Which of Kant's formulations of the categorical imperative offers the most plausible account of what it is for an act to be right?

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Jonathan Sudaria

Which of Kant’s formulations of the categorical imperative offers
the most plausible account of what it is for an act to be right?

In "Groundworks of the Metaphysic of Morals" Immanuel Kant proposes that good will is the only thing which is good and that a person should "act only under that maxim which he would will to be universal" (273); Kant calls that test for morality the Categorical Imperative.

Kant believes that the CI can be formulated in several different


        a. The Formula of Universal Law

            b. The Formula of the End in Itself

            c. The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends


Kant upheld scientific laws as the model rational principles. A characteristic of scientific laws is that they are universal, such as the law that when heated, gas will expand. Kant thought that moral laws or principles must have universality to be rational. Kant derives the categorical imperative out of the notion that we should be willing to adopt those moral principle that can be universalized, that is, those which we can imagine that everyone could act upon or adopt as their principle. Thus the first formulation of the categorical imperative is: "Act only on that maxim which you can will as a universal law." or the Formula of Universal Law. Consider the example Kant gives of giving a false promise. Making false promises is wrong, because it can not imagine everyone adopting this as a principle of action. If everyone did, then promising would make no sense

i. Cases in which there simply could not be a world in which everyone acts on the maxim because everyone's trying would be destructive of everyone's continuing ability to do so:  "Some actions are so constituted that their maxim cannot even be conceived as a universal law of nature without contradiction."

ii.  Cases where one can conceive of a world in which everyone

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acts on the maxim, but where one cannot consistently or rationally will such a world.

In either kind of case, the maxim will fail the CI test.  According to Kant, it would be wrong to act on a maxim of either kind.

Kant gives examples of both kinds:

i.: A person proposes to make a promise he doesn't intend to keep to pay back money in order to meet a need of his own.  He must consider whether he could will a world in which everyone is motivated in precisely the same way.  Kant claims that he cannot ...

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