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by Immanuel Kant
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Title: Fundamental Principals of the Metaphysic of Morals

Author: Immanuel Kant

Release Date: May, 2004 [EBook #5682]
[Yes, we are more than one year ahead of schedule]
[This file was first posted on August 7, 2002]

Edition: 10

Language: English

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This eBook was prepared by Matthew Stapleton.



by Immanuel Kant

translated by Thomas Kingsmill Abbott


Ancient Greek philosophy was divided into three sciences: physics,
ethics, and logic. This division is perfectly suitable to the nature
of the thing; and the only improvement that can be made in it is to
add the principle on which it is based, so that we may both satisfy
ourselves of its completeness, and also be able to determine correctly
the necessary subdivisions.

All rational knowledge is either material or formal: the former
considers some object, the latter is concerned only with the form of
the understanding and of the reason itself, and with the universal
laws of thought in general without distinction of its objects.
Formal philosophy is called logic. Material philosophy, however, has
to do with determinate objects and the laws to which they are subject,
is again twofold; for these laws are either laws of nature or of
freedom. The science of the former is physics, that of the latter,
ethics; they are also called natural philosophy and moral philosophy

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.

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

The present treatise is, however, 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.
No doubt my conclusions on this weighty question, which has hitherto
been very unsatisfactorily examined, would receive much light from the
application of the same principle to the whole system, and would be
greatly confirmed by the adequacy which it exhibits throughout; but
I must forego this advantage, which indeed would be after all more
gratifying than useful, since the easy applicability of a principle
and its apparent adequacy give no very certain proof of its soundness,
but rather inspire a certain partiality, which prevents us from
examining and estimating it strictly in itself and without regard to

I have adopted in this work the method which I think most
suitable, proceeding analytically from common knowledge to the
determination of its ultimate principle, and again descending
synthetically from the examination of this principle and its sources
to the common knowledge in which we find it employed. The division
will, therefore, be as follows:

1 FIRST SECTION. Transition from the common rational knowledge of
morality to the philosophical.

2 SECOND SECTION. Transition from popular moral philosophy to the
metaphysic of morals.

3 THIRD SECTION. Final step from the metaphysic of morals to the
critique of the pure practical reason.





Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it,
which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will.
Intelligence, wit, judgement, and the other talents of the mind,
however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as
qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many
respects; but these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad
and mischievous if the will which is to make use of them, and which,
therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good. It is
the same with the gifts of fortune. Power, riches, honour, even
health, and the general well-being and contentment with one's
condition which is called happiness, inspire pride, and often
presumption, if there is not a good will to correct the influence of
these on the mind, and with this also to rectify the whole principle
of acting and adapt it to its end. The sight of a being who is not
adorned with a single feature of a pure and good will, enjoying
unbroken prosperity, can never give pleasure to an impartial
rational spectator. Thus a good will appears to constitute the
indispensable condition even of being worthy of happiness.

There are even some qualities which are of service to this good will
itself and may facilitate its action, yet which have no intrinsic
unconditional value, but always presuppose a good will, and this
qualifies the esteem that we justly have for them and does not
permit us to regard them as absolutely good. Moderation in the
affections and passions, self-control, and calm deliberation are not
only good in many respects, but even seem to constitute part of the
intrinsic worth of the person; but they are far from deserving to be
called good without qualification, although they have been so
unconditionally praised by the ancients. For without the principles of
a good will, they may become extremely bad, and the coolness of a
villain not only makes him far more dangerous, but also directly makes
him more abominable in our eyes than he would have been without it.

A good will is good not because of what it performs or effects,
not by its aptness for the attainment of some proposed end, but simply
by virtue of the volition; that is, it is good in itself, and
considered by itself is to be esteemed much higher than all that can
be brought about by it in favour of any inclination, nay even of the
sum total of all inclinations. Even if it should happen that, owing to
special disfavour of fortune, or the niggardly provision of a
step-motherly nature, this will should wholly lack power to accomplish
its purpose, if with its greatest efforts it should yet achieve
nothing, and there should remain only the good will (not, to be
sure, a mere wish, but the summoning of all means in our power), then,
like a jewel, it would still shine by its own light, as a thing
which has its whole value in itself. Its usefulness or fruitfulness
can neither add nor take away anything from this value. It would be,
as it were, only the setting to enable us to handle it the more
conveniently in common commerce, or to attract to it the attention
of those who are not yet connoisseurs, but not to recommend it to true
connoisseurs, or to determine its value.

There is, however, something so strange in this idea of the absolute
value of the mere will, in which no account is taken of its utility,
that notwithstanding the thorough assent of even common reason to
the idea, yet a suspicion must arise that it may perhaps really be the
product of mere high-flown fancy, and that we may have misunderstood
the purpose of nature in assigning reason as the governor of our will.
Therefore we will examine this idea from this point of view.

In the physical constitution of an organized being, that is, a being
adapted suitably to the purposes of life, we assume it as a
fundamental principle that no organ for any purpose will be found
but what is also the fittest and best adapted for that purpose. Now in
a being which has reason and a will, if the proper object of nature
were its conservation, its welfare, in a word, its happiness, then
nature would have hit upon a very bad arrangement in selecting the
reason of the creature to carry out this purpose. For all the
actions which the creature has to perform with a view to this purpose,
and the whole rule of its conduct, would be far more surely prescribed
to it by instinct, and that end would have been attained thereby
much more certainly than it ever can be by reason. Should reason
have been communicated to this favoured creature over and above, it
must only have served it to contemplate the happy constitution of
its nature, to admire it, to congratulate itself thereon, and to
feel thankful for it to the beneficent cause, but not that it should
subject its desires to that weak and delusive guidance and meddle
bunglingly with the purpose of nature. In a word, nature would have
taken care that reason should not break forth into practical exercise,
nor have the presumption, with its weak insight, to think out for
itself the plan of happiness, and of the means of attaining it. Nature
would not only have taken on herself the choice of the ends, but
also of the means, and with wise foresight would have entrusted both
to instinct.

And, in fact, we find that the more a cultivated reason applies
itself with deliberate purpose to the enjoyment of life and happiness,
so much the more does the man fail of true satisfaction. And from this
circumstance there arises in many, if they are candid enough to
confess it, a certain degree of misology, that is, hatred of reason,
especially in the case of those who are most experienced in the use of
it, because after calculating all the advantages they derive, I do not
say from the invention of all the arts of common luxury, but even from
the sciences (which seem to them to be after all only a luxury of
the understanding), they find that they have, in fact, only brought
more trouble on their shoulders. rather than gained in happiness;
and they end by envying, rather than despising, the more common
stamp of men who keep closer to the guidance of mere instinct and do
not allow their reason much influence on their conduct. And this we
must admit, that the judgement of those who would very much lower
the lofty eulogies of the advantages which reason gives us in regard
to the happiness and satisfaction of life, or who would even reduce
them below zero, is by no means morose or ungrateful to the goodness
with which the world is governed, but that there lies at the root of
these judgements the idea that our existence has a different and far
nobler end, for which, and not for happiness, reason is properly
intended, and which must, therefore, be regarded as the supreme
condition to which the private ends of man must, for the most part, be

For as reason is not competent to guide the will with certainty in
regard to its objects and the satisfaction of all our wants (which
it to some extent even multiplies), this being an end to which an
implanted instinct would have led with much greater certainty; and
since, nevertheless, reason is imparted to us as a practical
faculty, i.e., as one which is to have influence on the will,
therefore, admitting that nature generally in the distribution of
her capacities has adapted the means to the end, its true
destination must be to produce a will, not merely good as a means to
something else, but good in itself, for which reason was absolutely
necessary. This will then, though not indeed the sole and complete
good, must be the supreme good and the condition of every other,
even of the desire of happiness. Under these circumstances, there is
nothing inconsistent with the wisdom of nature in the fact that the
cultivation of the reason, which is requisite for the first and
unconditional purpose, does in many ways interfere, at least in this
life, with the attainment of the second, which is always
conditional, namely, happiness. Nay, it may even reduce it to nothing,
without nature thereby failing of her purpose. For reason recognizes
the establishment of a good will as its highest practical destination,
and in attaining this purpose is capable only of a satisfaction of its
own proper kind, namely that from the attainment of an end, which
end again is determined by reason only, notwithstanding that this
may involve many a disappointment to the ends of inclination.

We have then to develop the notion of a will which deserves to be
highly esteemed for itself and is good without a view to anything
further, a notion which exists already in the sound natural
understanding, requiring rather to be cleared up than to be taught,
and which in estimating the value of our actions always takes the
first place and constitutes the condition of all the rest. In order to
do this, we will take the notion of duty, which includes that of a
good will, although implying certain subjective restrictions and
hindrances. These, however, far from concealing it, or rendering it
unrecognizable, rather bring it out by contrast and make it shine
forth so much the brighter.

I omit here all actions which are already recognized as inconsistent
with duty, although they may be useful for this or that purpose, for
with these the question whether they are done from duty cannot arise
at all, since they even conflict with it. I also set aside those
actions which really conform to duty, but to which men have no
direct inclination, performing them because they are impelled
thereto by some other inclination. For in this case we can readily
distinguish whether the action which agrees with duty is done from
duty, or from a selfish view. It is much harder to make this
distinction when the action accords with duty and the subject has
besides a direct inclination to it. For example, it is always a matter
of duty that a dealer should not over charge an inexperienced
purchaser; and wherever there is much commerce the prudent tradesman
does not overcharge, but keeps a fixed price for everyone, so that a
child buys of him as well as any other. Men are thus honestly
served; but this is not enough to make us believe that the tradesman
has so acted from duty and from principles of honesty: his own
advantage required it; it is out of the question in this case to
suppose that he might besides have a direct inclination in favour of
the buyers, so that, as it were, from love he should give no advantage
to one over another. Accordingly the action was done neither from duty
nor from direct inclination, but merely with a selfish view.

On the other hand, it is a duty to maintain one's life; and, in
addition, everyone has also a direct inclination to do so. But on this
account the of anxious care which most men take for it has no
intrinsic worth, and their maxim has no moral import. They preserve
their life as duty requires, no doubt, but not because duty
requires. On the other band, if adversity and hopeless sorrow have
completely taken away the relish for life; if the unfortunate one,
strong in mind, indignant at his fate rather than desponding or
dejected, wishes for death, and yet preserves his life without
loving it- not from inclination or fear, but from duty- then his maxim
has a moral worth.

To be beneficent when we can is a duty; and besides this, there
are many minds so sympathetically constituted that, without any
other motive of vanity or self-interest, they find a pleasure in
spreading joy around them and can take delight in the satisfaction
of others so far as it is their own work. But I maintain that in
such a case an action of this kind, however proper, however amiable it
may be, has nevertheless no true moral worth, but is on a level with
other inclinations, e.g., the inclination to honour, which, if it is
happily directed to that which is in fact of public utility and
accordant with duty and consequently honourable, deserves praise and
encouragement, but not esteem. For the maxim lacks the moral import,
namely, that such actions be done from duty, not from inclination. Put
the case that the mind of that philanthropist were clouded by sorrow
of his own, extinguishing all sympathy with the lot of others, and
that, while he still has the power to benefit others in distress, he
is not touched by their trouble because he is absorbed with his own;
and now suppose that he tears himself out of this dead
insensibility, and performs the action without any inclination to
it, but simply from duty, then first has his action its genuine
moral worth. Further still; if nature has put little sympathy in the
heart of this or that man; if he, supposed to be an upright man, is by
temperament cold and indifferent to the sufferings of others,
perhaps because in respect of his own he is provided with the
special gift of patience and fortitude and supposes, or even requires,
that others should have the same- and such a man would certainly not
be the meanest product of nature- but if nature had not specially
framed him for a philanthropist, would he not still find in himself
a source from whence to give himself a far higher worth than that of a
good-natured temperament could be? Unquestionably. It is just in
this that the moral worth of the character is brought out which is
incomparably the highest of all, namely, that he is beneficent, not
from inclination, but from duty.

To secure one's own happiness is a duty, at least indirectly; for
discontent with one's condition, under a pressure of many anxieties
and amidst unsatisfied wants, might easily become a great temptation
to transgression of duty. But here again, without looking to duty, all
men have already the strongest and most intimate inclination to
happiness, because it is just in this idea that all inclinations are
combined in one total. But the precept of happiness is often of such a
sort that it greatly interferes with some inclinations, and yet a
man cannot form any definite and certain conception of the sum of
satisfaction of all of them which is called happiness. It is not
then to be wondered at that a single inclination, definite both as
to what it promises and as to the time within which it can be
gratified, is often able to overcome such a fluctuating idea, and that
a gouty patient, for instance, can choose to enjoy what he likes,
and to suffer what he may, since, according to his calculation, on
this occasion at least, be has not sacrificed the enjoyment of the
present moment to a possibly mistaken expectation of a happiness which
is supposed to be found in health. But even in this case, if the
general desire for happiness did not influence his will, and supposing
that in his particular case health was not a necessary element in this
calculation, there yet remains in this, as in all other cases, this
law, namely, that he should promote his happiness not from inclination
but from duty, and by this would his conduct first acquire true
moral worth.

It is in this manner, undoubtedly, that we are to understand those
passages of Scripture also in which we are commanded to love our
neighbour, even our enemy. For love, as an affection, cannot be
commanded, but beneficence for duty's sake may; even though we are not
impelled to it by any inclination- nay, are even repelled by a natural
and unconquerable aversion. This is practical love and not
pathological- a love which is seated in the will, and not in the
propensions of sense- in principles of action and not of tender
sympathy; and it is this love alone which can be commanded.

The second proposition is: That an action done from duty derives its
moral worth, not from the purpose which is to be attained by it, but
from the maxim by which it is determined, and therefore does not
depend on the realization of the object of the action, but merely on
the principle of volition by which the action has taken place, without
regard to any object of desire. It is clear from what precedes that
the purposes which we may have in view in our actions, or their
effects regarded as ends and springs of the will, cannot give to
actions any unconditional or moral worth. In what, then, can their
worth lie, if it is not to consist in the will and in reference to its
expected effect? It cannot lie anywhere but in the principle of the
will without regard to the ends which can be attained by the action.
For the will stands between its a priori principle, which is formal,
and its a posteriori spring, which is material, as between two
roads, and as it must be determined by something, it that it must be
determined by the formal principle of volition when an action is
done from duty, in which case every material principle has been
withdrawn from it.

The third proposition, which is a consequence of the two
preceding, I would express thus Duty is the necessity of acting from
respect for the law. I may have inclination for an object as the
effect of my proposed action, but I cannot have respect for it, just
for this reason, that it is an effect and not an energy of will.
Similarly I cannot have respect for inclination, whether my own or
another's; I can at most, if my own, approve it; if another's,
sometimes even love it; i.e., look on it as favourable to my own
interest. It is only what is connected with my will as a principle, by
no means as an effect- what does not subserve my inclination, but
overpowers it, or at least in case of choice excludes it from its
calculation- in other words, simply the law of itself, which can be an
object of respect, and hence a command. Now an action done from duty
must wholly exclude the influence of inclination and with it every
object of the will, so that nothing remains which can determine the
will except objectively the law, and subjectively pure respect for
this practical law, and consequently the maxim * that I should follow
this law even to the thwarting of all my inclinations.

