I'm taking a two year course on philosophy and ethics. At the moment, we're studying Kantian ethics. I understand Kant's theory of "act by a maxim that you would want universalized" and the three steps to see whether a maxim can become a categorical imperative, such as universalization, seeing humans as an ends mean and kingdom of means.

I am currently stuck at figuring out what maxims could be universalized apart from not lying and 'prisoners of war should not be killed'. What are other examples of maxims that could be universalized?


2 Answers 2


Here are two maxims:

  1. Do not steal

Because if everybody stole, the very practice of property rights would break down.

  1. Keep your promises

Because if everybody broke their promises, the very practice of making and taking promises would break down.

  • 4
    Actually, it's not clear if these meet what Kant intends by maxim... as it seems at least at times you need to include reasons for actions -- or at least that's what Korsgaard claims.
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 24, 2014 at 6:02
  • @virmaior I see the problem with Korsgaard's interpretation of what a maxim is, but nonetheless it seems to me that these two examples go along with Kant's examples very well. Especially the stealing one, for property is the base of rights in general and as right cannot contradict ethics (in the narrow sense), I suppose not stealing really is universalizable...
    – iphigenie
    Commented Dec 31, 2014 at 0:28
  • @iphigenie, they don't look like maxims but only like mere statements. What is the purpose? What are the conditions? "Stealing in order to survive, when nothing else is the option" maybe even not evaluable within categorical imperative.
    – rus9384
    Commented Sep 28, 2018 at 20:01
  • if you're stealing to stay alive you're also stealing in order to take people's property @rus9384
    – user38026
    Commented May 14, 2019 at 18:04
  • @another_name The goal is not to take property, it's means.
    – rus9384
    Commented May 16, 2019 at 20:53
  1. Don't (try to) win at chess (with a human opponent).

  2. Don't (try to) commit suicide (for someone else).

  3. Don't (try to) steal other people's property (if they / we have rights to property).

etc. the CI makes sense, you just need a little nuance to get them.

There is the related question of whether we may deceive ourselves into not really following the CI, for repugnant examples (lying to stop the child dying). That would depend, at a minimum, upon us not being able to deceive ourselves at will, etc.. I'm unsure of the metaphysics of the argument, so whether self deception changes the CI. Seems safe to say, yes, but it would have to be for a moral reason.

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