That if something is categorically imperative, that you have a duty to act from it regardless of convenience?

  • 1
    Aren't categorical imperatives the definition of something deontological? Isn't that the point? After all, these are moral rules that you must follow, regardless of consequences.
    – ewkochin
    Nov 5, 2014 at 6:59
  • I believe so, but I came here for affirmation. Thanks for your comment.
    – Anon
    Nov 5, 2014 at 7:02

1 Answer 1


Actually, that's not entirely clear... but it's just a question of how we define "deontological" rather than any deep philosophical thing. Contemporary ethical discussion seem to love the term as a contrast with consequentialist theories or virtue theories. Moreover, Kant could not have used the term because it did not exist until after he was dead.

Yes, the CI is such that it obligates the moral agent to perform its duty and since it relates duty to morality, it is "deontological".

But then if we look carefully, doing your duty is not enough for Kant, the maxim of the action of your duty must be universalizable and in accordance with pure reason. There's a lot of hoops there, but to say it another way, if my duty were somehow to help an old lady across the street, I only do my duty for Kant when I help the old lady across the street from the motive of duty itself (rather than allowing some emotion or desire for praise to be the source of my duty).

This term is less helpful than the counterpart consequentialism, because different consequentialisms differ not primarily in the methods -- calculating the best consequence given some limitations but in the quantity that matters. Deontologies differ in the way that duty relates to morality at all (is it performance? is it rights-based? Are these duties we contract either through some social contract or as a condition of rational action in a world with multiple moral agents?) In many contexts, the differences in forms matter greatly.

  • So could you have a deontology that is based on a hypothetical imperative?
    – Anon
    Nov 5, 2014 at 13:46
  • @Akiva - You can have a deontology that has nothing to do with Kant's idea of a categorical imperative and thus nothing to do with a hypothetical one. I don't especially want venture a guess as to whether you could have one that is both an ethical principle and consistent with what Kant means by hypothetical syllogism. My sense is sure: you could have a duty to make yourself and others happy which would reflect a hypothetical syllogism.
    – virmaior
    Nov 5, 2014 at 15:04
  • That almost sounds like Objectivism. What do you think?
    – Anon
    Nov 5, 2014 at 15:05
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    I have absolutely no idea on that. I'm an expert in German modern philosophy and ethics with AOCs in Chinese philosophy and contemporary continental. I don't know anything about objectivism.
    – virmaior
    Nov 5, 2014 at 15:07
  • Thank you for your honesty. It is merely topical as I am currently engaged in a debate on the subject. Ayn Rand is somewhat famous for claiming that Immanuel Kant is the most evil man in history, and writes her understanding of his philosophy as antagonizing forces in her books. If you are interested: youtu.be/5ex-rVkOFHU?t=8m8s - My personal understandings is that she misunderstood Kant.
    – Anon
    Nov 5, 2014 at 15:26

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