SUBDOMAIN 110.1 - Competency 110.1.4
Kant's theory of the Categorical Imperative was the first ethical theory to be based on the concepts of the dignity and freedom of man and the concept of reason as opposed to moral obligations derived from God, other human authorities or the preferences or desires of human agents. He believed that morality could be summed up in one ultimate principle. He called it the Categorical Imperative.
It attempts to describe a decision making process based on the deceptively simple question, "What ought we do?" He uses rules referred to as maxims as the basis for making decisions. According to Kant when we are contemplating whether an action is moral or immoral we should ask ourselves what rule or maxim we would be following when making the choice. Kant also stresses the autonomy of each human being as a rational agent based on their ability to reason and their right to be respected by others as rational agents. These two concepts can be presented in two formulations describing constraints that according to Kant should be applied to the maxims we adopt.
The first formulation is known as The Formula of Universal Law'. Kant expresses this formulation like this:
"Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law."
In a nutshell I like to think this means, "If I would wish that everyone do it then it's okay for me to do." This thought embodies the idea of the autonomy of human will that Kant believes exists. He believed that we are in essence each making our own moral laws based on reason and rationality (autonomy) as opposed to attempting to obey externally created sets of moral laws like the bible's 10 commandments (heteronomy). Kant opposed previous ethical theories largely because they violated this idea of the autonomy of human will.
The second formulation is referred to as the The Formula of the End in Itself'. Kant