By: Devin Knox

Kant’s understanding of morality is substantially severe and essential in developing a practical and helpful philosophy to guide people to make the best decisions possible. Kant’s attempt at describing moral law can help business professionals become aware of the importance of morality as it relates to reason and solid decision-making. This essay aims to highlight and define the ethical value of Kant’s basic philosophy regarding moral law and his categorical imperative. This essay will first explain moral law using the four formulations of the categorical imperative. Next, the report will discuss why this law is absolute and not hypothetical before examining the essential source of Kant’s moral knowledge. Before concluding, the essay will explain how the categorical imperative is an objective standard that can be universally applied.

Four Formulations

The categorical imperative, as described by Immanuel Kant, is critical in his overall philosophy toward life. The categorical imperative can best be understood through four different formulas or maxims that explain how it can be recognized in various behaviors and actions. According to Johnson & Cureton (2004), these four formulas are The Formula of the Universal Law of Nature, The Humanity Formula, The Autonomy Formula, and The Kingdom of Ends Formula. Each one of these expressions reveals essential qualities regarding Kant’s foremost principle.

The Formula of Universal Law of Nature.

This formula suggests that a person should act as if that action should be a universal law. This indicates that any action must be acceptable in every circumstance related to natural events. This approach considers the entirety of nature and the universe to highlight the categorical imperative’s importance.

The Humanity Formula

This aspect of the categorical imperative suggests that a person should act or behave in a manner that humanity needs to be respected as the end state. The means of the is less necessary towards society in general.

The Autonomy Formula

This formula links the personal choice of action as necessary to reach the categorical imperative. This means a person’s decision must not be forced but aligned with universal law to meet the standard.

The Kingdom of Ends Formula

This formula suggests that an action should only be done as if it were to be eternally mandated as law. This means that any decision should be made as if a person was a member of a law-making organization responsible for making eternal laws.

Categorical vs. Hypothetical

Kant’s philosophy is based on universal principles and standards. Strict guidelines outline what is considered moral according to his writings. Kant’s moral law was unconditional in that it can be applied in all cases. This differs from a theoretical approach to moral law in a tangible way. An example of this is to suggest that it is wrong to beat your dog because you will go to jail if you get caught. A categorical imperative would mean it is wrong to win your dog, period.

Hypothetical imperatives do not fully meet the standards for the moral law. According to Kant (2013), academic standards apply to specific purposes or outcomes. Categorical imperatives are done for the sake that they are aligned with goodness in and of themselves. A categorical imperative will be correct no matter the purpose; it is the goodness of goodness sake.

Source of Moral Knowledge

Kant’s source of moral knowledge is based on some exciting concepts. For him, the moral law was based on goodwill and what was best for everyone. Goodness is a concept that uses reason and rationality within an action, behavior, or decision (Rauscher, 1996). Goodwill essentially has two components: “The idea of goodwill is supposed to be the idea of one who is committed only to make decisions that she holds to be morally worthy and who takes moral considerations in themselves to be conclusive reasons for guiding her behavior” (Johnson & Cureton, 2004, para 23). The source of goodwill also includes other qualities such as duty and obligation, especially towards humanity and universal principles.

Categorical Imperative‘s Objectivity

Kant’s philosophy was not meant to transcend the subjectivity of moral law and attempt to replace it with a metaphysical system that can be applied categorically. In other words, Kant wanted to illustrate the mechanics of a perfected human nature through his writings. As a result, willpower is identified as an essential tool for achieving morally fair laws and behaviors. Since willpower is each and everyone one of us, the categorical imperative appears to be achievable by every person who can autonomously make decisions for her or himself. The categorical imperative is not necessarily developed by is present within the inner workings of every person in the universe as a natural quality of human existence.


Kant’s four formulas for the categorical imperative each provide a pathway to the moral law in one way or another. The categorical imperative does not use a hypothetical purpose to dictate its value or worth, as moral law is done regardless of the circumstances and will be eternally valid or categorically accepted in all cases. Kant’s approach towards philosophy was metaphysical as he sought to make his categorical imperative a universally understood concept that all autonomous people can objectively obtain.