Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant


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Page 1

Logic cannot have any empirical part; that is, a part in which the
universal and necessary laws of thought should rest on grounds taken
from experience; otherwise it would not be logic, i.e., a canon for
the understanding or the reason, valid for all thought, and capable of
demonstration. Natural and moral philosophy, on the contrary, can each
have their empirical part, since the former has to determine the
laws of nature as an object of experience; the latter the laws of
the human will, so far as it is affected by nature: the former,
however, being laws according to which everything does happen; the
latter, laws according to which everything ought to happen. Ethics,
however, must also consider the conditions under which what ought to
happen frequently does not.

We may call all philosophy empirical, so far as it is based on
grounds of experience: on the other band, that which delivers its
doctrines from a priori principles alone we may call pure
philosophy. When the latter is merely formal it is logic; if it is
restricted to definite objects of the understanding it is metaphysic.

In this way there arises the idea of a twofold metaphysic- a
metaphysic of nature and a metaphysic of morals. Physics will thus
have an empirical and also a rational part. It is the same with
Ethics; but here the empirical part might have the special name of
practical anthropology, the name morality being appropriated to the
rational part.

All trades, arts, and handiworks have gained by division of
labour, namely, when, instead of one man doing everything, each
confines himself to a certain kind of work distinct from others in the
treatment it requires, so as to be able to perform it with greater
facility and in the greatest perfection. Where the different kinds
of work are not distinguished and divided, where everyone is a
jack-of-all-trades, there manufactures remain still in the greatest
barbarism. It might deserve to be considered whether pure philosophy
in all its parts does not require a man specially devoted to it, and
whether it would not be better for the whole business of science if
those who, to please the tastes of the public, are wont to blend the
rational and empirical elements together, mixed in all sorts of
proportions unknown to themselves, and who call themselves independent
thinkers, giving the name of minute philosophers to those who apply
themselves to the rational part only- if these, I say, were warned not
to carry on two employments together which differ widely in the
treatment they demand, for each of which perhaps a special talent is
required, and the combination of which in one person only produces
bunglers. But I only ask here whether the nature of science does not
require that we should always carefully separate the empirical from
the rational part, and prefix to Physics proper (or empirical physics)
a metaphysic of nature, and to practical anthropology a metaphysic
of morals, which must be carefully cleared of everything empirical, so
that we may know how much can be accomplished by pure reason in both
cases, and from what sources it draws this its a priori teaching,
and that whether the latter inquiry is conducted by all moralists
(whose name is legion), or only by some who feel a calling thereto.

As my concern here is with moral philosophy, I limit the question
suggested to this: Whether it is not of the utmost necessity to
construct a pure thing which is only empirical and which belongs to
anthropology? for that such a philosophy must be possible is evident
from the common idea of duty and of the moral laws. Everyone must
admit that if a law is to have moral force, i.e., to be the basis of
an obligation, it must carry with it absolute necessity; that, for
example, the precept, "Thou shalt not lie," is not valid for men
alone, as if other rational beings had no need to observe it; and so
with all the other moral laws properly so called; that, therefore, the
basis of obligation must not be sought in the nature of man, or in the
circumstances in the world in which he is placed, but a priori
simply in the conception of pure reason; and although any other
precept which is founded on principles of mere experience may be in
certain respects universal, yet in as far as it rests even in the
least degree on an empirical basis, perhaps only as to a motive,
such a precept, while it may be a practical rule, can never be
called a moral law.

Thus not only are moral laws with their principles essentially
distinguished from every other kind of practical knowledge in which
there is anything empirical, but all moral philosophy rests wholly
on its pure part. When applied to man, it does not borrow the least
thing from the knowledge of man himself (anthropology), but gives laws
a priori to him as a rational being. No doubt these laws require a
judgement sharpened by experience, in order on the one hand to
distinguish in what cases they are applicable, and on the other to
procure for them access to the will of the man and effectual influence
on conduct; since man is acted on by so many inclinations that, though
capable of the idea of a practical pure reason, he is not so easily
able to make it effective in concreto in his life.

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