Kant’s Moral Philosophy Has Retained Its Radicalism

The philosopher Kant, who in the 1700s, set such a challenging ideal that continues to make us blush. (Extracted and translated, from a Finnish article by Jyrki Alenius – LINK TO ORIGINAL TEXT)

It is impossible to think of anything at all in the world, or indeed even beyond it, that could be considered good without limitation except a good will. (Immanuel Kant (1785) Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals)

Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) contributed one of the classic texts in moral philosophy with the publication of Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. In his 1785 book, Kant introduces a radical new foundation for moral philosophy, which he called the “categorical imperative”. Kant’s founding set a challenging ideal for the manner in which moral action is to be justified. An ideal that makes contemporary commercial actors blush, for, their lack of engagement of Kant’s challenge.


For Kant, good will is good only for its own sake. This is a separate kind of reasoning from reasons associated with particular consequences for the willing actor. As Kant puts it,

“I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law”

Kant’s categorical impreative is particularly suited for how one may think about an obligation to ethics. An act is good, when the act is done on the basis of an obligation. An obligation, would need to meet the requirements of the categorical imperative. This must occur, without a thought as to potential sacrifices with the realization of one’s own interests.

This created the obvious problem, which Kant recognised, regarding what might constitute autonomy of the will. Kant took seriously that it is not merely by virtue of existence, for example, existing as sovereign. For Kant, the concept of freedom lay at the heart of one analysis of their own will. One needed to, in Kants words, situate a concept of freedom which may be considered independent from “alien causes determining” human rationality, as well as cconceiving freedom as “natural necessity”.

In other words, Kant posed a differentiation for human intellect, which divided, what one may describe as a sensory phenomenology of reality, and by contrast, what one may call a logical understanding of the world. The sensory world, with its many events, require analysis of cause-effect relationships. By contrast, freedom is what one could describe as the ultimate understanding of the world.

Stephen Samuel