The Complete Texts of Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals & Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, Pt 2 of the Metaphysics

ISBN: 091514543X
ISBN 13: 9780915145430
By: Immanuel Kant James W. Ellington

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About this book

The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals or Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten), Immanuel Kant's 1st contribution to moral philosophy, argues for an a priori basis for morality. Where the Critique of Pure Reason laid out his metaphysical & epistemological ideas, this relatively short, primarily metaethical, work was intended to outline & define the concepts & arguments shaping his future work The Metaphysics of Morals. However, the latter work is much less read than the Groundwork. The Groundwork is notable for its explanation of the categorical imperative, which is the central concept of his moral philosophy. The Groundwork is broken into a preface, followed by three sections. Kant's argument works from common reason up to the supreme unconditional law, in order to identify its existence. He then works backwards from there to prove the relevance & weight of the moral law. The 3rd & final section of the book is famously obscure. It's partly because of this he decided to publish the Critique of Practical Reason in 1788.

Reader's Thoughts


This is, without a doubt, the most bizarre text I've ever read. Technical things first: This is Routledge's The Moral Law -- they changed the title; I didn't read why. The translator said something [briefly in some section] to the effect that it was a horrid title [I don't think so!]. The first thing to note is that the footnotes correspond to the GERMAN edition -- which has its page numbers written in the margins next to the body of the text. I didn't realise this until more than halfway through [thanks Samuel Johnson; I usually skip everything and go straight for the meat, and only refer to footnotes if I have to, so I didn't realise this because I didn't read the translator's note...]. Secondly, I haven't read the 'introduction' -- the scholarly commentary. I've flipped through it briefly and apparently HJ Paton is a serious analytic guy.Anyway, the thing I gathered from this, mainly, is that Kant is saying, if it makes you happy to be helpful or kind, for instance, YOU ARE IMMORAL. This is absolutely bizarre, because then he talks about The Will -- it's all about Willing and the self. Yet he says, you must will yourself in line with nature's laws [to be universal, if I'm not wrong] and yet there seems to be some opposition between nature and the will -- back to Aristotle here, that reason is the distinguishing characteristic of man (VS other creatures). There is also some implicit theology going on, which complicates everything completely.It is confusing. What's even more confusing is that at some level, Kant seems to realise whatever contradictions he makes and desperately scrambles to defend them, in the process coming up with something completely ingenious. It's like seeing a drowning spider save itself by deciding to swallow water! Prof Phillips informs me that Kant's absolute favorite text was Pope's Essay on Man, which I haven't read, and that might help me. I know it has something to do with the whole nature thing [naturalistic fallacy?].The text is very dense and impossible to cover. I liked it though. I've made fun of poor Kant, but he's a smart (and creative!) guy, and whatever points I DIDN'T quibble with -- there is much, much merit in his text.

Josh Sinclair

Kant is great. Difficult to read at times but very thorough. This selection is pivotal in modern ethics. Although many will disagree with Kant, his theories still affect how we think about ethics and the will even today. The books climax is of course his categorical imperative: basically stating that because we are rational beings, through reflection we can conclude that we have certain duties because of that rational. For example, it is never permissible to lie, and we therefore have a duty to tell the truth. Not because of some utility given to the outcomes of our actions, i.e. the lie, but for tangible universal rational that defends the reasoning to tell the truth. Now people have obviously created thought experiments and even real life scenarios that bring about huge problems for this theory (ann frank scenario) but I think Kant had the right idea. Like most ethical theories, the goal is to make it applicable, and this turns out to be a little more difficult do to the nature of current human interaction. Nonetheless this is a definite read for the philo buff.

Michelle L

For such a small book one would be astounded at the impact this little book has had on philosophy and thinking in general. Like Aristotle, Kant's writing style is hard to grasp at the beginning. But what you soon appreciate is that he is a very methodical, and logical philosopher who may at times write timeless and profound words of wisdom, and on other occasions delight you with his sense of humour and penchant for the odd dramatic line or two. Don't be fooled by the relatively small size, because you will find yourself plodding along slowly and trying to follow his line of argument. He writes simplistic, yet rich sentences. Only a great writer can write so little yet say so much. It's not hard to see why people devote their lives to studying the works of Kant, but be warned that this book is just the GROUNDWORK or support act for The Metaphysics of Morals. Many people make the mistake of believing this is his piece de resistance, when it is just laying the foundations of the book many tend to forget exists. Another book to be read countless times. Can't wait to read his Critique of Pure Reason.


