Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals by Immanuel Kant


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Page 2

A metaphysic of morals is therefore indispensably necessary, not
merely for speculative reasons, in order to investigate the sources of
the practical principles which are to be found a priori in our reason,
but also because morals themselves are liable to all sorts of
corruption, as long as we are without that clue and supreme canon by
which to estimate them correctly. For in order that an action should
be morally good, it is not enough that it conform to the moral law,
but it must also be done for the sake of the law, otherwise that
conformity is only very contingent and uncertain; since a principle
which is not moral, although it may now and then produce actions
conformable to the law, will also often produce actions which
contradict it. Now it is only a pure philosophy that we can look for
the moral law in its purity and genuineness (and, in a practical
matter, this is of the utmost consequence): we must, therefore,
begin with pure philosophy (metaphysic), and without it there cannot
be any moral philosophy at all. That which mingles these pure
principles with the empirical does not deserve the name of
philosophy (for what distinguishes philosophy from common rational
knowledge is that it treats in separate sciences what the latter
only comprehends confusedly); much less does it deserve that of
moral philosophy, since by this confusion it even spoils the purity of
morals themselves, and counteracts its own end.

Let it not be thought, however, that what is here demanded is
already extant in the propaedeutic prefixed by the celebrated Wolf
to his moral philosophy, namely, his so-called general practical
philosophy, and that, therefore, we have not to strike into an
entirely new field. Just because it was to be a general practical
philosophy, it has not taken into consideration a will of any
particular kind- say one which should be determined solely from a
priori principles without any empirical motives, and which we might
call a pure will, but volition in general, with all the actions and
conditions which belong to it in this general signification. By this
it is distinguished from a metaphysic of morals, just as general
logic, which treats of the acts and canons of thought in general, is
distinguished from transcendental philosophy, which treats of the
particular acts and canons of pure thought, i.e., that whose
cognitions are altogether a priori. For the metaphysic of morals has
to examine the idea and the principles of a possible pure will, and
not the acts and conditions of human volition generally, which for the
most part are drawn from psychology. It is true that moral laws and
duty are spoken of in the general moral philosophy (contrary indeed to
all fitness). But this is no objection, for in this respect also the
authors of that science remain true to their idea of it; they do not
distinguish the motives which are prescribed as such by reason alone
altogether a priori, and which are properly moral, from the
empirical motives which the understanding raises to general
conceptions merely by comparison of experiences; but, without noticing
the difference of their sources, and looking on them all as
homogeneous, they consider only their greater or less amount. It is in
this way they frame their notion of obligation, which, though anything
but moral, is all that can be attained in a philosophy which passes no
judgement at all on the origin of all possible practical concepts,
whether they are a priori, or only a posteriori.

Intending to publish hereafter a metaphysic of morals, I issue in
the first instance these fundamental principles. Indeed there is
properly no other foundation for it than the critical examination of a
pure practical Reason; just as that of metaphysics is the critical
examination of the pure speculative reason, already published. But
in the first place the former is not so absolutely necessary as the
latter, because in moral concerns human reason can easily be brought
to a high degree of correctness and completeness, even in the
commonest understanding, while on the contrary in its theoretic but
pure use it is wholly dialectical; and in the second place if the
critique of a pure practical reason is to be complete, it must be
possible at the same time to show its identity with the speculative
reason in a common principle, for it can ultimately be only one and
the same reason which has to be distinguished merely in its
application. I could not, however, bring it to such completeness here,
without introducing considerations of a wholly different kind, which
would be perplexing to the reader. On this account I have adopted
the title of Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals
instead of that of a Critical Examination of the pure practical

But in the third place, since a metaphysic of morals, in spite of
the discouraging title, is yet capable of being presented in popular
form, and one adapted to the common understanding, I find it useful to
separate from it this preliminary treatise on its fundamental
principles, in order that I may not hereafter have need to introduce
these necessarily subtle discussions into a book of a more simple

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