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Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: With an Updated Translation, Introduction, and Notes Kindle Edition
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"The new translation by the late Mary Gregor of Kant's classic work on moral theory ought to become the standard edition for both ethics and Kant courses." Ethics --This text refers to an alternate kindle_edition edition.
- ASIN : B07C11XRDL
- Publisher : Yale University Press; Annotated edition (April 17, 2018)
- Publication date : April 17, 2018
- Language : English
- File size : 5001 KB
- Text-to-Speech : Enabled
- Enhanced typesetting : Enabled
- X-Ray : Not Enabled
- Word Wise : Enabled
- Print length : 145 pages
- Lending : Not Enabled
- Best Sellers Rank: #889,660 in Kindle Store (See Top 100 in Kindle Store)
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This isn't an easy work, however. It needs to be read and re-read (and, I suppose, re-read) to be fully understood and appreciated. I've never found Kant as difficult and obscure as his reputation would suggest, but as a writer of philosophical prose he's certainly not the caliber of, say, Hume or Descartes. As many have noted, Kant is the first great philosopher of the modern era to have been an academic, and it shows. He writes long, meandering sentences, and the organization of his works leaves quite a bit to be desired. Furthermore, his penchant for arcane terminology and architechtonic can make his work seem more forbidding than it is. Still, Kant's ideas in the Groundwork, while subtle and sometimes elusive, are profound and original, and this book is a must-read for anyone interested in philosophical ethics. I should also note that the importance of this book isn't solely historical since there has been a recent resurgence of Kantian moral thinking in the English-speaking world.
Kant's aim in the Groundwork is to discover the fundamental principle of morality. In the first section he attempts to derive this fundamental principle from ordinary moral thought. In particular, he attempts to derive this principle from considerations concerning what is unconditionally good. Kant claims that the only thing that is unconditionally good is a good will. Moreover, its goodness is not a matter of the results of acting on a good will; it is good in itself. As a matter of fact, Kant claims that the results of an action done with a good will and the aims and inclinations of the agent with the good will are morally insignificant.
What, then, is it to act with a good will? It is, Kant argues, a matter of doing one's duty for duty's sake, regardless of one's feeling and the results of doing so. What is it to act from duty's sake? It is to act from principles that accord with the fundamental principle of morality. And here we get the first formulation of the fundamental principle of morality: act only on maxims that you can consistently will to be universal laws. In other words, if one is unable to will the principle of one's action to become a universal law, the action is morally impermissible.
In the second section of the Groundwork Kant attempts to draw the same conclusion from some philosophical points about the nature of duty. He begins by claiming that our knowledge of our duty is a priori and based on the exercise of reason. He then argues that facts about our duties are necessary facts, and that this shows that they must be based on a categorical imperative: that is, that our duties apply to us insofar as we are rational beings, irrespective of the contingent aspects of their nature. And, Kant argues, the one categorical imperative is the fundamental principle of morality mentioned above. He then applies this principle to some examples in order to display just how it grounds our duties in particular cases.
The rest of the second section is filled with lots of interesting, albeit abstruse, ideas. First, Kant attempts to ground the categorical imperative in something that is of unconditional worth. What is that something? The existence of rational beings, which, he says, is an end in itself. And this leads to a second formulation of the categorical imperative: (ii) act only in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in the person of yourself or someone else, as an end and never merely as a means.
This section also includes a third formulation of the categorical imperative: (iii) act only on maxims that you could will to become universal laws legislated by your own will. This formulation encapsulates Kant's claim that we can achieve autonomy only by acting in accordance with the moral law. Conformity with the moral law does not constrain our freedom since we legislate the moral law for ourselves. The moral law is not forced on us from without; its source is to be found in our own rational nature. Indeed, it is only by acting morally that we are able to achieve genuine freedom by transcending the contingent desires and inclinations that are beyond our control.
Of course, that doesn't come close to summing up the Groundwork. But it's a start.
Gregor's translation of Kant's text is fairly clear. She does her best to render Kant's work in readable English prose, and she usually succeeds in this endeavor. I also think Kant's main ideas come through pretty well in this translation. Moreover, this is likely to become something like the standard edition of Kant's Groundwork in the future, since this translation is the one that appears in the Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant.