Are categorical imperatives employed in non-Kantian ethical theories?

For example, consider utilitarianism's principle "act so that the overall happiness is maximised". Is this not a categorical imperative? It is intended as a universal rule which should be followed regardless of one's personal ends or conveniences. It also doesn't have a "reason", it is just a law in itself.


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    You're not entirely wrong in the sense that your utilitarianism's example is an imperative, but not Kant's categorical imperative. Kant would perhaps call your example as hypothetical imperative which ultimately relies on some subjective (impure/empirical) practical reason which cannot persuade moral action or be regarded as bases for moral judgments against others. Per Kant what action can be constituted as moral is universally reasoned by the categorical imperative, separate from experience... Commented Jun 5, 2022 at 2:17
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    To add to this, there is this answer of mine where I paraphrase Kant's own argument for why there can only be one categorical imperative and any other true categorical imperative is only a form suited to different intuitive apparatuses. Thus, you'd have to specify whether you like to see arguments that argue that there are such forms that are equivalent to the original categorical imperative used or what the exact demands towards the imperative is. Mind, the Kantian categorical imperative is very technical as you can see from the link.
    – Philip Klöcking
    Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 11:51
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    To put it in more simple examples if above sounds too recondite for you, there may be no (hypothetical) utilities at all as a stranger to help your question on an open website even some stranger is well versed for such a topic. But under Kant ideal categorical imperative, anyone with the expertise as a true moral action should help you as a deontology regardless who you’re or whether you will sincerely thank if they happen to see your trouble… Commented Jun 6, 2022 at 19:06

1 Answer 1


The term is used in modern philosophy outside of a strictly Kantian context. E.g. an article of Kit Fine on semantics of deontic discourse is entitled "Compliance and Command I — Categorical Imperatives". That's because the term "categorical imperative" simply denotes "ought to do" propositions which aren't a hypothetical imperatives, i.e. aren't conditional statements. According to Kant's ethical theory, there is one categorical imperative (in three formulations). The term, thus, although associated with Kant, is very general and in fact is barely related to normative ethics as such unless one, like Kant, makes substantial theses about, for example, the number of possible categorical imperatives.

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