University of Pittsburgh, Spring Term 1998
Philosophy 0300: Introduction to Ethics
Monday/Wednesday writing recitations
Ben Eggleston, recitation instructor

Study Questions on Kant

Text: Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

March 9: Ak. 393–399

  1. Why does Kant deny that such things as intelligence, courage, and health are “good without qualification”?
  2. By what argument does Kant attempt to prove that it is part of the purpose of nature for a person not simply to be happy, but to have his or her will be governed by reason?
  3. Kant distinguishes three kinds of conduct in accordance with duty: (a) conduct done from immediate inclination, (b) conduct done not from immediate inclination but still for selfish reasons, and (c) conduct done not from immediate inclination or for selfish reasons, but solely from duty. Give an example of an act of each of these kinds.
  4. What situation is Kant talking about when he says, “then for the first time his action has genuine moral worth”?
  5. Kant distinguishes “practical love” from “pathological love.” What is the difference between these? Which does Kant say can reasonably be commanded or demanded from a person?
  6. According to a footnote supplied by the editor, what does Kant think of as the first proposition of morality?
  7. According to the second proposition of morality, how much does the moral worth of conduct depend on its purpose?

March 11: Ak. 400–405

  1. According to Kant’s discussion of the third proposition of morality, which is more important, from the moral point of view: to satisfy one’s inclinations or make one’s conduct express respect for law?
  2. Does Kant allow that conduct can be good on the basis of its expected effects being good?
  3. What is the first statement of the categorical imperative that Kant gives?
  4. What is the precise reason, according to Kant, that it does not accord with duty to make a lying promise?
  5. Does Kant think that most ordinary people are already capable of figuring out what conduct accords with duty and what conduct does not accord with duty?
  6. Why, according to Kant, is it necessary to undertake a philosophical investigation into the laws of duty?

March 16: Ak. 387–392 and Ak. 406–413

  1. Of the three sciences into which ancient Greek philosophy was divided, which one is formal and which two are material?
  2. What are the names Kant gives to the two “parts” into which he divides ethics? What’s the difference between these parts?
  3. Does Kant think that moral philosophy should be based on facts about human nature?
  4. What does Kant demand of conduct in addition to demanding that it “conforms to the moral law”?
  5. Of what degree of correctness and precision in moral matters does Kant think the human mind is capable?
  6. What does Kant say is the purpose of this book?
  7. Does Kant think it’s possible to identify cases in which persons act only on the basis of moral considerations, instead of on the basis of inclinations such as selfishness?
  8. Why, according to Kant, is it a mistake to try to derive morality from examples of supposedly moral conduct?
  9. What purpose does Kant say that such examples can serve?
  10. Does Kant think that people are more likely or less likely to act morally if the morality they believe in appeals to their feelings and inclinations as well as to their faculties of reason?
  11. What is the difference between working according to laws, as Kant says everything in nature does, and working according to one’s conception of laws, as Kant says a rational being does?

March 18: Ak. 414–420

  1. Some imperatives are hypothetical; others are categorical. What’s the difference between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives? Of the following imperatives, which are hypothetical and which are categorical?
    1. Always tell the truth.
    2. If you want to make cookies, use flour.
    3. If you are addicted to gambling, don’t go to casinos.
  2. Some hypothetical imperatives are rules of skill; others are counsels of prudence. What’s the difference between rules of skill and counsels of prudence?
  3. What does Kant mean when he says that “we do not . . . have the advantage of having its [i.e., a categorical imperative’s] reality given in experience”?

March 23: Ak. 420–423

  1. What is the precise reasoning by which Kant deems committing suicide to be immoral?
  2. Why does Kant say that a person willing both (a) to make a false promise and (b) that everyone should freely do likewise is contradicting himself?
  3. How is the contradiction in the case of the person intending to neglect his talents different from the contradiction in the case of the person intending to make a false promise?
  4. Is the contradiction in the case of the person intending to be uncharitable like the contradiction in the case of the person intending to make a false promise, or like the contradiction in the case of the person intending to neglect his talents?

March 25: Ak. 424–431

  1. What are the two kinds of contradiction that were present in the four examples?
  2. Why, according to Kant, must we not “derive the reality of the principle [i.e., the categorical imperative] from the special characteristics of human nature”?
  3. What does Kant say the worth of a good will consists in?
  4. What, according to Kant, gives something absolute, and not merely relative, value? (I.e., what makes persons objective ends, or ends in themselves, and not merely subjective ends?)
  5. What is the “end in itself” formulation of the categorical imperative?
  6. What does Kant say is the “supreme limiting condition of every man’s freedom of action”?

March 30: Ak. 431–433 and Ak. 446–448

  1. What does Kant say “is the specific mark distinguishing a categorical imperative from a hypothetical one”?
  2. What explanation does Kant give for (what he sees as) the failure of previous attempts to discover the principle of morality?
  3. What is the difference between the causality that has freedom as a property and the causality that has natural necessity as a property?
  4. How does Kant arrive at the conclusion that “a free will and a will subject to moral laws are one and the same”?
  5. Why, according to Kant, is it necessary to think that rational beings’ wills are free?

April 1: Ak. 433–445

  1. What makes a rational being belong to a kingdom of ends?
  2. Why is it important to think of each person being not just subject to the laws of the kingdom of ends, but also as a legislator in the kingdom of ends?
  3. What makes something have dignity, not a mere price?
  4. What two things have dignity, and what are some of the (many) things that have prices?
  5. What distinguishes rational nature from the rest of nature?
  6. According to Kant, can people who follow the categorical imperative expect to thereby achieve happiness?
  7. What paradox does Kant think follows from this?
  8. What makes a will autonomous?
  9. What makes a will heteronomous?
  10. What connection is there between whether a will is autonomous or heteronomous and the kinds of imperatives with which it may comply?
  11. Two “empirical” approaches to morality that Kant criticizes are (a) basing morality on happiness and (b) basing morality on moral feeling, or a special moral sense. What’s wrong with basing morality on happiness?
  12. What’s wrong with basing morality on moral feeling, or a special moral sense?
  13. A “rational” approach that Kant criticizes is basing morality on the idea of perfection, whether non-theologically or theologically. What’s wrong with the non-theological version of this?
  14. What’s wrong with the theological version of basing morality on perfection?
  15. What do all four of these flawed approaches have in common, which makes them flawed?