Chapter 1: Moving from common-sense knowledge to philosophical knowledge about morality
Nothing in the world—or out of it!—can possibly be conceived that could be called ‘good’ without qualification except a GOOD WILL. Mental talents such as intelligence, wit, and judgment, and temperaments such as courage, resoluteness, and perseverance are doubtless in many ways good and desirable; but they can become extremely bad and harmful if the person’s character isn’t good—i.e. if the will that is to make use of these •gifts of nature isn’t good. Similarly with •gifts of fortune. Power, riches, honour, even health, and the over-all well-being and contentment with one’s condition that we call ‘happiness’, create pride, often leading to arrogance, if there isn’t a good will to correct their influence on the mind. . . . Not to mention the fact that the sight of someone who shows no sign of a pure and good will and yet enjoys uninterrupted prosperity will never give pleasure to an impartial rational observer. So it seems that without a good will one can’t even be worthy of being happy.
Even qualities that are conducive to this good will and can make its work easier have no intrinsic unconditional worth. We rightly hold them in high esteem, but only because we assume them to be accompanied by a good will; so we can’t take them to be absolutely ·or unconditionally· good.
•Moderation in emotions and passions, self-control, and calm deliberation not only are good in many ways but seem even to constitute part of the person’s inner worth, and they were indeed unconditionally valued by the ancients. Yet they are very far from being good without qualification—·good in themselves, good in any circumstances·—for without the principles of a good will they can become extremely bad: ·for example·, a villain’s •coolness makes him far more dangerous and more straightforwardly abominable to us than he would otherwise have seemed.
What makes a good will good? It isn’t what it brings about, its usefulness in achieving some intended end. Rather, good will is good because of how it wills—i.e. it is good in itself. Taken just in itself it is to be valued incomparably more highly than anything that could be brought about by it in the satisfaction of some preference—or, if you like, the sum total of all preferences! Consider this case:
Through bad luck or a miserly endowment from stepmotherly nature, this person’s will has no power at all to accomplish its purpose; not even the greatest effort on his part would enable it to achieve anything it aims at. But he does still have a good will—not as a mere wish but as the summoning of all the means in his power.
The good will of this person would sparkle like a jewel all by itself, as something that had its full worth in itself. Its value wouldn’t go up or down depending on how useful or fruitless it was. If it was useful, that would only be the setting ·of the jewel·, so to speak, enabling us to handle it more conveniently in commerce (·a diamond ring is easier to manage than a diamond·) or to get those who don’t know much ·about jewels· to look at it. But the setting doesn’t affect the value ·of the jewel· and doesn’t recommend it the experts.
So an action’s moral value doesn’t lie in •the effect that is expected from it, or in •any principle of action that motivates it because of this expected effect. All the expected effects—something agreeable for me, or even happiness for others—could be brought about through other causes and don’t need •the will of a rational being, whereas the highest good—what is unconditionally good—can be found only in •such a will. So this wonderful good, which we call moral goodness, can’t consist in anything but the thought of law in itself that only a rational being can have—with the will being moved to act by this thought and not by the hoped-for effect of the action. When the person acts according to this conception, this moral goodness is already present •in him; we don’t have to look for it •in the upshot of his action. (1 [In passages like this, ‘thought’ translates Vorstellung = ‘mental representation’.])
So we have a law the thought of which can settle the will without reference to any expected result, and must do so if the will is to be called absolutely good without qualification; what kind of law can this be? Since I have robbed the will of any impulses that could come to it from obeying any law, nothing remains to serve as a ·guiding· principle of the will except conduct’s universally conforming to law as such. That is, I ought never to act in such a way that I couldn’t also will that the maxim on which I act should be a universal law. In this context the ·guiding· principle of the will is conformity to law as such, not bringing in any particular law governing some class of actions; and it must serve as the will’s principle if duty is not to be a vain delusion and chimerical concept. Common sense in its practical judgments is in perfect agreement with this, and constantly has this principle in view.
Consider the question: May I when in difficulties make a promise that I intend not to keep? The question obviously has two meanings: is it •prudent to make a false promise?
