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Philosophy-An analysis of Immanuel Kant’s work, ‘Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals’


Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) was born in the East Prussian city of Konigsberg and is the elemental figure in contemporary philosophy. Contribution of Kant to the analysis of the morals and social responsibility is tremendous and Groundwork on Metaphysics of Moral laid foundation for the entire stream of the philosophical science. There is a number of supporters and opposes of the theory, and when analyzing the work and its contribution in the history it is important to look at the following elements:

  • Metaphysics of nature as a critique of practical reason in sociological context and reality
  • Metaphysics of morals, mostly as a focus on the pre-condition and emotional factors resulting in the actions and behavioral patterns.
  • Religion within the boundaries of Mere reason.

Concepts and attributes of the Metaphysics of Morals considered and analyzed in Kant’s work include, but not limited to the above categories. The above, however, represent the vast and the most essential part of his work and from author’s perspective, fair insight into these attributes would allow for in-depth analysis of the Groundwork of Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals.

The purpose of this document is to analyze and look in more details into the moral element of the work and try to evaluate the role of Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals in the development and evolution of moral psychology. In order to narrow down the analysis and provide solid insight into morality perspective from Kant’s stand point, it was decided to focus on the specifically on its element and try to look at the necessity to illustrate it through only pure principles.

Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morality Overview

In spite of the fact that the contribution of the philosopher to the school of moral philosophy was significantly short in terms of time, his work “The Groundwork of the Metaphysical of Morals” was widely recognized as a foundations of the one of the strongest streams in the philosophy of morality, comprising the variety of elements, mentioned previously in this document. The main question and cause of opposition and arguments against Kant’s concept of morality derives from his attempt to eliminate any other factor and root of the moral decisions and actions, rather than the pre-conditional reasoning and pure reasonability. One of the of the sharpest comparisons and contrasts can be drawn from the analysis of Kant’s moral philosophy with the ethical theory of Devid Hume (Grier, 2007, p.1).

On the comparison of these philosophical schools it is possible to see the linchpin and core components of the morality from Kant’s perspective. While Hume suggest empirical and experimental approach to the analysis of human morality, Kant gives only unique explanation for the morality as a consequences of grounded reasoning on the basis of a priori principles. Practicality of the moral perception in Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morality strongly opposes itself to the Hume’s school of morality as a “slave to the passion”. Major thought of moral philosophy of Kant is the “Categorical imperative” and The Groundwork is significant for its elaboration of the Categorical imperative (Schonfeld, 2007, p.1).

Another comparison can derive from the insight into the comparison of Schopenhauer stated that the factual foundation of morality is compassion or sympathy. The morality of an act can be judged in compliance with Kant’s merit of taking care of a person as an end not as a sheer means. By illustrating the difference between selfishness and unselfishness, Kant fittingly explained the decisive factor of morality. For Schopenhauer, this was the only merit of Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. While he openly called himself a Kantian, and made obvious and brave criticisms of Hegelian philosophy, he was swift and inexorable in his scrutiny of the discrepancies all the way through Kant’s extensive remains of work.

On the other sides of the morality in Kant’s interpretation is the rejection of any relation with the religion. According to Kant, none of the social and personality attributes contribute to the development of moral values and moral behavior. Based on reasoning, according to Kant introduces the theory of Categorical Imperative and the concept of moral goodness. Throughout the entire work, the author raises the statement of inevitability of reason and strength of “ego” . The idea of moral goodness is introduced on the initial stages of the document and further becomes a core of the Groundwork as a whole.

Categorical Imperative and Universal Law of Formulation

The Groundwork starts with a preface and is pursued by three sections. Groundwork’s first section is about transition from the common reason up to the ultimate categorical law, in order to recognize its being. In Second section Kant establishes the significance and credence of the moral law. The third and final section of the book is in particular difficult to understand, and it shows the transition from the popular moral philosophy to the Critique of Pure Practical Reason.

Kant formulates the Categorical Imperative in his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals in three diverse ways:

– At first is the “Universal Law formulation” which is based on: “Act only on that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.”

– Next is the “Humanity or End in itself formulation” which is based on: “Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.”

– Third is the “Kingdom of Ends formulation” which coalesce the two on the basis of: “All maxims as proceeding from our own [hypothetical] making of law ought to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends.”