As has been said elsewhere and with more authority than I can muster without citing letters after my name, this book, even on its own, is a landmark for thinking on par with Aristotle's Nichomachean Ethics. While criticism is often waged upon this deceivingly simple book, one must truly understand the arguments applied from The First Critique (The Critique of Pure Reason) in order to object to its arguments. Hence, although easily read on its own, it is not nearly as formidable a champion of logical thought as it is a demonstration of the results which follow from the great work. Still, that being said, this book is a wonderful and enlightening book which does not require by an order of several magnitudes the dedication and study of his more complex work. It remains one of the few books on ethics, especially modern ethics, which I would be tempted to grade as highly as possible, but refuse to do so lest it be confused with the greatness of the work of, say, Stephenie Meyer.


"Here, then, we see philosophy put in fact in a precarious position, which is to be firm even though there is nothing in heaven or on earth from which it depends or on which it is based." (AK 4:425) I’m letting Kant give the short version of the Groundwork with this quote from the book, not as he would have chosen it I reckon, but I think it fits well nevertheless. The Cambridge edition includes a very useful introduction that guides you ever so gently through the whole shebang – and, believe me, you need a guide, even for a short work like this. There were some oddities in the translation which were cleared up with online access to the original text. Kant’s quirky style of writing is a whole nother thing – a thing in itself so to speak.As for the read as a whole, suffice to say it was quite a knockout.There are regular knockouts, and then there are a priori metaphysical knockouts. Reading the Groundwork is somewhat like observing a train-wreck in slo-mo; you can see it coming – only here it’s a bit like recognizing your synapses are firing in vain to figure out how to avoid this thrashing by ectoplasm (or whatever it can be called), for it’s an hopelessly uneven match. Though you of course eventually come to your senses, and appreciate it simply as a great mental workout. So, I guess that evens it out.


This is a pretty good effort from Kant, and a solid argument for the objectivity and a priority of morals. We see the person as an end in themselves and personally I found this far more pursuasive than Mill's Utilitarianism that places happiness for the majority above the individual. However Kant's Kingdom of Ends if far too removed from real life dilemmas where it just doesn't seem reasonable to apply the universal maxim for all situations, mostly because real life is just too darn complicated. But certainly a great intro to ethics (a must if you're interested in that area of philosophy)and as tough as Kant is to read, there's always something rerfreshing about taking in and understaning his admirable ideas.


It's probably a product of having been in grad school for too long, but somehow I found myself really liking this piece. I don't even care that it's not applicable to real life, at least his methods are based on tying human action to univsersal principles that anyone can participate in instead of trying to create this really creepy classist/elitist system of morality which the ancient greeks oozed over. And unlike the clunky, inhuman ethical systems espoused by more anylitic thinkers, Kant is at least willing to acknowledge the connundrum of trying to act from a rational principle with no recourse to lived experience. And the way he tries to conceptually map out the different parts of the psyche, while it's probably wrong and kind of creepily mechanistic, is still a refreshing break from the messy, useless soup of abstractions that a lot of other thinkers would subsequently indulge in i.e. Hegel. If nothing else, it forced me to confront my own complacency about not even being willing to really listen to Kant's arguements.


I believe Kant, in the eyes of many a people who read his philosophy, is one of the most difficulty minds of modern thinkers. That, at least, is a proof of the originality of his philosophical products. This is the second book of Kant's Iam reading right now in a span of one year and Iam making a quite impressive advance on grasping the essence of his writings . It is seemingly complex to find a way in which I can discern and apply his theories to the complex issues of modern day, but I believe I will make a progress of arriving at that point one is rather fascinating to to entertain the idea of reading the thoughts of that giant in the history of human development..


Anyone interested in ethics (moral philosophy) must read this work. Of the handful of indispensable moral philosophical works, along with Plato's Republic, Aristotle's Nicomachean Ethics, Aquinas' Summa, and Mill's Utilitarianism. Relatively short (but dense; he is German after all), the beginner of Kant's philosophy should start here, and then advance to his (arguably even more influential) epistemology. In my opinion, it's easier this way than to tackle the 1st Critique first. As profound as Groundwork is, this course of study eases the novice into Kant's philosophical system. This is the way I would teach Kant.The fundamental moral challenge of the Groundwork: there is no necessary correlation between goodness and happiness (an oversight by all other moral philosophers and religious thinkers, according to Kant). As such, the moral person must choose to be good rather than happy. Kant is unrelenting and unforgiving of moralities which too easily equate the good life with the happy life. So powerful is his argument that this may be a dangerous book to read, as it may alter your life.

