I have read a good deal of secondary texts on Kant. I am still a bit lost about the evaluative mechanisms in his ethical scheme.

I understand the concept of the categorical imperative is that if something cannot be willed to be done by everyone then it cannot be just but I am hugely confused as to how we evaluate whether something can be willed to be universal law or not. Please Help! Thanks.

if it can be applied universally, it works for kant



With full respect, please reread my question, i don’t think your answer responded to it. I am asking how do we evaluate if something can be universalized not what is the scope of things that can be evaluated… how do we know if something meets the standard created by the imperative.

it meets the standard if you can think universally about its application…

example: (a priori) don’t lie

can you think of an instance where doing the prescribed thing would not in fact be the best thing to do?

this is more detailed I think…



(p.s. welcome to the boards)

Thanks for the welcome,

Now you answering the question that I am confused about, but I don’t fully understand how to use your answer. So lets run with the don’t lie example. Doesnt you explanation still require us to evaluate what the “best” thing to do is. If thats true, doesnt Kant only provide a very limited tool for ethical evaluation considering we still need some guidance on what is “best” or “bad”

the previous link plato.stanford.edu/entries/kant-moral/ provides a much more detailed account for kant, but he thinks that if it logically must be universally right it becomes a duty and he gets very confusing…

if the imperative is “don’t lie” it then becomes your duty to speak the truth

this can lead to problems like if a nazi asks you about the jews you have hidden in the attic, do you tell the truth?


The important point that needs to be grasped, and that took me ages to grasp, is exactly why you cannot universalise the imperative to tell lies. If all were to tell lies then the notion of ‘telling the truth’ and its opposite ‘telling a lie’ wouldn’t exist, therefore the maxim “you should tell lies” has no meaning when universalised, as it cancels itself out. Consequently, you could not will it as a universal law, because to do so renders it without meaning. The point is that the problem is not just that the notion of telling a lie has no meaning, the problem is that to will such a maxim renders it meaningless. Its the failure in the willing that is essential.

Think of the agent trying to universalise his maxims as a legislator of universal law. The law can be universalised if you can will it to be a maxim for all. Kant’s point is that only certain maxims could be willed as universal laws, because only certain maxims would retain their meaning when doing so.

Now im getting good answers!

Ok, I understand that is the explained calculus that kant asks us to use but I dont understand how that functions in most situations. For example, as far as I understand the Categorical imperative is supposed to be a complete ethical theory, and as far as i understand kant doesnt provide us with a guide for which things can be deemed as morally insignificant so in that case I ask, Is picking things up moral?

Does anyone have a good answer to how kant would answer that question?

picking things up? weightlifting? or like cleaning your room or what?


Well, thats sort of my issue. I dont understand how the imperative can work as an ethical scheme because I don’t understand how to “state maxims.” I meant “picking things up” as ambiguously as you can conceive that sentence.

As far as I see it there are only three possible answers:

  1. No, Picking things up is not moral, because we could not will everyone to pick up things.

  2. Yes, Picking things up is moral because we could will everyone to pick up things.

  3. Rules must be more specific.

  4. 1 is wrong because if picking things up is not moral then nothing could ever be picked up, this would lead to an entirely disfunctional society and therefore wreck any possibility of having Kants Ethics being imlemented.

  5. 2 is wrong because if we willed everyone to pick up things then as there are a limitless number of things to be picked up everyone would have a duty to spend all there time picking things up.

  6. Seems fine, but how specific do we make laws?
    -----If we are allowed to make rules more specific to make them more functional then cant I just make the law Lying to help is just?

I think 3 is best, and lying to help quantifies it succinctly…

it will take the form: maxim of action to good/beneficial/right/proper


But the problem with your answer is that kant doesn’t give us an evaluative mechanism for what is helping/good…

but that’s not my problem, it is kant’s… (and one reason why I don’t think his imperative works)


I thought it went something like this. Could I will that not telling the truth be a universal law? No, because obviously society could not function at all if that was the case. Of course, this way of looking at the CI ends up leaving us looking for consequences,reducing the theory to a consequentialism, which is not what Kant had in mind.

Now, if we take Irving’s view then the answer to the question would also be no. This time the reason is the fact that universalizing renders the imperative meaningless. Though, let’s say the imperative was to tell the truth. Could I will telling the truth as a universal law? If all were to tell the truth then the notion of ‘telling a lie’ and its opposite ‘telling the truth’ wouldn’t exist, therefore the maxim “you should tell the truth” has no meaning when universalised, as it cancels itself out.
And so, I think we’re still lost here. It seems to me that you can pull the same trick Irving did with the CI of telling a lie with the CI of telling the truth.

You think of an action that at first glance seems like a good one. Then you think of different sets of circumstances in which it may have bad consequences. If you can think of such a set of circumstances, then you shouldn’t will it to be universalized. The problem is that there’s some paradoxes and shit between rule-based, and act-based ethics. It’s best to just assume that the real moral law that should be categorically imperative is something transcendental, and just move on with your life pretending like you know what it is but just can’t put it into words. Apologize alot and make sure that when people say you’re wrong, that you just argue that they haven’t really understood you.

Kant’s categorical imperative is certainly retarded, but what’s worse is that he stipulates a world that we can’t know anything about and calls it reality. Quite simply absurd. In the words of Nietzsche: ‘Reality has been deprived of its value, its meaning, its veracity to the same degree as an ideal world has been fabricated… The ‘real world’ and the ‘apparent world’ - in plain terms: the fabricated world and reality.’ -Ecce Homo, Forward, 2.

You are correct so far as logic playing a role in the process. Pure ethics can only be known a priori.

This is not a problem logically. “Don’t lie” doesn’t necessarily mean “speak the truth.” It means “don’t lie.” It is not a lie to refuse to answer a question.


I agree.


But, how does one ever “speak the truth”?

By making statements that to the best of our knowledge and good faith are true.

It is only posturing then?