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 fruitlessness 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 Therefore we
will examine this idea from this point of view.
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 which one might possibly will). The
categorical imperative would that which represented an action as necessary of
itself without reference to another end, i.e., as objectively necessary.
least be
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
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
take his own life. Now he inquires whether the maxim of his
could become a universal law of nature. His maxim is: “From self-love I adopt
it as a principle to shorten my life when 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
himself to action
its longer
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 selflove
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 he 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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.

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