“So Many Formulas”: The Relations Among the Formulas of the Categorical Imperative

Robert Guay
State University of New York at Binghamton
Kant, having identified the formulas of the supreme principle of morality, offers a succinct explanation of their interrelation. What Kant says is, “The above three ways of representing the principle of morality are at bottom only so many formulae of the very same law, and any one of them of itself unites the other two in it.”1 This claim – hereafter the “Unity Claim” – plays the role of the eccentric cousin in the family of Kant’s ethics: although glaringly present, it is little spoken of, but seldom disowned. Most commentators, at any rate, focus their attention on more important matters, such as the content of the individual formulas, the moral psychology, or the deduction of freedom. Such matters are sufficiently absorbing to leave the Unity Claim often passed over without remark. But the Unity Claim should not be ignored. Kant does assert it, which compels us to attempt to find a place for it in his moral theory. It would seem to constrain the interpretation of the other, more momentous issues. How one interprets the content of the categorical imperative, in particular, would seem to be significantly restricted by the Unity Claim; one could not, given the Unity Claim, offer a complete interpretation of any single formula without also at least referring to the other formulas. And, as I shall argue in Part III below, the Unity Claim is no accident. Kant is committed to the Unity Claim by virtue of some basic features of his moral theory. This paper will thus offer what amounts to an extended commentary on the Unity Claim. I shall review the various suggestions of what it might mean, and how it might, or might not, be accommodated within Kant’s moral theory. The structure of this paper will be as such. Part II will examine the two main strategies for including the Unity Claim within Kant’s moral theory, and explain why they are both inadequate. Part III will examine the other main approach to the 2 Unity Claim: giving up on it..
Keywords No keywords specified (fix it)
Categories (categorize this paper)
Edit this record
Mark as duplicate
Export citation
Find it on Scholar
Request removal from index
Translate to english
Revision history

Download options

Our Archive

Upload a copy of this paper     Check publisher's policy     Papers currently archived: 35,941
External links

Setup an account with your affiliations in order to access resources via your University's proxy server
Configure custom proxy (use this if your affiliation does not provide a proxy)
Through your library

References found in this work BETA

No references found.

Add more references

Citations of this work BETA

No citations found.

Add more citations

Similar books and articles

Kantian Right and the Categorical Imperative: Response to Willaschek.Michael Nance - 2012 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 20 (4):541-556.
Constituting the Mind: Kant, Davidson, and the Unity of Consciousness.Jeff Malpas - 1999 - International Journal of Philosophical Studies 7 (1):1-30.
Unifying the Categorical Imperative.Marcus Arvan - 2012 - Southwest Philosophy Review 28 (1):217-225.
On the Universal Law and Humanity Formulas.Sven Nyholm - 2012 - Dissertation, University of Michigan
Kant on Criminal Punishment.Douglas Lind - 1994 - Journal of Philosophical Research 19:61-74.
The Unity of Reason: Rereading Kant.Susan Neiman - 1994 - Oxford University Press.
Kant's 'I' in 'I Ought To' and Freud's Superego.Béatrice Longuenesse - 2012 - Aristotelian Society Supplementary Volume 86 (1):19-39.
Kant's Conception of Inner Value.Oliver Sensen - 2011 - European Journal of Philosophy 19 (2):262-280.


Added to PP index

Total downloads
70 ( #93,414 of 2,293,855 )

Recent downloads (6 months)
3 ( #183,447 of 2,293,855 )

How can I increase my downloads?

Monthly downloads

My notes

Sign in to use this feature