Vocabulary for Immanuel Kant,
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
in Cahn and Markie, eds., Ethics (2009)

Instructor: Dr. Jan Garrett

Most recent modification: July 26, 2010

action from duty -- action done out of respect for the (moral) law (cf. 287.1 top)

action done merely in conformity with duty but from inclination -- action externally identical to actions from duty but caused by the agent's inclinations (285-286)

analytic -- characteristic of a proposition that is true because of the meaning of its terms alone (294.1-2)*; contrast with synthetic

a posteriori (incentive of the will) = refers to inclination, which is knowable empirically; contrasts with a priori principle of the will

a priori (principle of the will) - aka the categorical imperative or the moral law

categorical imperative - any imperative that "without being based upon and having as its condition any other purpose to be attained by certain conduct commands the conduct immediately." (294.1); aka moral imperative (294.1)

the categorical imperative - the supreme practical principle; the moral law; there are two primary versions, the universal law formulation (296.1) and "the practical imperative" or "humanity as end" formulation (300.1)

command of reason - the representation (thought) of an objective principle insofar as it is necessitating for a will (292.2)

dignity of persons - the inner worth of rational beings whose will is capable, in principle, of following the moral law (aka categorical imperative)

duty - see "action from duty" and "imperatives of duty"

good without limitation - good absolutely, in all circumstances; only the good will has this characteristic; talents of mind, gifts of fortune, and even happiness do not (283.1)

happiness - an end that we can suppose all dependent rational beings (i.e., human beings) to actually have by a natural necessity (293.2). Kant says that the idea of happiness requires "an absolute whole, a maximum of well-being in my present condition and every future condition" (294.2) He denies that a finite rational being "can frame a determinate concept of what he really wills here." (294.2) One could be happy only if all his inclinations were satisfied.

good will - the will that consistently acts from duty (283.2, 285.1), i.e., out of respect for the moral law (=the categorical imperative)

"highest and unconditional" good = the good will (287.1)

hypothetical imperative - an imperative that "commands conduct not absolutely but only as a means to another purpose" (293.1); contrast with categorical imperative

imperative - the formula of a command of reason; "all imperatives are expressed by an ought." (292.2)

imperative of skill - states what one must do in order to attain an end; whether the end is rational and good is not at issue (293.2)

imperative of prudence (293.1-294) - a hypothetical imperative whose "if" clause is "if you want to be happy"; since everyone naturally wants to be happy, it is not necessary to state the "if" clause. An example of this type of imperative might be: "You ought to be willing, when it is not too burdensome, to cooperate with others."

imperatives of duty - imperatives that can be derived from the categorical imperative in its universal law formulation (296.1)

inclination - desires and feelings based in our biological and physical nature; inclinations correspond to needs, the nonsatisfaction of which is painful; they are part of the "empirical self," of which we become conscious by inner perception. Kant holds that inclinations and volitions based upon them lack moral worth; we cannot respect inclinations.

inner worth of persons = dignity of persons, based on the presence of free, practical reason (298-300, 302-303)

maxim - a principle, borne in mind by the acting person or agent, which determines her action. (296-297)

(the) moral law - a nonspecialist label for the categorical imperative (281.2)

perfectly good will - the will of independent rational beings (God and angels, if they exist); this kind of will is not subject to the a posteriori incentives of inclination.

the practical imperative - one of two main formulations of the categorical imperative: "so act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means." (300.1)

practical philosophy - philosophy concerned with moral or political choice. "Practical," which derives from praxis, meaning moral or political conduct, is contrasted with "speculative" or "theoretical." (These terms and this distinction derive from the Aristotelian and Scholastic traditions.) (299.1)

practical reason (281.2, 291.1-2) - equivalent to the will; the ability to make (rational) decisions and choices based upon moral principle.

pragmatic imperative - the imperative of prudence (294.1); not to be confused with "the practical imperative."

properly moral worth - conduct has p.m.w. only when it is done from duty (286.2)

prudence (narrow sense) - skill in the choice of means to one's own greatest well-being. (294.1)

pure practical reason - practical reason or will insofar as it is not influenced by inclinations

reason - See practical r.; pure practical r.; speculative r.; command of r.

respect - the proper attitude toward the moral law and "our own will insofar as it would act only under the condition of a possible giving of universal law through its maxims--this will possible for us in idea" (305.2)

speculative reason - the type of reason that is at work in the sciences that seek knowledge of what is, including topics of metaphysics, such as God; Kant's Critique of Pure [Speculative] Reason is a discussion of the powers and limits of this type of reason.

synthetic - characteristic of a proposition whose truth cannot be determined from the meaning of its terms alone (294.2)*

technical imperative - imperative of skill (294.1)

volition - an operation or act of the will, roughly equivalent to a particular choice, decision, or voluntary action (considered internally).

will - a faculty of choosing only that which reason, independent of inclination, recognizes as good (292.2); capacity to determine itself to acting in conformity with the representation of certain laws (299.1). See good w.; perfectly good w. (292.2); practical reason

* The definitions given here for "analytic" and "synthetic" differ somewhat from Kant's own definitions, but I believe they work well enough for understanding The Groundwork. For Kant's definition see Kant Glossary -- J. G.