Kant's universalizability principle (theory), which he set out in 18th century, tells us that if a course of action cannot be universally adopted it must be morally impermissible. So in that case what is the actual standing of LGBT?

(I'm not good at English, pardon me.)

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    Kant's principle when phrased so simply is clearly nonsense: it would not be possible for everybody to be a full-time teacher, since then there would be nobody left to (say) produce food, but it's nonsense to conclude from that that it is impermissible to be a full-time teacher. Or even worse, it's impossible for everybody at once to live in Decatur, so can we conclude that it's morally impermissible to live in Decatur (noting that that same line of logic would rule out living anywhere)? Jan 23, 2020 at 18:58
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    Yup, forcing everyone to be LGBT would be morally impermissible as that wouldn't work for everyone. Likewise, forcing everyone to be not-LGBT would be morally impermissible as that wouldn't work for everyone. A morally permissible solution might be something like allowing people free choice.
    – Nat
    Jan 23, 2020 at 19:59
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    I think everyone else covered the direct problems with the the question, but to explore the question a little.... why couldn't "LGBT" be universally adopted?
    – Uueerdo
    Jan 23, 2020 at 21:30
  • What Kant proposes is that if it is fine for one person chooses to be an LBGT person it should be fine for us all to do it. It is not necessary that everybody actually becomes one. Nothing wrong with Kant's imperative when properly applied. He says nothing whatsoever about the merits of LGBT membership. . .
    – user20253
    Jan 24, 2020 at 11:08

2 Answers 2


No, you cannot.

As I explained here, that's just not how the categorical imperative works.

1. For any application of the categorical imperative, you need a maxim

A maxim is a general practical rule which has the structure "If I am in situation X and want to achieve the goal Y, I will do Z." - a structure which hardly is to bring into conformity with sexual orientation. Sexual orientation is not an action you can perform, according to every credible scientific account of it it isn't even a choice (except for those who choose to "be" - rather pretend to be - LGTB or heterosexual out of social calculus without feeling it).

2. There are amoral behaviours

If there is no voluntary choice involved, it makes no sense to even speak of it being moral or immoral. Is it immoral for the tortured to confess to a crime they did not conduct, ie. to lie? Is it immoral to grab my spoon with my left rather than my right hand when I am alone at home? Is it immoral to have (not speaking of act according to) the character traits one has? In the latter two cases, I could construct moral reasons to work on certain things in practice, ie. in certain social contexts, but per se, these things are just amoral.

3. Being LGTB is no course of action

Morality is a social phenomenon. And it involves spheres of freedom. If two LGTB people live their lives and sexual orientation without bothering others - why should that restrict any third party's freedom in any way? If they offensively show off their sexuality in the public sphere that's another game, but there are limits to this regardless the sexual orientation. For example, there are countries where public kissing is morally and legally forbidden - for heterosexual partners no less.

4. Let's talk about sex

But hold a second, there obviously are actions involved! What about them? Having put obvious problems like public sex etc. out of the way, this is still worth additional consideration.

Let's take "If I want my sexual needs to be satisfied, I will only do so with same-sex partners". This obviously is not universally acceptable, so homosexuality is immoral to Kant, isn't it?

Well, probably not. This proposed maxim is probably simply too specific to actually be a maxim of the kind Kant had in mind there (for more detail and sources for further reading, see the link above). If you take "If I want to satisfy my sexual needs, I will only do so in a consensual manner with the sex I prefer" instead, there is no internal or general inconsistency in having it universally adopted (as far as I am aware of).

So what's the difference here? The CI asks you exactly to step back from your very personal inclinations and demands you to adopt only those acting principles (maxims) which a) are reasonable to be adopted by all rational beings and b) do not end up in inconsistencies if that happens. And, accordingly, there are maxims which allow for LGBTQ+ without any problems and if they are what you are enacting, there's nothing morally wrong with it. But if your maxims are only involving your own personal feelings and gain, this will end up being morally wrong.

Mind, two different maxims may result in the very same action, but moral worth, for Kant, is determined by the principles behind your action - your character as he calls it in later works - not the action itself.


As long as it is not enacted in a morally wrong way, sexual orientation as such is amoral. And this has nothing to do with the categorical imperative at all. And if you are LGBTQ+ wanting to have sex, you may very well act following a morally permissible maxim.

  • The thing you said about achieving something ("If I'm in a situation X....") isn’t it hypothetical imperative and not categorical?
    – Mobin
    Jan 25, 2020 at 3:49
  • @Mobin This is the structure of a maxim, which is closely related to hypothetical imperatives, but more like a general behavioural disposition.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 25, 2020 at 8:17
  • All well I think until #3: Morality cannot be not purely social. To say so goes against the Kant's very own premise of universality, which would sidestep the OP's framework of reference required to answer the question. The example given: "live their lives ... without bothering others" ignores the applicability of the universalizability principle. Not all good or ill is a function of "bothering" others. The question deserves examination of the aspects of policy that would be moral and immoral as judged by application of the universalizability principle, and not just by social opinion.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 27, 2020 at 6:06
  • @pygosceles I tried to boil it down to the level the OP shows. But morality for Kant definitely is a social phenomenon. The very idea of law is inherently social and even duties against oneself are justified with aspects which consider others/humanity. This does not mean that it is opinion, it is part of the universalisation itself.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 27, 2020 at 7:16
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    My understanding of the principle - admittedly based on secondary sources - is that something is moral only if theoretically everyone (not anyone) can do it, so it doesn't matter if it's possible for homosexuals to live their lives without bothering others in the real world; the real question is whether a theoretical world without any procreation can be adopted. Could you cite Kant for your three points to clear up any possible misunderstanding of his position?
    – b a
    Jan 28, 2020 at 14:46

Kant's universalizability principle (theory), ... tells us that if a course of action cannot be universally adopted it must be morally impermissible. So in that case what is the actual standing of LGBT?

