Immanuel Kant's Moral Philosophy

Immanuel Kant’s Moral Philosophy – Simply Explained

The world we live in is guided by actions and these actions are defined by our morals and ethics. Philosophers have, for centuries, argued that morality comes from God or some other form of supernatural being. This thought was also transformed into an idea that morality comes from us but that comes to us through a divine being that created us. This thought was challenged by philosophers, like Immanuel Kant, who argued that morality comes from an innate logic that resides within us.

Morality and Good-will

As Kant states, the will to do good is the only thing that is definitively good. You can do anything for many reasons, but the will to do good is the only way to be moral. If a man does a good thing like for instance if I sell a product and while billing I can add a few cents but I don’t, then that is a good deed but, the reason to do this will define whether it is moral or not. If I did it out of fear of getting caught or to get a repeat order or simply because it makes me feel happy then the motive is not morality, but rather if I did it just to do the right thing, the act of good-will then that is morality in play. This act also cannot come from someone else’s views, meaning it cannot be because of God or parents or teacher’s rule given to you, it has to be your own viewpoint, you cannot be a follower to be doing things out of good-will.

Moral Absolutism

For Kant morality was not some vague idea that differs from person to person or situation to situation, it was more like a mathematical formula that doesn’t shift even if you change your perspective. By that, he meant that no matter which religion or philosophy you might follow, the morality remains consistent.

Kant believed that if a person looks for morality in religion, then almost every religion will provide different answers and that was not the right way to search for moral answers. This is where he claimed that morality comes from human intellect and that does not shift irrespective of anything.

Categorical Imperative

Categorical Imperative is a set of moral laws that have to be followed regardless of what you want. These moral laws are derived, not from any religious or supernatural entity or legislative body, but rather only from reason. For him, this law is binding on all of us irrespective of whether we believe in it or not. 


Kant said that every moral action we take should be looked upon by the idea that is it acceptable for this action to be turned into a moral ultimate action, meaning would this be a right act to become a universal law in a similar situation.  

For example, if you pass a newspaper stall and the stall owner is not there, then you could potentially take the newspaper without paying for it. This action to be seen in the form of universal law would be to allow anyone to take anything without paying if they are not being stopped. This, obviously, would lead to a chaotic world where things like an occupation would be not a viable source of livelihood. Thus, since you cannot apply this to a level of universality, this is morally wrong.

As An End & Not As A Means

Kant says that we should behave as though every person we interact with has their own individual life and that they are too the centre of their own universe and that they don’t exist to merely satisfy our own needs. Meaning, we should treat people as an individual and not just a thing that we use to achieve a certain goal. 

This begets a question that when we go about our lives, there are many interactions that occur where we don’t see the people as anything more than their job like we treat a liftman as a liftman and nothing more, we might interact with them but that’s about it, we are there normally as long as we need the person. Here, we have to understand that that person has made a choice of being a liftman and there is nothing wrong in treating him/her as their choice as long as it is made independently by them and not by force like slavery. 


To simply put, Kant says that morality should be understood by everyone’s internal logic and that is where it resides. For him, if anything can be turned into a universal law and yet works as the right thing to do, then it is moral. For him, it is imperative that we do not hamper someone’s right to choose. But under all of this, free will is of key importance.