Dr Tom Kerns
North Seattle Community College

Lecture notes on Immanuel Kant's

Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals

(A Deontological ethic)



I. Aiming at happiness destroys it

a. "We find that the more a cultivated reason applies itself with deliberate purpose to the enjoyment of life and happiness, so much the more does the man fail of true satisfaction." (GBWW p 257 +Watts)

II. Our telos is to develop a good will (#2)

b. "...our existence has a different and far nobler end, for which, and not for happiness, reason is properly intended, and which must, therefore, be regarded as the supreme condition to which the private ends of man must, for the most part, be postponed.... Admitting that nature generally in the distribution of her capacities has adapted the means to the end, its true destination must be to produce a will, not merely good as a means to something else, but good in itself, for which reason was absolutely necessary. This will then, though not indeed the sole and complete good, must be the supreme good and the condition of every other, even of the desire of happiness." (p 257)

III. Good will is the prerequisite condition for our worthiness to be happy, and is the one unqualified good (#1)

c. "Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except a good will. Intelligence, wit, judgment, and the other talents of the human mind, however they may be named, or courage, resolution, perseverance, as qualities of temperament, are undoubtedly good and desirable in many respects; but these gifts of nature may also become extremely bad and mischievous if the will which is to make use of them, and which, therefore, constitutes what is called character, is not good. It is the same with the gifts of fortune. Power, riches, honour, even health, and the general well-being and contentment with one's condition which is called happiness, inspire pride, and often presumption, if there is not a good will to correct the influence of these on the mind." (p 256)

IV. Treat people as ends, never as means only

d. "So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only." (p 272)


Main Points:

V. Must act in accord with duty, and from the motive of duty

  • ie, not from immediate inclination
  • & not from self interest (egs p 258, attached)

VI. An action's moral worth is not in the purpose to be attained, but in the principle of volition, ie from duty

VII. What is duty? "To act out of reverence for the moral law"

VIII. What is the law?

Distinguish hypothetical imperatives, which are not moral imperatives (eg, eat 3 meals per day, take tetracycline qid, etc), from the one categorical imperative:

e. "I ought always to act in such a way that the maxim of my action should become a universal law [without self-contradiction]."

f. "There is therefore but one categorical imperative, namely this: Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law [without self-contradiction]."

Egs, p 269 (attached)

(Citations for quotations are to the Great Books of the Western World edition of Utilitarianism)



  • The torture example
  • PWA deliberately infecting people so more funds would be forthcoming? (Teleological ethic might agree? Deontological ethic might say deliberately harming another is wrong?)