Friday, 8 December 2017

Kant’s Formulas For Universal Moral Law

Immanuel Kant explains the purpose behind his best known work on moral philosophy, the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, in the preface: “The present groundwork is, however, nothing more than the search for and establishment of the supreme principle of morality, which already constitutes an enterprise whole in its aim and to be separated from every other moral investigation.”

In The Cambridge Companion to Kant and Modern Philosophy (Edited by Paul Guyer), Allen W. Wood takes a look at Kant’s attempt to formulate a supreme principle of morality in Chapter 10, “The Supreme Principle of Morality.” Kant has proposed three formulas (or five formulas, depending on how you look at it) in his quest for a supreme principle of morality.

Here’s a list of the five formulas (along with relevant quotes from the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals):

First Formula
FUL (The Formula of Universal Law): “Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you at the same time can will that it become a universal law…”

Second Formula
FLN (The Formula of the Law of Nature): “So act, as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature…”

Third Formula
FH (The Formula of Humanity as End in Itself): “So act that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as an end and never merely as a means…”

Fourth Formula
FA (Formula of Autonomy): “... the idea of the will of every rational being as a will giving universal law…” or,

“Not to choose otherwise than so that the maxims of one’s choice are at the same time comprehended with it in the same volition as universal law…”

Fifth Formula
FRE (The Formula of the Realm of Ends): “Act in accordance with maxims of a universally legislative member for a merely possible realm of ends…”

The second formula is an intuitive variant of the first formula and the fifth formula is an intuitive variant of the fourth formula—hence we can also hold that Kant offers only three basic formulas in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

According to Wood, Kant has presented the three (or five) formulas as a system—Kant characterizes “FLN as giving us the “form,” FH the “matter,” and FRE the “complete determination” of maxims under the moral law.”

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