Ethics Updates


Kant and Kantian Ethics

MultiMedia Resources on Kantian Moral Philosophy

Lawrence M. Hinman:

Keynote Panel and Lectures: Interpreting the Categorical Imperative

Video Papers :

A Survey of Internet Resources on Kant

Kant: Primary works in moral philosophy:

Internet sites about Kant:

Kant Lexicon

Kant articles, papers, and lectures on-line

Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory A Bibliographical Survey of Kantian Moral Philosophy

Bibliographical essays are drawn from Lawrence M. Hinman, Ethics: A Pluralistic Approach to Moral Theory, 3rd Edition [Wadsworth, 2002] © 2002

Kantian Ethical Texts

Probably the most influential of Kant's works in ethics is his Groundwork of a Metaphysics of Morals; H. J. Paton has done an excellent translation and commentary, published as The Moral Law (London: Hutchinson University Press, 1948); it is also available on-line. Robert Paul Wolff edited a helpful volume containing the Groundwork and a number of classic critical essays in his Kant: Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Text and Critical Essays (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1969). Wolff's own commentary on the Groundwork is published as The Autonomy of Reason (New York: Harper Torchbooks, 1973). W. D. Ross's Kant's Ethical Theory (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1964) and most of Bruce Aune's Kant's Theory of Morals (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979) also provide excellent commentaries on the Groundwork. Most recently, Thomas E. Hill, Jr.'s Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant's Moral Theory (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992) offers an insightful analysis of many of the main themes in the Groundwork. H. B. Acton's Kant's Moral Philosophy (London: Macmillan, 1970) provides a good, short introduction to Kant's ethics.

The Groundwork is just what its title implies: a groundwork or foundation for later work in ethics. Kant completed it with two works: his Metaphysical Elements of Justice, translated by John Ladd (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965) and his Doctrine of Virtue, translated by Mary Gregor (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964). The general place of ethics in Kant's large philosophy is developed in his Critique of Practical Reason, translated by Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956). See Lewis White Beck's A Commentary on Kant's 'Critique of Practical Reason' (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960) for a thorough introduction to this important work of Kant XE "Kant" 's. His views on a number of ethical issues are also found in his Lectures on Ethics, translated by Louis Infield (New York: Harper and Row, 1961), the often neglected Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1974) in an excellent translation by Mary Gregor, and his Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, translated by Theodore M. Green and Hoyt H. Hudson (New York, Harper and Row, 1960), with a superb introductory essay on Kant's ethics and religion by John Silber. His moral philosophy is rounded out by his political writings, which have been translated and edited in a helpful anthology by Hans Reiss as Kant's Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1977).

Contemporary Kantian Philosohers

There are many contemporary philosophers who philosophize in the tradition of Kant. Perhaps the most influential philosopher who works, broadly speaking, within the Kantian tradition is John Rawls, especially his Theory of Justice (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1971). His most recent work is Political Liberalism (New York: Columbia University Press, 1993).

Some of the most interesting and sensitive work in the Kantian tradition includes Thomas E. Hill, Jr. Hill's essays, especially "Servility and Self-Respect," reprinted in his Autonomy and Self Respect (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991) and his Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant's Moral Theory (Ithaca: Cornell, 1992); Onora O'Neill's numerous essays collected in her Constructions of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989) as well as her earlier work, Acting on Principle (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975, published under the name of Onora Nell), which addresses the question of how Kant's categorical imperative can actually be applied to specific actions; and Barbara Herman's essays, "On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty," Philosophical Review, Vol. 90 (1981), pp. 358-382; "The Practice of Moral Judgment," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 82, No. 8 (August, 1985), pp. 414- 36; "Integrity and Impartiality," The Monist, Vol. 66, No. 2 (April, 1983), pp. 234-50; "Obligation and Performance: A Kantian Account of Moral Conflict," Identity, Character, and Morality, edited by Owen Flanagan and Amelie Oksenberg Rorty (Cambridge: MIT press, 1990), pp. 311-38; and her, "Agency, Attachment, and Difference," Ethics, Vol. 101, No. 4 (July, 1991), pp. 775-97. Also, see the defense of Kant in Stephen Darwall's Impartial Reason (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1983) and in his "Kantian Practical Reason Defended," Ethics, Vol. 96, No. 1 (October, 1985), pp. 89-99.


For a skilled defense of Kant's emphasis on duty, see both Barbara Herman's article "On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty," cited above, and Marcia Baron, "On the Alleged Repugnance of Acting from Duty," The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. 81 (1984), pp. 179-219 and Onora O'Neill's "Kant After Virtue," in her Constructions of Reason, cited above.

Kant and the Virtues

On Kant's interest in the virtues, see Robert Louden's "Kant's Virtue Ethics," Philosophy, Vol. 61 (1986), pp. 473-89.

Respect and Self-Respect

On Kant's notion of respect, see especially Steven Darwall, "Two Kinds of Respect," Ethics, Vol. 88, No. 1 (October, 1977), pp. 36-49 and the essays of Thomas Hill cited above.. On some of the difficulties surrounding the issue of using persons as a mere means, see especially Nancy (Ann) Davis' "Using Persons and Common Sense," Ethics, Vol. 94, No. 3 (April, 1984), pp. 387-406.


The contrasting views of suicide are to be found in Thomas E. Hill, Jr., "Self- Regarding Suicide: A Modified Kantian View," in his Autonomy and Self-Respect (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), pp. 85-103 and Richard B. Brandt, "The Morality and Rationality of Suicide," in his Morality, Utilitarianism, and Rights (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1992), pp. 315-35. For an excellent collection of philosophical essays on the morality of suicide which includes Brandt's piece, see Suicide: Right or Wrong?, edited by John Donnelly (Buffalo, New York: Prometheus Books, 1990).

Discussion Questions

  1. Join a discussion of the following question on the World Wide Web at^2@.ee6b2c9 Kant says that it is never right to tell a lie, even to save a life. Is it always right to tell the truth, even if it hurts or destroys someone else? What matters more, the life of an individual or the majesty of the moral law? For a discussion of lying with Sissela Box, see Talk of the Nation: Lying, December 3, 1996.
  2. Is a "conscientious Nazi" who does his duty for duty's sake obeying the categorical imperative? Or parodying it? Explain the reasons for your answer. Give an example of a contemporary equivalent of the "conscientious Nazi."
  3. Use Kant's notion of a maxim to show what, if anything, is wrong with cheating on the final exam in a course that you do not like and feel you will not benefit from. How would Kant’s approach to this kind of example differ from the approaches of the ethical egoist and the utilitarian? Which comes closest to your own position on the issue?
  4. Drawing on your own experience, give a clear-cut example of a case in which one person is using another person merely as a means; then give an equally clear-cut example of a case in which a person is respecting another person as an end-in-him/herself. Is it possible to live a life in which you do not use other people merely as a means? Why or why not?
  5. In the movie The Color Purple, the issue of self-respect plays a central role. Indeed, one of the central themes of the movie is Celie’s movement from servility to self-respect. How would you assess each of the major characters in terms of self-respect. What role does fighting (and violence) play in the formation and destruction of self-respect? What role do loving relationships play in the strengthening of self-respect?
  6. In the movie Quiz Show we see an interesting portrait of the sticky web of deception. When a college professor is offered the possibility of fame and fortune in a rigged quiz show, he succumbs to temptation, thereby becoming enmeshed in a fabric of lies from which he cannot extricate himself. What does Quiz Story tell us about deception? Which moral framework offers the best perspective for understanding and appreciating the ethical issues raised by this movie?