What Is the Definition of “Kantian Ethics”?

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Kant’s ethics state that human beings must follow a categorical imperative, which is an absolute moral standard that does not vary based on individual circumstances. Kant stated that a behavior is only ethical when it would remain beneficial if performed universally by everyone.

Philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) described his system of ethics in his 1785 book, “Groundings for the Metaphysics of Morals.” Kant’s categorical imperative differs from a hypothetical imperative, in which a certain action is taken in order to attain an end that an individual wants for himself. Kant felt that ethics could not be determined from a hypothetical imperative because it is too subjective. In contrast, the categorical imperative is derived a priori from reason, and not from an individual’s experience or material circumstances. For example, a rich person is not required to work hard, because he has all he needs. Nevertheless, the decision to abandon work would be unethical in Kant’s view, because it cannot be taken universally without harming society. Therefore, working hard is a categorical imperative even if it does not fit the individual circumstances of the rich man. Ethical behavior under the categorical imperative is not a means to an individual end, but an absolute end in itself.