Immanuel Kant states: “So act as to treat humanity, whether in your own person or in another, always as an end, and never as only a means.”

He also regards that actions have moral worth if the person doing those actions is motivated by the moral law.

But, what are real life examples of this? And what type of actions (in real life) are violations of the moral law? Thanks

  • Great question. I can't imagine any of Kant's moral theory ever working in the real world. To me, Kant is useful as an extreme that reveals the shortcomings of trying to put morality on a formal footing and thus reveals that much of morality is sentiment in disguise. The real question when confronting Kant is not asking if his theory will work (it never will) but what its failure says about our own moral views.
    – R. Barzell
    Commented Mar 26, 2015 at 0:27

1 Answer 1


Real life examples of following the moral law is a hard point for Kant. Specifically, this is because for an action to be moral, it is not sufficient that you do the right thing -- you must also do it from the right maxim (basis for action). Consequently, it is never going to be apparent in the phenomenological world that someone acted from the right sort of basis in doing the right thing.

The contrary cases (actions that clearly violate the moral law) is not equally difficult. There are some actions that Kant considers utterly incompatible with the moral law: murder, lying, cheating. Thus, any time there is a murder or a lie, it is clear that these cannot be motivated by the moral law (as Kant understands the term).

For more on this topic, I would recommend Kant's Metaphysics of Morals. You can find Kant delineating this in the preface and in the Doctrine of Right a.k.a. Metaphysical Principles of Justice. (= German, Rechtslehre). The Doctrine of Right looks at what we should make law and what we can obligate others to do. The second part, the Doctrine of Virtue (= German , Tugendlehre) looks at what it takes for our actions to be moral. The former is a good guide for where Kantians think you can find examples of not following the moral law. But examples of following the moral law are harder precisely because their accomplishment includes but is not limited to doing the right thing.

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