Kantianism is the philosophy of Immanuel Kant, a German philosopher born in Königsberg, Prussia (now Kaliningrad, Russia). The term Kantianism or Kantian is sometimes also used to describe contemporary positions in philosophy of mind, epistemology, and ethics.


Kantian ethics are deontological, revolving entirely around duty rather than emotions or end goals. All actions are performed in accordance with some underlying maxim or principle, which are vastly different from each other; it is according to this that the moral worth of any action is judged. Kant's ethics are founded on his view of rationality as the ultimate good and his belief that all people are fundamentally rational beings. This led to the most important part of Kant's ethics, the formulation of the categorical imperative, which is the criterion for whether a maxim is good or bad.

Simply put, this criterion amounts to a thought experiment: to attempt to universalize the maxim (by imagining a world where all people necessarily acted in this way in the relevant circumstances) and then see if the maxim and its associated action would still be conceivable in such a world. For instance, holding the maxim kill anyone who annoys you and applying it universally would result in a world which would soon be devoid of people and without anyone left to kill. Thus holding this maxim is irrational as it ends up being impossible to hold it.

Universalizing a maxim (statement) leads to it being valid, or to one of two contradictions — a contradiction in conception (where the maxim, when universalized, is no longer a viable means to the end) or a contradiction in will (where the will of a person contradicts what the universalization of the maxim implies). The first type leads to a "perfect duty", and the second leads to an "imperfect duty".

Kant's ethics focus then only on the maxim that underlies actions and judges these to be good or bad solely on how they conform to reason. Kant showed that many of our common sense views of what is good or bad conform to his system but denied that any action performed for reasons other than rational actions can be good (saving someone who is drowning simply out of a great pity for them is not a morally good act). Kant also denied that the consequences of an act in any way contribute to the moral worth of that act, his reasoning being (highly simplified for brevity) that the physical world is outside our full control and thus we cannot be held accountable for the events that occur in it.

The Formulations of the Categorical Imperative:

  1. Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.[1]
  2. Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end.[2]
  3. Therefore, every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal kingdom of ends.[3]

Political philosophy

In political philosophy, Kant has had wide and increasing influence with major political philosophers of the late twentieth century. For example, John Rawls drew heavily on his inspiration in setting out the basis for a liberal view of political institutions. The nature of Rawls' use of Kant has engendered serious controversy but has demonstrated the vitality of Kantian considerations across a wider range of questions than was once thought plausible.


  1. ^ Kant, Immanuel (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by James W. Ellington (3rd ed.). Hackett. p. 30. ISBN 0-87220-166-X.
  2. ^ Kant, Immanuel (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by James W. Ellington (3rd ed.). Hackett. p. 36. ISBN 0-87220-166-X.
  3. ^ Kant, Immanuel (1993). Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by James W. Ellington (3rd ed.). Hackett. p. 43. ISBN 0-87220-166-X.


  • Henry Allison (2004) Kant's transcendental Idealism (Yale University Press)
  • Thomas Auxter (1982) Kant's Moral Teleology (Mercer University Press)
  • Lewis White Beck (1960) A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (University of Chicago Press)
  • R. Beiner and W.J. Booth (eds.) (1993) Kant and Political Philosophy (Yale University Press)
  • Gary Banham (2000) Kant and the Ends of Aesthetics (Macmillan)
  • Gary Banham (2000) "Teleology, Transcendental Reflection and Artificial Life" Tekhnehma: Journal of Philosophy and Technology Number 6.
  • Gary Banham (2003) Kant's Practical Philosophy: From Critique to Doctrine (Palgrave Macmillan)
  • Gary Banham (2006) Kant's Transcendental Imagination (Palgrave Macmillan)
  • Howard Caygill (1989) Art of Judgment (Blackwell)
  • Howard Caygill (1995) A Kant Dictionary (Blackwell)
  • Mary Gregor (1963) Laws of Freedom: A Study of Kant's Method of Applying the Categorical Imperative in the Metaphysik Der Sitten (Basil Blackwell)
  • Palmquist, Stephen (1993). Kant's system of perspectives: an architectonic interpretation of the critical philosophy. Lanham: University Press of America. ISBN 9780819189271. Online.
  • Palmquist, Stephen (2000). Kant's critical religion. Aldershot, Hants, England Burlington, Vermont: Ashgate. ISBN 9780754613336. Online.
  • John Rawls (2000) Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy (Harvard University Press)

