In his Groundwork, German philosopher Immanuel Kant seeks to ground the metaphysics of morals in concepts of pure reason. Central to his work is “the categorical imperative,” that is, the formal procedure by which all rational beings may evaluate the moral worth of an action on the basis of its universalizability. In this essay, I will examine Kant’s ethic, specifically the categorical imperative, and assess the problems that arise within it. The fundamental basis of Kant’s moral philosophy appears to exist in opposition to those of other moral theories, namely consequentialism and teleologicalism. For Kant, the moral worth of an action lies in the intention of its actor, rather than its consequences or ability to produce happiness. He states that: “There is nothing it is possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only a good will” (page 9). In other words, the good will is the only thing that can be good without exception, therefore, it is “the highest good” (page 12). Kant expands our understanding of the good will in analyzing the concept of duty. He explains that moral actions must be performed “from duty,” as actions done from duty are driven by the good will alone. Duty, as such, “is the necessity of an action from respect for the moral law” (page 16). According to Kant, this moral law is a law of pure reason, inherent to all rational beings. Having provided the basis for his theory, Kant states that “there is nothing left over except the universal lawfulness of the action in general which alone is to serve the will as its principle, i.e., I ought never to conduct myself except so that I could also will that my maxim become a universal law” (page 18). In other words, universal conformity is the only conceivable basis of an action’s moral worth. Thus, Kant presents the concept of imperatives. Imperatives, Kant says, are “objective principles” that the will must act upon to be in accordance with universal conformity to the moral laws. There are two types of imperatives: hypothetical and categorical. Hypothetical imperatives conditionally demand the performance of an action for the sake of some other end or purpose, whereas categorical imperatives must be done for their own sake. Kant summarizes: “if the action were good merely as a means to something else, then the imperative is hypothetical; if it is represented as good in itself, hence necessary, as the principle of the will, in a will that in itself accords with reason, then it is categorical” (page 31). Constrained only by the principle of universalizability, the general formula for the categorical imperative as Kant defines it is this: “act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law” (page 37). To put it simply, it is to ask oneself: “would it be okay if everyone everywhere acted this way?” Additionally, Kant contends that the categorical imperative is derived a priori; rational beings understand it independently from experience or sensory observations. To illustrate the categorical imperative, Kant offers four examples. The first example depicts a man who has suffered many misfortunes in life and wishes to commit suicide. Kant presents the maxim for this man’s action as follows: “From self-love, I make it my principle to shorten my life when by longer term it threatens more ill than it promises agreeableness” (page 38). Kant ultimately concludes that this maxim would not satisfy the universalization test that is the categorical imperative. It cannot be a law of nature for all people to kill themselves because if everyone died, nature itself would cease to exist. In his second example, Kant presents a man who borrows money which he knows he will never be able to repay, but promises to do so anyway. His maxim for this action is: “If I believe myself to be in pecuniary distress, then I will borrow money and promise to pay it back, although I know this will never happen” (page 39). Again, Kant concludes that this maxim cannot be universalized due to the fact if such promise-breaking were practiced universally, the basic premise of promises would be undermined, and in turn, the universalized practice of keeping a promise would become nonexistent. Kant’s third example explains why human beings must develop their talents rather than spend their life in idleness. The maxim of the contrary might be something along the lines of “I will let my talents decay and devote my life to idleness.” This maxim differs from the two previous examples in that it does not propose an internal contradiction; nature itself could subsist even if everyone became an idle slug. Nonetheless, Kant states that one could not universalize this maxim due to people’s intrinsic rational obligation to cultivate their talents.In his fourth and final example, Kant discusses why it is morally wrong to be uncharitable. The maxim of this action would be something like “I will not help someone in need.” Similar to the last example, there is no internal contradiction present, as nature could subsist if this maxim were universalized. However, a contradiction arises when one wills this maxim a universal law while simultaneously acknowledging his intrinsic rational obligation to receive charity when he is in need. Thus, Kant concludes that this maxim cannot be a universal law of nature.From these four examples, we see two different types of contradictions arise. The first two examples present an internal contradiction within the proposed universal law itself, while the last two present a contradiction between the proposed universal law and another inherently rational obligation. The important point, though, is that a particular maxim cannot be willed a universal law of nature if a contradiction arises at some point once the maxim is universalized. In theory, Kant’s categorical imperative is the ultimate standard of morality. It is both universal and impartial–universal because it applies to all rational beings regardless of subjective emotions or cultures, and impartial because their actions are not guided by their own biases, but by pure reason. In this sense, Kant’s moral ethic is rational to the highest degree. Although Kant’s ethic is attractive from a theoretical perspective, it becomes problematic when analyzed in terms of the reality of human nature. Kant’s theory relies upon the idea that all rational beings inherently have the same ideas about morality. However, in reality, this is not the case; our ideas about morality are inevitably influenced by our habituation over which we have no control. Moreover, it can be argued that not everyone is capable of making rational moral decisions (i.e. by reason of mental defect). In this sense, Kant’s ethic is in fact not universal, and therefore cannot apply to everyone.Additionally, while Kant’s theory attempts to oppose that of consequentialists, it ultimately collapses into consequentialism due to human beings’ natural tendency to consider the consequences before acting. For example, say I told my friend I was going to murder someone, and in response they ask “what if everyone did that?” My natural inclination would be to envision the disastrous effects this would have on our society, and then conclude that I will not commit the act on the basis of those effects. Of course, Kant would say that I am utilizing the principle of universalization improperly. Rather than base my decision on the harmful effects of universalized murder, I should instead look for a contradiction within my maxim. However, this is simply unnatural. Further, Kant’s very definition of a moral act goes against human nature. As I stated previously, Kant believes that for an action to be considered moral, it must be performed “from duty.” For Kant, any action in which the do-er “finds an inner gratification in spreading joy around them…however much the action conforms with duty, however amiable it may be – still has no true moral worth,” as acts done with any self-serving purpose are not truly done “from duty” (page 14). However, in reality, people seldom act without thinking about what they will get in return. No one is truly selfless; we are all concerned with our well-being or happiness in one way or another. Thus, for this reason and those stated above, it is clear that Kant’s ethic is impossible to follow in reality.It is possible, though, that that is the point. While it seems that Kant is ignorant of the reality of human nature, it could be that he is merely unconcerned with it. While the moral concepts of earlier philosophers such as Aristotle were written with the intention to be implemented in real-life scenarios, I do not think this is the case with Kant. Instead, I think that perhaps Kant is more so concerned with writing an analysis of morality that is independent from reality and cannot necessarily be achieved by human beings. Impractical? Yes. However, we can still utilize the Kantian ethic as a guide for moral life with the understanding that it is perhaps separate from us.