* A maxim is the subjective principle of volition. The objective
principle (i.e., that which would also serve subjectively as a
practical principle to all rational beings if reason had full power
over the faculty of desire) is the practical law.

Thus the moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect
expected from it, nor in any principle of action which requires to
borrow its motive from this expected effect. For all these effects-
agreeableness of one's condition and even the promotion of the
happiness of others- could have been also brought about by other
causes, so that for this there would have been no need of the will
of a rational being; whereas it is in this alone that the supreme
and unconditional good can be found. The pre-eminent good which we
call moral can therefore consist in nothing else than the conception
of law in itself, which certainly is only possible in a rational
being, in so far as this conception, and not the expected effect,
determines the will. This is a good which is already present in the
person who acts accordingly, and we have not to wait for it to
appear first in the result. *

* It might be here objected to me that I take refuge behind the
word respect in an obscure feeling, instead of giving a distinct
solution of the question by a concept of the reason. But although
respect is a feeling, it is not a feeling received through
influence, but is self-wrought by a rational concept, and,
therefore, is specifically distinct from all feelings of the former
kind, which may be referred either to inclination or fear, What I
recognise immediately as a law for me, I recognise with respect.
This merely signifies the consciousness that my will is subordinate to
a law, without the intervention of other influences on my sense. The
immediate determination of the will by the law, and the
consciousness of this, is called respect, so that this is regarded
as an effect of the law on the subject, and not as the cause of it.
Respect is properly the conception of a worth which thwarts my
self-love. Accordingly it is something which is considered neither
as an object of inclination nor of fear, although it has something
analogous to both. The object of respect is the law only, and that the
law which we impose on ourselves and yet recognise as necessary in
itself. As a law, we are subjected too it without consulting
self-love; as imposed by us on ourselves, it is a result of our
will. In the former aspect it has an analogy to fear, in the latter to
inclination. Respect for a person is properly only respect for the law
(of honesty, etc.) of which he gives us an example. Since we also look
on the improvement of our talents as a duty, we consider that we see
in a person of talents, as it were, the example of a law (viz., to
become like him in this by exercise), and this constitutes our
respect. All so-called moral interest consists simply in respect for
the law.

But what sort of law can that be, the conception of which must
determine the will, even without paying any regard to the effect
expected from it, in order that this will may be called good
absolutely and without qualification? As I have deprived the will of
every impulse which could arise to it from obedience to any law, there
remains nothing but the universal conformity of its actions to law
in general, which alone is to serve the will as a principle, i.e., I
am never to act otherwise than so that I could also will that my maxim
should become a universal law. Here, now, it is the simple
conformity to law in general, without assuming any particular law
applicable to certain actions, that serves the will as its principle
and must so serve it, if duty is not to be a vain delusion and a
chimerical notion. The common reason of men in its practical
judgements perfectly coincides with this and always has in view the
principle here suggested. Let the question be, for example: May I when
in distress make a promise with the intention not to keep it? I
readily distinguish here between the two significations which the
question may have: Whether it is prudent, or whether it is right, to
make a false promise? The former may undoubtedly of be the case. I see
clearly indeed that it is not enough to extricate myself from a
present difficulty by means of this subterfuge, but it must be well
considered whether there may not hereafter spring from this lie much
greater inconvenience than that from which I now free myself, and
as, with all my supposed cunning, the consequences cannot be so easily
foreseen but that credit once lost may be much more injurious to me
than any mischief which I seek to avoid at present, it should be
considered whether it would not be more prudent to act herein
according to a universal maxim and to make it a habit to promise
nothing except with the intention of keeping it. But it is soon
clear to me that such a maxim will still only be based on the fear
of consequences. Now it is a wholly different thing to be truthful
from duty and to be so from apprehension of injurious consequences. In
the first case, the very notion of the action already implies a law
for me; in the second case, I must first look about elsewhere to see
what results may be combined with it which would affect myself. For to
deviate from the principle of duty is beyond all doubt wicked; but
to be unfaithful to my maxim of prudence may often be very
advantageous to me, although to abide by it is certainly safer. The
shortest way, however, and an unerring one, to discover the answer
to this question whether a lying promise is consistent with duty, is
to ask myself, "Should I be content that my maxim (to extricate myself
from difficulty by a false promise) should hold good as a universal
law, for myself as well as for others? and should I be able to say
to myself, "Every one may make a deceitful promise when he finds
himself in a difficulty from which he cannot otherwise extricate
himself?" Then I presently become aware that while I can will the lie,
I can by no means will that lying should be a universal law. For
with such a law there would be no promises at all, since it would be
in vain to allege my intention in regard to my future actions to those
who would not believe this allegation, or if they over hastily did
so would pay me back in my own coin. Hence my maxim, as soon as it
should be made a universal law, would necessarily destroy itself.

I do not, therefore, need any far-reaching penetration to discern
what I have to do in order that my will may be morally good.
Inexperienced in the course of the world, incapable of being
prepared for all its contingencies, I only ask myself: Canst thou also
will that thy maxim should be a universal law? If not, then it must be
rejected, and that not because of a disadvantage accruing from it to
myself or even to others, but because it cannot enter as a principle
into a possible universal legislation, and reason extorts from me
immediate respect for such legislation. I do not indeed as yet discern
on what this respect is based (this the philosopher may inquire),
but at least I understand this, that it is an estimation of the
worth which far outweighs all worth of what is recommended by
inclination, and that the necessity of acting from pure respect for
the practical law is what constitutes duty, to which every other
motive must give place, because it is the condition of a will being
good in itself, and the worth of such a will is above everything.

Thus, then, without quitting the moral knowledge of common human
reason, we have arrived at its principle. And although, no doubt,
common men do not conceive it in such an abstract and universal
form, yet they always have it really before their eyes and use it as
the standard of their decision. Here it would be easy to show how,
with this compass in hand, men are well able to distinguish, in
every case that occurs, what is good, what bad, conformably to duty or
inconsistent with it, if, without in the least teaching them
anything new, we only, like Socrates, direct their attention to the
principle they themselves employ; and that, therefore, we do not
need science and philosophy to know what we should do to be honest and
good, yea, even wise and virtuous. Indeed we might well have
conjectured beforehand that the knowledge of what every man is bound
to do, and therefore also to know, would be within the reach of
every man, even the commonest. Here we cannot forbear admiration
when we see how great an advantage the practical judgement has over
the theoretical in the common understanding of men. In the latter,
if common reason ventures to depart from the laws of experience and
from the perceptions of the senses, it falls into mere
inconceivabilities and self-contradictions, at least into a chaos of
uncertainty, obscurity, and instability. But in the practical sphere
it is just when the common understanding excludes all sensible springs
from practical laws that its power of judgement begins to show
itself to advantage. It then becomes even subtle, whether it be that
it chicanes with its own conscience or with other claims respecting
what is to be called right, or whether it desires for its own
instruction to determine honestly the worth of actions; and, in the
latter case, it may even have as good a hope of hitting the mark as
any philosopher whatever can promise himself. Nay, it is almost more
sure of doing so, because the philosopher cannot have any other
principle, while he may easily perplex his judgement by a multitude of
considerations foreign to the matter, and so turn aside from the right
way. Would it not therefore be wiser in moral concerns to acquiesce in
the judgement of common reason, or at most only to call in
philosophy for the purpose of rendering the system of morals more
complete and intelligible, and its rules more convenient for use
(especially for disputation), but not so as to draw off the common
understanding from its happy simplicity, or to bring it by means of
philosophy into a new path of inquiry and instruction?

Innocence is indeed a glorious thing; only, on the other hand, it is
very sad that it cannot well maintain itself and is easily seduced. On
this account even wisdom- which otherwise consists more in conduct
than in knowledge- yet has need of science, not in order to learn from
it, but to secure for its precepts admission and permanence. Against
all the commands of duty which reason represents to man as so
deserving of respect, he feels in himself a powerful counterpoise in
his wants and inclinations, the entire satisfaction of which he sums
up under the name of happiness. Now reason issues its commands
unyieldingly, without promising anything to the inclinations, and,
as it were, with disregard and contempt for these claims, which are so
impetuous, and at the same time so plausible, and which will not allow
themselves to be suppressed by any command. Hence there arises a
natural dialectic, i.e., a disposition, to argue against these
strict laws of duty and to question their validity, or at least
their purity and strictness; and, if possible, to make them more
accordant with our wishes and inclinations, that is to say, to corrupt
them at their very source, and entirely to destroy their worth- a
thing which even common practical reason cannot ultimately call good.

Thus is the common reason of man compelled to go out of its
sphere, and to take a step into the field of a practical philosophy,
not to satisfy any speculative want (which never occurs to it as
long as it is content to be mere sound reason), but even on
practical grounds, in order to attain in it information and clear
instruction respecting the source of its principle, and the correct
determination of it in opposition to the maxims which are based on
wants and inclinations, so that it may escape from the perplexity of
opposite claims and not run the risk of losing all genuine moral
principles through the equivocation into which it easily falls.
Thus, when practical reason cultivates itself, there insensibly arises
in it a dialetic which forces it to seek aid in philosophy, just as
happens to it in its theoretic use; and in this case, therefore, as
well as in the other, it will find rest nowhere but in a thorough
critical examination of our reason.





If we have hitherto drawn our notion of duty from the common use
of our practical reason, it is by no means to be inferred that we have
treated it as an empirical notion. On the contrary, if we attend to
the experience of men's conduct, we meet frequent and, as we ourselves
allow, just complaints that one cannot find a single certain example
of the disposition to act from pure duty. Although many things are
done in conformity with what duty prescribes, it is nevertheless
always doubtful whether they are done strictly from duty, so as to
have a moral worth. Hence there have at all times been philosophers
who have altogether denied that this disposition actually exists at
all in human actions, and have ascribed everything to a more or less
refined self-love. Not that they have on that account questioned the
soundness of the conception of morality; on the contrary, they spoke
with sincere regret of the frailty and corruption of human nature,
which, though noble enough to take its rule an idea so worthy of
respect, is yet weak to follow it and employs reason which ought to
give it the law only for the purpose of providing for the interest
of the inclinations, whether singly or at the best in the greatest
possible harmony with one another.

In fact, it is absolutely impossible to make out by experience
with complete certainty a single case in which the maxim of an action,
however right in itself, rested simply on moral grounds and on the
conception of duty. Sometimes it happens that with the sharpest
self-examination we can find nothing beside the moral principle of
duty which could have been powerful enough to move us to this or
that action and to so great a sacrifice; yet we cannot from this infer
with certainty that it was not really some secret impulse of
self-love, under the false appearance of duty, that was the actual
determining cause of the will. We like them to flatter ourselves by
falsely taking credit for a more noble motive; whereas in fact we
can never, even by the strictest examination, get completely behind
the secret springs of action; since, when the question is of moral
worth, it is not with the actions which we see that we are
concerned, but with those inward principles of them which we do not

Moreover, we cannot better serve the wishes of those who ridicule
all morality as a mere chimera of human imagination over stepping
itself from vanity, than by conceding to them that notions of duty
must be drawn only from experience (as from indolence, people are
ready to think is also the case with all other notions); for or is
to prepare for them a certain triumph. I am willing to admit out of
love of humanity that even most of our actions are correct, but if
we look closer at them we everywhere come upon the dear self which
is always prominent, and it is this they have in view and not the
strict command of duty which would often require self-denial.
Without being an enemy of virtue, a cool observer, one that does not
mistake the wish for good, however lively, for its reality, may
sometimes doubt whether true virtue is actually found anywhere in
the world, and this especially as years increase and the judgement
is partly made wiser by experience and partly, also, more acute in
observation. This being so, nothing can secure us from falling away
altogether from our ideas of duty, or maintain in the soul a
well-grounded respect for its law, but the clear conviction that
although there should never have been actions which really sprang from
such pure sources, yet whether this or that takes place is not at
all the question; but that reason of itself, independent on all
experience, ordains what ought to take place, that accordingly actions
of which perhaps the world has hitherto never given an example, the
feasibility even of which might be very much doubted by one who founds
everything on experience, are nevertheless inflexibly commanded by
reason; that, e.g., even though there might never yet have been a
sincere friend, yet not a whit the less is pure sincerity in
friendship required of every man, because, prior to all experience,
this duty is involved as duty in the idea of a reason determining
the will by a priori principles.

When we add further that, unless we deny that the notion of morality
has any truth or reference to any possible object, we must admit
that its law must be valid, not merely for men but for all rational
creatures generally, not merely under certain contingent conditions or
with exceptions but with absolute necessity, then it is clear that
no experience could enable us to infer even the possibility of such
apodeictic laws. For with what right could we bring into unbounded
respect as a universal precept for every rational nature that which
perhaps holds only under the contingent conditions of humanity? Or how
could laws of the determination of our will be regarded as laws of the
determination of the will of rational beings generally, and for us
only as such, if they were merely empirical and did not take their
origin wholly a priori from pure but practical reason?

Nor could anything be more fatal to morality than that we should
wish to derive it from examples. For every example of it that is set
before me must be first itself tested by principles of morality,
whether it is worthy to serve as an original example, i.e., as a
pattern; but by no means can it authoritatively furnish the conception
of morality. Even the Holy One of the Gospels must first be compared
with our ideal of moral perfection before we can recognise Him as
such; and so He says of Himself, "Why call ye Me (whom you see)
good; none is good (the model of good) but God only (whom ye do not
see)?" But whence have we the conception of God as the supreme good?
Simply from the idea of moral perfection, which reason frames a priori
and connects inseparably with the notion of a free will. Imitation
finds no place at all in morality, and examples serve only for
encouragement, i.e., they put beyond doubt the feasibility of what the
law commands, they make visible that which the practical rule
expresses more generally, but they can never authorize us to set aside
the true original which lies in reason and to guide ourselves by

If then there is no genuine supreme principle of morality but what
must rest simply on pure reason, independent of all experience, I
think it is not necessary even to put the question whether it is
good to exhibit these concepts in their generality (in abstracto) as
they are established a priori along with the principles belonging to
them, if our knowledge is to be distinguished from the vulgar and to
be called philosophical.

In our times indeed this might perhaps be necessary; for if we
collected votes whether pure rational knowledge separated from
everything empirical, that is to say, metaphysic of morals, or whether
popular practical philosophy is to be preferred, it is easy to guess
which side would preponderate.

This descending to popular notions is certainly very commendable, if
the ascent to the principles of pure reason has first taken place
and been satisfactorily accomplished. This implies that we first found
ethics on metaphysics, and then, when it is firmly established,
procure a hearing for it by giving it a popular character. But it is
quite absurd to try to be popular in the first inquiry, on which the
soundness of the principles depends. It is not only that this
proceeding can never lay claim to the very rare merit of a true
philosophical popularity, since there is no art in being
intelligible if one renounces all thoroughness of insight; but also it
produces a disgusting medley of compiled observations and
half-reasoned principles. Shallow pates enjoy this because it can be
used for every-day chat, but the sagacious find in it only
confusion, and being unsatisfied and unable to help themselves, they
turn away their eyes, while philosophers, who see quite well through
this delusion, are little listened to when they call men off for a
time from this pretended popularity, in order that they might be
rightfully popular after they have attained a definite insight.

