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Teaching Ethics

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published on April 1, 2016

Tobey Scharding

Crafting Maxims

This article examines the role of maxims in Kantian ethics. Maxims are propositions that describe individual actions as instances of general rules. Because Kantian ethics evaluates the morality of actions by testing the actions’ maxims, it is important to formulate the maxim well. I begin by (1) investigating how maxims relate to actions. Next, I (2) review how Kantian ethics tests maxims, focusing on the Formula of Universal Law (FUL). I engage Kant’s conceptions of determining and reflecting judgment from the Third Critique to illuminate the role of judgment in crafting and testing maxims. Then, I present (3) my interpretation of how to craft maxims in a Kantian context: In condition C, I do action A. I apply my interpretation to (4) several examples, including Kant’s own, Kant’s critics, and contemporary Kantians. I (5) consider several objections and (6) explain how this interpretation of crafting maxims has helped my applied ethics students.

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