Kant originated Categorical Imperative to make available criterion through which to evaluate moral law. The nature of Kant’s morality is deontological and the way philosopher looks at it is based not on the outcomes of an act but on if a deed is correct or incorrect for itself. Here we can again come back to Hume and analyze the feasibility of moral by Kant through the mirror of Hume’s ideology (Grier, 2007, p.1). In this context it is important to emphasize special place that pure notion take in the entire philosophical concept of Kant’s morality. Observation on human nature drove the fundamental conclusions about the explicit role of principle, pure and a priori in the formation of morality and ethics are essential. If we accept this concept of the morality, we reject any role and influence of the emotional and passion in the mental and cognitive element of human personality.

Kant’s explanation of the substance of moral necessities and the nature of moral way of thinking is founded on his scrutiny of the distinctive vigor moral thoughts have, as reasons to act. The strength of moral necessities as motives is that we cannot stay away from them no matter what situation may work against any other thought. In view of the fact that they keep hold of their reason-giving power in any condition, they have universal legitimacy and so, their substance is universal. As only a universal law could be the substance of an obligation, so, this takes Kant to a first round formulation of the Categorical Imperative: ‘I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law’ (Chapter 4, Page 402). This is the theory which triggers off a good will, and which Kant cleaves to be the elementary principle of all of morality.

To understand and analyze the role and contribution of the Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morality in the development moral philosophy as a science it is important to look also at the Formulation of the Law of Nature. Kant affirms that one should, “act as if the maxim of your action was to become through your will a universal law of nature.” This means that Kant is not just providing us an imperative to live by but an approach to come to a decision that which rules should be espoused to be stick on to out of duty (Grenaberg, 2009, p.335). Kant is endeavoring to make sure that we eradicate self-centeredness from our proceedings. The realistic insinuation of the first appearance of the Categorical Imperative is that we should simply do things if we could rationally conjure up of all and sundry else performing in the similar manner. Kant argues that this method facilitates us to develop a good will.

While even Kant himself talks about possible irrationality in the behavior of individual, the writer believes that the argument of ego a rational element of irrational nature of personality does not provide explicit and complete explanation as of why human behavior in many cases is driven by emotional decisions that are made against the person himself. It is a matter of fact that while giving a lot of attention to examination of individual moral behavior, it is not able to explain what is the right behavior and, therefore, provides only partial analysis and insight into the nature of morality (Bailey, 2010, p.635). Hume’s empirical moral philosophy of posteriori principles, on the other hand, sharply provides reasoning for what would be a proper behavior and moral value interpretation based on the conditional nature of morality. Unconditional nature of morality suggested by Kant, from the writer’s perspective, is the major contradiction that undermines the theory of morality as presented in Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morality. With that in mind, it is important to come back to the initial question of whether it is indeed possible to explain and justify morality through either a priori or posteriori principles.

Given the dynamic of morality and constant process of evolution of the morality as a notion, it is impossible to link it as well as not feasible to explain it through rationality alone. The role of the Groundwork for the Metaphysic of Morality is essential, but in modern philosophy the concept and way philosophical schools interact with each other would rather be cooperative than contrasting.


The analysis of the Groundwork is always an effort to establish, among other things, the contradiction and incomplete nature of the philosophical explanation of morality suggested by Kant. The writer believes that morality is combined result of personal believes, irrational elements and duties. The main argument, therefore, to support the statement of incomplete nature of Groundwork representation of morality is the way we justify our actions. One could argue that actions are not moral when they are executed exclusively from duty (Marshal, 2008, p.376).

Groundwork suggested an empirical explanation and put a priori and pure principles in the core of the morality as a thought and action. There are a number of elements that remained hidden and questions that were still to be examined and answered, such as how the person should behave. Kant’s moral philosophy provides ground for examining the nature of reasoning and duty in the formation of generally accepts model of morality as well as individual interpretation of it. Lack of argumentation and explanation of the posteriori element and the role of experience in the formation of moral attribute of personality, significantly undermines the postulates of Categorical Imperative and, consequently the position of Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals as a standalone theory that provides explicit formulation of the morality.


Bailey T. (2010) Analysing the Good Will: Kant’s Argument in the First Section of the Groundwork, British Journal for the History of Philosophy. Vol 18. Issue 4.

Grenaberg J.M. (2009) The Phenomenological Failure of Groundwork III Inquiry, Vol. 52, Issue 4.

Guyer P. (2007) Naturalistic and Transcendental Moments in Kant’s Moral Philosophy. Inquiry, Vol.50, Issue 5.