“Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals” or “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals” by Immanuel Kant (1785) – Part 1

“Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals” or “Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals” by Immanuel Kant (1785) – Part 1

Preface

  • Ancient Greek Philosophy had 3 sciences: Physics, Ethics & Logic.
    • All knowledge is either material or formal
    • Material: considers some object. Material philosophy has to do with determinate objects & the laws they’re subject to: Laws of Nature (Physics) & Laws of Freedom (Ethics). Both rely on empirics & experience. Natural philosophy determines the laws of nature as an object of experience. Moral philosophy determines the laws of human will insofar as they’re affected by nature
      • Physics studies how things happen & Ethics studies how men should behave.
    • Philosophy is empirical if it’s based on experience. If it derives from à priori principles, it’s pure philosophy. When it’s formal, it’s logic & if restricted to definite objects, it’s Metaphysics (both in nature & morals)
  • Trades & arts have used division of labor to specialized in a field & improve the industry overall. Without it, manufacturing is inefficient & of a poorer quality. I think philosophy can use this method to develop the rational & empirical parts of Philosophy separately
    • Since this is about moral philosophy, let’s focus on the question of it a pure thing in human philosophy is possible. If a law has a moral force, it has to have a necessity that applies under any circumstances & to any person without exception. This is an à priori from pure reason
    • Moral laws are distinguished from all other practical & empirical knowledge & all moral philosophy depends on them. When applied to man, any particulars of the man aren’t involved. We’ll determine it from an à priori, rational reflection
      • We need to do this because morals are liable to corruption. For any action to be morally correct, it’s not enough for it to conform to the law but also for the sake of the law. A principle, which isn’t moral, may produce actions conformable to the law but can also produce results that will contradict it. Pure philosophy allos us to look for moral law in its purity & genuineness. We must begin with it. Without it, there can be no moral philosophy at all.
    • While this isn’t exactly new territory, we’re studying the idea & principles of a pure will, & not acts & conditions of human volition in general, mostly drawn from psychology. Other areas don’t distinguish motives prescribed by reason alone à priori, being properly moral, from empirical motives based on experience
      • These fundamental principles are necessary for a critical examination of pure practical reason. It’s an investigation & establish of the supreme principle of morality
    • Section 1: Transition from common rational knowledge of morality to the philosophical
    • Section 2: Transition from popular moral philosophy to the metaphysics of morals
    • Section 3: Final step from the metaphysics of morals to the critique of the pure practical reason

