Kantian ethics

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-L042-2
Version: v2,  Published online: 2011
Retrieved June 22, 2024, from

Article Summary

Kantian ethics originates in the ethical writings of Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), which remain the most influential attempt to vindicate universal ethical principles that respect the dignity and equality of human beings without relying on theological claims or a metaphysical conception of the good. Kant’s systematic, critical philosophy centres on an account of reasoning about action, that is practical reasoning, which he uses to derive principles of duty and virtue, a liberal and republican conception of justice with cosmopolitan scope, and an account of the relationship between morality and hope.

Numerous contemporary writers also advance views of ethics which they, and their critics, think of as Kantian. However, some contemporary work is remote from Kant’s philosophy on fundamental matters such as human freedom and practical reason. It converges with Kant’s ethics in claiming that we lack a substantive account of the good (so that teleological or consequentialist ethics are impossible), in taking a strong view of the fundamental equality of moral agents and the importance of universal principles of duty which spell out what it is to respect them, and in stressing an account of justice and rights with cosmopolitan scope.

Both Kant’s ethics and contemporary Kantian ethics have been widely criticized for preoccupation with rules and duties, and for lack of concern with virtues, happiness or personal relationships. However, these criticisms may apply more to certain strands within modern Kantian ethics than to Kant’s own ethics.

    Citing this article:
    O'Neill, Onora and Jens Timmermann. Kantian ethics, 2011, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-L042-2. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
    Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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