The Categorical Imperative
• Kant (according to Rawls)
1 The Categorical Imperative (Universal Law): One ought only act in accordance
with a maxim which one can, at the same time, consistently will to be a
• What is a Maxim?
1 Kant's theory of an action, whenever you act voluntarily, you act according to
2 Expresses what you're doing
3 The situation you're doing it in
4 And why
• Kant All acts are performed in accordance with a maxim
• Maxim I will do X when Y in order to bring about Z
1 X is the act
2 Y is the situation
3 Z is some goal
• I will [X= wash my car] when [Y= it's dirty] in order to [Z= have a clean car]
Assessing "Consistent Willing"
• Formulate the maxim of your act.
• Generalize the maxim.
1 Ex) Everyone will X [wash their car] when [Y= it's dirty] in order to [Z= have a
• Imagine what the world would look like if that generalized action was a law of
• Apply 2 tests
1 Test 1 Ask, at such a world, would doing X in situation Y still achieve goal
2 Test 2 Would the goal Z be furthered in general?
1 If the answer to both of these questions is yes, then you can will it to be
a universal law
2 It's okay iff the answer to both is "yes."
It is morally permissible to wash your car, because it meets all the criteria.
Is it morally permissible for you to lie?
• Ex) Cheating
• I am to [X= lie to my spouse] when [Y= she's found evidence that I'm cheating], in order
to [Z= get out of trouble].
• Everyone is to lie to their spouse when their spouse believes that they're cheating.
• Law of nature: Eve