Kant’s Categorical Imperative

I don’t think I’m exaggerating when I say that Kant’s Groundwork is an incredibly difficult read. It may be the most complicated work I have ever read. For some reason, this section in particular made me feel like I was reading Chidi’s thousand-something page convoluted thesis. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying this is poorly written, just that it is tough for someone relatively new to philosophy to grasp.

With that intro aside, I was able to pick up on some major themes: the significance of motive, hypothetical and categorical imperatives, a priori reasoning apart from empirical judgements (the senses), maxims. Most of the arguments in this section seem to build up to or flow from Kant’s categorical imperative. He says, “There is, therefore, only a single categorical imperative and it is this: act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law” (4:421).

We can break down this important statement into several conclusions: (1) a maxim connects an action to the reason for the action, thus both the permissibility of the action and the motive of the person are significant; (2) there are tons of maxims, some good and some bad; (3) a maxim is good if it can become a universal law; and (4) a universal law is something that is binding on all rational beings in all instances.

Not going to lie, this Medium post is really just me trying to put some order to my thoughts. I haven’t gotten to a point yet with this material that I feel capable of critically engaging with it, but I’m working towards it. Hopefully class discussion will help me grasp the concepts and overall cohesiveness of the argument so that I can begin critically engaging with the text, because as it stands, summary is about the best I can do for now.


Kant, Immanuel. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Edited by Mary Gregor, Cambridge University Press, 1998. Online.