We need only look at the attempts of moralists in that favourite
fashion, and we shall find at one time the special constitution of
human nature (including, however, the idea of a rational nature
generally), at one time perfection, at another happiness, here moral
sense, there fear of God. a little of this, and a little of that, in
marvellous mixture, without its occurring to them to ask whether the
principles of morality are to be sought in the knowledge of human
nature at all (which we can have only from experience); or, if this is
not so, if these principles are to be found altogether a priori,
free from everything empirical, in pure rational concepts only and
nowhere else, not even in the smallest degree; then rather to adopt
the method of making this a separate inquiry, as pure practical
philosophy, or (if one may use a name so decried) as metaphysic of
morals, * to bring it by itself to completeness, and to require the
public, which wishes for popular treatment, to await the issue of this

* Just as pure mathematics are distinguished from applied, pure
logic from applied, so if we choose we may also distinguish pure
philosophy of morals (metaphysic) from applied (viz., applied to human
nature). By this designation we are also at once reminded that moral
principles are not based on properties of human nature, but must
subsist a priori of themselves, while from such principles practical
rules must be capable of being deduced for every rational nature,
and accordingly for that of man.

Such a metaphysic of morals, completely isolated, not mixed with any
anthropology, theology, physics, or hyperphysics, and still less
with occult qualities (which we might call hypophysical), is not
only an indispensable substratum of all sound theoretical knowledge of
duties, but is at the same time a desideratum of the highest
importance to the actual fulfilment of their precepts. For the pure
conception of duty, unmixed with any foreign addition of empirical
attractions, and, in a word, the conception of the moral law,
exercises on the human heart, by way of reason alone (which first
becomes aware with this that it can of itself be practical), an
influence so much more powerful than all other springs * which may be
derived from the field of experience, that, in the consciousness of
its worth, it despises the latter, and can by degrees become their
master; whereas a mixed ethics, compounded partly of motives drawn
from feelings and inclinations, and partly also of conceptions of
reason, must make the mind waver between motives which cannot be
brought under any principle, which lead to good only by mere
accident and very often also to evil.

* I have a letter from the late excellent Sulzer, in which he asks
me what can be the reason that moral instruction, although containing
much that is convincing for the reason, yet accomplishes so little? My
answer was postponed in order that I might make it complete. But it is
simply this: that the teachers themselves have not got their own
notions clear, and when they endeavour to make up for this by raking
up motives of moral goodness from every quarter, trying to make
their physic right strong, they spoil it. For the commonest
understanding shows that if we imagine, on the one hand, an act of
honesty done with steadfast mind, apart from every view to advantage
of any kind in this world or another, and even under the greatest
temptations of necessity or allurement, and, on the other hand, a
similar act which was affected, in however low a degree, by a
foreign motive, the former leaves far behind and eclipses the
second; it elevates the soul and inspires the wish to be able to act
in like manner oneself. Even moderately young children feel this
impression, ana one should never represent duties to them in any other

From what has been said, it is clear that all moral conceptions have
their seat and origin completely a priori in the reason, and that,
moreover, in the commonest reason just as truly as in that which is in
the highest degree speculative; that they cannot be obtained by
abstraction from any empirical, and therefore merely contingent,
knowledge; that it is just this purity of their origin that makes them
worthy to serve as our supreme practical principle, and that just in
proportion as we add anything empirical, we detract from their genuine
influence and from the absolute value of actions; that it is not
only of the greatest necessity, in a purely speculative point of view,
but is also of the greatest practical importance, to derive these
notions and laws from pure reason, to present them pure and unmixed,
and even to determine the compass of this practical or pure rational
knowledge, i.e., to determine the whole faculty of pure practical
reason; and, in doing so, we must not make its principles dependent on
the particular nature of human reason, though in speculative
philosophy this may be permitted, or may even at times be necessary;
but since moral laws ought to hold good for every rational creature,
we must derive them from the general concept of a rational being. In
this way, although for its application to man morality has need of
anthropology, yet, in the first instance, we must treat it
independently as pure philosophy, i.e., as metaphysic, complete in
itself (a thing which in such distinct branches of science is easily
done); knowing well that unless we are in possession of this, it would
not only be vain to determine the moral element of duty in right
actions for purposes of speculative criticism, but it would be
impossible to base morals on their genuine principles, even for common
practical purposes, especially of moral instruction, so as to
produce pure moral dispositions, and to engraft them on men's minds to
the promotion of the greatest possible good in the world.

But in order that in this study we may not merely advance by the
natural steps from the common moral judgement (in this case very
worthy of respect) to the philosophical, as has been already done, but
also from a popular philosophy, which goes no further than it can
reach by groping with the help of examples, to metaphysic (which
does allow itself to be checked by anything empirical and, as it
must measure the whole extent of this kind of rational knowledge, goes
as far as ideal conceptions, where even examples fail us), we must
follow and clearly describe the practical faculty of reason, from
the general rules of its determination to the point where the notion
of duty springs from it.

Everything in nature works according to laws. Rational beings
alone have the faculty of acting according to the conception of
laws, that is according to principles, i.e., have a will. Since the
deduction of actions from principles requires reason, the will is
nothing but practical reason. If reason infallibly determines the
will, then the actions of such a being which are recognised as
objectively necessary are subjectively necessary also, i.e., the
will is a faculty to choose that only which reason independent of
inclination recognises as practically necessary, i.e., as good. But if
reason of itself does not sufficiently determine the will, if the
latter is subject also to subjective conditions (particular
impulses) which do not always coincide with the objective
conditions; in a word, if the will does not in itself completely
accord with reason (which is actually the case with men), then the
actions which objectively are recognised as necessary are subjectively
contingent, and the determination of such a will according to
objective laws is obligation, that is to say, the relation of the
objective laws to a will that is not thoroughly good is conceived as
the determination of the will of a rational being by principles of
reason, but which the will from its nature does not of necessity

The conception of an objective principle, in so far as it is
obligatory for a will, is called a command (of reason), and the
formula of the command is called an imperative.

All imperatives are expressed by the word ought [or shall], and
thereby indicate the relation of an objective law of reason to a will,
which from its subjective constitution is not necessarily determined
by it (an obligation). They say that something would be good to do
or to forbear, but they say it to a will which does not always do a
thing because it is conceived to be good to do it. That is practically
good, however, which determines the will by means of the conceptions
of reason, and consequently not from subjective causes, but
objectively, that is on principles which are valid for every
rational being as such. It is distinguished from the pleasant, as that
which influences the will only by means of sensation from merely
subjective causes, valid only for the sense of this or that one, and
not as a principle of reason, which holds for every one. *

* The dependence of the desires on sensations is called
inclination, and this accordingly always indicates a want. The
dependence of a contingently determinable will on principles of reason
is called an interest. This therefore, is found only in the case of
a dependent will which does not always of itself conform to reason; in
the Divine will we cannot conceive any interest. But the human will
can also take an interest in a thing without therefore acting from
interest. The former signifies the practical interest in the action,
the latter the pathological in the object of the action. The former
indicates only dependence of the will on principles of reason in
themselves; the second, dependence on principles of reason for the
sake of inclination, reason supplying only the practical rules how the
requirement of the inclination may be satisfied. In the first case the
action interests me; in the second the object of the action (because
it is pleasant to me). We have seen in the first section that in an
action done from duty we must look not to the interest in the
object, but only to that in the action itself, and in its rational
principle (viz., the law).

A perfectly good will would therefore be equally subject to
objective laws (viz., laws of good), but could not be conceived as
obliged thereby to act lawfully, because of itself from its subjective
constitution it can only be determined by the conception of good.
Therefore no imperatives hold for the Divine will, or in general for a
holy will; ought is here out of place, because the volition is already
of itself necessarily in unison with the law. Therefore imperatives
are only formulae to express the relation of objective laws of all
volition to the subjective imperfection of the will of this or that
rational being, e.g., the human will.

Now all imperatives command either hypothetically or
categorically. The former represent the practical necessity of a
possible action as means to something else that is willed (or at least
which one might possibly will). The categorical imperative would be
that which represented an action as necessary of itself without
reference to another end, i.e., as objectively necessary.

Since every practical law represents a possible action as good
and, on this account, for a subject who is practically determinable by
reason, necessary, all imperatives are formulae determining an
action which is necessary according to the principle of a will good in
some respects. If now the action is good only as a means to
something else, then the imperative is hypothetical; if it is
conceived as good in itself and consequently as being necessarily
the principle of a will which of itself conforms to reason, then it is

Thus the imperative declares what action possible by me would be
good and presents the practical rule in relation to a will which
does not forthwith perform an action simply because it is good,
whether because the subject does not always know that it is good, or
because, even if it know this, yet its maxims might be opposed to
the objective principles of practical reason.

Accordingly the hypothetical imperative only says that the action is
good for some purpose, possible or actual. In the first case it is a
problematical, in the second an assertorial practical principle. The
categorical imperative which declares an action to be objectively
necessary in itself without reference to any purpose, i.e., without
any other end, is valid as an apodeictic (practical) principle.

Whatever is possible only by the power of some rational being may
also be conceived as a possible purpose of some will; and therefore
the principles of action as regards the means necessary to attain some
possible purpose are in fact infinitely numerous. All sciences have
a practical part, consisting of problems expressing that some end is
possible for us and of imperatives directing how it may be attained.
These may, therefore, be called in general imperatives of skill.
Here there is no question whether the end is rational and good, but
only what one must do in order to attain it. The precepts for the
physician to make his patient thoroughly healthy, and for a poisoner
to ensure certain death, are of equal value in this respect, that each
serves to effect its purpose perfectly. Since in early youth it cannot
be known what ends are likely to occur to us in the course of life,
parents seek to have their children taught a great many things, and
provide for their skill in the use of means for all sorts of arbitrary
ends, of none of which can they determine whether it may not perhaps
hereafter be an object to their pupil, but which it is at all events
possible that he might aim at; and this anxiety is so great that
they commonly neglect to form and correct their judgement on the value
of the things which may be chosen as ends.

There is one end, however, which may be assumed to be actually
such to all rational beings (so far as imperatives apply to them,
viz., as dependent beings), and, therefore, one purpose which they not
merely may have, but which we may with certainty assume that they
all actually have by a natural necessity, and this is happiness. The
hypothetical imperative which expresses the practical necessity of
an action as means to the advancement of happiness is assertorial.
We are not to present it as necessary for an uncertain and merely
possible purpose, but for a purpose which we may presuppose with
certainty and a priori in every man, because it belongs to his
being. Now skill in the choice of means to his own greatest well-being
may be called prudence, * in the narrowest sense. And thus the
imperative which refers to the choice of means to one's own happiness,
i.e., the precept of prudence, is still always hypothetical; the
action is not commanded absolutely, but only as means to another

* The word prudence is taken in two senses: in the one it may bear
the name of knowledge of the world, in the other that of private
prudence. The former is a man's ability to influence others so as to
use them for his own purposes. The latter is the sagacity to combine
all these purposes for his own lasting benefit. This latter is
properly that to which the value even of the former is reduced, and
when a man is prudent in the former sense, but not in the latter, we
might better say of him that he is clever and cunning, but, on the
whole, imprudent.

Finally, there is an imperative which commands a certain conduct
immediately, without having as its condition any other purpose to be
attained by it. This imperative is categorical. It concerns not the
matter of the action, or its intended result, but its form and the
principle of which it is itself a result; and what is essentially good
in it consists in the mental disposition, let the consequence be
what it may. This imperative may be called that of morality.

There is a marked distinction also between the volitions on these
three sorts of principles in the dissimilarity of the obligation of
the will. In order to mark this difference more clearly, I think
they would be most suitably named in their order if we said they are
either rules of skill, or counsels of prudence, or commands (laws)
of morality. For it is law only that involves the conception of an
unconditional and objective necessity, which is consequently
universally valid; and commands are laws which must be obeyed, that
is, must be followed, even in opposition to inclination. Counsels,
indeed, involve necessity, but one which can only hold under a
contingent subjective condition, viz., they depend on whether this
or that man reckons this or that as part of his happiness; the
categorical imperative, on the contrary, is not limited by any
condition, and as being absolutely, although practically, necessary,
may be quite properly called a command. We might also call the first
kind of imperatives technical (belonging to art), the second
pragmatic * (to welfare), the third moral (belonging to free conduct
generally, that is, to morals).

* It seems to me that the proper signification of the word
pragmatic may be most accurately defined in this way. For sanctions
are called pragmatic which flow properly not from the law of the
states as necessary enactments, but from precaution for the general
welfare. A history is composed pragmatically when it teaches prudence,
i.e., instructs the world how it can provide for its interests better,
or at least as well as, the men of former time.

Now arises the question, how are all these imperatives possible?
This question does not seek to know how we can conceive the
accomplishment of the action which the imperative ordains, but
merely how we can conceive the obligation of the will which the
imperative expresses. No special explanation is needed to show how
an imperative of skill is possible. Whoever wills the end, wills
also (so far as reason decides his conduct) the means in his power
which are indispensably necessary thereto. This proposition is, as
regards the volition, analytical; for, in willing an object as my
effect, there is already thought the causality of myself as an
acting cause, that is to say, the use of the means; and the imperative
educes from the conception of volition of an end the conception of
actions necessary to this end. Synthetical propositions must no
doubt be employed in defining the means to a proposed end; but they do
not concern the principle, the act of the will, but the object and its
realization. E.g., that in order to bisect a line on an unerring
principle I must draw from its extremities two intersecting arcs; this
no doubt is taught by mathematics only in synthetical propositions;
but if I know that it is only by this process that the intended
operation can be performed, then to say that, if I fully will the
operation, I also will the action required for it, is an analytical
proposition; for it is one and the same thing to conceive something as
an effect which I can produce in a certain way, and to conceive myself
as acting in this way.

If it were only equally easy to give a definite conception of
happiness, the imperatives of prudence would correspond exactly with
those of skill, and would likewise be analytical. For in this case
as in that, it could be said: "Whoever wills the end, wills also
(according to the dictate of reason necessarily) the indispensable
means thereto which are in his power." But, unfortunately, the
notion of happiness is so indefinite that although every man wishes to
at. it, yet he never can say definitely and consistently what it is
that he really wishes and wills. The reason of this is that all the
elements which belong to the notion of happiness are altogether
empirical, i.e., they must be borrowed from experience, and
nevertheless the idea of happiness requires an absolute whole, a
maximum of welfare in my present and all future circumstances. Now
it is impossible that the most clear-sighted and at the same time most
powerful being (supposed finite) should frame to himself a definite
conception of what he really wills in this. Does he will riches, how
much anxiety, envy, and snares might he not thereby draw upon his
shoulders? Does he will knowledge and discernment, perhaps it might
prove to be only an eye so much the sharper to show him so much the
more fearfully the evils that are now concealed from him, and that
cannot be avoided, or to impose more wants on his desires, which
already give him concern enough. Would he have long life? who
guarantees to him that it would not be a long misery? would he at
least have health? how often has uneasiness of the body restrained
from excesses into which perfect health would have allowed one to
fall? and so on. In short, he is unable, on any principle, to
determine with certainty what would make him truly happy; because to
do so he would need to be omniscient. We cannot therefore act on any
definite principles to secure happiness, but only on empirical
counsels, e.g. of regimen, frugality, courtesy, reserve, etc., which
experience teaches do, on the average, most promote well-being.
Hence it follows that the imperatives of prudence do not, strictly
speaking, command at all, that is, they cannot present actions
objectively as practically necessary; that they are rather to be
regarded as counsels (consilia) than precepts precepts of reason, that
the problem to determine certainly and universally what action would
promote the happiness of a rational being is completely insoluble, and
consequently no imperative respecting it is possible which should,
in the strict sense, command to do what makes happy; because happiness
is not an ideal of reason but of imagination, resting solely on
empirical grounds, and it is vain to expect that these should define
an action by which one could attain the totality of a series of
consequences which is really endless. This imperative of prudence
would however be an analytical proposition if we assume that the means
to happiness could be certainly assigned; for it is distinguished from
the imperative of skill only by this, that in the latter the end is
merely possible, in the former it is given; as however both only
ordain the means to that which we suppose to be willed as an end, it
follows that the imperative which ordains the willing of the means
to him who wills the end is in both cases analytical. Thus there is no
difficulty in regard to the possibility of an imperative of this
kind either.

