James's Reviews > Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals

Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals by Immanuel Kant
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M_50x66
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Sep 22, 08


This is simply a great and surprisingly accessible book. Yes, this book requires more thought and deliberation than most others, but the end result is a deeper understanding of the nature of moral maxims, if one accepts what Kant has to say.

Observations of human behavior yield confusing and conflicting judgments, and so Kant turns to a non-empirical activity of thought, termed pure reason. Slowly and steadily, the "common sense" of moral knowledge is built up into a vast structure of pure reason that admits of the categorical imperative: "Act only according to that maxim which you can at the same time will that it should become an universal law." Metaphysical questions abound, and there are a great many insights that Kant has to offer. I was particularly struck by his exposition of the relationship between morality and freedom.

I cannot offer a critique as I am still assimilating some concepts from this book - and besides, for a true critique, one should read Schopenhauer and Nietzsche - but I admire how Kant can build up logical structures composed of pure reason to dazzling heights.

I think that Kant can easily be misunderstood. For instance, he never rejects the emotions in favor of logic, but he does argue against other philosophers who think emotions are moral necessities. And the categorical imperative is not empty or soulless: rather, it is to be used in the same way as a logical rule. And so on. There are flaws in this book, to be sure, and the categorical imperative may be an unattainable ideal, but this book still stands as an amazing testament to the power of human reason.
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