Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals | Study Guide

Immanuel Kant

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Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals | Glossary

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autonomy: Kant describes "autonomy" as self-legislation, or the ability to regulate one's own behavior. According to Kant, morality is autonomous because rational beings generate it and are bound by it.

categorical imperative: The categorical imperative is a rational directive that applies universally, without exception. The categorical imperative is a moral obligation for all rational beings.

deontology: Derived from the Greek deon, meaning "duty," deontology is the study of duty.

duty: Duty is the nontechnical term for moral obligation. Kant defines it as "the necessity of an action from respect for the law."

good will: For Kant, the good will, or the will to do good, is the only unconditional good in the universe. The good will is the motivation to act from a feeling of duty and not for any ulterior motive.

heteronomy: Kant uses "heteronomy" as an antonym to "autonomy." A heteronomous law is externally given, and people who abide by these laws are not acting in a morally good way but simply in their own self-interest.

hypothetical imperative: A hypothetical imperative is a rational directive for achieving an end. It typically takes the form, "If you want to do x, then you should do y."

inclination: By "inclination" Kant typically means desires, emotions, feelings, attitudes, and the like. These personal considerations can be selfish, or they can be other-directed sentiments such as empathy.

kingdom of ends: The kingdom of ends is the ideal moral community composed of moral agents. Because individuals are ends in themselves, the "kingdom of ends" is a community of such persons.

law: For Kant, morality has the force of law. Law is necessary and binding on all rational beings.

maxim: A maxim is a personal rule or policy. It explains why one performs a certain action.

narrow or perfect duty: A narrow or perfect duty is a moral obligation that does not admit any exception. It is what must always or never be done.

reason: Reason is that part of human beings that generates the moral law. It seeks unifying principles under which experience is organized, but it is not itself a part of this experience.

supreme principle of morality: Kant seeks to identify and articulate the fundamental principle of morality, which is what he calls the supreme principle of morality. It is articulated in the categorical imperative.

wide or imperfect duty: A wide or imperfect duty is a moral obligation that, by its nature, cannot be required without exception. One is obliged to fulfill a wide or imperfect duty whenever one is able.

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