The Categorical And Hypothetical Imperatives

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PHIL 2230 – Moral Philosophy The Views of Kant and Aristotle on Morality: the Categorical and Hypothetical Imperatives Immanuel Kant discusses in his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals the idea of morality as abiding by moral laws – or categorical imperatives. An imperative is “the formula of the command”[1] which indicates to a will – who does not always obey – what is good to do, and what is good to refrain from doing. Kant divides imperatives into two categories; hypothetical and categorical. The hypothetical imperative says “only that an action is good for some purpose, either possible or actual”[2] and therefore an action is only good for its ends. However, the categorical imperative represents an action as “objectively necessary in itself”[3], with no end in mind. While Kant bases morality on strictly categorical imperatives, Aristotle claims (in his Nicomachean Ethics) that the highest form of morality is found through actions which seek eudaimonia, or happiness; actions which fall under the hypothetical imperative. Kant’s categorical imperative is formulates in three different ways – the formula of universal law, the formula of the law of nature and the formula of the end in itself. The formula of universal law is based on two key concepts; universality (or the ability for one thing to apply to everyone) and “maxims”. Kant neglects to clearly define maxims, yet it is footnoted that maxims are “subjective principles of acting”[4]. However, one thing about maxims is clear – “a maxim is a personal endorsement of an articulated or able to be articulated, general rule.”[5] The formula of universal law states that in order to act morally, you must “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”[6] For example, to assist a fellow student needing help understanding a particularly
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