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  1. Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals
  2. Audiobook: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
  3. Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary - Oxford Scholarship
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  5. Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

Immanuel Kant; Edited and translated by Allen W. Wood; With essays by J. Skip to main content. Description Reviews Table of Contents.

Audiobook: Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

In it Kant searches for the supreme principle of morality and argues for a conception of the moral life that has made this work a continuing source of controversy and an object of reinterpretation for over two centuries. Wood advocate contrasting interpretations of Kantian ethics and its practical implications. Allen Wood is Ward W. Woods Professor at Stanford University.

This is the translation I would want my own students to have in hand in tackling a work that is more often talked about than read with care. The translation should appeal to a very broad readership. From Aristotle to Brain Science. This second kind is called logic.

Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary - Oxford Scholarship

Material philosophy is divided into two again—about specific objects, and the laws that determine them. These are the laws of nature, and the laws of freedom.

The science of nature is called physics, the science of freedom is called ethics. Natural and moral philosophy both have an empirical part, since nature is about finding the laws of the visible world, and moral philosophy about human will as it affects things in the world. All philosophy based on experience is empirical.

There are in turn two kinds of metaphysics: the metaphysics of nature natural objects, as determined by the laws of nature , and metaphysics of morals of objects as determined by the human will. Kant sees his Groundwork as a preparation for a moral philosophy. He compares it to a division of labor: just as you have to figure out how to build something before you start to build it, he argues we must understanding how morals are even possible before constructing a moral philosophy.

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This initial work is what the Groundwork will do. Kant believes that for a moral philosophy to be truly valid, it has to be cleansed of everything empirical. We have to clear our common understanding of duty and of laws, because for a moral law to be truly binding, it has to be universally necessary. Our common understanding of morality is filled with all sorts of fuzzy concepts and conventional wisdom that ends up misleading us.

Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

For, say "never tell a lie" to be a truly valid moral law, it has to be explained by reason, not experience. We can use experience to come up with practical rules for ourselves or helpful suggestions; but it will never give us universal moral laws. Therefore, moral philosophy has to be grounded in abstract reason, not in experience, though experience can help sharpen our rational judgment.

Partially Examined Life podcast - Kant - Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals

Insofar as we rely principally on our experience, morals will be subject to corruption and prejudice. For something to be good, Kant insists, it has not just to accord with a moral law, but to be done for the sake of the law. Otherwise, that conformity is just accidental. The same inner inclination that motivates us to do good can just easily incline us to do evil.


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Without universal moral law, there can be no moral philosophy, only limited situational judgments. Kant believes that a valid moral philosophy has to analyze the very possibility of moral judgments, and not just the human will and its motives as we experience them.

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Kant positions this moral philosophy as the corollary to his Critique of Pure Reason , which asked how knowledge was possible at all. He thinks that explaining the possibility of moral will be an easier task than the one he set himself in the first Critique, because moral philosophy is concerned with experience, and so we can at least use experience as a corrective, whereas the first one is pure abstract logic, and so risks easily falling into error.