On the other hand, the question how the imperative of morality is
possible, is undoubtedly one, the only one, demanding a solution, as
this is not at all hypothetical, and the objective necessity which
it presents cannot rest on any hypothesis, as is the case with the
hypothetical imperatives. Only here we must never leave out of
consideration that we cannot make out by any example, in other words
empirically, whether there is such an imperative at all, but it is
rather to be feared that all those which seem to be categorical may
yet be at bottom hypothetical. For instance, when the precept is:
"Thou shalt not promise deceitfully"; and it is assumed that the
necessity of this is not a mere counsel to avoid some other evil, so
that it should mean: "Thou shalt not make a lying promise, lest if
it become known thou shouldst destroy thy credit," but that an
action of this kind must be regarded as evil in itself, so that the
imperative of the prohibition is categorical; then we cannot show with
certainty in any example that the will was determined merely by the
law, without any other spring of action, although it may appear to
be so. For it is always possible that fear of disgrace, perhaps also
obscure dread of other dangers, may have a secret influence on the
will. Who can prove by experience the non-existence of a cause when
all that experience tells us is that we do not perceive it? But in
such a case the so-called moral imperative, which as such appears to
be categorical and unconditional, would in reality be only a pragmatic
precept, drawing our attention to our own interests and merely
teaching us to take these into consideration.

We shall therefore have to investigate a priori the possibility of a
categorical imperative, as we have not in this case the advantage of
its reality being given in experience, so that [the elucidation of]
its possibility should be requisite only for its explanation, not
for its establishment. In the meantime it may be discerned
beforehand that the categorical imperative alone has the purport of
a practical law; all the rest may indeed be called principles of the
will but not laws, since whatever is only necessary for the attainment
of some arbitrary purpose may be considered as in itself contingent,
and we can at any time be free from the precept if we give up the
purpose; on the contrary, the unconditional command leaves the will no
liberty to choose the opposite; consequently it alone carries with
it that necessity which we require in a law.

Secondly, in the case of this categorical imperative or law of
morality, the difficulty (of discerning its possibility) is a very
profound one. It is an a priori synthetical practical proposition; *
and as there is so much difficulty in discerning the possibility of
speculative propositions of this kind, it may readily be supposed that
the difficulty will be no less with the practical.

* I connect the act with the will without presupposing any
condition resulting from any inclination, but a priori, and
therefore necessarily (though only objectively, i.e., assuming the
idea of a reason possessing full power over all subjective motives).
This is accordingly a practical proposition which does not deduce
the willing of an action by mere analysis from another already
presupposed (for we have not such a perfect will), but connects it
immediately with the conception of the will of a rational being, as
something not contained in it.

In this problem we will first inquire whether the mere conception of
a categorical imperative may not perhaps supply us also with the
formula of it, containing the proposition which alone can be a
categorical imperative; for even if we know the tenor of such an
absolute command, yet how it is possible will require further
special and laborious study, which we postpone to the last section.

When I conceive a hypothetical imperative, in general I do not
know beforehand what it will contain until I am given the condition.
But when I conceive a categorical imperative, I know at once what it
contains. For as the imperative contains besides the law only the
necessity that the maxims * shall conform to this law, while the law
contains no conditions restricting it, there remains nothing but the
general statement that the maxim of the action should conform to a
universal law, and it is this conformity alone that the imperative
properly represents as necessary.

* A maxim is a subjective principle of action, and must be
distinguished from the objective principle, namely, practical law. The
former contains the practical rule set by reason according to the
conditions of the subject (often its ignorance or its inclinations),
so that it is the principle on which the subject acts; but the law
is the objective principle valid for every rational being, and is
the principle on which it ought to act that is an imperative.

There is therefore but one categorical imperative, namely, this: Act
only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it
should become a universal law.

Now if all imperatives of duty can be deduced from this one
imperative as from their principle, then, although it should remain
undecided what is called duty is not merely a vain notion, yet at
least we shall be able to show what we understand by it and what
this notion means.

Since the universality of the law according to which effects are
produced constitutes what is properly called nature in the most
general sense (as to form), that is the existence of things so far
as it is determined by general laws, the imperative of duty may be
expressed thus: Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by
thy will a universal law of nature.

We will now enumerate a few duties, adopting the usual division of
them into duties to ourselves and ourselves and to others, and into
perfect and imperfect duties. *

* It must be noted here that I reserve the division of duties for a
future metaphysic of morals; so that I give it here only as an
arbitrary one (in order to arrange my examples). For the rest, I
understand by a perfect duty one that admits no exception in favour of
inclination and then I have not merely external but also internal
perfect duties. This is contrary to the use of the word adopted in the
schools; but I do not intend to justify there, as it is all one for my
purpose whether it is admitted or not.

1. A man reduced to despair by a series of misfortunes feels wearied
of life, but is still so far in possession of his reason that he can
ask himself whether it would not be contrary to his duty to himself to
take his own life. Now he inquires whether the maxim of his action
could become a universal law of nature. His maxim is: "From
self-love I adopt it as a principle to shorten my life when its longer
duration is likely to bring more evil than satisfaction." It is
asked then simply whether this principle founded on self-love can
become a universal law of nature. Now we see at once that a system
of nature of which it should be a law to destroy life by means of
the very feeling whose special nature it is to impel to the
improvement of life would contradict itself and, therefore, could
not exist as a system of nature; hence that maxim cannot possibly
exist as a universal law of nature and, consequently, would be
wholly inconsistent with the supreme principle of all duty.

2. Another finds himself forced by necessity to borrow money. He
knows that he will not be able to repay it, but sees also that nothing
will be lent to him unless he promises stoutly to repay it in a
definite time. He desires to make this promise, but he has still so
much conscience as to ask himself: "Is it not unlawful and
inconsistent with duty to get out of a difficulty in this way?"
Suppose however that he resolves to do so: then the maxim of his
action would be expressed thus: "When I think myself in want of money,
I will borrow money and promise to repay it, although I know that I
never can do so." Now this principle of self-love or of one's own
advantage may perhaps be consistent with my whole future welfare;
but the question now is, "Is it right?" I change then the suggestion
of self-love into a universal law, and state the question thus: "How
would it be if my maxim were a universal law?" Then I see at once that
it could never hold as a universal law of nature, but would
necessarily contradict itself. For supposing it to be a universal
law that everyone when he thinks himself in a difficulty should be
able to promise whatever he pleases, with the purpose of not keeping
his promise, the promise itself would become impossible, as well as
the end that one might have in view in it, since no one would consider
that anything was promised to him, but would ridicule all such
statements as vain pretences.

3. A third finds in himself a talent which with the help of some
culture might make him a useful man in many respects. But he finds
himself in comfortable circumstances and prefers to indulge in
pleasure rather than to take pains in enlarging and improving his
happy natural capacities. He asks, however, whether his maxim of
neglect of his natural gifts, besides agreeing with his inclination to
indulgence, agrees also with what is called duty. He sees then that
a system of nature could indeed subsist with such a universal law
although men (like the South Sea islanders) should let their talents
rest and resolve to devote their lives merely to idleness,
amusement, and propagation of their species- in a word, to
enjoyment; but he cannot possibly will that this should be a universal
law of nature, or be implanted in us as such by a natural instinct.
For, as a rational being, he necessarily wills that his faculties be
developed, since they serve him and have been given him, for all sorts
of possible purposes.

4. A fourth, who is in prosperity, while he sees that others have to
contend with great wretchedness and that he could help them, thinks:
"What concern is it of mine? Let everyone be as happy as Heaven
pleases, or as be can make himself; I will take nothing from him nor
even envy him, only I do not wish to contribute anything to his
welfare or to his assistance in distress!" Now no doubt if such a mode
of thinking were a universal law, the human race might very well
subsist and doubtless even better than in a state in which everyone
talks of sympathy and good-will, or even takes care occasionally to
put it into practice, but, on the other side, also cheats when he can,
betrays the rights of men, or otherwise violates them. But although it
is possible that a universal law of nature might exist in accordance
with that maxim, it is impossible to will that such a principle should
have the universal validity of a law of nature. For a will which
resolved this would contradict itself, inasmuch as many cases might
occur in which one would have need of the love and sympathy of others,
and in which, by such a law of nature, sprung from his own will, he
would deprive himself of all hope of the aid he desires.

These are a few of the many actual duties, or at least what we
regard as such, which obviously fall into two classes on the one
principle that we have laid down. We must be able to will that a maxim
of our action should be a universal law. This is the canon of the
moral appreciation of the action generally. Some actions are of such a
character that their maxim cannot without contradiction be even
conceived as a universal law of nature, far from it being possible
that we should will that it should be so. In others this intrinsic
impossibility is not found, but still it is impossible to will that
their maxim should be raised to the universality of a law of nature,
since such a will would contradict itself It is easily seen that the
former violate strict or rigorous (inflexible) duty; the latter only
laxer (meritorious) duty. Thus it has been completely shown how all
duties depend as regards the nature of the obligation (not the
object of the action) on the same principle.

If now we attend to ourselves on occasion of any transgression of
duty, we shall find that we in fact do not will that our maxim
should be a universal law, for that is impossible for us; on the
contrary, we will that the opposite should remain a universal law,
only we assume the liberty of making an exception in our own favour or
(just for this time only) in favour of our inclination. Consequently
if we considered all cases from one and the same point of view,
namely, that of reason, we should find a contradiction in our own
will, namely, that a certain principle should be objectively necessary
as a universal law, and yet subjectively should not be universal,
but admit of exceptions. As however we at one moment regard our action
from the point of view of a will wholly conformed to reason, and
then again look at the same action from the point of view of a will
affected by inclination, there is not really any contradiction, but an
antagonism of inclination to the precept of reason, whereby the
universality of the principle is changed into a mere generality, so
that the practical principle of reason shall meet the maxim half
way. Now, although this cannot be justified in our own impartial
judgement, yet it proves that we do really recognise the validity of
the categorical imperative and (with all respect for it) only allow
ourselves a few exceptions, which we think unimportant and forced from

We have thus established at least this much, that if duty is a
conception which is to have any import and real legislative
authority for our actions, it can only be expressed in categorical and
not at all in hypothetical imperatives. We have also, which is of
great importance, exhibited clearly and definitely for every practical
application the content of the categorical imperative, which must
contain the principle of all duty if there is such a thing at all.
We have not yet, however, advanced so far as to prove a priori that
there actually is such an imperative, that there is a practical law
which commands absolutely of itself and without any other impulse, and
that the following of this law is duty.

With the view of attaining to this, it is of extreme importance to
remember that we must not allow ourselves to think of deducing the
reality of this principle from the particular attributes of human
nature. For duty is to be a practical, unconditional necessity of
action; it must therefore hold for all rational beings (to whom an
imperative can apply at all), and for this reason only be also a law
for all human wills. On the contrary, whatever is deduced from the
particular natural characteristics of humanity, from certain
feelings and propensions, nay, even, if possible, from any
particular tendency proper to human reason, and which need not
necessarily hold for the will of every rational being; this may indeed
supply us with a maxim, but not with a law; with a subjective
principle on which we may have a propension and inclination to act,
but not with an objective principle on which we should be enjoined
to act, even though all our propensions, inclinations, and natural
dispositions were opposed to it. In fact, the sublimity and
intrinsic dignity of the command in duty are so much the more evident,
the less the subjective impulses favour it and the more they oppose
it, without being able in the slightest degree to weaken the
obligation of the law or to diminish its validity.

Here then we see philosophy brought to a critical position, since it
has to be firmly fixed, notwithstanding that it has nothing to support
it in heaven or earth. Here it must show its purity as absolute
director of its own laws, not the herald of those which are
whispered to it by an implanted sense or who knows what tutelary
nature. Although these may be better than nothing, yet they can
never afford principles dictated by reason, which must have their
source wholly a priori and thence their commanding authority,
expecting everything from the supremacy of the law and the due respect
for it, nothing from inclination, or else condemning the man to
self-contempt and inward abhorrence.

Thus every empirical element is not only quite incapable of being an
aid to the principle of morality, but is even highly prejudicial to
the purity of morals, for the proper and inestimable worth of an
absolutely good will consists just in this, that the principle of
action is free from all influence of contingent grounds, which alone
experience can furnish. We cannot too much or too often repeat our
warning against this lax and even mean habit of thought which seeks
for its principle amongst empirical motives and laws; for human reason
in its weariness is glad to rest on this pillow, and in a dream of
sweet illusions (in which, instead of Juno, it embraces a cloud) it
substitutes for morality a bastard patched up from limbs of various
derivation, which looks like anything one chooses to see in it, only
not like virtue to one who has once beheld her in her true form. *

* To behold virtue in her proper form is nothing else but to
contemplate morality stripped of all admixture of sensible things
and of every spurious ornament of reward or self-love. How much she
then eclipses everything else that appears charming to the affections,
every one may readily perceive with the least exertion of his
reason, if it be not wholly spoiled for abstraction.

The question then is this: "Is it a necessary law for all rational
beings that they should always judge of their actions by maxims of
which they can themselves will that they should serve as universal
laws?" If it is so, then it must be connected (altogether a priori)
with the very conception of the will of a rational being generally.
But in order to discover this connexion we must, however
reluctantly, take a step into metaphysic, although into a domain of it
which is distinct from speculative philosophy, namely, the
metaphysic of morals. In a practical philosophy, where it is not the
reasons of what happens that we have to ascertain, but the laws of
what ought to happen, even although it never does, i.e., objective
practical laws, there it is not necessary to inquire into the
reasons why anything pleases or displeases, how the pleasure of mere
sensation differs from taste, and whether the latter is distinct
from a general satisfaction of reason; on what the feeling of pleasure
or pain rests, and how from it desires and inclinations arise, and
from these again maxims by the co-operation of reason: for all this
belongs to an empirical psychology, which would constitute the
second part of physics, if we regard physics as the philosophy of
nature, so far as it is based on empirical laws. But here we are
concerned with objective practical laws and, consequently, with the
relation of the will to itself so far as it is determined by reason
alone, in which case whatever has reference to anything empirical is
necessarily excluded; since if reason of itself alone determines the
conduct (and it is the possibility of this that we are now
investigating), it must necessarily do so a priori.

