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The Categorical Imperative

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The Categorical Imperative
Immanual Kant

Kant argues that all imperatives are commanded either hypothetically or categorically. The hypothetical imperative says that an action is good only as a means to something else. Hypothetical imperatives tell us about which means will be best to achieve our ends; however, they do not tell us anything about the ends we should choose. The categorical imperative says one should act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. In other words, Kant is saying that the nature of a moral act is one which would be the right thing to do for any person in similar circumstances. An example Kant uses to explain this theory involves a man who finds himself in need of money and plans to borrow money but he knows that he will not be able to repay the lender. When we consider how it would be if his maxim became a universal law we see that it is contradicting. A law that says that anyone can promise something with the intention of not fulfilling it would make the promise and its end to be accomplished by it impossible. He goes on to explain that “things” have only a relative worth as means while on the other hand rational beings are designated “persons,” because they are ends themselves and may not be used merely as means. The practical imperative states that you act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only. According to Kant, every rational being exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will.

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