Does it conform to •duty to make a false promise? No doubt it often is •prudent, ·but not as often as you might think·. Obviously the false promise isn’t made prudent by its merely extricating me from my present difficulties; I have to think about whether it will in the long run cause more trouble than it saves in the present. Even with all my supposed cunning, the consequences can’t be so easily foreseen. People’s loss of trust in me might be far more disadvantageous than the trouble I am now trying to avoid, and it is hard to tell whether it mightn’t be more prudent to act according to a universal maxim not ever to make a promise that I don’t intend to keep. But I quickly come to see that such a maxim is based only on fear of consequences. Being truthful from •duty is an entirely different thing from being truthful out of •fear of bad consequences; for in •the former case a law is included in the concept of the action itself (·so that the right answer to ‘What are you doing?’ will include a mention of that law·); whereas in •the latter I must first look outward to see what results my action may have. [In the preceding sentence, Kant speaks of a ‘law for me’ and of results ‘for me’.] To deviate from the principle of duty is certainly bad; whereas to be unfaithful to my maxim of prudence may be very advantageous to me, though it is certainly safer to abide by it. How can I know whether a deceitful promise is consistent with duty? The shortest way to go about finding out is also the surest. It is to ask myself: •Would I be content for my maxim (of getting out of a difficulty through a false promise) to hold as a universal law, for myself as well as for others? ·That is tantamount to asking·: •Could I say to myself that anyone may make a false promise when he is in a difficulty that he can’t get out of in any other way? Immediately I realize that I could will •the lie but not •a universal law to lie; for such a law would result in there being no promises at all, because it would be futile to offer stories about my future conduct to people who wouldn’t believe me; or if they carelessly did believe me and were taken in ·by my promise·, would pay me back in my own coin. Thus my maxim would necessarily destroy itself as soon as it was made a universal law. So I don’t need to be a very penetrating thinker to bring it about that my will is morally good. Inexperienced in how the world goes, unable to prepare for all its contingencies, I need only to ask myself: Can you will that your maxim become a universal law? If not, it must be rejected, not because of any harm it might bring to anyone, but because there couldn’t be a system of •universal legislation that included it as one of its principles, and •that is the kind of legislation that reason forces me to respect. I don’t yet see what it is based on (a question that a philosopher may investigate), but I at least understand these two: •It is something whose value far outweighs all the value of everything aimed at by desire, •My duty consists in my having to act from pure respect for the practical law.
Every other motive must yield to duty, because it is the condition of a •will that is good in itself, and the value of •that surpasses everything.
And so in the common-sense understanding of morality we have worked our way through to its principle. Admittedly, common sense doesn’t have the abstract thought of this principle as something universal, but it always has the principle in view and uses it as the standard for its judgments.
1 It might be objected that I tried to take refuge in an obscure feeling behind the word ‘respect’, instead of clearing things up through a concept of reason. Although respect is indeed a feeling, it doesn’t come from outer influence; rather, it is a •feeling that a rational concept creates unaided; so it is different in kind from all the •feelings caused from outside, the ones that can come from desire or fear. When I directly recognize something as a law for myself I recognize it with respect, which merely means that I am conscious of submitting my will to a law without interference from any other influences on my mind. The will’s being directly settled by law, and the consciousness of this happening, is called ‘respect’; so respect should be seen as an effect of the law’s operation on the person’s will, not as a cause of it. Really, respect is the thought of a value that breaks down my self-love. Thus it is not something to be either desired or feared, though it has something analogous to both ·desire and fear·. The only thing that can be respected is law, and it has to be the law that we •impose on ourselves yet •recognize as necessary in itself. •As a law it makes us subject to it, without consulting our self-love; which gives it some analogy to fear. •As imposed on us by ourselves, it is a consequence of our will; which gives it some analogy to preference. ·This is really the only basic sense of the term ‘respect’·. Any •respect for a person is only •respect for the law (of righteousness, etc.) of which the person provides an example. Our respect for a person’s talents, for instance, is our recognition that we ought to practice until we are as talented as he is; we see him as a kind of example of a •law, because we regard it as our •duty to improve our talents. ·So respect for persons is a disguised form of respect for law·. All moral concern (as it is called) consists solely in respect for the law.
All imperatives command either •hypothetically or categorically.
If the action would be good only as a means to something else, the imperative is hypothetical; but if the action is thought of as good in itself and hence as •necessary in a will that conforms to reason, which it has as its principle, the imperative is categorical.
So there is only one categorical imperative, and this is it: ·Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law·.
I want now to list some duties, adopting the usual division of them into •duties to ourselves and •duties to others, and into •perfect duties and •imperfect duties. (9)
(9)(Please note that I reserve the ·serious, considered· division of duties for a future metaphysic of morals, and that the present division is merely one I chose as an aid to arranging my examples. . .)
