Readers who wish to understand Kant’s ethics within the context of his philosophy as a whole will find Guyer 2006 an illuminating introduction. Several chapters are devoted to Kant’s moral and political philosophy, as well as to aspects of Kant’s philosophy of religion, history, and nature that bear on his ethics. The book is accessible enough for advanced undergraduates and other readers new to Kant. Other selections suitable for those new to Kant are Johnson 2012, Schneewind 1992, and Uleman 2010. Uleman 2010 is the most comprehensive and detailed, and written with advanced undergraduates in mind. Like Guyer 2006, Uleman 2010 can serve as a textbook. Johnson 2012 is available online and periodically updated. It provides an overview that focuses on the foundational doctrines of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, though it is not limited to them. Schneewind 1992 is particularly informative with respect to Kant’s influences and intellectual context and development. The remaining four selections are highly influential books. Paton 1947 is especially worth reading on the categorical imperative and its formulations. Nell 1975 is especially important when it comes to topics of maxim formulation and the contradiction tests of the first formulation of the categorical imperative. Allison 1990 is particularly valuable for the discussion of freedom. Wood 1999 is the most wide ranging and the most interested in drawing on Kant’s work in practical anthropology.
Allison, Henry. Kant’s Theory of Freedom. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139172295E-mail Citation »
Highly influential treatment of Kant’s moral theory, treating topics ranging from freedom, reason, and will, to virtue, character, and evil.
Guyer, Paul. Kant. New York: Routledge, 2006.
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Accessible enough for undergraduates, but sufficiently distinctive in its interpretations as to be of interest to more advanced readers. Brings Kant’s philosophies of nature, history, and religion to bear on his ethics; discusses Kant’s philosophy of right in addition to his theory of virtue. Overview of Kant’s entire philosophical system.
Johnson, Robert. “Kant’s Moral Philosophy.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2012.
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A brief, clear, and accessible introduction to Kant’s ethics, focused on Kant’s foundational positions on the nature of moral philosophy, the categorical imperative and its formulations, the good will and moral motivation, and autonomy. Includes bibliography and links to other Internet resources, including but not limited to related Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entries. Updated every few years.
Nell, Onora. Acting on Principle: An Essay in Kantian Ethics. New York: Columbia University Press, 1975.
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A highly influential work on Kant’s ethics. Much attention is focused on the formula of universal law, its contradiction tests, and related issues regarding ends, maxims, and intentions. Other topics include Kant’s taxonomy of duties, moral worth, supererogation, and conflicts of duty. Concise and systematic.
Paton, H. J. The Categorical Imperative: A Study in Kant’s Moral Philosophy. London: Hutchinson’s University Library, 1947.
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Focuses on such foundational topics as the critical method, the good will, duty, reverence for the law, the intelligible world, and freedom—and especially the categorical imperative. Its influence on English-language Kant scholarship would be difficult to overstate.
Schneewind, J. B. “Autonomy, Obligation, and Virtue: An Overview of Kant’s Moral Philosophy.” In The Cambridge Companion to Kant. Edited by Paul Guyer, 309–341. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.
DOI: 10.1017/CCOL0521365872E-mail Citation »
A philosophically and historically informative introduction. Sets Kant’s moral philosophy in the contexts of Kant’s broader philosophy and its development. Also situates Kant’s moral philosophy in relation to significant influences as Wolff, Crusius, Rousseau, and Hutcheson.
Uleman, Jennifer K. An Introduction to Kant’s Moral Philosophy. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2010.
DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511801082E-mail Citation »
Geared toward advanced undergraduates, graduate students, and above. A sophisticated introduction to Kant’s moral theory. Main topics include practical reason; will, choice, and desire; freedom and its place in nature; the categorical imperative; and the goodness of a good will.
Wood, Allen W. Kant’s Ethical Thought. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.
DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139173254E-mail Citation »
Five chapters concern the “metaphysical foundations” of Kant’s ethics; the focus here falls on the categorical imperative, its formulations, and their applications. The focus of the other four main chapters is the relation of morality to human nature. Topics here include practical anthropology, history, inclinations and passions, and radical evil.
Immanuel Kant, (born April 22, 1724, Königsberg, Prussia [now Kaliningrad, Russia]—died February 12, 1804, Königsberg), German philosopher whose comprehensive and systematic work in epistemology (the theory of knowledge), ethics, and aesthetics greatly influenced all subsequent philosophy, especially the various schools of Kantianism and idealism.
Kant was one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment and arguably one of the greatest philosophers of all time. In him were subsumed new trends that had begun with the rationalism (stressing reason) of René Descartes and the empiricism (stressing experience) of Francis Bacon. He thus inaugurated a new era in the development of philosophical thought.
Background and early years
Kant lived in the remote province where he was born for his entire life. His father, a saddler, was, according to Kant, a descendant of a Scottish immigrant, although scholars have found no basis for this claim; his mother, an uneducated German woman, was remarkable for her character and natural intelligence. Both parents were devoted followers of the Pietist branch of the Lutheran church, which taught that religion belongs to the inner life expressed in simplicity and obedience to morallaw. The influence of their pastor made it possible for Kant—the fourth of nine children but the eldest surviving child—to obtain an education.
At the age of eight Kant entered the Pietist school that his pastor directed. This was a Latin school, and it was presumably during the eight and a half years he was there that Kant acquired his lifelong love for the Latin classics, especially for the naturalistic poet Lucretius. In 1740 he enrolled in the University of Königsberg as a theological student. But, although he attended courses in theology and even preached on a few occasions, he was principally attracted to mathematics and physics. Aided by a young professor who had studied Christian Wolff, a systematizer of rationalist philosophy, and who was also an enthusiast for the science of Sir Isaac Newton, Kant began reading the work of the English physicist and, in 1744, started his first book, Gedanken von der wahren Schätzung der lebendigen Kräfte (1746; Thoughts on the True Estimation of Living Forces), dealing with a problem concerning kinetic forces. Though by that time he had decided to pursue an academic career, the death of his father in 1746 and his failure to obtain the post of undertutor in one of the schools attached to the university compelled him to withdraw and seek a means of supporting himself.Otto Allen Bird