1. Which moral theory—Kant’s or natural law— seems more plausible to you? Why? 2. What elements of Kant’s theory do you think could or should be part of any viable moral theory? 
 3. Kant says that to act morally is to act out of duty. How does this differ from the v


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1. Which moral theory—Kant’s or natural law— seems more plausible to you? Why?
2. What elements of Kant’s theory do you think could or should be part of any viable moral theory? 

3. Kant says that to act morally is to act out of duty. How does this differ from the virtue ethics approach? Are you likely to admire someone who always acts out of duty alone? Why or why not?
Overview

Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) maintained that the greatest moral principle is a practical rationality principle known as the “Categorical Imperative” (CI). Kant defined the CI as an objective, rationally necessary, and unconditional principle that we must obey regardless of our natural preferences. According to Kant, all specific moral criteria are justified by this principle, which means that all immoral actions are irrational since they contradict the CI. Other philosophers, including Hobbes, Locke, and Aquinas, have maintained that moral criteria are based on rationality norms.

These standards, however, were either instrumental rational principles for gratifying one’s wishes, as in Hobbes, or external rational principles discoverable by reason, as in Locke and Aquinas. Kant agreed with many of his contemporaries that an examination of practical reason exposes the imperative that rational beings follow instrumental principles. Nonetheless, he claimed that compliance to the CI (a non-instrumental principle), and hence to moral standards itself, may be proved to be necessary for rational agency. This argument was based on his startling thesis that a rational will must be considered autonomous, or free, in the sense of authoring the law that binds it.

Kant’s most influential positions in moral philosophy are found in The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (hereafter, “Groundwork”) but he developed, enriched, and in some cases modified those views in later works such as The Critique of Practical Reason, The Metaphysics of Morals, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason as well as his essays on history and related topics. Kant’s Lectures on Ethics, which were lecture notes taken by three of his students on the courses he gave in moral philosophy, also include relevant material for understanding his views. We will mainly focus on the foundational doctrines of the Groundwork, even though in recent years some scholars have become dissatisfied with this standard approach to Kant’s views and have turned their attention to the later works. We find the standard approach most illuminating, though we will highlight important positions from the later works where needed.

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