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Kant's Groundwork: Chapter 1

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Jack Parker

on 12 March 2016

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Transcript of Kant's Groundwork: Chapter 1

Kant's Groundwork

Kant seeks to determine the "
supreme principle of morality
Morality and Necessity
For a law to have moral force, for a law to be able to ground obligations, it must carry with it
absolute necessity.

What grounds morality?
Kant argues that morality as a normative thing must be grounded
in the concepts of pure reason - in a metaphysic of morals.
Morality wouldn't have the force it does if it were grounded by human nature or circumstance.
Only a metaphysic of morals can explain the objective necessity of these laws.
formal philosophy
Formal knowledge doesn't involve specific objects.
Instead, it covers the universal laws of reason, and the form of our understanding.
is the faculty involved in producing knowledge using
material philosophy
This is because material knowledge has something as its

Material philosophy concerns
determinate objects
and the
those objects are subject to.
Physics is the philosophy that concerns laws of nature.
Ethics (moral philosophy) is the philosophy that studies the laws of freedom.
Logic can have no empirical part.
Logic is general, valid for all thought, and used to demonstrate certainties.
Were it to rest on grounds taken from experience, it would lack this general nature (since experience deals with particulars).
can, however, have an empirical part.
There is an empirical part that studies the law of human will, as it is affected by nature.
But there is a part that derives its doctrines merely from a priori principles alone.
a priori:
refers to ways of gaining knowledge without appealing to any particular experiences, as well as to knowledge gained in such a matter.
Kant calls this 'practical anthropology', but we can think of it as including sociological and psychological work, too.
When pure philosophy is only formal, it's logic; when it concerns determinate objects (as in ethics and physics) we call it
This rational part is a kind of a 'pure' philosophy.
Kant will use term 'morality' to describe this part of ethics - the
metaphysic of morals.
For example, we intuitively think that other rational beings would also be bound to moral precepts.
"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."
"...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
"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."
So people like Hume aren't doing moral philosophy.

They're conflating morals with other issues.
"The present treatise is...nothing more than the investigation and establishment of the supreme principle of morality, and this alone constitutes a study complete in itself and one which ought to be kept apart from every other moral investigation."
Section 1:
Section 2:
Section 3:
Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher contemporary to Hume.
Kant is considered the most important philosopher of the Modern Period (mid 1600s - early 1900s)
Immanuel Kant
April 22nd, 1724 – February 12th, 1804
A central project for Kant was to show how central philosophical problems could be tackled by changing what we assume about the relationship between our concepts and reality.
Agreement between our conception of reality and reality itself doesn't arise because our concepts come to passively reflect it...
Reality would have to conform to the human mind's active concepts to be conceivable in the first place, and for us to be able to experience it
Immanuel was born in 1724 in Königsberg, Prussia
4th of 9 children; only four survived to adulthood
Brought up in an extremely religious Pietist household
Strict and full of punishment
Focused on Latin and religious instruction
Young Kant was a solid, but normal, student
As described earlier, Kant was a solid student. He enrolled at his local university, the University of Königsberg, at 16, and would stay there for his whole career.

He studied under a rationalist philosopher named Martin Knutzen, who taught him about the philosophy of Gottfried Leibniz and Christian Wolff.
He also figured out that the Milky Way was a massive disk of stars, and suggested that it too accreted from a large spinning cloud of gas.
Kant was the guy who first proposed that the Solar System originated from a cloud of gas and debris.
Kant opened up astronomy beyond the solar system and even our galaxy. He postulated that the other nebulae and galaxies we see were equally massive, but far more distant, disks of stars...
His proposal, the Nebular Hypothesis, remains the most widely accepted model to explain the formation and evolution of the Solar System.
In addition to studying logic and metaphysics, Knutzen was a professor of natural philosophy, teaching physics, math, and astronomy. He introduced Kant to information from the sciences, including Newton's physics.
Section 1
good stuff
things that are good only under certain conditions
stuff that is unconditionally good
only one thing is good in this manner:
the good will
The good will is the condition by which every other good thing has its value.
Something can only be good if it is compatible with the good will.
If the good will is unconditionally good, it can't be good because of its positive effects.
Its goodness must be somehow inherent to it, then...
good will: the determination to do what reason requires as right.
Reason is ill suited to satisfying desires or preferences or becoming happy.
There is a difference between:
merely doing your duty
doing your duty because it's your duty
the case where a good will is being expressed
2) We should evaluate the worth/moral value of actions not in terms of their intended end (consequences) but in terms of the maxim the person follows
The obligations of a good will are "duties."
3 Claims About Duty
1) An action is only morally good if it is done for the sake of your duty alone.
A person acting out of duty acts because of an a priori valid moral principle.
Rational beings are the only beings able to recognize and act out of respect for a general moral law.
3) Duties should be fulfilled out of respect for the motivating maxim.
Actions done out of love, for utility, or from a sense of righteousness are not morally good.
How can I tell if something is motivated by respect for the right maxim - for a true duty?
Ask: can I will that the motivating principle for my action be a universal moral law?
"Respect" for the moral law is a rational motivation, not an emotional motivation.
The maxim for an action is the principle/motivation you're doing it for.
Kant's Project
this lecture
for the metaphysics of morals
Full transcript