- categorical imperative
1. Ethics. the rule of Immanuel Kant that one must do only what one can will that all others should do under similar circumstances.2. the unconditional command of conscience.[1820-30]
* * *In Immanuel Kant's moral philosophy, an imperative that presents an action as unconditionally necessary (e.g., "Thou shalt not kill"), as opposed to an imperative that presents an action as necessary only on condition that the agent wills something else (e.g., "Pay your debts on time, if you want to be able to obtain a mortgage").Kant held that there was only one formally categorical imperative, from which all specific moral imperatives could be derived. In one famous formulation, it is: "Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law." See also deontological ethics.
* * *in the ethics of the 18th-century German philosopher Immanuel Kant (Kant, Immanuel), founder of critical philosophy, a moral law that is unconditional or absolute for all agents, the validity or claim of which does not depend on any ulterior motive or end. “Thou shalt not steal,” for example, is categorical as distinct from the hypothetical imperatives associated with desire, such as “Do not steal if you want to be popular.” For Kant there was only one such categorical imperative, which he formulated in various ways. “Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” is a purely formal or logical statement and expresses the condition of the rationality of conduct rather than that of its morality, which is expressed in another Kantian formula: “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means.”
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