The will is conceived as a faculty of determining oneself to
action in accordance with the conception of certain laws. And such a
faculty can be found only in rational beings. Now that which serves
the will as the objective ground of its self-determination is the end,
and, if this is assigned by reason alone, it must hold for all
rational beings. On the other hand, that which merely contains the
ground of possibility of the action of which the effect is the end,
this is called the means. The subjective ground of the desire is the
spring, the objective ground of the volition is the motive; hence
the distinction between subjective ends which rest on springs, and
objective ends which depend on motives valid for every rational being.
Practical principles are formal when they abstract from all subjective
ends; they are material when they assume these, and therefore
particular springs of action. The ends which a rational being proposes
to himself at pleasure as effects of his actions (material ends) are
all only relative, for it is only their relation to the particular
desires of the subject that gives them their worth, which therefore
cannot furnish principles universal and necessary for all rational
beings and for every volition, that is to say practical laws. Hence
all these relative ends can give rise only to hypothetical

Supposing, however, that there were something whose existence has in
itself an absolute worth, something which, being an end in itself,
could be a source of definite laws; then in this and this alone
would lie the source of a possible categorical imperative, i.e., a
practical law.

Now I say: man and generally any rational being exists as an end
in himself, not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or
that will, but in all his actions, whether they concern himself or
other rational beings, must be always regarded at the same time as
an end. All objects of the inclinations have only a conditional worth,
for if the inclinations and the wants founded on them did not exist,
then their object would be without value. But the inclinations,
themselves being sources of want, are so far from having an absolute
worth for which they should be desired that on the contrary it must be
the universal wish of every rational being to be wholly free from
them. Thus the worth of any object which is to be acquired by our
action is always conditional. Beings whose existence depends not on
our will but on nature's, have nevertheless, if they are irrational
beings, only a relative value as means, and are therefore called
things; rational beings, on the contrary, are called persons,
because their very nature points them out as ends in themselves,
that is as something which must not be used merely as means, and so
far therefore restricts freedom of action (and is an object of
respect). These, therefore, are not merely subjective ends whose
existence has a worth for us as an effect of our action, but objective
ends, that is, things whose existence is an end in itself; an end
moreover for which no other can be substituted, which they should
subserve merely as means, for otherwise nothing whatever would possess
absolute worth; but if all worth were conditioned and therefore
contingent, then there would be no supreme practical principle of
reason whatever.

If then there is a supreme practical principle or, in respect of the
human will, a categorical imperative, it must be one which, being
drawn from the conception of that which is necessarily an end for
everyone because it is an end in itself, constitutes an objective
principle of will, and can therefore serve as a universal practical
law. The foundation of this principle is: rational nature exists as an
end in itself. Man necessarily conceives his own existence as being
so; so far then this is a subjective principle of human actions. But
every other rational being regards its existence similarly, just on
the same rational principle that holds for me: * so that it is at the
same time an objective principle, from which as a supreme practical
law all laws of the will must be capable of being deduced. Accordingly
the practical imperative will be as follows: So act as to treat
humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in
every case as an end withal, never as means only. We will now
inquire whether this can be practically carried out.

* This proposition is here stated as a postulate. The ground of it
will be found in the concluding section.

To abide by the previous examples:

Firstly, under the head of necessary duty to oneself: He who
contemplates suicide should ask himself whether his action can be
consistent with the idea of humanity as an end in itself. If he
destroys himself in order to escape from painful circumstances, he
uses a person merely as a mean to maintain a tolerable condition up to
the end of life. But a man is not a thing, that is to say, something
which can be used merely as means, but must in all his actions be
always considered as an end in himself. I cannot, therefore, dispose
in any way of a man in my own person so as to mutilate him, to
damage or kill him. (It belongs to ethics proper to define this
principle more precisely, so as to avoid all misunderstanding, e.
g., as to the amputation of the limbs in order to preserve myself,
as to exposing my life to danger with a view to preserve it, etc. This
question is therefore omitted here.)

Secondly, as regards necessary duties, or those of strict
obligation, towards others: He who is thinking of making a lying
promise to others will see at once that he would be using another
man merely as a mean, without the latter containing at the same time
the end in himself. For he whom I propose by such a promise to use for
my own purposes cannot possibly assent to my mode of acting towards
him and, therefore, cannot himself contain the end of this action.
This violation of the principle of humanity in other men is more
obvious if we take in examples of attacks on the freedom and
property of others. For then it is clear that he who transgresses
the rights of men intends to use the person of others merely as a
means, without considering that as rational beings they ought always
to be esteemed also as ends, that is, as beings who must be capable of
containing in themselves the end of the very same action. *

* Let it not be thought that the common "quod tibi non vis fieri,
etc." could serve here as the rule or principle. For it is only a
deduction from the former, though with several limitations; it
cannot be a universal law, for it does not contain the principle of
duties to oneself, nor of the duties of benevolence to others (for
many a one would gladly consent that others should not benefit him,
provided only that he might be excused from showing benevolence to
them), nor finally that of duties of strict obligation to one another,
for on this principle the criminal might argue against the judge who
punishes him, and so on.

Thirdly, as regards contingent (meritorious) duties to oneself: It
is not enough that the action does not violate humanity in our own
person as an end in itself, it must also harmonize with it. Now
there are in humanity capacities of greater perfection, which belong
to the end that nature has in view in regard to humanity in
ourselves as the subject: to neglect these might perhaps be consistent
with the maintenance of humanity as an end in itself, but not with the
advancement of this end.

Fourthly, as regards meritorious duties towards others: The
natural end which all men have is their own happiness. Now humanity
might indeed subsist, although no one should contribute anything to
the happiness of others, provided he did not intentionally withdraw
anything from it; but after all this would only harmonize negatively
not positively with humanity as an end in itself, if every one does
not also endeavour, as far as in him lies, to forward the ends of
others. For the ends of any subject which is an end in himself ought
as far as possible to be my ends also, if that conception is to have
its full effect with me.

This principle, that humanity and generally every rational nature is
an end in itself (which is the supreme limiting condition of every
man's freedom of action), is not borrowed from experience, firstly,
because it is universal, applying as it does to all rational beings
whatever, and experience is not capable of determining anything
about them; secondly, because it does not present humanity as an end
to men (subjectively), that is as an object which men do of themselves
actually adopt as an end; but as an objective end, which must as a law
constitute the supreme limiting condition of all our subjective
ends, let them be what we will; it must therefore spring from pure
reason. In fact the objective principle of all practical legislation
lies (according to the first principle) in the rule and its form of
universality which makes it capable of being a law (say, e. g., a
law of nature); but the subjective principle is in the end; now by the
second principle the subject of all ends is each rational being,
inasmuch as it is an end in itself. Hence follows the third
practical principle of the will, which is the ultimate condition of
its harmony with universal practical reason, viz.: the idea of the
will of every rational being as a universally legislative will.

On this principle all maxims are rejected which are inconsistent
with the will being itself universal legislator. Thus the will is
not subject simply to the law, but so subject that it must be regarded
as itself giving the law and, on this ground only, subject to the
law (of which it can regard itself as the author).

In the previous imperatives, namely, that based on the conception of
the conformity of actions to general laws, as in a physical system
of nature, and that based on the universal prerogative of rational
beings as ends in themselves- these imperatives, just because they
were conceived as categorical, excluded from any share in their
authority all admixture of any interest as a spring of action; they
were, however, only assumed to be categorical, because such an
assumption was necessary to explain the conception of duty. But we
could not prove independently that there are practical propositions
which command categorically, nor can it be proved in this section; one
thing, however, could be done, namely, to indicate in the imperative
itself, by some determinate expression, that in the case of volition
from duty all interest is renounced, which is the specific criterion
of categorical as distinguished from hypothetical imperatives. This is
done in the present (third) formula of the principle, namely, in the
idea of the will of every rational being as a universally
legislating will.

For although a will which is subject to laws may be attached to this
law by means of an interest, yet a will which is itself a supreme
lawgiver so far as it is such cannot possibly depend on any
interest, since a will so dependent would itself still need another
law restricting the interest of its self-love by the condition that it
should be valid as universal law.

Thus the principle that every human will is a will which in all
its maxims gives universal laws, * provided it be otherwise
justified, would be very well adapted to be the categorical
imperative, in this respect, namely, that just because of the idea
of universal legislation it is not based on interest, and therefore it
alone among all possible imperatives can be unconditional. Or still
better, converting the proposition, if there is a categorical
imperative (i.e., a law for the will of every rational being), it
can only command that everything be done from maxims of one's will
regarded as a will which could at the same time will that it should
itself give universal laws, for in that case only the practical
principle and the imperative which it obeys are unconditional, since
they cannot be based on any interest.

* I may be excused from adducing examples to elucidate this
principle, as those which have already been used to elucidate the
categorical imperative and its formula would all serve for the like
purpose here.

Looking back now on all previous attempts to discover the
principle of morality, we need not wonder why they all failed. It
was seen that man was bound to laws by duty, but it was not observed
that the laws to which he is subject are only those of his own giving,
though at the same time they are universal, and that he is only
bound to act in conformity with his own will; a will, however, which
is designed by nature to give universal laws. For when one has
conceived man only as subject to a law (no matter what), then this law
required some interest, either by way of attraction or constraint,
since it did not originate as a law from his own will, but this will
was according to a law obliged by something else to act in a certain
manner. Now by this necessary consequence all the labour spent in
finding a supreme principle of duty was irrevocably lost. For men
never elicited duty, but only a necessity of acting from a certain
interest. Whether this interest was private or otherwise, in any
case the imperative must be conditional and could not by any means
be capable of being a moral command. I will therefore call this the
principle of autonomy of the will, in contrast with every other
which I accordingly reckon as heteronomy.

The conception of the will of every rational being as one which must
consider itself as giving in all the maxims of its will universal
laws, so as to judge itself and its actions from this point of view-
this conception leads to another which depends on it and is very
fruitful, namely that of a kingdom of ends.

By a kingdom I understand the union of different rational beings
in a system by common laws. Now since it is by laws that ends are
determined as regards their universal validity, hence, if we
abstract from the personal differences of rational beings and likewise
from all the content of their private ends, we shall be able to
conceive all ends combined in a systematic whole (including both
rational beings as ends in themselves, and also the special ends which
each may propose to himself), that is to say, we can conceive a
kingdom of ends, which on the preceding principles is possible.

For all rational beings come under the law that each of them must
treat itself and all others never merely as means, but in every case
at the same time as ends in themselves. Hence results a systematic
union of rational being by common objective laws, i.e., a kingdom
which may be called a kingdom of ends, since what these laws have in
view is just the relation of these beings to one another as ends and
means. It is certainly only an ideal.

A rational being belongs as a member to the kingdom of ends when,
although giving universal laws in it, he is also himself subject to
these laws. He belongs to it as sovereign when, while giving laws,
he is not subject to the will of any other.

A rational being must always regard himself as giving laws either as
member or as sovereign in a kingdom of ends which is rendered possible
by the freedom of will. He cannot, however, maintain the latter
position merely by the maxims of his will, but only in case he is a
completely independent being without wants and with unrestricted power
adequate to his will.

Morality consists then in the reference of all action to the
legislation which alone can render a kingdom of ends possible. This
legislation must be capable of existing in every rational being and of
emanating from his will, so that the principle of this will is never
to act on any maxim which could not without contradiction be also a
universal law and, accordingly, always so to act that the will could
at the same time regard itself as giving in its maxims universal laws.
If now the maxims of rational beings are not by their own nature
coincident with this objective principle, then the necessity of acting
on it is called practical necessitation, i.e., duty. Duty does not
apply to the sovereign in the kingdom of ends, but it does to every
member of it and to all in the same degree.

The practical necessity of acting on this principle, i.e., duty,
does not rest at all on feelings, impulses, or inclinations, but
solely on the relation of rational beings to one another, a relation
in which the will of a rational being must always be regarded as
legislative, since otherwise it could not be conceived as an end in
itself. Reason then refers every maxim of the will, regarding it as
legislating universally, to every other will and also to every
action towards oneself; and this not on account of any other practical
motive or any future advantage, but from the idea of the dignity of
a rational being, obeying no law but that which he himself also gives.

In the kingdom of ends everything has either value or dignity.
Whatever has a value can be replaced by something else which is
equivalent; whatever, on the other hand, is above all value, and
therefore admits of no equivalent, has a dignity.

Whatever has reference to the general inclinations and wants of
mankind has a market value; whatever, without presupposing a want,
corresponds to a certain taste, that is to a satisfaction in the
mere purposeless play of our faculties, has a fancy value; but that
which constitutes the condition under which alone anything can be an
end in itself, this has not merely a relative worth, i.e., value,
but an intrinsic worth, that is, dignity.

Now morality is the condition under which alone a rational being can
be an end in himself, since by this alone is it possible that he
should be a legislating member in the kingdom of ends. Thus
morality, and humanity as capable of it, is that which alone has
dignity. Skill and diligence in labour have a market value; wit,
lively imagination, and humour, have fancy value; on the other hand,
fidelity to promises, benevolence from principle (not from
instinct), have an intrinsic worth. Neither nature nor art contains
anything which in default of these it could put in their place, for
their worth consists not in the effects which spring from them, not in
the use and advantage which they secure, but in the disposition of
mind, that is, the maxims of the will which are ready to manifest
themselves in such actions, even though they should not have the
desired effect. These actions also need no recommendation from any
subjective taste or sentiment, that they may be looked on with
immediate favour and satisfaction: they need no immediate propension
or feeling for them; they exhibit the will that performs them as an
object of an immediate respect, and nothing but reason is required
to impose them on the will; not to flatter it into them, which, in the
case of duties, would be a contradiction. This estimation therefore
shows that the worth of such a disposition is dignity, and places it
infinitely above all value, with which it cannot for a moment be
brought into comparison or competition without as it were violating
its sanctity.

What then is it which justifies virtue or the morally good
disposition, in making such lofty claims? It is nothing less than
the privilege it secures to the rational being of participating in the
giving of universal laws, by which it qualifies him to be a member
of a possible kingdom of ends, a privilege to which he was already
destined by his own nature as being an end in himself and, on that
account, legislating in the kingdom of ends; free as regards all
laws of physical nature, and obeying those only which he himself
gives, and by which his maxims can belong to a system of universal
law, to which at the same time he submits himself. For nothing has any
worth except what the law assigns it. Now the legislation itself which
assigns the worth of everything must for that very reason possess
dignity, that is an unconditional incomparable worth; and the word
respect alone supplies a becoming expression for the esteem which a
rational being must have for it. Autonomy then is the basis of the
dignity of human and of every rational nature.

The three modes of presenting the principle of morality that have
been adduced are at bottom only so many formulae of the very same law,
and each of itself involves the other two. There is, however, a
difference in them, but it is rather subjectively than objectively
practical, intended namely to bring an idea of the reason nearer to
intuition (by means of a certain analogy) and thereby nearer to
feeling. All maxims, in fact, have:

1. A form, consisting in universality; and in this view the
formula of the moral imperative is expressed thus, that the maxims
must be so chosen as if they were to serve as universal laws of

2. A matter, namely, an end, and here the formula says that the
rational being, as it is an end by its own nature and therefore an end
in itself, must in every maxim serve as the condition limiting all
merely relative and arbitrary ends.

