The practical significance of the categorical imperative

Carla Bagnoli
University of Modena
On a standard interpretation, the aim of the formula of universal law is to provide a decision procedure for determining the deontic status of actions. By contrast, this chapter argues for the practical significance of the CI centering on Kant’s account of the dynamics of incentives. This approach avoids some widespread misconceptions about how the CI operates and false expectations about what it promises and delivers. In particular, it explains how it differs from deductive practical inferences. The CI is the supreme form of morality, and yet not in the sense that particular categorical principles can be derived deductively from it, once the relevant details are supplied. The efficacy of practical reasoning primarily concerns agents, and consists in their reorientation toward the right end. Moral knowledge is knowledge about what we ought to do, but it is also a distinctive variety of self-knowledge, that is, knowledge of ourselves as rationally efficacious agents.
Keywords Kant  ethics  categorical imperative  decision procedure  practical knowledge
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