Date of this Version
Jarbuch für Recht und Ethik (2003) 11: 37-51.
During the last forty years there has been considerable discussion of the application of the categorical imperative to derive conclusions concerning particular moral duties and rights in Kant's moral philosophy. Much attention was focused on the four examples of such applications that occur in Chapter Two of the Groundwork, especially the first presentation of those examples, in relation to the "universal law" formulation of the categorical imperative, as opposed to their second run through in the same chapter, in relation to the second formulation of the categorical imperative, on respect for persons. In more recent years the often fuller discussions of such applications that are found in the second half of Kant's late work Metaphysics of Morals, the part called Doctrine of Virtue (Tugendlehre), have provided a useful supplement to those earlier discussions. For example, I think Kant is more successful in arguing that the act of suicide is contrary to morality in the Tugendlehre than in the Groundwork. As one might expect, a considerable variety of views have been presented: Some writers tried to defend Kant's applications, and others emphasized critique, and what were said to be systematic inadequacies.
In this ongoing discussion there is one sort of application of the categorical imperative that has still been neglected. That is the application of the version of the categorical imperative that is found in the first part of the Metaphysics of Morals, called the Rechtslehre, the Doctrine of Right. My aim in this essay is to give an introduction to the issues of applying the categorical imperative to derive conclusions concerning Recht.