3. A complete characterization of all maxims by means of that
formula, namely, that all maxims ought by their own legislation to
harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends as with a kingdom of
nature. * There is a progress here in the order of the categories of
unity of the form of the will (its universality), plurality of the
matter (the objects, i.e., the ends), and totality of the system of
these. In forming our moral judgement of actions, it is better to
proceed always on the strict method and start from the general formula
of the categorical imperative: Act according to a maxim which can at
the same time make itself a universal law. If, however, we wish to
gain an entrance for the moral law, it is very useful to bring one and
the same action under the three specified conceptions, and thereby
as far as possible to bring it nearer to intuition.

* Teleology considers nature as a kingdom of ends; ethics regards a
possible kingdom of ends as a kingdom nature. In the first case, the
kingdom of ends is a theoretical idea, adopted to explain what
actually is. In the latter it is a practical idea, adopted to bring
about that which is not yet, but which can be realized by our conduct,
namely, if it conforms to this idea.

We can now end where we started at the beginning, namely, with the
conception of a will unconditionally good. That will is absolutely
good which cannot be evil- in other words, whose maxim, if made a
universal law, could never contradict itself. This principle, then, is
its supreme law: "Act always on such a maxim as thou canst at the same
time will to be a universal law"; this is the sole condition under
which a will can never contradict itself; and such an imperative is
categorical. Since the validity of the will as a universal law for
possible actions is analogous to the universal connexion of the
existence of things by general laws, which is the formal notion of
nature in general, the categorical imperative can also be expressed
thus: Act on maxims which can at the same time have for their object
themselves as universal laws of nature. Such then is the formula of an
absolutely good will.

Rational nature is distinguished from the rest of nature by this,
that it sets before itself an end. This end would be the matter of
every good will. But since in the idea of a will that is absolutely
good without being limited by any condition (of attaining this or that
end) we must abstract wholly from every end to be effected (since this
would make every will only relatively good), it follows that in this
case the end must be conceived, not as an end to be effected, but as
an independently existing end. Consequently it is conceived only
negatively, i.e., as that which we must never act against and which,
therefore, must never be regarded merely as means, but must in every
volition be esteemed as an end likewise. Now this end can be nothing
but the subject of all possible ends, since this is also the subject
of a possible absolutely good will; for such a will cannot without
contradiction be postponed to any other object. The principle: "So act
in regard to every rational being (thyself and others), that he may
always have place in thy maxim as an end in himself," is accordingly
essentially identical with this other: "Act upon a maxim which, at the
same time, involves its own universal validity for every rational
being." For that in using means for every end I should limit my
maxim by the condition of its holding good as a law for every subject,
this comes to the same thing as that the fundamental principle of
all maxims of action must be that the subject of all ends, i.e., the
rational being himself, be never employed merely as means, but as
the supreme condition restricting the use of all means, that is in
every case as an end likewise.

It follows incontestably that, to whatever laws any rational being
may be subject, he being an end in himself must be able to regard
himself as also legislating universally in respect of these same laws,
since it is just this fitness of his maxims for universal
legislation that distinguishes him as an end in himself; also it
follows that this implies his dignity (prerogative) above all mere
physical beings, that he must always take his maxims from the point of
view which regards himself and, likewise, every other rational being
as law-giving beings (on which account they are called persons). In
this way a world of rational beings (mundus intelligibilis) is
possible as a kingdom of ends, and this by virtue of the legislation
proper to all persons as members. Therefore every rational being
must so act as if he were by his maxims in every case a legislating
member in the universal kingdom of ends. The formal principle of these
maxims is: "So act as if thy maxim were to serve likewise as the
universal law (of all rational beings)." A kingdom of ends is thus
only possible on the analogy of a kingdom of nature, the former
however only by maxims, that is self-imposed rules, the latter only by
the laws of efficient causes acting under necessitation from
without. Nevertheless, although the system of nature is looked upon as
a machine, yet so far as it has reference to rational beings as its
ends, it is given on this account the name of a kingdom of nature. Now
such a kingdom of ends would be actually realized by means of maxims
conforming to the canon which the categorical imperative prescribes to
all rational beings, if they were universally followed. But although a
rational being, even if he punctually follows this maxim himself,
cannot reckon upon all others being therefore true to the same, nor
expect that the kingdom of nature and its orderly arrangements shall
be in harmony with him as a fitting member, so as to form a kingdom of
ends to which he himself contributes, that is to say, that it shall
favour his expectation of happiness, still that law: "Act according to
the maxims of a member of a merely possible kingdom of ends
legislating in it universally," remains in its full force, inasmuch as
it commands categorically. And it is just in this that the paradox
lies; that the mere dignity of man as a rational creature, without any
other end or advantage to be attained thereby, in other words, respect
for a mere idea, should yet serve as an inflexible precept of the
will, and that it is precisely in this independence of the maxim on
all such springs of action that its sublimity consists; and it is this
that makes every rational subject worthy to be a legislative member in
the kingdom of ends: for otherwise he would have to be conceived
only as subject to the physical law of his wants. And although we
should suppose the kingdom of nature and the kingdom of ends to be
united under one sovereign, so that the latter kingdom thereby
ceased to be a mere idea and acquired true reality, then it would no
doubt gain the accession of a strong spring, but by no means any
increase of its intrinsic worth. For this sole absolute lawgiver must,
notwithstanding this, be always conceived as estimating the worth of
rational beings only by their disinterested behaviour, as prescribed
to themselves from that idea [the dignity of man] alone. The essence
of things is not altered by their external relations, and that
which, abstracting from these, alone constitutes the absolute worth of
man, is also that by which he must be judged, whoever the judge may
be, and even by the Supreme Being. Morality, then, is the relation
of actions to the relation of actions will, that is, to the autonomy
of potential universal legislation by its maxims. An action that is
consistent with the autonomy of the will is permitted; one that does
not agree therewith is forbidden. A will whose maxims necessarily
coincide with the laws of autonomy is a holy will, good absolutely.
The dependence of a will not absolutely good on the principle of
autonomy (moral necessitation) is obligation. This, then, cannot be
applied to a holy being. The objective necessity of actions from
obligation is called duty.

From what has just been said, it is easy to see how it happens that,
although the conception of duty implies subjection to the law, we
yet ascribe a certain dignity and sublimity to the person who
fulfils all his duties. There is not, indeed, any sublimity in him, so
far as he is subject to the moral law; but inasmuch as in regard to
that very law he is likewise a legislator, and on that account alone
subject to it, he has sublimity. We have also shown above that neither
fear nor inclination, but simply respect for the law, is the spring
which can give actions a moral worth. Our own will, so far as we
suppose it to act only under the condition that its maxims are
potentially universal laws, this ideal will which is possible to us is
the proper object of respect; and the dignity of humanity consists
just in this capacity of being universally legislative, though with
the condition that it is itself subject to this same legislation.

The Autonomy of the Will as the Supreme Principle of Morality

Autonomy of the will is that property of it by which it is a law
to itself (independently of any property of the objects of
volition). The principle of autonomy then is: "Always so to choose
that the same volition shall comprehend the maxims of our choice as
a universal law." We cannot prove that this practical rule is an
imperative, i.e., that the will of every rational being is necessarily
bound to it as a condition, by a mere analysis of the conceptions
which occur in it, since it is a synthetical proposition; we must
advance beyond the cognition of the objects to a critical
examination of the subject, that is, of the pure practical reason, for
this synthetic proposition which commands apodeictically must be
capable of being cognized wholly a priori. This matter, however,
does not belong to the present section. But that the principle of
autonomy in question is the sole principle of morals can be readily
shown by mere analysis of the conceptions of morality. For by this
analysis we find that its principle must be a categorical imperative
and that what this commands is neither more nor less than this very

Heteronomy of the Will as the Source of all spurious Principles

of Morality

If the will seeks the law which is to determine it anywhere else
than in the fitness of its maxims to be universal laws of its own
dictation, consequently if it goes out of itself and seeks this law in
the character of any of its objects, there always results
heteronomy. The will in that case does not give itself the law, but it
is given by the object through its relation to the will. This
relation, whether it rests on inclination or on conceptions of reason,
only admits of hypothetical imperatives: "I ought to do something
because I wish for something else." On the contrary, the moral, and
therefore categorical, imperative says: "I ought to do so and so, even
though I should not wish for anything else." E.g., the former says: "I
ought not to lie, if I would retain my reputation"; the latter says:
"I ought not to lie, although it should not bring me the least
discredit." The latter therefore must so far abstract from all objects
that they shall have no influence on the will, in order that practical
reason (will) may not be restricted to administering an interest not
belonging to it, but may simply show its own commanding authority as
the supreme legislation. Thus, e.g., I ought to endeavour to promote
the happiness of others, not as if its realization involved any
concern of mine (whether by immediate inclination or by any
satisfaction indirectly gained through reason), but simply because a
maxim which excludes it cannot be comprehended as a universal law in
one and the same volition.

Classification of all Principles of Morality which can be

founded on the Conception of Heteronomy

Here as elsewhere human reason in its pure use, so long as it was
not critically examined, has first tried all possible wrong ways
before it succeeded in finding the one true way.

All principles which can be taken from this point of view are either
empirical or rational. The former, drawn from the principle of
happiness, are built on physical or moral feelings; the latter,
drawn from the principle of perfection, are built either on the
rational conception of perfection as a possible effect, or on that
of an independent perfection (the will of God) as the determining
cause of our will.

Empirical principles are wholly incapable of serving as a foundation
for moral laws. For the universality with which these should hold
for all rational beings without distinction, the unconditional
practical necessity which is thereby imposed on them, is lost when
their foundation is taken from the particular constitution of human
nature, or the accidental circumstances in which it is placed. The
principle of private happiness, however, is the most objectionable,
not merely because it is false, and experience contradicts the
supposition that prosperity is always proportioned to good conduct,
nor yet merely because it contributes nothing to the establishment
of morality- since it is quite a different thing to make a
prosperous man and a good man, or to make one prudent and
sharp-sighted for his own interests and to make him virtuous- but
because the springs it provides for morality are such as rather
undermine it and destroy its sublimity, since they put the motives
to virtue and to vice in the same class and only teach us to make a
better calculation, the specific difference between virtue and vice
being entirely extinguished. On the other hand, as to moral feeling,
this supposed special sense, * the appeal to it is indeed superficial
when those who cannot think believe that feeling will help them out,
even in what concerns general laws: and besides, feelings, which
naturally differ infinitely in degree, cannot furnish a uniform
standard of good and evil, nor has anyone a right to form judgements
for others by his own feelings: nevertheless this moral feeling is
nearer to morality and its dignity in this respect, that it pays
virtue the honour of ascribing to her immediately the satisfaction and
esteem we have for her and does not, as it were, tell her to her
face that we are not attached to her by her beauty but by profit.

* I class the principle of moral feeling under that of happiness,
because every empirical interest promises to contribute to our
well-being by the agreeableness that a thing affords, whether it be
immediately and without a view to profit, or whether profit be
regarded. We must likewise, with Hutcheson, class the principle of
sympathy with the happiness of others under his assumed moral sense.

Amongst the rational principles of morality, the ontological
conception of perfection, notwithstanding its defects, is better
than the theological conception which derives morality from a Divine
absolutely perfect will. The former is, no doubt, empty and indefinite
and consequently useless for finding in the boundless field of
possible reality the greatest amount suitable for us; moreover, in
attempting to distinguish specifically the reality of which we are now
speaking from every other, it inevitably tends to turn in a circle and
cannot avoid tacitly presupposing the morality which it is to explain;
it is nevertheless preferable to the theological view, first,
because we have no intuition of the divine perfection and can only
deduce it from our own conceptions, the most important of which is
that of morality, and our explanation would thus be involved in a
gross circle; and, in the next place, if we avoid this, the only
notion of the Divine will remaining to us is a conception made up of
the attributes of desire of glory and dominion, combined with the
awful conceptions of might and vengeance, and any system of morals
erected on this foundation would be directly opposed to morality.

However, if I had to choose between the notion of the moral sense
and that of perfection in general (two systems which at least do not
weaken morality, although they are totally incapable of serving as its
foundation), then I should decide for the latter, because it at
least withdraws the decision of the question from the sensibility
and brings it to the court of pure reason; and although even here it
decides nothing, it at all events preserves the indefinite idea (of
a will good in itself free from corruption, until it shall be more
precisely defined.

For the rest I think I may be excused here from a detailed
refutation of all these doctrines; that would only be superfluous
labour, since it is so easy, and is probably so well seen even by
those whose office requires them to decide for one of these theories
(because their hearers would not tolerate suspension of judgement).
But what interests us more here is to know that the prime foundation
of morality laid down by all these principles is nothing but
heteronomy of the will, and for this reason they must necessarily miss
their aim.

In every case where an object of the will has to be supposed, in
order that the rule may be prescribed which is to determine the
will, there the rule is simply heteronomy; the imperative is
conditional, namely, if or because one wishes for this object, one
should act so and so: hence it can never command morally, that is,
categorically. Whether the object determines the will by means of
inclination, as in the principle of private happiness, or by means
of reason directed to objects of our possible volition generally, as
in the principle of perfection, in either case the will never
determines itself immediately by the conception of the action, but
only by the influence which the foreseen effect of the action has on
the will; I ought to do something, on this account, because I wish for
something else; and here there must be yet another law assumed in me
as its subject, by which I necessarily will this other thing, and this
law again requires an imperative to restrict this maxim. For the
influence which the conception of an object within the reach of our
faculties can exercise on the will of the subject, in consequence of
its natural properties, depends on the nature of the subject, either
the sensibility (inclination and taste), or the understanding and
reason, the employment of which is by the peculiar constitution of
their nature attended with satisfaction. It follows that the law would
be, properly speaking, given by nature, and, as such, it must be known
and proved by experience and would consequently be contingent and
therefore incapable of being an apodeictic practical rule, such as the
moral rule must be. Not only so, but it is inevitably only heteronomy;
the will does not give itself the law, but is given by a foreign
impulse by means of a particular natural constitution of the subject
adapted to receive it. An absolutely good will, then, the principle of
which must be a categorical imperative, will be indeterminate as
regards all objects and will contain merely the form of volition
generally, and that as autonomy, that is to say, the capability of the
maxims of every good will to make themselves a universal law, is
itself the only law which the will of every rational being imposes
on itself, without needing to assume any spring or interest as a

How such a synthetical practical a priori proposition is possible,
and why it is necessary, is a problem whose solution does not lie
within the bounds of the metaphysic of morals; and we have not here
affirmed its truth, much less professed to have a proof of it in our
power. We simply showed by the development of the universally received
notion of morality that an autonomy of the will is inevitably
connected with it, or rather is its foundation. Whoever then holds
morality to be anything real, and not a chimerical idea without any
truth, must likewise admit the principle of it that is here
assigned. This section then, like the first, was merely analytical.
Now to prove that morality is no creation of the brain, which it
cannot be if the categorical imperative and with it the autonomy of
the will is true, and as an a priori principle absolutely necessary,
this supposes the possibility of a synthetic use of pure practical
reason, which however we cannot venture on without first giving a
critical examination of this faculty of reason. In the concluding
section we shall give the principal outlines of this critical
examination as far as is sufficient for our purpose.





