The Critique of Practical Reason(1787) Kant attempts to unify his account of practical reason with his work in the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant is the primary proponent in history of what is called deontological ethics. Deontology is the study of duty. On Kant’s view, the sole feature that gives an action moral worth is not the outcome that is achieved by the action, but the motive that is behind the action. The categorical imperative is Kant’s famous statement of this duty: “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

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