Korsgaard on Kant

Topics: Trigraph, Gh, Contradiction Pages: 46 (21080 words) Published: December 17, 2012
Kant's Formula of Universal Law

The Harvard community has made this article openly available. Please share how this access benefits you. Your story matters.


Korsgaard, Christine M. 1985. Kant's formula of universal law. Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66, no. 1-2: 24-47.

Published Version



December 6, 2012 4:39:30 AM EST

Citable Link


Terms of Use

This article was downloaded from Harvard University's DASH
repository, and is made available under the terms and conditions applicable to Other Posted Material, as set forth at

(Article begins on next page)


Ka n t ' s F o rmu l a o f U n i v e rs a l L a w
C h r i sti n e M . K o rs gaar d

Kant 's first formulation of t h e Cat e gorical Imperative , t h e Formula of Universal Law, runs:
Act only according t o t hat maxim by which you can at t h e same time will t hat it should b ecome a universal law.
(G 421/39)


A few lines lat er, Kant says that t h is is eq uivale nt t o acting as th ough your maxim were b y your will t o become a law of nat ure , and he use s t his lat t er formulat ion in h is examples of how t h e imperat ive is t o be app lie d . E lse wh ere, Kant specifies t hat t h e t est is whe t h er you could will t h e universalization for a syst em of nat ure "of which you yourse lf were a part" (C2 69/72); and in one p lace he characterizes t h e moral age nt as asking "what sort of world he would create und er t h e guidance of practical reason, . . . a world int o which , moreover, h e would place himself as a member."


But h ow d o you

d e t ermine wh e t h er or not you can will a give n maxim as a law of nat ure? Since t h e will is practical reason, and since e veryone must arrive at th e same conclusions in mat t ers of d u t y, it canno t b e t h e case that what you are able t o will is a matt er of personal tast e, or relative t o your ind ivid ual desires. Rath er, t h e q uest ion of what you can will is a q ue st ion of what you can will wit h ou t contradiction.

According t o Kant , willing uni versalize d maxims may give rise t o contradict ions in t wo ways:


Some actions are of such a nat ure t hat t h eir maxim cannot e ve n b e t h ough t as a universal law of nat ure wit h ou t contradiction, far from it being p ossib le t hat one could will t hat it should b e such . In ot h ers t h is int ernal impossib ilit y is not fou nd , t h ough it is still impossible t o will th at t h eir maxim should b e raise d t o t h e uni versalit y of a law of nat ure , because such a will would contradict itself. We

easily see t hat t h e former maxim conflicts wit h t h e strict er or narrower (imprescript ible ) d ut y, t h e lat t er wit h broader (merit orious) d u t y.
(G 424/41- 42)
T h e first sort of contradict ion is usually calle d a con tradict ion in conce p t ion, and t h e second a contradict ion in t h e will.
In t his paper I am concerne d wit h id e n t ifyi ng t h e se nse in which t h ere is a "contradiction" in willing t h e uni versalization of an immoral maxim, and esp ecially wit h t h e se nse in which t h e universalization of such a maxim can be said t o have a contradiction in it - that is, wit h t h e id ea of a cont radiction in conce p t ion. T h ere are t hre e dif fere n t in t erpre tat ions of t h e kind of contradiction Kant has (or ough t t o have ) in mind fou nd in t h e lit erat ure .


Th e y are:

i) T h e Logical Contradict ion Int erpre tat ion. On t h is int erpre tat ion, t h ere is some t hing like a logical impossib ilit y in t h e uni versalization of t h e maxim, or in t h e syst em of nat ure in wh ich t h e maxim is a nat ural law: if t h e maxim were universalize d , t h e action or policy t hat it prop oses would be inconceivab le....
Continue Reading

Please join StudyMode to read the full document

You May Also Find These Documents Helpful

  • Essay about Ethics and Kant
  • Kant Research Paper
  • Essay about Kant
  • Kant Essay
  • Kant Essay
  • Essay about Kant
  • Kant Essay
  • Kant on Will Essay

Become a StudyMode Member

Sign Up - It's Free