I have followed a course on theoretical as well as on practical philosophy, so I feel at least somewhat familiar with Kant's metaphysical project.

I am primarily interested in his ethics. I've read the Groundwork. Am I doing myself a disservice by diving into the second critique? Should I read the Metaphysics of Morals first?

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    AFAIK, Groundwork-2ndCritique-MetaphysicsOfMorals is the usual reading order, because also the publication order as well as order of length/relative simplicity. I don't think that there's any strict reason to prefer starting from any of them and proceeding specifically to one of the others, and it is also reasonable to factor in some of his other texts (e.g. the Religion and the 3rd Critique). Commented Jul 3, 2023 at 15:13
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    @KristianBerry thank you!
    – Yorick
    Commented Jul 5, 2023 at 19:20

1 Answer 1


The order in which the works should be read is:

  1. Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals
  2. Critique of Practical Reason
  3. Religion within the bounds of bare Reason (optionally)
  4. The Metaphysic of Morals (of course there's the doctrine of virtue and the theory of right)
  5. Anthropology from a pragmatic point of view (very optionally)

This is also the order in which these works were published. It's important to note that the Groundwork is presupposed by the second Critique (contrary to the popular belief that it's just a shorter version of the latter - this is the relation between the Prolegomena and the Critique of Pure Reason).

Also, it's important to understand what Kant means by "the metaphysics of morals" as it's not entirely obvious for the contemporary reader: It's a doctrine of how to apply the ethical theory elaborated by the Groundwork and the Critique of Practical Reason to some concrete, real-life cases - like state law. It's, as Kant sees it, a practical science not only in the sense that it concerns practice but also it the sense that it helps us, normal people, make sense of our moral duties and obligations, of how to act rationally etc. The word metaphysics for Kant doesn't involve anything metaphysical in the postivist sense of the word - in fact, it has for Kant always an empirical and a pure element (which is comparatively small as it constitutes only the foundation, the groundwork). The same holds for metaphysics of nature which Kant announces in the Preface to the first edition of the Critique of Pure Reason.

That's also why the usual objection to Kant's ethics, that universal moral law doesn't specify any unique action to take at any moment, is irrelevant. Kant is aware of that, as indicated by the plural in the title of the Groundwork (morals - Sitten). He's attempting to articulate some general principles regarding moral and rational action, not to tell you how to live.

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