External links

A priori and a posteriori

The Latin phrases a priori (lit. "from the earlier") and a posteriori (lit. "from the later") are philosophical terms popularized by Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason (first published in 1781, second edition in 1787), one of the most influential works in the history of philosophy. However, in their Latin forms they appear in Latin translations of Euclid's Elements, of about 300 BC, a work widely considered during the early European modern period as the model for precise thinking.

These terms are used with respect to reasoning (epistemology) to distinguish "necessary conclusions from first premises" (i.e., what must come before sense observation) from "conclusions based on sense observation" which must follow it. Thus, the two kinds of knowledge, justification, or argument, may be glossed:

A priori knowledge or justification is independent of experience, as with mathematics (3 + 2 = 5), tautologies ("All bachelors are unmarried"), and deduction from pure reason (e.g., ontological proofs).

A posteriori knowledge or justification depends on experience or empirical evidence, as with most aspects of science and personal knowledge.There are many points of view on these two types of knowledge, and their relationship gives rise to one of the oldest problems in modern philosophy.

The terms a priori and a posteriori are primarily used as adjectives to modify the noun "knowledge" (for example, "a priori knowledge"). However, "a priori" is sometimes used to modify other nouns, such as "truth". Philosophers also may use "apriority" and "aprioricity" as nouns to refer (approximately) to the quality of being "a priori".Although definitions and use of the terms have varied in the history of philosophy, they have consistently labeled two separate epistemological notions. See also the related distinctions: deductive/inductive, analytic/synthetic, necessary/contingent.


Antinomy (Greek ἀντί, antí, "against, in opposition to", and νόμος, nómos, "law") refers to a real or apparent mutual incompatibility of two laws. It is a term used in logic and epistemology, particularly in the philosophy of Kant.

There are many examples of antinomy. A self-contradictory phrase such as "There is no absolute truth" can be considered an antinomy because this statement is suggesting in itself to be an absolute truth, and therefore denies itself any truth in its statement. A paradox such as "this sentence is false" can also be considered to be an antinomy; for the sentence to be true, it must be false, and vice versa.

Category (Kant)

In Kant's philosophy, a category (German: Categorie in the original or Kategorie in modern German) is a pure concept of the understanding (Verstand). A Kantian category is a characteristic of the appearance of any object in general, before it has been experienced. Kant wrote that "They are concepts of an object in general…." Kant also wrote that, "…pure cоncepts [Categories] of the undеrstanding which apply to objects of intuition in general…." Such a category is not a classificatory division, as the word is commonly used. It is, instead, the condition of the possibility of objects in general, that is, objects as such, any and all objects, not specific objects in particular.

Critical philosophy

Attributed to Immanuel Kant, the critical philosophy (German: kritische Philosophie) movement sees the primary task of philosophy as criticism rather than justification of knowledge; criticism, for Kant, meant judging as to the possibilities of knowledge before advancing to knowledge itself (from the Greek kritike (techne), or "art of judgment"). The basic task of philosophers, according to this view, is not to establish and demonstrate theories about reality, but rather to subject all theories—including those about philosophy itself—to critical review, and measure their validity by how well they withstand criticism.

"Critical philosophy" is also used as another name for Kant's philosophy itself. Kant said that philosophy's proper enquiry is not about what is out there in reality, but rather about the character and foundations of experience itself. We must first judge how human reason works, and within what limits, so that we can afterwards correctly apply it to sense experience and determine whether it can be applied at all to metaphysical objects.

