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

Rowland Bismark

The Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals was published in 1785, just before the Critique of Practical Reason. It is essentially a short introduction to the argument presented in the second Critique. In order to understand what Kant is up to in this book, it is useful to know something about Kant's other works and about the intellectual climate of his time.Kant lived and wrote during a period in European intellectual history called the "Enlightenment." Stretching from the mid-seventeenth century to the early nineteenth, this period produced the ideas about human rights and democracy that inspired the French and American revolutions. The characteristic quality of the Enlightenment was an immense confidence in "reason"--that is, in humanity's ability to solve problems through logical analysis. The central metaphor of the Enlightenment was a notion of the light of reason dispelling the darkness of mythology and misunderstanding. Enlightenment thinkers like Kant felt that history had placed them in the unique position of being able to provide clear reasons and arguments for their beliefs. The ideas of earlier generations, they thought, had been determined by myths and traditions; their own ideas were based on reason. The common thread of all these criticisms is that Kant's position is too abstract to be useful. As human beings, we live in a particular place at a particular time. It is not necessarily possible or desirable for us to separate our rationality from the other features of our personality. We may reason about issues in abstract terms, and we may imagine the situations of other people, yet our starting point must always be our own life situation.It is a typical feature--a common "mistake," if you will--of Enlightenment thinking to presume that we can ignore our own particularities and discover universal principles of reason. This "mistake" may have been possible because Enlightenment philosophers came from a relatively homogeneous culture (that of eighteenth-century Europe) and from a relatively homogeneous class position (one of relative financial security). This homogeneity may have led Enlightenment thinkers to oversimplify certain questions, presuming that their answers were "rational" when they in fact depended on cultural assumptions.On the other hand, Kant's philosophy--and Enlightenment philosophy in general-- is by no means a philosophy of privilege. Indeed, Kant's ideas are radically egalitarian. According to Kant, moral truths are not received from on high through divine revelation or inspiration. Rather, they are based on reasons that make sense to all people (indeed, all rational beings) who bother to think about them. The passion with which people espouse moral views suggests that many people continue to share Kant's view that moral principles must be absolute and universal. Late twentieth-century people may be more aware of diversity than Kant was. As a result, we may have less confidence than him that what makes sense to us will make sense to other people. Nevertheless, in our day as in Kant's, people do tend to think that there is more to their moral beliefs than mere cultural prejudice.Like all great philosophers, Kant's arguments have provoked a wide range of responses, positive and negative. Whatever we make of Kant's views, it would be difficult to underestimate the historical impact of his "Copernican Revolution" in philosophy. Even today, nearly two hundred years after his death, Kant's arguments remain a powerful presence in philosophy.The distinction that Kant draws in the Preface between "pure" and "empirical" concepts is of critical importance to his philosophy. "Pure" or "a priori" concepts are ideas that occur to us when we think about things in our minds, "prior" to and independent of any experience of how things happen in the world. "Empirical" or "a posteriori" concepts are ideas that we derive from our experience of the world.In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant argued that many of our basic ideas about the world--our notions of time, space, and causation, for instance--are a priori concepts; they are "hardwired" into our brains, rather than extrapolated from our experiences. This argument led him to a number of interesting conclusions about the limits of human understanding and the errors of traditional philosophy (see the Context section for more information on the first Critique). In this book, Kant makes a similar argument about moral philosophy. He identifies the basic principles of moral thinking that occur to us independent of any particular situation or experience, and he offers some criticism of philosophers who have advanced different bases for morality.Kant argues that his project makes sense in terms of our intuitions about morality. About halfway through the Preface, he claims that when we think about morality, we naturally presume that moral laws must apply to all people at all times. He bases this claim on the notion that moral actions are supposed to be undertaken for the sake of morality alone; we are supposed to have pure (as opposed to self-interested) motivation for moral actions. Yet as soon as particular circumstances enter the picture, it becomes impossible to think of motivations being entirely pure; in any particular situation, human beings will have interests and concerns that form a component of their motivation.This train of thought leads Kant to the conclusion that a secure understanding of morality must be based on the "pure," a priori concepts of reason. "Pure," a priori concepts are concepts that occur to us before we have any experience of the world. If moral ideas were drawn from experience, then they could not be assured universal validity, for they would be based only on the limited set of events that we have experienced. Moral ideas may be universally valid, Kant argues, only if they are based on the intrinsic validity of a priori concepts.Kant's distinction between "rational beings" and "men" may make this point more clear. Being a human being entails possessing a certain "human nature." We get hungry, we fall in love, we have emotional and physical needs. In Kant's view, this human nature should not be a consideration in moral thinking. Human nature is a particular circumstance that affects human beings. We could imagine some other form of rational being--an extraterrestrial life form, for instance-- possessing a different nature. But we would not excuse the cruel behavior of some monstrous creature; rather, we would judge the monster's actions according to the same moral standard that we apply to ourselves. According to Kant, this fact demonstrates that our moral thinking is not based on an understanding of "nature" or disposition, but rather on universally applicable concepts--and the only concepts that we can know apply in all circumstances are the concepts that occur to us a priori, independent of any particular experience or circumstance.You may be thinking at this point that Kant seems to want people to behave like robots. By his account, morality requires us to separate our rationality from our nature and act solely on the basis of logical principles. This idea is strongly rooted in the basic ideas of the Enlightenment (see the Context section for discussion of this period in European intellectual history). Like many of his contemporaries, Kant understands reason to be the source of fundamental truths that transcend culture and history. Rational ideas are ideas that makes sense to all people; they are universal. Kant believes the task of philosophy is to develop a stronger understanding of these ideas. He also believes that rational ideas have a strong claim to authority. A morality based on reason would make sense to all people; Kant thinks it would therefore be superior to a moral system accepted by only one particular group of people.