The Concept of Freedom is the Key that explains the Autonomy of
the Will

The will is a kind of causality belonging to living beings in so far
as they are rational, and freedom would be this property of such
causality that it can be efficient, independently of foreign causes
determining it; just as physical necessity is the property that the
causality of all irrational beings has of being determined to activity
by the influence of foreign causes.

The preceding definition of freedom is negative and therefore
unfruitful for the discovery of its essence, but it leads to a
positive conception which is so much the more full and fruitful.

Since the conception of causality involves that of laws, according
to which, by something that we call cause, something else, namely
the effect, must be produced; hence, although freedom is not a
property of the will depending on physical laws, yet it is not for
that reason lawless; on the contrary it must be a causality acting
according to immutable laws, but of a peculiar kind; otherwise a
free will would be an absurdity. Physical necessity is a heteronomy of
the efficient causes, for every effect is possible only according to
this law, that something else determines the efficient cause to
exert its causality. What else then can freedom of the will be but
autonomy, that is, the property of the will to be a law to itself? But
the proposition: "The will is in every action a law to itself," only
expresses the principle: "To act on no other maxim than that which can
also have as an object itself as a universal law." Now this is
precisely the formula of the categorical imperative and is the
principle of morality, so that a free will and a will subject to moral
laws are one and the same.

On the hypothesis, then, of freedom of the will, morality together
with its principle follows from it by mere analysis of the conception.
However, the latter is a synthetic proposition; viz., an absolutely
good will is that whose maxim can always include itself regarded as
a universal law; for this property of its maxim can never be
discovered by analysing the conception of an absolutely good will. Now
such synthetic propositions are only possible in this way: that the
two cognitions are connected together by their union with a third in
which they are both to be found. The positive concept of freedom
furnishes this third cognition, which cannot, as with physical causes,
be the nature of the sensible world (in the concept of which we find
conjoined the concept of something in relation as cause to something
else as effect). We cannot now at once show what this third is to
which freedom points us and of which we have an idea a priori, nor can
we make intelligible how the concept of freedom is shown to be
legitimate from principles of pure practical reason and with it the
possibility of a categorical imperative; but some further
preparation is required.

Freedom must be presupposed as a Property of the Will

of all Rational Beings

It is not enough to predicate freedom of our own will, from Whatever
reason, if we have not sufficient grounds for predicating the same
of all rational beings. For as morality serves as a law for us only
because we are rational beings, it must also hold for all rational
beings; and as it must be deduced simply from the property of freedom,
it must be shown that freedom also is a property of all rational
beings. It is not enough, then, to prove it from certain supposed
experiences of human nature (which indeed is quite impossible, and
it can only be shown a priori), but we must show that it belongs to
the activity of all rational beings endowed with a will. Now I say
every being that cannot act except under the idea of freedom is just
for that reason in a practical point of view really free, that is to
say, all laws which are inseparably connected with freedom have the
same force for him as if his will had been shown to be free in
itself by a proof theoretically conclusive. * Now I affirm that we
must attribute to every rational being which has a will that it has
also the idea of freedom and acts entirely under this idea. For in
such a being we conceive a reason that is practical, that is, has
causality in reference to its objects. Now we cannot possibly conceive
a reason consciously receiving a bias from any other quarter with
respect to its judgements, for then the subject would ascribe the
determination of its judgement not to its own reason, but to an
impulse. It must regard itself as the author of its principles
independent of foreign influences. Consequently as practical reason or
as the will of a rational being it must regard itself as free, that is
to say, the will of such a being cannot be a will of its own except
under the idea of freedom. This idea must therefore in a practical
point of view be ascribed to every rational being.

* I adopt this method of assuming freedom merely as an idea which
rational beings suppose in their actions, in order to avoid the
necessity of proving it in its theoretical aspect also. The former
is sufficient for my purpose; for even though the speculative proof
should not be made out, yet a being that cannot act except with the
idea of freedom is bound by the same laws that would oblige a being
who was actually free. Thus we can escape here from the onus which
presses on the theory.

Of the Interest attaching to the Ideas of Morality

We have finally reduced the definite conception of morality to the
idea of freedom. This latter, however, we could not prove to be
actually a property of ourselves or of human nature; only we saw
that it must be presupposed if we would conceive a being as rational
and conscious of its causality in respect of its actions, i.e., as
endowed with a will; and so we find that on just the same grounds we
must ascribe to every being endowed with reason and will this
attribute of determining itself to action under the idea of its

Now it resulted also from the presupposition of these ideas that
we became aware of a law that the subjective principles of action,
i.e., maxims, must always be so assumed that they can also hold as
objective, that is, universal principles, and so serve as universal
laws of our own dictation. But why then should I subject myself to
this principle and that simply as a rational being, thus also
subjecting to it all other being endowed with reason? I will allow
that no interest urges me to this, for that would not give a
categorical imperative, but I must take an interest in it and
discern how this comes to pass; for this properly an "I ought" is
properly an "I would," valid for every rational being, provided only
that reason determined his actions without any hindrance. But for
beings that are in addition affected as we are by springs of a
different kind, namely, sensibility, and in whose case that is not
always done which reason alone would do, for these that necessity is
expressed only as an "ought," and the subjective necessity is
different from the objective.

It seems then as if the moral law, that is, the principle of
autonomy of the will, were properly speaking only presupposed in the
idea of freedom, and as if we could not prove its reality and
objective necessity independently. In that case we should still have
gained something considerable by at least determining the true
principle more exactly than had previously been done; but as regards
its validity and the practical necessity of subjecting oneself to
it, we should not have advanced a step. For if we were asked why the
universal validity of our maxim as a law must be the condition
restricting our actions, and on what we ground the worth which we
assign to this manner of acting- a worth so great that there cannot be
any higher interest; and if we were asked further how it happens
that it is by this alone a man believes he feels his own personal
worth, in comparison with which that of an agreeable or disagreeable
condition is to be regarded as nothing, to these questions we could
give no satisfactory answer.

We find indeed sometimes that we can take an interest in a
personal quality which does not involve any interest of external
condition, provided this quality makes us capable of participating
in the condition in case reason were to effect the allotment; that
is to say, the mere being worthy of happiness can interest of itself
even without the motive of participating in this happiness. This
judgement, however, is in fact only the effect of the importance of
the moral law which we before presupposed (when by the idea of freedom
we detach ourselves from every empirical interest); but that we
ought to detach ourselves from these interests, i.e., to consider
ourselves as free in action and yet as subject to certain laws, so
as to find a worth simply in our own person which can compensate us
for the loss of everything that gives worth to our condition; this
we are not yet able to discern in this way, nor do we see how it is
possible so to act- in other words, whence the moral law derives its

It must be freely admitted that there is a sort of circle here
from which it seems impossible to escape. In the order of efficient
causes we assume ourselves free, in order that in the order of ends we
may conceive ourselves as subject to moral laws: and we afterwards
conceive ourselves as subject to these laws, because we have
attributed to ourselves freedom of will: for freedom and
self-legislation of will are both autonomy and, therefore, are
reciprocal conceptions, and for this very reason one must not be
used to explain the other or give the reason of it, but at most only
logical purposes to reduce apparently different notions of the same
object to one single concept (as we reduce different fractions of
the same value to the lowest terms).

One resource remains to us, namely, to inquire whether we do not
occupy different points of view when by means of freedom we think
ourselves as causes efficient a priori, and when we form our
conception of ourselves from our actions as effects which we see
before our eyes.

It is a remark which needs no subtle reflection to make, but which
we may assume that even the commonest understanding can make, although
it be after its fashion by an obscure discernment of judgement which
it calls feeling, that all the "ideas" that come to us involuntarily
(as those of the senses) do not enable us to know objects otherwise
than as they affect us; so that what they may be in themselves remains
unknown to us, and consequently that as regards "ideas" of this kind
even with the closest attention and clearness that the understanding
can apply to them, we can by them only attain to the knowledge of
appearances, never to that of things in themselves. As soon as this
distinction has once been made (perhaps merely in consequence of the
difference observed between the ideas given us from without, and in
which we are passive, and those that we produce simply from ourselves,
and in which we show our own activity), then it follows of itself that
we must admit and assume behind the appearance something else that
is not an appearance, namely, the things in themselves; although we
must admit that as they can never be known to us except as they affect
us, we can come no nearer to them, nor can we ever know what they
are in themselves. This must furnish a distinction, however crude,
between a world of sense and the world of understanding, of which
the former may be different according to the difference of the
sensuous impressions in various observers, while the second which is
its basis always remains the same, Even as to himself, a man cannot
pretend to know what he is in himself from the knowledge he has by
internal sensation. For as he does not as it were create himself,
and does not come by the conception of himself a priori but
empirically, it naturally follows that he can obtain his knowledge
even of himself only by the inner sense and, consequently, only
through the appearances of his nature and the way in which his
consciousness is affected. At the same time beyond these
characteristics of his own subject, made up of mere appearances, he
must necessarily suppose something else as their basis, namely, his
ego, whatever its characteristics in itself may be. Thus in respect to
mere perception and receptivity of sensations he must reckon himself
as belonging to the world of sense; but in respect of whatever there
may be of pure activity in him (that which reaches consciousness
immediately and not through affecting the senses), he must reckon
himself as belonging to the intellectual world, of which, however,
he has no further knowledge. To such a conclusion the reflecting man
must come with respect to all the things which can be presented to
him: it is probably to be met with even in persons of the commonest
understanding, who, as is well known, are very much inclined to
suppose behind the objects of the senses something else invisible
and acting of itself. They spoil it, however, by presently
sensualizing this invisible again; that is to say, wanting to make
it an object of intuition, so that they do not become a whit the

Now man really finds in himself a faculty by which he
distinguishes himself from everything else, even from himself as
affected by objects, and that is reason. This being pure spontaneity
is even elevated above the understanding. For although the latter is a
spontaneity and does not, like sense, merely contain intuitions that
arise when we are affected by things (and are therefore passive),
yet it cannot produce from its activity any other conceptions than
those which merely serve to bring the intuitions of sense under
rules and, thereby, to unite them in one consciousness, and without
this use of the sensibility it could not think at all; whereas, on the
contrary, reason shows so pure a spontaneity in the case of what I
call ideas [ideal conceptions] that it thereby far transcends
everything that the sensibility can give it, and exhibits its most
important function in distinguishing the world of sense from that of
understanding, and thereby prescribing the limits of the understanding

For this reason a rational being must regard himself qua
intelligence (not from the side of his lower faculties) as belonging
not to the world of sense, but to that of understanding; hence he
has two points of view from which he can regard himself, and recognise
laws of the exercise of his faculties, and consequently of all his
actions: first, so far as he belongs to the world of sense, he finds
himself subject to laws of nature (heteronomy); secondly, as belonging
to the intelligible world, under laws which being independent of
nature have their foundation not in experience but in reason alone.

As a rational being, and consequently belonging to the
intelligible world, man can never conceive the causality of his own
will otherwise than on condition of the idea of freedom, for
independence of the determinate causes of the sensible world (an
independence which reason must always ascribe to itself) is freedom.
Now the idea of freedom is inseparably connected with the conception
of autonomy, and this again with the universal principle of morality
which is ideally the foundation of all actions of rational beings,
just as the law of nature is of all phenomena.

Now the suspicion is removed which we raised above, that there was a
latent circle involved in our reasoning from freedom to autonomy,
and from this to the moral law, viz.: that we laid down the idea of
freedom because of the moral law only that we might afterwards in turn
infer the latter from freedom, and that consequently we could assign
no reason at all for this law, but could only [present] it as a
petitio principii which well disposed minds would gladly concede to
us, but which we could never put forward as a provable proposition.
For now we see that, when we conceive ourselves as free, we transfer
ourselves into the world of understanding as members of it and
recognise the autonomy of the will with its consequence, morality;
whereas, if we conceive ourselves as under obligation, we consider
ourselves as belonging to the world of sense and at the same time to
the world of understanding.

How is a Categorical Imperative Possible?

Every rational being reckons himself qua intelligence as belonging
to the world of understanding, and it is simply as an efficient
cause belonging to that world that he calls his causality a will. On
the other side he is also conscious of himself as a part of the
world of sense in which his actions, which are mere appearances
[phenomena] of that causality, are displayed; we cannot, however,
discern how they are possible from this causality which we do not
know; but instead of that, these actions as belonging to the
sensible world must be viewed as determined by other phenomena,
namely, desires and inclinations. If therefore I were only a member of
the world of understanding, then all my actions would perfectly
conform to the principle of autonomy of the pure will; if I were
only a part of the world of sense, they would necessarily be assumed
to conform wholly to the natural law of desires and inclinations, in
other words, to the heteronomy of nature. (The former would rest on
morality as the supreme principle, the latter on happiness.) Since,
however, the world of understanding contains the foundation of the
world of sense, and consequently of its laws also, and accordingly
gives the law to my will (which belongs wholly to the world of
understanding) directly, and must be conceived as doing so, it follows
that, although on the one side I must regard myself as a being
belonging to the world of sense, yet on the other side I must
recognize myself as subject as an intelligence to the law of the world
of understanding, i.e., to reason, which contains this law in the idea
of freedom, and therefore as subject to the autonomy of the will:
consequently I must regard the laws of the world of understanding as
imperatives for me and the actions which conform to them as duties.

And thus what makes categorical imperatives possible is this, that
the idea of freedom makes me a member of an intelligible world, in
consequence of which, if I were nothing else, all my actions would
always conform to the autonomy of the will; but as I at the same
time intuite myself as a member of the world of sense, they ought so
to conform, and this categorical "ought" implies a synthetic a
priori proposition, inasmuch as besides my will as affected by
sensible desires there is added further the idea of the same will
but as belonging to the world of the understanding, pure and practical
of itself, which contains the supreme condition according to reason of
the former will; precisely as to the intuitions of sense there are
added concepts of the understanding which of themselves signify
nothing but regular form in general and in this way synthetic a priori
propositions become possible, on which all knowledge of physical
nature rests.

The practical use of common human reason confirms this reasoning.
There is no one, not even the most consummate villain, provided only
that be is otherwise accustomed to the use of reason, who, when we set
before him examples of honesty of purpose, of steadfastness in
following good maxims, of sympathy and general benevolence (even
combined with great sacrifices of advantages and comfort), does not
wish that he might also possess these qualities. Only on account of
his inclinations and impulses he cannot attain this in himself, but at
the same time he wishes to be free from such inclinations which are
burdensome to himself. He proves by this that he transfers himself
in thought with a will free from the impulses of the sensibility
into an order of things wholly different from that of his desires in
the field of the sensibility; since he cannot expect to obtain by that
wish any gratification of his desires, nor any position which would
satisfy any of his actual or supposable inclinations (for this would
destroy the pre-eminence of the very idea which wrests that wish
from him): he can only expect a greater intrinsic worth of his own
person. This better person, however, he imagines himself to be when be
transfers himself to the point of view of a member of the world of the
understanding, to which he is involuntarily forced by the idea of
freedom, i.e., of independence on determining causes of the world of
sense; and from this point of view he is conscious of a good will,
which by his own confession constitutes the law for the bad will
that he possesses as a member of the world of sense- a law whose
authority he recognizes while transgressing it. What he morally
"ought" is then what he necessarily "would," as a member of the
world of the understanding, and is conceived by him as an "ought" only
inasmuch as he likewise considers himself as a member of the world
of sense.

