The Principle of Autonomy and other Formulations of the Categorical Imperative

  • H. B. Acton
Part of the New Studies in Ethics book series (NSE)


Near the beginning of the Groundwork Kant says that when a maxim is rejected because it cannot be willed to become a universal law this rejection is not made ‘because of a prospective loss to you or even to others, but because it cannot fit as a principle into a possible legislation of universal law’.49 We notice in this a reference to a system of legislation into which the rules governing men’s actions must be capable of being harmoniously accommodated. The idea is given more definite expression farther on when Kant states the so-called Formula of Autonomy, according to which the individual is required so to act ‘that the will through its maxim could at the same time regard itself as legislating universally’.50 Kant also expresses this legal aspect of his view in the so-called Kingdom of Ends formula as follows: ‘Every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in the universal Kingdom of Ends.’51 The word ‘autonomy’ and the phrase ‘universal legislation’ are used in the Critique of Practical Reason, but Kant does not there distinguish different formulations of the Categorical Imperative. Indeed, he there states the ‘Fundamental Law of the Pure Practical Reason’ in the form: ‘Act so that the maxim of your will can always at the same time hold good as a principle of universal legislation.’52


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Copyright information

© H. B. Acton 1970

Authors and Affiliations

  • H. B. Acton
    • 1
  1. 1.University of EdinburghUK

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