Deontological ethics

In moral philosophy, deontological ethics or deontology (from Greek δέον, deon, "obligation, duty")

is the normative ethical theory that the morality of an action should be based on whether that action itself is right or wrong under a series of rules, rather than based on the consequences of the action.It is sometimes described as duty-, obligation- or rule-based ethics, because rules "bind one to one's duty". Deontological ethics is commonly contrasted to consequentialism, virtue ethics, and pragmatic ethics. In this terminology, action is more important than the consequences.

It is an ethical framework that depends on the predefined sets of rules and policies for the proper functioning of a system in the environment. The deontology is simply based on the checklist which includes certain rules to be followed while performing a particular task. According to this framework, the work is considered virtuous only if this checklist is completed.

This procedure is very simple to implement and understand. Minimum time is consumed to decide between right and wrong. However, its simplicity ignores the consequences of the decision taken under this approach.

The term deontological was first used to describe the current, specialised definition by C. D. Broad in his 1930 book, Five Types of Ethical Theory Older usage of the term goes back to Jeremy Bentham, who coined it before 1816 as a synonym of Dicastic or Censorial Ethics (i.e. ethics based on judgement).

The more general sense of the word is retained in French, especially in the term code de déontologie (ethical code), in the context of professional ethics.

Depending on the system of deontological ethics under consideration, a moral obligation may arise from an external or internal source, such as a set of rules inherent to the universe (ethical naturalism), religious law, or a set of personal or cultural values (any of which may be in conflict with personal desires).

German idealism

German idealism (also known as post-Kantian idealism, post-Kantian philosophy, or simply post-Kantianism) was a philosophical movement that emerged in Germany in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. It began as a reaction to Immanuel Kant's Critique of Pure Reason. German idealism was closely linked with both Romanticism and the revolutionary politics of the Enlightenment.

The most notable thinkers in the movement were Johann Gottlieb Fichte, Friedrich Wilhelm Joseph Schelling, Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, and the proponents of Jena Romanticism (Friedrich Hölderlin, Novalis, and Karl Wilhelm Friedrich Schlegel). Friedrich Heinrich Jacobi, Gottlob Ernst Schulze, Karl Leonhard Reinhold, Salomon Maimon and Friedrich Schleiermacher also made major contributions.

Hypothetical imperative

A hypothetical imperative (German: hypothetischer Imperativ) is originally introduced in the philosophical writings of Immanuel Kant. This sort of imperative is contrasted with a categorical imperative.

Kingdom of Ends

The Kingdom of Ends (German: Reich der Zwecke) is a thought experiment centered on the moral philosophy of Immanuel Kant. Kant introduced the concept in his Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (4:439). The thought experiment proposes a world in which all human beings are treated as ends (meaning treated as if they and their well-being are the goal), not as mere means to an end for other people.

List of philosophies

Philosophical schools of thought and philosophical movements.

Maxim (philosophy)

A maxim is a concise expression of a fundamental moral rule or principle, whether considered as objective or subjective contingent on one's philosophy. A maxim is often pedagogical and motivates specific actions. The Oxford Dictionary of Philosophy defines it as:

Generally any simple and memorable rule or guide for living; for example, 'neither a borrower nor a lender be'. Tennyson speaks of 'a little hoard of maxims preaching down a daughter's heart (Locksley Hall), and maxims have generally been associated with a 'folksy' or 'copy-book' approach to morality.


In late modern continental philosophy, neo-Kantianism (German: Neukantianismus) was a revival of the 18th-century philosophy of Immanuel Kant. More specifically, it was influenced by Arthur Schopenhauer's critique of the Kantian philosophy in his work The World as Will and Representation (1818), as well as by other post-Kantian philosophers such as Jakob Friedrich Fries and Johann Friedrich Herbart.

Normative ethics

Normative ethics is the study of ethical action. It is the branch of philosophical ethics that investigates the set of questions that arise when considering how one ought to act, morally speaking.

Normative ethics is distinct from meta-ethics because it examines standards for the rightness and wrongness of actions, while meta-ethics studies the meaning of moral language and the metaphysics of moral facts; and it is distinct from applied ethics in that the former is more concerned with 'who ought one be' rather than the ethics of a specific issue (such as if, or when, abortion is acceptable).

