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


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.


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.

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.

Erik Graff

Work on an M.Div. thesis entitled "Immanuel Kant's Influence on the Thought of C.G. Jung" had me read all of the Kant that Jung had read as evinced by the books in his library and the citations given in his writings. Now, two years later, having returned to school to study philosophy, I had incentive to continue the study of Kant's writings beyond those with which the psychiatrist had been familiar.The Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals was read for Loyola University's PHIL 309: History of Classical Modern Philosophy. As a part of our unit on Kant I presented a lecture on his Critical Programme to the class and a few interested auditors.

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.


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.

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.


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.

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.

Helen Zhao

This is not a piece to be read once, twice, thrice. While I don't have the confidence to support all of Kant's beliefs, I don't think I have the right to deny any either. A necessary staple of any education in moral philosophy.

Joaquin Siabra-Fraile

"Metafísica de las costumbres" ocupa en el sistema kantiano, respecto a la "Crítica de la Razón Práctica", el mismo lugar que los "Principios metafísicos de la ciencia de la naturaleza" respecto a la "Crítica de la Razón Pura" (para el Juicio no hay metafísica, sólo Crítica). Si la Crítica limitaba el alcance del ejercicio de la Razón, en su uso práctico, mediante el establecimiento de las condiciones de posibilidad de la acción libre, la Metafísica deduce los principios a priori de la legislación aplicable a la acción libre. Kant parte de la facultad de desear entendida como "la facultad de ser, por medio de sus representaciones, causa de los objetos de estas representaciones". La facultad de desear cuyo fundamento interno de determinación es la razón del sujeto es la voluntad. Esta voluntad admite una legislación racional mediante el imperativo categórico (legislación ética), como Kant había mostrado en la "Fundamentación de la Metafísica de las costumbres" y en la "Crítica de la Razón Práctica". Ahora bien, en la "Metafísica de las Costumbres" Kant estudia la legislación ética que puede ser exterior (atendiendo unicamente a la condición formal de la libertad: que la máxima de la acción sea universalizable sin contradicción), o sólamente interior (atendiendo a los fines que se propone la razón pura). La primera da lugar a la Doctrina del Derecho; la segunda, a la Doctrina de la Virtud. Ambas partes componen esta "Metafísica de las Costumbres".La dificultad de Kant no viene tanto de su estilo, de lo más claro y conciso del Idealismo alemán, como de ese carácter sistemático-arquitectónico que obliga a tener en cuenta el todo para comprender completamente la parte. Si bien, se nos dice, nosotros ya no somos tan modernos como para aceptar un modelo de Razón tan fuerte (y exigente) como el kantiano, para superarlo hay que conocerlo previamente. Y si alguien ha cumplido el ideal racional ilustrado de sistema, ése es Kant. Esta obra es de lectura obligada para entender no sólo la filosofía kantiana, sino lo que significa en general construir un sistema filosófico a gran escala.Por cierto, no deja de asombrar que por estos lares se le achaque a Kant ser "aburrido". Como si ahora fuese obligación del filósofo entretener. Para eso está el cine, señores.

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.

Ian Kennedy

At only 66 pages of main text, you might think this slim volume would make a quick read. Unless you know anything of Kant's writing style. As a thinker, he was careful with his logic so his arguments developed deliberately. This means that, given his assumptions, his points are generally sound. On the other hand, it leads to some rather dense and dreary prose. That doesn't, however, take away from my for star rating, and neither should it discourage you from picking up this wonderful volume. In these few pages Kant develops startling ideas about what we should do, how we decide what we should do, and how we should decide what we should do. His ideas were revolutionary to contemporary philosophy, and remain powerful to the modern (especially the post-modern) reader. Moreover, Kant's dusty academic tone is a poor disguise for the enthusiasm and optimism that abound here. While the Groundwork doesn't offer us salvation, it does offer us a chance for right action. And even if not all of his points have withstood the erosion of philosophical development, we should still reserve a place for Kant in our minds, and on our bookshelves.I have to recommend the Cambridge edition pictured above. The translation is clear, and it begins with a detailed and readable introduction, which was important to my understanding of the main text.

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.


I'd say I didn't understand it, and I'd probably be right. I can also say it's simple, repetitive, and probably be right as well. I appreciate Kant's careful thinking and distinctions. I can see a bit where Nietzsche might have taken his belief in creating philosophy to be what should be rather than what is. Key distinction for me was doing the right thing to do the right thing without regard to any personal gain (or loss.) I've always felt this altruistic form of morality had some higher glory to it. Not sure this was the best use of my time. I've certainly read other philosophical works which had me think more about the nature of the universe and reality. Perhaps, this wasn't the best choice to follow Arthur Feynman

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