Bojan Tunguz

Kant is not considered as one of the more accessible philosophers, and most of his monumental works are too long and beyond reach of an average reader. This short book is still fairly advanced and conceptually sophisticated, but fortunately due to its length it does not go much too deep in philosophical concepts. The book deals on several occasions with the central concept in Kant's moral philosophy, and that is the concept of categorical imperative. This imperative can be summed up in Kant's famous dictum: "Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." Several other famous Kant concepts - like practical reason, pure reason, treating humans like ends and not as means in moral considerations, etc. - are dealt with throughout the book. You might need to read the book several times before you get a better understanding of what is being discussed, but again, since it is so short, this can be easily done. The language of the translation sounds a bit archaic to the modern ear, but this does not obscure the meaning at all. Overall, reading this book would be a worthwhile endeavor and as good of a starting point to start reading Kant as they come.


As a rule, one really can't 'rate' Kant, or any of his works, as one would rate a book. His philosophy is not written to be clever, charming, or even enjoyable. It is written to impart his interpretation of a logical structure of ethics to those who would apply and experiment with those ethics. That being said, my rating for this book is solely a rating of the translation from German. To rate Kant himself is the job of a power much higher than any critic or even scholar. To understand Kant is our duty.


I can't remember exactly who it was that said the 'German thinkers dug deeper, and came up muddier', but that quote rings so true for Kant.Kant's Groundwork is full of interesting ideas and premises, and lays the basis for his moral philosophy, later expanded upon in other volumes. It's fairly original, and more precise than a number of other philosophical works of Enlightenment writers. Once you get to the core of what he's communicating, Kant has a strong and compelling argument - but, of course, you have work your way around Kant's prose to get there. In keeping with his logical philosophy, Kant's writing here is very explanatory: lengthy and precise definitions abound, particularly in the Preface, and as Kant is dealing with something as abstract as ethics, some very careful reading is required to fully discern and absorb his meaning. While it creates a very difficult text, you've got to credit him for attempting to be so precise, and a close reading of the work will leave you with a clear impression of what Kant is trying to communicate. The importance of Kant and his thought within the field of ethics and his influence on other political thought is undeniable, so if you've an interest in this area, don't be disheartened or put off by the rather dry prose. Reading Groundwork may be a challenge, but like all other challenges, it has its rewards.

Joshua Nomen-Mutatio

I was the annoying guy in class who kept insisting that the categorical imperative was the Golden Rule with a thick, convoluted veneer of the most difficult writing in philosophical history slathered all over it. Of course it is slightly different than the Golden Rule, but I'd say only trivially so. I understand Kant's influence, importance, etc, I just can't stand his writing. And I do think that his ideas, as influential as they were, were often failures. And again, the writing is painfully bad, regardless of the intelligence within, every fan of Kant's philosophy admits this as far as I know: great philosopher, terrible writer. Also, I find deontological ethics (moral precepts divorced from their consequences, "goodness for goodness sake", etc) to be a failure, especially in light of superior consequentialist positions like preference utilitarianism. One can be a moral realist without recourse to positing imaginary realms divorced from human happiness and suffering where ethics magically emerge from. I mean, how smart can a person be who really believes that lying is always unethical regardless of the circumstance? It takes about two seconds to conjure up a situation in which lying would absolutely be the right thing to do: Nazis looking for your Jewish friends that are hiding in your attic. According to the genius Kant it would be wrong to say that they're not upstairs.For an antidote to reading a book like this look to work on ethics done by Peter Singer, Bernard Williams, Simon Blackburn, and Derek Parfit.


I know its pretty common to hate on Kant's moral philosophy for being impractical, but what really bothers me about it is his naive assumption that all of humanity will see the same maxims as universalizeable. Harsh and impractical as it is, I honestly find something admirable in his ideas that morality should always be formed with a view of the rest of humanity as ends-in-themselves, but his inability to conceive of rational beings with a different view of universal maxims than himself is grating, and I feel his brief jab at the indolence of the South Sea Islanders exemplifies everything that's wrong with his approach.

Guida Allès

Després d'haver-lo llegit no pots viure com si res. Has pogut pensar amb les idees d'una ment gran, que mai hauries conegut si no l´haguessis llegit. Aquí copiï les cites preferides: Es imposible que un ser finito, aunque sea extraordinariamente perspicaz y esté tremendamente capacitado, pueda hacerse una idea precisa de lo que realmente quiere. Ser caritativo supone un deber....pero hay muchas almas compasivas que encuentran un íntimo placer en esparcir júbilo a su alrededor y pueden regocijarse con ese contento ajeno en cuanto es obra suya. Pero yo mantengo que semejante acción en tal caso, por muy conforme al deber y amable que pueda ser, no posee ningún valor genuinamente moral sino que forma pareja con otras inclinaciones como esa propensión al honor que coincide con el deber y que resulta digna de aliento, mas no merece tenerla en alta estima. En el reino de los fines todo tiene o bien un precio o bien una dignidad.No pots quedar com si res. És com viatjar a N. York o fer un any a l´Africa.

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