Moral maxims are rules governing actions, or commands to act in certain ways considered morally correct. Some of the most well known maxims are those that come to us by way of religious tradition. “Thou Shalt Not Kill” and “Thou Shalt Not Bear False Witness” are paradigm examples. Kant insists that his Categorical Imperative is the best means by which to test the maxims, for whether they correctly guide us to right action and away from wrong action.
The following essay answers the question: Are you convinced by Kant’s argument that there are categorical as well as hypothetical imperatives? This question is not asking us to evaluate whether the consequences of a system of bifurcated imperatives is preferable or not, or to judge whether such a system could “work”. Rather, it is asking whether Kant, in his Groundwork on the Metaphysics of Morals, supplied a convincing argument that two sorts of imperatives exist.
Kant’s critique of Aristotle is fascinating to me. He uses Aristotle’s own standard against him: to say that virtue consists in achieving excellence in the unique purpose of a human life, and that this unique purpose can be identified by isolating the unique features of the organism as opposed to other organisms, you then have the problem of explaining how it is that the unique feature of reason could be better suited to helping humans achieve excellence at attaining ‘material ends’ (aka ‘happiness’), than the much more efficient and much less costly instinct, which all other animals have as well.