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.


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.


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.


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.

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.

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.

Carlos Anderson

Firstly, this book leads me to believe that Kant is very accessible. His argument is very organized and his language isn't overly complex or involuted. He articulates his points with great clarity. Anyone whose read Heidegger or Hegel or the really head-scratchingly difficult Thus spoke Zarathustra will find this a welcome respite, and be able to walk away from a single reading with a fairly cogent understanding of his ideas (though of course the aforementioned books are indeed enjoyable in their complexity). Though for one who has read those in the existentialist movement, especially Nietzsche (although I might be a bit biased here), will find themselves shaking their heads at all this talk about objectivity and the compulsions of reason, etc. Kant is attempting to operate from a premise that is inclusive of God in the moral system (actually saying this more or less outright when he talks about the necessity of God in order to maintain moral justice, blah blah. Kant though is a necessity to the student of philosophy looking to round out his knowledge, and they will find it helpful in later readings, especially the existentialists, of distinguishing readings in opposition to each other, as a kind of a Hegelian binary type deal that deepens understanding. His argument, too, gives a commendable example of rhetoric, argument, and logic that's beneficial to any intellectual furthering.

John Ryan

I found this book to be very intriguing. Kant appears to draw a hard line, claiming that certain actions are right and other actions are wrong - no matter what. In the sense, he seems to emphasize moral absolutism. Some people might even say that Kant takes it a step farther than this with his Categorical Imperative, in which Kant claims that an action has no moral worth if a person gains anything at all from it - including happiness. For Kant, it is all about a person's intentions; the consequences of an action are completely irrelevant in determining the moral worth of an action. Furthermore, Kant puts forward his theory of a universal maxim, claiming that a person should not do an action unless he/she can will that every other person would do that action. In addition, Kant posits his theory of "The Kingdom of Ends", in which Kant argues that every human being should be recognized as an end in himself/herself, and that no one should be treated as a means to an end; in other words, it is wrong to "use" people, or to manipulate then through either deception or coercion. Kant also discusses other important concepts in ethics, such as duty and having a good will. In addition, Kant makes a distinction between actions which are morally permissible and morally required. In this work, Kant appears to be arguing against Locke's notion that good and evil are based on pleasure and pain,.respectively; thus, Kant's theory of ethics provides us with a stark contrast to Utilitarianism. I believe that Kant's theory is more sound on the micro level, but cannot be as easily applied on the macro level. Again, Kant's theory reinforces moral absolutism, and challenges people to live by a higher standard. Kant seems to want to get away from a theory of ethics that is based on happiness - or which has any real association with happiness. Bottom line: this is a "must-read"for anyone interested in ethics.


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.

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.

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.


I read this electronic edition:, which did not strike me as particularly hard to read or understand, despite the fact that those are very common complaints re: this book. Actually, I was mostly impressed with Kant's reasoning and argument, apart from the unnecessary conditions of morality later in the book, but deontological ethics (focused on good in itself, etc. divorced from consequence or social contract etc.) just don't work, and the (first formulation of the) Categorical Imperative fails because it is so utterly restricted, ruling out the moral worth of going beyond duty's call, and of course also of actions that we would not will to become universal laws, but would perform in situations where there is real benefit as a consequence of that action not just for ourselves, but for others too. One may admire the concept and work within it, and believing in it may 'make exceptions' for herself, but this person also has to accept that her actions have no moral worth, are not good. That all falls apart. The biggest problem I have with Kant's ethical system is how utterly individual it is, and how essentialist. The thought behind deontological ethics is itself admirable; I do think we are really desperate to find a solid theoretical grounding for practical ethics, a grounding that various other sorts of metaethical positions just don't give us (the average non-Kantian gets all jittery if asked to say that there is nothing inherently wrong with rape in a state of nature, even though professional philosophers and such are willing to do so), but to accept Kant's system is to accept a deeply flawed one. I understand that it's more intuitively appealing to read The Humanity Formula and get the fuzzies than to read Hobbes, but at some point we surely ought to be able to get past what seems nice and confront the fact that the metaethical truth that allows for justice and beauty in practical application is probably going to have some seriously ugly theoretical side effects.

Pierre E. Loignon

Toute l’existence kantienne a été vouée au Souverain Bien et toute sa philosophie en découle: « Il n’y a nulle part quoi que ce soit dans le monde, ni même en général hors de celui-ci, qu’il soit possible de penser et qui pourrait sans restriction être tenu pour bon, à l’exception d’une volonté bonne. »(59) Or, la question du bien ne doit pas être abordée d’une manière qui ne lui convienne pas. Défendre, par exemple, le Bien par le biais d’arguments esthétiques ou religieux, ou pire, par le biais d’une argumentation manipulatrice et mensongère ne peut absolument pas convenir. Il faut s’assurer de procéder honnêtement, de faire la recherche pour soi-même d’abord avant de la présenter comme une libre possibilité à d’autres.Ceci dit, sur une question métaphysique de la sorte, même la recherche la plus honnête risque d’entraîner irrésistiblement l’humain qui la fait vers le dogmatisme ou le scepticisme, lieux où la moralité disparaît, car le scepticisme n’y croit pas et parce que le dogmatisme y croit dans l'illusion. Afin d'éviter de sombrer dans l’une de ces impasses morales, il est donc nécessaire d’établir d’abord clairement quelles sont les ouvertures et les limites de la raison humaine afin d’établir fermement une position critique où la moralité pourra être poursuivie en toute sûreté. Pour ce faire, Kant écrira sa Critique de la raison pure. Par la suite, sans craindre de sombrer dans la ratiocination métaphysique, il devrait ensuite pouvoir enfin se permettre d’aborder la question qui lui tient le plus à cœur : celle de la moralité. Pourtant, dans sa Fondation de la métaphysique des mœurs il semble se contenter d’aborder uniquement les quelques questions préliminaires en exposant l’analogon de sentiment qu’est le « respect » et en présentant diverses formulation de l’impératif catégorique, avant de tenter une déduction de la liberté dans la 3e partie. Et c’est sans aucun doute l’échec de sa déduction de la liberté qui l’a retenu quelque temps d’écrire sa Métaphysique des Moeurs. La moralité est en effet impossible si la liberté n’est pas présente. Mais puisque le contenu de la moralité nous est rendue présente par le biais de l'impératif catégorique, comment se fait-il que la liberté, qui devrait nécessairement l’accompagner, ne peut en être déduite? C’est que toute déduction appartient au monde amoral de la logique et de la nécessité, tandis que la liberté implique un saut dans la réflexion ou dans l’existence. Elle échappe, en son essence même, à toutes nécessités et à toutes causalités. Ce saut, Kant n’est pas encore prêt à l’assumer dans son écriture lorsqu'il produit sa Fondation de la métaphysique des moeurs. On pourra observer le surgissement de ce saut, si on a l’œil fait pour cela, dans les premières parties de sa Critique de la raison pratique qu’il écrira trois ans plus tard.Je ne veux toutefois pas abuser de la patience des gens qui ont l’amabilité de lire cette petite réflexion qui se veut explicative sur cette pièce très importante de la philosophie kantienne. L’ensemble constitue une lecture incontournable à quiconque s’intéresse, pour sa propre vie ou par simple curiosité, à la moralité ou à la philosophie en général. Et pour les autres, ça se lit très bien (pour du Kant) et ça constitue un très bel (et bon) exercice de réflexion.

Mashael Alamri

ترجمة الكتاب رائعة , شرحت بالتفصيل فلسفة كانط بطريقة ميسرة قد تكون مفاتيح للكثير من البحث أو القراءة , فكرت كثيرا كيف أكتب المراجعة للكتاب ووجدت أنني أكتب صفحات عدة لأن الكتاب بترجمته هو عبارة عن مراجعة هل سأنقله بأكمله ؟؟ أول كتاب اقرأه لكانط , بخلاف بعض المقالات والشروحات عن فلسفته لذلك أحتاج الكثير قبل أن أكتب عنه أقلها الإطلاع على مؤلف آخر له لأنها الآن تبدو لي صعبه.

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