Of the Extreme Limits of all Practical Philosophy.

All men attribute to themselves freedom of will. Hence come all
judgements upon actions as being such as ought to have been done,
although they have not been done. However, this freedom is not a
conception of experience, nor can it be so, since it still remains,
even though experience shows the contrary of what on supposition of
freedom are conceived as its necessary consequences. On the other side
it is equally necessary that everything that takes place should be
fixedly determined according to laws of nature. This necessity of
nature is likewise not an empirical conception, just for this
reason, that it involves the motion of necessity and consequently of a
priori cognition. But this conception of a system of nature is
confirmed by experience; and it must even be inevitably presupposed if
experience itself is to be possible, that is, a connected knowledge of
the objects of sense resting on general laws. Therefore freedom is
only an idea of reason, and its objective reality in itself is
doubtful; while nature is a concept of the understanding which proves,
and must necessarily prove, its reality in examples of experience.

There arises from this a dialectic of reason, since the freedom
attributed to the will appears to contradict the necessity of
nature, and placed between these two ways reason for speculative
purposes finds the road of physical necessity much more beaten and
more appropriate than that of freedom; yet for practical purposes
the narrow footpath of freedom is the only one on which it is possible
to make use of reason in our conduct; hence it is just as impossible
for the subtlest philosophy as for the commonest reason of men to
argue away freedom. Philosophy must then assume that no real
contradiction will be found between freedom and physical necessity
of the same human actions, for it cannot give up the conception of
nature any more than that of freedom.

Nevertheless, even though we should never be able to comprehend
how freedom is possible, we must at least remove this apparent
contradiction in a convincing manner. For if the thought of freedom
contradicts either itself or nature, which is equally necessary, it
must in competition with physical necessity be entirely given up.

It would, however, be impossible to escape this contradiction if the
thinking subject, which seems to itself free, conceived itself in
the same sense or in the very same relation when it calls itself
free as when in respect of the same action it assumes itself to be
subject to the law of nature. Hence it is an indispensable problem
of speculative philosophy to show that its illusion respecting the
contradiction rests on this, that we think of man in a different sense
and relation when we call him free and when we regard him as subject
to the laws of nature as being part and parcel of nature. It must
therefore show that not only can both these very well co-exist, but
that both must be thought as necessarily united in the same subject,
since otherwise no reason could be given why we should burden reason
with an idea which, though it may possibly without contradiction be
reconciled with another that is sufficiently established, yet
entangles us in a perplexity which sorely embarrasses reason in its
theoretic employment. This duty, however, belongs only to
speculative philosophy. The philosopher then has no option whether
he will remove the apparent contradiction or leave it untouched; for
in the latter case the theory respecting this would be bonum vacans,
into the possession of which the fatalist would have a right to
enter and chase all morality out of its supposed domain as occupying
it without title.

We cannot however as yet say that we are touching the bounds of
practical philosophy. For the settlement of that controversy does
not belong to it; it only demands from speculative reason that it
should put an end to the discord in which it entangles itself in
theoretical questions, so that practical reason may have rest and
security from external attacks which might make the ground debatable
on which it desires to build.

The claims to freedom of will made even by common reason are founded
on the consciousness and the admitted supposition that reason is
independent of merely subjectively determined causes which together
constitute what belongs to sensation only and which consequently
come under the general designation of sensibility. Man considering
himself in this way as an intelligence places himself thereby in a
different order of things and in a relation to determining grounds
of a wholly different kind when on the one hand he thinks of himself
as an intelligence endowed with a will, and consequently with
causality, and when on the other he perceives himself as a
phenomenon in the world of sense (as he really is also), and affirms
that his causality is subject to external determination according to
laws of nature. Now he soon becomes aware that both can hold good,
nay, must hold good at the same time. For there is not the smallest
contradiction in saying that a thing in appearance (belonging to the
world of sense) is subject to certain laws, of which the very same
as a thing or being in itself is independent, and that he must
conceive and think of himself in this twofold way, rests as to the
first on the consciousness of himself as an object affected through
the senses, and as to the second on the consciousness of himself as an
intelligence, i.e., as independent on sensible impressions in the
employment of his reason (in other words as belonging to the world
of understanding).

Hence it comes to pass that man claims the possession of a will
which takes no account of anything that comes under the head of
desires and inclinations and, on the contrary, conceives actions as
possible to him, nay, even as necessary which can only be done by
disregarding all desires and sensible inclinations. The causality of
such actions lies in him as an intelligence and in the laws of effects
and actions [which depend] on the principles of an intelligible world,
of which indeed he knows nothing more than that in it pure reason
alone independent of sensibility gives the law; moreover since it is
only in that world, as an intelligence, that he is his proper self
(being as man only the appearance of himself), those laws apply to him
directly and categorically, so that the incitements of inclinations
and appetites (in other words the whole nature of the world of
sense) cannot impair the laws of his volition as an intelligence. Nay,
he does not even hold himself responsible for the former or ascribe
them to his proper self, i.e., his will: he only ascribes to his
will any indulgence which he might yield them if he allowed them to
influence his maxims to the prejudice of the rational laws of the

When practical reason thinks itself into a world of understanding,
it does not thereby transcend its own limits, as it would if it
tried to enter it by intuition or sensation. The former is only a
negative thought in respect of the world of sense, which does not give
any laws to reason in determining the will and is positive only in
this single point that this freedom as a negative characteristic is at
the same time conjoined with a (positive) faculty and even with a
causality of reason, which we designate a will, namely a faculty of so
acting that the principle of the actions shall conform to the
essential character of a rational motive, i.e., the condition that the
maxim have universal validity as a law. But were it to borrow an
object of will, that is, a motive, from the world of understanding,
then it would overstep its bounds and pretend to be acquainted with
something of which it knows nothing. The conception of a world of
the understanding is then only a point of view which reason finds
itself compelled to take outside the appearances in order to
conceive itself as practical, which would not be possible if the
influences of the sensibility had a determining power on man, but
which is necessary unless he is to be denied the consciousness of
himself as an intelligence and, consequently, as a rational cause,
energizing by reason, that is, operating freely. This thought
certainly involves the idea of an order and a system of laws different
from that of the mechanism of nature which belongs to the sensible
world; and it makes the conception of an intelligible world
necessary (that is to say, the whole system of rational beings as
things in themselves). But it does not in the least authorize us to
think of it further than as to its formal condition only, that is, the
universality of the maxims of the will as laws, and consequently the
autonomy of the latter, which alone is consistent with its freedom;
whereas, on the contrary, all laws that refer to a definite object
give heteronomy, which only belongs to laws of nature and can only
apply to the sensible world.

But reason would overstep all its bounds if it undertook to
explain how pure reason can be practical, which would be exactly the
same problem as to explain how freedom is possible.

For we can explain nothing but that which we can reduce to laws, the
object of which can be given in some possible experience. But
freedom is a mere idea, the objective reality of which can in no
wise be shown according to laws of nature, and consequently not in any
possible experience; and for this reason it can never be
comprehended or understood, because we cannot support it by any sort
of example or analogy. It holds good only as a necessary hypothesis of
reason in a being that believes itself conscious of a will, that is,
of a faculty distinct from mere desire (namely, a faculty of
determining itself to action as an intelligence, in other words, by
laws of reason independently on natural instincts). Now where
determination according to laws of nature ceases, there all
explanation ceases also, and nothing remains but defence, i.e., the
removal of the objections of those who pretend to have seen deeper
into the nature of things, and thereupon boldly declare freedom
impossible. We can only point out to them that the supposed
contradiction that they have discovered in it arises only from this,
that in order to be able to apply the law of nature to human
actions, they must necessarily consider man as an appearance: then
when we demand of them that they should also think of him qua
intelligence as a thing in itself, they still persist in considering
him in this respect also as an appearance. In this view it would no
doubt be a contradiction to suppose the causality of the same
subject (that is, his will) to be withdrawn from all the natural
laws of the sensible world. But this contradiction disappears, if they
would only bethink themselves and admit, as is reasonable, that behind
the appearances there must also lie at their root (although hidden)
the things in themselves, and that we cannot expect the laws of
these to be the same as those that govern their appearances.

The subjective impossibility of explaining the freedom of the will
is identical with the impossibility of discovering and explaining an
interest * which man can take in the moral law. Nevertheless he does
actually take an interest in it, the basis of which in us we call
the moral feeling, which some have falsely assigned as the standard of
our moral judgement, whereas it must rather be viewed as the
subjective effect that the law exercises on the will, the objective
principle of which is furnished by reason alone.

* Interest is that by which reason becomes practical, i.e., a cause
determining the will. Hence we say of rational beings only that they
take an interest in a thing; irrational beings only feel sensual
appetites. Reason takes a direct interest in action then only when the
universal validity of its maxims is alone sufficient to determine
the will. Such an interest alone is pure. But if it can determine
the will only by means of another object of desire or on the
suggestion of a particular feeling of the subject, then reason takes
only an indirect interest in the action, and, as reason by itself
without experience cannot discover either objects of the will or a
special feeling actuating it, this latter interest would only be
empirical and not a pure rational interest. The logical interest of
reason (namely, to extend its insight) is never direct, but
presupposes purposes for which reason is employed.

In order indeed that a rational being who is also affected through
the senses should will what reason alone directs such beings that they
ought to will, it is no doubt requisite that reason should have a
power to infuse a feeling of pleasure or satisfaction in the
fulfilment of duty, that is to say, that it should have a causality by
which it determines the sensibility according to its own principles.
But it is quite impossible to discern, i.e., to make it intelligible a
priori, how a mere thought, which itself contains nothing sensible,
can itself produce a sensation of pleasure or pain; for this is a
particular kind of causality of which as of every other causality we
can determine nothing whatever a priori; we must only consult
experience about it. But as this cannot supply us with any relation of
cause and effect except between two objects of experience, whereas
in this case, although indeed the effect produced lies within
experience, yet the cause is supposed to be pure reason acting through
mere ideas which offer no object to experience, it follows that for us
men it is quite impossible to explain how and why the universality
of the maxim as a law, that is, morality, interests. This only is
certain, that it is not because it interests us that it has validity
for us (for that would be heteronomy and dependence of practical
reason on sensibility, namely, on a feeling as its principle, in which
case it could never give moral laws), but that it interests us because
it is valid for us as men, inasmuch as it had its source in our will
as intelligences, in other words, in our proper self, and what belongs
to mere appearance is necessarily subordinated by reason to the nature
of the thing in itself.

The question then, "How a categorical imperative is possible," can
be answered to this extent, that we can assign the only hypothesis
on which it is possible, namely, the idea of freedom; and we can
also discern the necessity of this hypothesis, and this is
sufficient for the practical exercise of reason, that is, for the
conviction of the validity of this imperative, and hence of the
moral law; but how this hypothesis itself is possible can never be
discerned by any human reason. On the hypothesis, however, that the
will of an intelligence is free, its autonomy, as the essential formal
condition of its determination, is a necessary consequence.
Moreover, this freedom of will is not merely quite possible as a
hypothesis (not involving any contradiction to the principle of
physical necessity in the connexion of the phenomena of the sensible
world) as speculative philosophy can show: but further, a rational
being who is conscious of causality through reason, that is to say, of
a will (distinct from desires), must of necessity make it practically,
that is, in idea, the condition of all his voluntary actions. But to
explain how pure reason can be of itself practical without the aid
of any spring of action that could be derived from any other source,
i.e., how the mere principle of the universal validity of all its
maxims as laws (which would certainly be the form of a pure
practical reason) can of itself supply a spring, without any matter
(object) of the will in which one could antecedently take any
interest; and how it can produce an interest which would be called
purely moral; or in other words, how pure reason can be practical-
to explain this is beyond the power of human reason, and all the
labour and pains of seeking an explanation of it are lost an

It is just the same as if I sought to find out how freedom itself is
possible as the causality of a will. For then I quit the ground of
philosophical explanation, and I have no other to go upon. I might
indeed revel in the world of intelligences which still remains to
me, but although I have an idea of it which is well founded, yet I
have not the least knowledge of it, nor an I ever attain to such
knowledge with all the efforts of my natural faculty of reason. It
signifies only a something that remains over when I have eliminated
everything belonging to the world of sense from the actuating
principles of my will, serving merely to keep in bounds the
principle of motives taken from the field of sensibility; fixing its
limits and showing that it does not contain all in all within
itself, but that there is more beyond it; but this something more I
know no further. Of pure reason which frames this ideal, there remains
after the abstraction of all matter, i.e., knowledge of objects,
nothing but the form, namely, the practical law of the universality of
the maxims, and in conformity with this conception of reason in
reference to a pure world of understanding as a possible efficient
cause, that is a cause determining the will. There must here be a
total absence of springs; unless this idea of an intelligible world is
itself the spring, or that in which reason primarily takes an
interest; but to make this intelligible is precisely the problem
that we cannot solve.

Here now is the extreme limit of all moral inquiry, and it is of
great importance to determine it even on this account, in order that
reason may not on the one band, to the prejudice of morals, seek about
in the world of sense for the supreme motive and an interest
comprehensible but empirical; and on the other hand, that it may not
impotently flap its wings without being able to move in the (for it)
empty space of transcendent concepts which we call the intelligible
world, and so lose itself amidst chimeras. For the rest, the idea of a
pure world of understanding as a system of all intelligences, and to
which we ourselves as rational beings belong (although we are likewise
on the other side members of the sensible world), this remains
always a useful and legitimate idea for the purposes of rational
belief, although all knowledge stops at its threshold, useful, namely,
to produce in us a lively interest in the moral law by means of the
noble ideal of a universal kingdom of ends in themselves (rational
beings), to which we can belong as members then only when we carefully
conduct ourselves according to the maxims of freedom as if they were
laws of nature.

Concluding Remark

The speculative employment of reason with respect to nature leads to
the absolute necessity of some supreme cause of the world: the
practical employment of reason with a view to freedom leads also to
absolute necessity, but only of the laws of the actions of a
rational being as such. Now it is an essential principle of reason,
however employed, to push its knowledge to a consciousness of its
necessity (without which it would not be rational knowledge). It is,
however, an equally essential restriction of the same reason that it
can neither discern the necessity of what is or what happens, nor of
what ought to happen, unless a condition is supposed on which it is or
happens or ought to happen. In this way, however, by the constant
inquiry for the condition, the satisfaction of reason is only
further and further postponed. Hence it unceasingly seeks the
unconditionally necessary and finds itself forced to assume it,
although without any means of making it comprehensible to itself,
happy enough if only it can discover a conception which agrees with
this assumption. It is therefore no fault in our deduction of the
supreme principle of morality, but an objection that should be made to
human reason in general, that it cannot enable us to conceive the
absolute necessity of an unconditional practical law (such as the
categorical imperative must be). It cannot be blamed for refusing to
explain this necessity by a condition, that is to say, by means of
some interest assumed as a basis, since the law would then cease to be
a supreme law of reason. And thus while we do not comprehend the
practical unconditional necessity of the moral imperative, we yet
comprehend its incomprehensibility, and this is all that can be fairly
demanded of a philosophy which strives to carry its principles up to
the very limit of human reason.



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