The Paradox of the Categorical Imperative

One of the most important concepts in moral philosophy is the categorical imperative by Immanuel Kant. Its first formulation reads

“Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law without contradiction.”

which in very simplified and thereby slightly distorted ways means that everyone should act according to moral guidelines that he/she wishes to become universal laws for everyone to follow. It is easy to see how this thought will prevent you from murdering, stealing and raping.

"Oops. I hadn't thought of that."

“Oops. I hadn’t thought of that.”

But in my current situation, it doesn’t help. For my dissertation in philosophy, I have to read Kant’s works and I am wondering whether I should do so. If I use Kant’s own categorical imperative, I will have to ponder if I want the maxim that I should read Kant’s works to become universal law. Obviously I don’t want that. I can’t want that because then everyone would be busy for at least a week and in that time couldn’t bake the bread or the pizzas I wish to eat, produce the radio shows I want to listen to, deliver my mail and work at the hospital should I fall ill.

Thus, the application of Kant’s big theory prevents me from reading about it. What can the value of such a paradoxical theory be? Not much, I suggest.

About Andreas Moser

Travelling the world and writing about it. I have degrees in law and philosophy, but I'd much rather be a journalist, a spy or a hobo.
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3 Responses to The Paradox of the Categorical Imperative

  1. danielmullin81 says:

    I suppose it depends on whether or not reading Kant is a moral duty.

  2. Conrad says:

    I think the different activities can be scheduled. While you read, the pizzaiolo bakes your pizza (freezer). Pre-recorded radio podcasts can work. While ill in bed, you can still read. While you read, the nurses cannot, so can take care of you :)

  3. Erik Andrulis says:

    The purpose of a paradoxical theory is to prove to the theoretician that s/he is the theory itself.

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