Normative ethics is also distinct from descriptive ethics, as the latter is an empirical investigation of people’s moral beliefs. In this context normative ethics is sometimes called prescriptive, rather than descriptive ethics. However, on certain versions of the meta-ethical view called moral realism, moral facts are both descriptive and prescriptive at the same time.

Most traditional moral theories rest on principles that determine whether an action is right or wrong. Classical theories in this vein include utilitarianism, Kantianism, and some forms of contractarianism. These theories mainly offered the use of overarching moral principles to resolve difficult moral decisions.


In metaphysics, the noumenon (, UK also ; from Greek: νούμενον) is a posited object or event that exists independently of human sense and/or perception. The term noumenon is generally used when contrasted with, or in relation to, the term phenomenon, which refers to anything that can be apprehended by or is an object of the senses. Modern philosophy has generally been skeptical of the possibility of knowledge independent of the senses, and Immanuel Kant gave this point of view its canonical expression: that the noumenal world may exist, but it is completely unknowable through human sensation. In Kantian philosophy, the unknowable noumenon is often linked to the unknowable "thing-in-itself" (in Kant's German, Ding an sich), although how to characterize the nature of the relationship is a question yet open to some controversy.


Phenomenalism is the view that physical objects cannot justifiably be said to exist in themselves, but only as perceptual phenomena or sensory stimuli (e.g. redness, hardness, softness, sweetness, etc.) situated in time and in space. In particular, some forms of phenomenalism reduce talk about physical objects in the external world to talk about bundles of sense-data.

Summum bonum

Summum bonum is a Latin expression meaning "the highest good", which was introduced by the Roman philosopher Cicero, to correspond to the Idea of the Good in ancient Greek philosophy. The summum bonum is generally thought of as being an end in itself, and at the same time containing all other goods.

The term was used in medieval philosophy. In the Thomist synthesis of Aristotelianism and Christianity, the highest good is usually defined as the life of the righteous and/or the life led in communion with God and according to God's precepts. In Kantianism, it was used to describe the ultimate importance, the singular and overriding end which human beings ought to pursue.

Transcendence (philosophy)

In philosophy, transcendence conveys the basic ground concept from the word's literal meaning (from Latin), of climbing or going beyond, albeit with varying connotations in its different historical and cultural stages. It includes philosophies, systems, and approaches that describe the fundamental structures of being, not as an ontology (theory of being), but as the framework of emergence and validation of knowledge of being. "Transcendental" is a word derived from the scholastic, designating the extra-categorical attributes of beings.

Transcendental idealism

Transcendental idealism is a doctrine founded by German philosopher Immanuel Kant in the 18th century. Kant's doctrine maintains that human experience of things is similar to the way they appear to us—implying a fundamentally subject-based component, rather than being an activity that directly (and therefore without any obvious causal link) comprehends the things as they are in themselves. The doctrine is most commonly presented as the idea that time and space are just human perceptions; they are not necessarily real concepts, just a medium through which humans internalize the universe.


The concept of universalizability was set out by the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant as part of his work Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals. It is part of the first formulation of his categorical imperative, which states that the only morally acceptable maxims of our actions are those that could rationally be willed to be universal law.The precise meaning of universalizability is contentious, but the most common interpretation is that the categorical imperative asks whether the maxim of your action could become one that everyone could act upon in similar circumstances. An action is morally acceptable if it can be universalized (i.e., everyone could do it).For instance, one can determine whether a maxim of lying to secure a loan is moral by attempting to universalize it and applying reason to the results. If everyone lied to secure loans, the very practices of promising and lending would fall apart, and the maxim would then become impossible.

Kant calls such acts examples of a contradiction in conception, which is much like a performative contradiction, because they undermine the very basis for their existence.Kant's notion of universalizability has a clear antecedent in Rousseau's idea of a general will. Both notions provide for a radical separation of will and nature, leading to the idea that true freedom lies substantially in self-legislation.


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