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Journal of Philosophical Research

Volume 18, 1993

Nelson Potter
Pages 213-229

What Is Wrong with Kant’s Four Examples

Kant gives four examples to illustrate the application of the categoricaI imperative immediately after in troducing its “universal Iaw” formulation in Chapter Two his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. These examples have been much discussed to gain an understanding of how the categorical imperative applies to derive specific duties. It is argued that the discussions found in these examples do not accord well with Kant’s fuller account of that application in his Iater work The Metaphysics of Morals. That [Iater] work has quite different, sometimes better, arguments for the same moral conclusions, and never mentions the argument against making a lying promise (the second example). Giving exclusive or excessive altention to these four examples has distorted our understanding of Kant’s moral philosophy.

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