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oretical and practical – which arises out of the postulate of freedom and is therefore immune from the onslaught of philosophical determinism which in Kant’s day was already threatening to undermine the notion of freedom. Kant’s practical reason is founded on this freedom; and yet it remains reason, and therefore cannot be satisfied with mere experience and sentiment. Kant’s most important discovery, which to this day determines a significant part of practical philosophy, is the categorical imperative. It is a fundamental principle and does not serve the discovery of truth or natural laws, but rather it commands us. Kant chose the term ‘imperative’; his successors speak of ‘prescriptive’ or ‘counterfactual’ utterances. Unlike the common hypothetical imperatives, which are conditioned or dictated by certain ends – ‘if you want x, do y’ – the categorical imperative is unconditional; it must be equally valid for everyone, everywhere, all the time, and entirely independent of all other considerations. In his Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals Kant formulates it in these terms: Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

From this he deduces this conclusion: Act so that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in that of another, always as an end and never as a means only.

Finally, he stresses again the axiomatic nature of this imperative and places it on the plane of rationally understood rules of nature: Act as though the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature.196

In order to understand Kant properly, it is necessary to explain the character of his ‘maxim’ and its relationship to (moral) rules. In a paper published after his death, Kant explains it in this way: ‘The character of man demands that he first set himself maxims and only then rules. Rules, if they are not restricted by maxims, are mere pedantry... they are mere walking frames (Gangelwägen) for children. Maxims must deter196 The word Naturgesetz (natural law) is for Kant a philosophical term, not an empirical, scientific one; and it refers to something that is beyond human control. This differentiates it from the similar-sounding utterances of Hume.

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mine which case falls under the rule’.197 Maxims, therefore, are not rules but general principles to guide the selection of rules. The categorical imperative ties in with the idea of balance; but instead of the reciprocity of the golden rule, here the criterion is ‘universal law’. This has the effect of objectifying, and universalising morality,198 so that moral judgments can be made, on this basis, by everyone, and not only by agents in their own consciences; such judgments then come to resemble law. However, in this attempt to dismiss anything that is in any way dependent on experience, the subject of morality must become markedly narrower; moral evaluation concerns only the ‘will’, or the decision itself. These maxims have the appearance of limiting rules for decisions and they therefore belong to the realm of individual morality, and not that of ethics, in the sense of the setting of goals and searching for what is best. With this foundational act, Kant opened up the possibility of the rational exploration of a morality which did not appeal to religious authority but which was built upon the foundations of independently thinking, rational and responsible individuals, from whose freedom is deduced the principle of human equality. The categorical imperative, in both its forms, is a necessary consequence of the acknowledgment of other people as being equally free and responsible beings; and it corresponds exactly to the Enlightenment idea of human society as an association of equals, in which the only authority is voluntarily acknowledged authority, and in which no privilege is acceptable. Kant rejects the idea that people should submit to the laws and rules of external authority. Such heteronomy would be a  denial of human freedom. On the other hand, free and responsible individuals should submit to rules which are dictated to them by their own reason, as in the case of the categorical imperative, or in the acknowledgment of socially beneficial authority of the ruler. Rational beings must submit to the ‘dictates’ of their own reason, which alone is capable of guiding their decisions and taming those inclinations and passions which must not be allowed to influence decisions. According to Kant, morality (Sittlichkeit) only rules when ‘the mere legislative force of maxim is alone the sufficient determining basis (Bestimmungsgrund) of a will’.199 The dictate of reason is, in Kant’s conception, justified by it being my reason; the rules 197 Kant, Lose Blätter, Nr. 1164, AA, XV, p. 514. 198 The term universalisability, as used by R. M. Hare, is an attempt at a different formulation of the categorical imperative. 199 Critique of Practical Reason. We will return to the problem of autonomy and heteronomy in Ch. 3.3.

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it enforces are those which rational beings set themselves. Although we must submit to the dictate of reason in all our decisions, we nonetheless remain autonomous, in the original, literal sense of the word: we are our own lawmakers. Following this new conception of agents leads Kant to conclude that ‘good’ decisions must be decisions guided exclusively by obedience to these rationally grounded laws, and therefore decisions which we are compelled to make (albeit by ourselves). Of course, Kant also includes the responsibility to obey rationally founded and accepted authority, especially that of rulers and their laws. A remarkable, and surprisingly pathetic, sentence about duty in the Critique of Practical Reason demonstrates how much importance Kant ascribed to this.200 In the light of the French Revolution, which took place a year after the Critique was published, this emphasis on the authority of rulers could have been read as a prophetic warning, and not only in Germany. Kant’s systematic rationalisation ushered in a new chapter in practical philosophy, but also moved it distinctly in the direction of jurisprudence. It is no coincidence that the greater part of the Metaphysics of Morals is taken up by the ‘Metaphysical foundations of jurisprudence’ and that, at the end of the book, Kant delimits ethics as the ‘pure practical philosophy of internal legislation’.201 But this, of course, is not how morality appears to the acting person; and perhaps the growing gulf between the abstract thinking of philosophers and situations of real decision and action is an unintended consequence of Kant’s achievement. Removed from the traditional, and dramatically vivid, categories of good and evil, the task of ‘practical philosophy’ is to probe ever deeper into general laws and abstract notions of equality, none of which says a great deal to the acting person. The strict exclusion of ‘moral sentiments’ removed from philosophy’s purview our undoubted (if also unexplained) moral motivation, the almost ‘natural’ need we have to act ‘well’ and, on the other hand, the feelings of spontaneous horror and revulsion we feel when faced with cruelty or crime; and it also removed common and traditional moral ex200 ‘Duty (Pflicht)! Thou sublime and mighty name that dost embrace nothing charming or insinuating, but requires submission, and yet sleekest not to move the will by threatening aught that would arouse natural aversion or terror, but merely holdest forth a law...’ (Critique of Practical Reason, A 154f.) 201 Metaphysik der Sitten, II.2 AA VI, p. 491. Axel Honneth speaks of the ‘separation of morality and ethics’, as Kant had supposed that the conditions of the good life are beyond the control of general determination and must therefore be eradicated from practical philosophy. According to P. Koller the entire Kantian tradition seeks to define what is ‘correct’, and therefore our duty, regardless of any conception of the good.

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Ethics, Life and Institutions (Ukázka, strana 99)  
Ethics, Life and Institutions (Ukázka, strana 99)