Section 1

  • Good will is the only unqualified good
    • Mental talents, temperament & gifts of fortune are all well & good but they can be used for bad purposes
    • They all need a good will to achieve good things. Without it, they can’t be rationally good, only incidentally
    • Mental talents, temperament & gifts of fortune can serve a good will, & are necessary to produce good things but they’re only tools. But the tools can be used for evil
    • The good will is good because it comes from volition. You can will good even without the ability to do good but not the opposite. Good deeds can only come from good will
      • This comes from pure desire of good & not side benefits of the good
  • If using reason were the only way to achieve happiness, we’d fail every time. Instinct is much better at this because it doesn’t seek happiness as a practical exercise.
    • Reason only fails at achieving happiness if used alone. This often makes people hate using it. For all the care & effort in using effort, no happiness comes from it. It makes men hateful & jealous of those who use instinct to achieve it
      • Reason is useful in other ways for men. It is to produce a will which is good itself, which only it can do
      • This will is the supreme good & condition of all other goods. It can interfere with happiness & destroy it. Only achieving the good itself can fulfill it. Failing can disappoint.
  • Duty will demonstrate when will is good or something else.
    • We can see easily if something in accordance with duty is done from duty or a selfish end
    • It’s harder to distinguish between the same actions done from duty & those done out of a direct inclination towards it
      • E.g. It is a duty of a shopkeeper not to overcharge an ignorant or naïve customer. Also, where business is booming prudent shopkeepers don’t overcharge & keep fixed prices for all
        • The result is that men are honestly served. But we can’t tell if this is out of duty & honesty, or out of self-interest (because he doesn’t want to be undercut or criticized)
    • We have the duty to maintain our lives. Also, we have a natural inclination towards it. So, all the care we take to do this has no intrinsic moral value
      • We preserve life as duty requires, not because it requires us to do so.
      • However, if we have the inclination to wish for death but choose to maintain our lives out of duty to do so, & not out of feat of death, this has moral value
    • To be beneficent when possible is a duty but many people are naturally constituted to be that way beyond duty requiring it. But to be so has no moral worth because it didn’t require duty to be that way. It’s just a natural inclination
      • It must be done from duty to be morally valuable. To be philanthropic in spite of one’s sorrows & inclinations not to be so is morally valuable
      • A man of cold, indifferent temperament – i.e. not naturally predisposed to being philanthropic – would be doing work higher than someone naturally philanthropic because he’s purely fulfilling a duty, rather than a natural predisposition
  • It is a duty to secure one’s happiness because discontentment with one’s situation due to anxieties & unfulfilled wants can lead to temptation to transgress duty
    • This presumes all men have an inclination toward happiness because all inclinations are toward some end. But some inclinations may interfere with others. Desire for goods may interfere with one’s health. To eat what you want right now may cause you suffer harm to your health later. The present desire to eat may harm future desires to be healthy
      • Promoting happiness from duty rather than inclination is of moral value
  • We are told by Scripture to love our neighbor & even our enemy
    • But love is a feeling that can’t be commanded but beneficence can be forced despite not having an inclination to it
    • It can be considered a practical love, one of principles of action & not tenderness
  • An action done from duty derives moral worth, not from the purpose of the action but the subjective principle of its volition. It doesn’t depend on its realization but the will behind it, without regard to being an object of desire
    • The purpose of our actions & their effects as ends & comes from the will be can’t give actions unconditional or moral worth
      • Where does the worth come from? Only out of the principle of the will without regards to ends
    • The will is between a priori (formal) principle & its a posteriori (material) cause. It must be determined by something. It’s the formal principle of volition when an action is done by duty. In this way the material principle needs to be taken out of it
  • Duty is the necessity of acting from respect for the law
    • You may be inclined toward an object as the goal of your action but you can’t have respect for it, i.e. it’s an effect & not an energy of the will
    • You can’t have respect for an inclination. You can approve of it & even love it. But only what’s connected to the will as a principle. Law can be the object of respect & a command
      • An action done out of duty must exclude inclination entirely & include objective law & pure respect for it
      • You should follow the law even if thwarting inclinations
    • Moral worth of an action isn’t in the expected effect of it, or in any principle of action borrowing its motive from the expected effect
      • These effects could have been brought about by other causes so that will isn’t even necessary. But will is the only place that the supreme & unconditional good can be found
      • This good can only come from the rationale behind the law, which can only come from a rational being in conception, not the expected effect
  • What kind of law can determine the will while excluding any effect or qualification?
    • The universal conformity of the will’s actions to law in general to serve the will as a principle
      • I’m never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim (=subjective principle of volition) should become a universal law
      • Simple conformity to law in general serves the will as its principle & must serve it, if duty isn’t to be a decision
      • E.g. Can you make a promise in distress that you don’t intend to keep? 2 indications of the question. Is it prudent or is it right to make that false premise?
        • Re. Prudent – Yes, it is most often the case. Trickery & cunning can be useful. The consequences may be hard to see. It may end up worse than what you were trying to avoid. To be truthful out of duty in spite of bad consequences may also be just as bad. The action implies law
        • Re. Right – You must look around elsewhere to see what results may be combined with it that would affect you? To deviate from principle would be wrong. But prudence is also a good thing by making me safer
        • The easiest way to answer the question is to ask: Should I be content that my maxim (to get out of a tricky situation by lying) should hold good as a universal law for me & others?
        • You should be able to say everyone can lie under duress to save oneself. But while you may life, lying is by no means a universal law. With such a law, no promises would be made because one’s future intentions would always be suspect or unknowable
    • You don’t need to dig deeply to figure out what to do so that your will is morally good
      • Ask: Could you just will your maxim to be a universal law?
        • If not, it has to be rejected because it can’t start as a principle into possible universal legislation & reason pulls me away from that respect
        • It is estimation of moral value & that outweighs what inclination recommends & the necessity of action from pure respect of practical law is the duty because it’s the condition of will being good in itself & superior to all else
  • We’ve come to the principle of moral knowledge of common human reason. It serves as a compass to guide action conforming with duty

Leave a Reply