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

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.

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.


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.


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

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.

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.

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.


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 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.


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.

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.

Dinesh Jayaraman

I haven't read very much serious philosophy but my lingering interest in moral philosophy brought me around to reading this one finally (not to mention the brevity of the book). I enjoyed reading the book. I did not mind the convoluted style of Kant's writing, perhaps because I tend to write in long, convoluted sentences too. I enjoyed getting a glimpse of the mind of an influential and great philosopher from a time when great changes were brewing in Europe. I have some pretty major problems with the categorical imperative (briefly: do only that which may become a law) idea though, and many of these have no doubt been picked apart by philosophers in the centuries since. (1) A morality divorced from human nature?: Kant seems to have been influenced heavily by Christian theology and is predisposed to see morality as a universal absolute. He regards that morality to be "rational" must be independent of human needs, wants and inclinations. This is problematic even for his own statement of the categorical imperative, because often the only way to judge whether something may become law is to examine how it affects the wants and needs of people. It is also self-evidently wrong to believe that morality is absolute for all "rational beings" if one were only imaginative enough to consider a life form that is sufficiently different from us.The answers I prefer to some of the dilemmas Kant attempted to resolve with such a proposition are tied to Darwin and the utility of morality as a mechanism for winning the evolution game as a social species. Utilitarianism, in this respect, is much more easily accomodating of such a viewpoint. Kant of course was pre-Darwin, and did not have the benefit of his ideas.(2) Granularity: Every action is surrounded by unique circumstances. For e.g., to borrow an idea from another reader's comments here, if you were hiding Jews from the Nazis, would it be right then lie to the Nazi police? In such a scenario, what is the question you would ask yourself: -> Is it wrong to lie? -> Is it wrong to lie to benefit people? -> Is it wrong to lie to protect the lives of people? -> Is it wrong to lie to protect the lives of innocent people? -> Is it wrong to lie to protect Jews from Nazis? etc.My point here is that every situation is unique. Laws abstract actions into a small set, and it is in recognition of this natural shortcoming of codified law that any reasonable judiciary considers extenuating circumstances in enforcing the law. It is always possible for a person to cop out, apply the imperative in the narrowest sense and consider only the specific circumstances she faces.(3) Practicability: Somewhat tied to the above, it is not always easy to conclude the desirability of a law, as legislators across the world know. Among the examples that Kant gives, many of his arguments are flimsy and do not hold water. Again, utlitarianism offers a nice framework to examine problems like these.Note to self: Must read more philosophers, classic and modern, considering how enjoyable I found this book.


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..


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.

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