Generalization in Ethics: An Essay in the Logic of Ethics, with the Rudiments of a System of Moral Philosophy

By Marcus George Singer | Go to book overview

CHAPTER · VIII
THE CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE

We have now dealt sufficiently with the principle of utility. It is, in a sense, only fair to take up the categorical imperative next. For this principle also has frequently been identified with the generalization argument. In this case the identification is happier.

The categorical imperative states: "Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law." This principle (and any formulation of the categorical imperative involving the notion of universality) may also be called Kant's first moral principle, or the principle of universality. One disclaimer is necessary: I propose to deal with this principle as a moral principle, apart from the further complexities of Kant's ethical theory, and the complexities of his metaphysics. This means that I shall not be mainly concerned with Kant's ethical theory as such or on the whole, with all the details of what Kant actually said or may really have meant; though I shall, of course, have some occasion to refer to these other matters. This mode of treatment is rarer than one might think. The idea has taken on almost the status of a tradition that Kant's ethics is "excessively formalistic," and consequently empty or

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