Philosophy, Department of


Date of this Version



Journal of Philosophical Research (1993) 18: 213-229.


Copyright 1993, Philosophy Documentation Center. Used by permission.


Kant gives four examples to illustrate the application of the categorical imperative immediately after introducing its “universal law” formulation in Chapter Two his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. These examples have been much discussed to gain an understanding of how the categorical imperative applies to derive specific duties. It is argued that the discussions found in these examples do not accord well with Kant’s fuller account of that application in his later work The Metaphysics of Morals. That [later] work has quite different, sometimes better, arguments for the same moral conclusions, and never mentions the argument against making a lying promise (the second example). Giving exclusive or excessive attention to these four examples has distorted our understanding of Kant’s moral philosophy.