Philip makes a good point that one's un-enacted sexual desires or background inclinations of various sorts do not cause a person to commit evil, or any other action upon which we could pass moral judgment. It would be like saying "I felt a temptation to steal, which was contrary to my own will, and I resisted. Therefore I am a thief!" Only giving way to an inclination or temptation brings upon oneself the moral consequences of the action.

Kant expressed his categorical imperative as "Act as though the maxim of your action were to become, through your will, a universal law of nature." (emphasis added)

This means that one must consider actions and policies of action in order to apply the imperative. Philip is right that a background condition that is unrelated to one's choices is not a candidate for a maxim (policy) of action and thus cannot be evaluated in this framework, being amoral. However, since our society routinely conflates circumstance with intentional action (and not infrequently via these labels), I think it would be worthwhile to examine various policies and see what we can deduce by applying Kant's imperative.

Therefore, the answer without qualification would be: Yes and no. Yes with regard to behaviors or policies arising from LGBT inclinations, and No with regard to the inclinations themselves.

While it might be impossible to cover every possible scenario, let's consider several simple policies. Enumerating every consequence may also be possible, but naming a few should help us to apply Kant's principle.

  1. Homosexual activity maxim: Limiting all sexual activity to within the same sex. Consequences include: Failure to reproduce, extinction of the race.
  2. Bisexual activity maxim: All people engage in sexual acts with both sexes. Consequences include: Polygamy, polyamory, lack of marital and single-partner fidelity. Some potential to reproduce, but with dissolution of atomic families.
  3. Transgender identity maxim: Claiming a different gender identity than one's biological sex, potentially including abiological labels. Consequences include: Similar to (2), arbitrary combinations of sexual partnering become the norm. Any advantages or specializations of biological sex and the ability to distinguish accurately between the sexes are lost.
  4. No sexual activity maxim: Due to gender confusion or same-sex attraction or other fears or beliefs, engage in no sexual activity. Consequences include: Potentially, failure to reproduce and extinction of the race, depending on the prevalence of the conditions and beliefs that lead to lack of engagement. Could also include reproduction for some of those not excluded by their beliefs.
  5. Heterosexual activity maxim: Limiting all sexual activity to between partners of the opposite sex. Accurately self-identifying individuals by biological sex. Consequences include: Ability to reproduce and replenish the race. Potential for strong atomic families not torn by any sexual jealousies. Advantages of distinct and accurate designations and specializations of sexuality.

Personal maxims 1-3 (and 4 in the most restrictive case) fail the universalizability test, in that they each inflict harm to society and civilization when the individual maxim becomes a universal law. We can expect and can observe these same effects empirically at the individual scale.

Again, the applicability of these analyses depends on whether an inclination is acted on, or becomes a personal maxim of behavior. Hence it behooves us to differentiate in our language between merely experiencing a proclivity or perception and acting in such a way that embodies that perception as though it were true. We cannot apply the categorical imperative to circumstances, but we can apply it to behaviors.

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    Your examples are no maxims proper. Take this: If I am to look for a sexual partner (situation) in order to feel well with them (goal), I should only follow my inclinations (means) as long as no third person is involved (ceteris paribus condition, part of every situational constraint). The argument here shows similar oversimplification as the OP does.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 27, 2020 at 7:23
  • The effects mentioned can be demonstrated regardless of the intent or goal. The situation is as described. The maxims are not oversimplified, since the consequent can be shown regardless of all possible values ascribed to other parameters. Ceteris paribus clearly does not apply to potentially procreative activities, and I don't see it as a dogmatic constraint on the ability to test for universalizability in a Kantian framework. I believe you may be prematurely narrowing the scope of the test to feelings in a two-party framework, when it has already failed a mutual exclusivity test.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 29, 2020 at 22:11
  • Your examples are on par with the classical "It is immoral to want to go to the court and play tennis on Sundays at 10am because if everyone did that, the courts would be overcrowded at that time and nobody could actually play tennis" - this kind of example shows that this cannot be how the CI is meant to work like and why I (and Timmermann, and Allison, and probably Korsgaard) am convinced that they are based on a wrong understanding of what kind of 'maxim' should be universalised here. Again, if sexual orientation was a choice, things may be different.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 29, 2020 at 22:27
  • @PhilipKlöcking There is actually nothing physically preventing people from building more courts until their desired condition is gratified. Furthermore wanting to go is not the same as going. Everyone can want to go, no problem. The example seems contrived and would generally refute the CI as a logical method if it illustrated a universal monkey wrench in the phenomenon. No such contradiction arises in the above examples; contention over scarce resources is not in the imperative. One's choice to engage in homosexual behaviors or to label oneself are choices, as I illustrated.
    – pygosceles
    Jan 29, 2020 at 22:35
  • I added a point to my answer to express more clearly what I am getting at here than possible or adequate in comments. Btw, the example is a classic in literature, it's not mine.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Jan 29, 2020 at 23:41

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