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Kant's Foundations of Ethics by Immanuel Kant

Kant's Foundations of Ethics

Second Edition

by Immanuel Kant


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“Each of us knows what we must know and what we must do. This knowledge is the common property of everyone!”

The three works included in this volume articulate the most fundamental principles of Kant’s ethical world view. “What is Enlightenment?” (1784) and Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785) were written in the period between the American Revolution and the French Revolution. “Toward Lasting Peace” was published ten years later, after the French Revolution had turned sour. Taken together, these works challenge free people to think about the requirements for self-determination in our individual lives and in our public institutions.

In spite of its formidable title and its sometimes dense philosophical style, Kant’s Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals is dedicated to the proposition that all people can know what they need to know to be honest, good, wise, and virtuous. The purpose of Kant’s moral philosophy is to help us become aware of the principles that are already contained within us. Innocence and dependence must be replaced with wisdom and good will if we are to avoid being vulnerable and misguided.

According to Kant, freedom of thought leads naturally to freedom of action. When that happens, governments begin to treat human beings, not as machines, but as persons with dignity.

"Toward Lasting Peace" is often cited as presenting the basic principles that were applied first in The League of Nations and later in The United Nations. This is a timely work in an era in which the world is once again threatened by nuclear proliferation. Kant presents two basic alternatives: lasting peace through political negotiation and agreement or the lasting peace of the graveyard.


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