The concept of universalizability
was set out by the 18th-century German
philosopher Immanuel Kant
as part of his work Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals
. It is part of the first formulation of his categorical imperative
, which states that the only morally acceptable maxims
of our actions are those that could rationally be willed to be universal law. The precise meaning of universalizability is contentious, but the most common interpretation is that the categorical imperative asks whether the maxim of your action could become one that everyone could act upon in similar circumstances. If the action could be universalized (i.e., everyone could do it), then it is morally acceptable. Otherwise, it is not. For instance, one can determine whether a maxim of lying to secure a loan is moral by attempting to universalize it and applying reason to the results. If everyone lied to secure loans, the very practices of promising and lending would fall apart, and the maxim would then become impossible. Kant calls such acts examples of a contradiction in conception, which is much like a performative contradiction
, because they undermine the very basis for their existence.