A man who has been brought by a series of troubles to the point of despair and of weariness with life still has his reason sufficiently to ask himself: ‘Wouldn’t it be contrary to my duty to myself to take my own life?’ Now he asks: ‘Could the maxim of my action ·in killing myself· become a universal law of nature?’ Well, here is his maxim: For love of myself, I make it my principle to cut my life short when prolonging it threatens to bring more troubles than satisfactions. So the question is whether this principle of self-love could become a universal law of nature. If it did, that would be a nature that had a law according to which a single feeling •created a life-affirming push and also •led to the destruction of life itself; and we can see at a glance that such a ‘nature’ would contradict itself, and so couldn’t be a nature. So the maxim we are discussing couldn’t be a law of nature, and therefore would be utterly in conflict with the supreme principle of duty. (2) Another man sees himself being driven by need to borrow money. He realizes that no-one will lend to him unless he firmly promises to repay it at a certain time, and he is well aware that he wouldn’t be able to keep such a promise. He is disposed to make such a promise, but he has enough conscience to ask himself: ‘Isn’t it improper and opposed to duty to relieve one’s needs in that way?’ If he does decide to make the promise, the maxim of his action will run like this?
But suppose there were something whose existence in itself had absolute value, something which as an end in itself could support determinate laws. That would be a basis—indeed the only basis—for a possible categorical imperative, i.e. of a practical law. ·There is such a thing! It is a human being!· I maintain that man—and in general every rational being—exists as an end in himself and not merely as a means to be used by this or that will at its discretion. Whenever he acts in ways directed towards himself or towards other rational beings, ·a person serves as a means to whatever end his action aims at; but· he must always be regarded as also an end.
So here is the practical imperative: Act in such a way as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of anyone else, always as an end and never merely as a means. Let us now see whether this can be carried out.
To return to our previous examples: (1) Someone thinking of committing suicide will, if he is guided by the concept of necessary duty to oneself, ask himself •Could my suicide be reconciled with the idea of humanity as an end in itself ? ·And his answer to this should be No·. If he escapes from his burdensome situation by destroying himself, he is using a person merely as a means to keeping himself in a tolerable condition up to the end of his life. But a man is not a thing [Sache], so he isn’t something to be used merely as a means, and must always be regarded in all his actions as an end in himself. So I can’t dispose of a man by maiming, damaging or killing him—and that includes the case where the man is myself. (This basic principle needs to be refined so as to deal properly with questions such as ‘May I have one of my limbs amputated to save my life?’ and ‘May I expose my life to danger in order to save it?’ I shan’t go into these matters here; they belong to morals and not to the metaphysic of morals.)
(2) [Three times in this next paragraph, and nowhere else in this work, Kant writes of someone’s ‘containing’ the end of an action by someone else. Presumably for B to ‘contain’ the end of A’s action is for B to have A’s end as his end also, to seek what A seeks.] As concerns necessary. . . .duties to others, when someone A has it in mind to make someone else B a deceitful promise, he sees immediately that he intends to use B merely as a means, without B’s containing in himself the end of the action. For B can’t possibly assent to A’s acting against him in this way, so he can’t contain in himself the end of this action. This conflict with the principle about treating others as ends is even easier to see in examples of attacks on people’s freedom and property; for in those cases it’s obvious that someone who violates the rights of men intends to make use of the person of others merely as means, without considering that as rational beings they should always be valued at the same time as ends, i.e. as beings who can contain in themselves the end of the very same action.12 (3) With regard to contingent (meritorious) duty to oneself [for ‘meritorious’ see page 26], it isn’t sufficient that the action not conflict with humanity in our person as an end in itself; it must also harmonize with it. In human nature there are predispositions to greater perfection that are part of nature’s purpose for humanity. . . .; to neglect these might perhaps be consistent with the preservation of humanity as an end in itself but not with the furtherance of that end. (4) With regard to meritorious duty to others: Humanity might survive even if •no-one contributed to the happiness of others, but also •no-one intentionally took anything away from the happiness of others; ·and this is a likely enough state of affairs, because· the end or purpose that all men naturally have is their own happiness. This would put human conduct into harmony with humanity as an end in itself, but only in a negative manner. For a positive harmony with humanity as an end in itself, what is required is that everyone ·positively· tries to further the ends of others as far as he can. For the ends of any person, who is an end in himself, must as far as possible be also my ends, if that thought ·of him as an end in himself· is to have its full effect on me.