The Enlightenment Period

Immanuel Kant

What was Immanuel Kant’s moral system?

Kant’s moral starting point is the distinction between things that are instrumentally or hypothetically good because they have good consequences, and things that are good in and of themselves. The only thing that is good in itself is a good will or benevolence, without which every other gift of fortune can be just cause for resentment. Morality is for rational beings, and rational beings require principles of action. In the community of rational beings, or the Kingdom of Ends, actions are good if they are autonomous, which is to say freely chosen.

According to Kant, a rational being is autonomous or self-ruling. The rules that a rational being uses to regulate himself are absolute—what Kant called “categorical.” Such rules are imperatives and are followed for their own sake. Hypothetical rules, by contrast, are followed in order to make something else happen. For example, “Do not harm innocent people” would be a categorical rule and “Eat your vegetables” would be a hypothetical rule.


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