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Lecture 17

PHI 205 Lecture 17: Kant: The Categorical Imperative and the Formula of Universal Law

Course Code
PHI 205
Eric Carter

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Kant’s Groundwork (Excerpts) - Continued
Kant says you can know moral law a posteriori
The categorical imperative is at the heart of Kant’s account
o He has three different types of versions of the categorical imperative
o We will be focusing on the FUL
The Categorical Imperative
The formula of universal law (FUL)
o “I should never act except in such a way that I can also will that my maxim
should become a universal law”
o “Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it
[the maxim] should become a universal law”
o Maxim of action
o Kant is saying that it’s how these three ideas relate that determine whether or not
the maxim is morally correct or not
“I will avoid visiting Joe at the hospital for the purpose of avoiding
catching the flu.”
What is it about this maxim that makes it acceptable?
Avoiding visiting Joe or not catching the flu?
“I will avoid visiting Joe for the purpose of avoiding boredom.”
This is more morally suspect than the first situation
So, theoretically, then “the purpose of avoiding boredom” could be
the morally suspect item in and of itself, but consider…
“I will avoid watching daytime television for the purpose of avoiding
However, this is not morally suspect.
Thus, it must be the combination of “avoiding boredom” with
something else, like “visiting Joe at the hospital,” that makes the
maxim morally suspect.
o The categorical imperative tells us that we should only act on certain kinds of
Lying promise case: an example of a maxim
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