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Kant's Categorical Imperative

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss one of Kant's best known ideas: 'Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law'.

Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss how, in the Enlightenment, Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) sought to define the difference between right and wrong by applying reason, looking at the intention behind actions rather than at consequences. He was inspired to find moral laws by natural philosophers such as Newton and Leibniz, who had used reason rather than emotion to analyse the world around them and had identified laws of nature. Kant argued that when someone was doing the right thing, that person was doing what was the universal law for everyone, a formulation that has been influential on moral philosophy ever since and is known as the Categorical Imperative. Arguably even more influential was one of his reformulations, echoed in The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, in which he asserted that humanity has a value of an entirely different kind from that placed on commodities. Kant argued that simply existing as a human being was valuable in itself, so that every human owed moral responsibilities to other humans and was owed responsibilities in turn.


Alison Hills
Professor of Philosophy at St John's College, Oxford

David Oderberg
Professor of Philosophy at the University of Reading


John Callanan
Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at King's College, London

Producer: Simon Tillotson.

Available now

49 minutes

Last on

Thu 21 Sep 2017 21:30


Alison Hills at the University of Oxford

David Oderberg at the University of Reading

John Callanan at King's College London

Kant’s Moral Philosophy - Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Immanuel Kant – Wikipedia



P. Guyer, Kant’s Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals: A Reader’s Guide (Continuum, 2007)

Immanuel Kant (trans. Mary Gregor and Jens Timmerman), Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (Cambridge University Press, 2012)

Christine Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge University Press, 1996)

Roger Scruton, Kant: A Very Short Introduction (Oxford University Press, 2001)

Sally Sedgwick, Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: An Introduction (Cambridge University Press, 2008)

Roger J. Sullivan, An Introduction to Kant’s Ethics (Cambridge University Press, 1994)

Allen W. Wood, Kant (Blackwell, 2005)

Allen W. Wood, Kant’s Ethical Thought (Cambridge University Press, 1999)


Role Contributor
Presenter Melvyn Bragg
Interviewed Guest Alison Hills
Interviewed Guest David Oderberg
Interviewed Guest John Callanan
Producer Simon Tillotson


  • Thu 21 Sep 2017 09:00
  • Thu 21 Sep 2017 21:30

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