Table of contents:

The main rule of life taught by Kant's philosophy
The main rule of life taught by Kant's philosophy

The writer Mark Manson spoke about the ethical principle of the famous thinker, which is still relevant today.

The main rule of life taught by Kant's philosophy
The main rule of life taught by Kant's philosophy

Who is Immanuel Kant

Depending on your point of view, Kant was either the most boring person on the planet, or the dream come true of any productivity adept. For more than 40 years in a row, he woke up at five in the morning and wrote exactly three hours. I lectured for four hours at the university, then dined at the same restaurant. In the afternoon, he went for a long walk in the same park, walked the same road, returned home at the same time. Every day.

Kant spent his entire life in Königsberg (present-day Kaliningrad). He literally never left the city. Although the sea was only an hour away, he never saw it. He automated his habits so much that the neighbors joked: "You can synchronize watches with him." He went out for a daily walk at 3:30 pm, dined with the same friend every night, then returned home to finish work and went to bed at 10:00 pm. How not to laugh at such a person. What a bore! Seriously, dude, start living already.

Nevertheless, Kant was the most influential thinker in modern history. He did more for the fate of the world than many kings and armies before and after him.

He described space-time in such a way that it inspired Einstein to discover the principles of relativity. He pioneered the idea that animals could potentially have rights. He rethought ethics from start to finish, subverting the ideas that have been at the heart of Western civilization since the time of Aristotle. A democratic society that protects the rights of the individual, partly to his credit. His doctrine of morality is still discussed in universities today. Let's talk about this man too.

You might say that this is complete nonsense. Who cares about this anyway? But in these phrases themselves - a manifestation of moral philosophy. By pronouncing them, you question the value of some phenomenon. Is it worth your time and attention? Is it better or worse than others? Such questions belong to the sphere of morality.

What is Kant's moral philosophy

Moral philosophy defines our values - what is important to us and what is not important. Values determine our decisions, actions and beliefs. Therefore, moral philosophy affects absolutely everything in our life.

Kant's moral philosophy is unique and, at first glance, contradicts intuition. He was sure that something can be considered good only if it is universal. You cannot call an act right in one situation and wrong in another.

If lying is bad, then it is always bad, no matter who and when does it. Kant called such universal ethical principles categorical imperatives. These are the rules to live by. They work in any situation for any person. Some of them have been crushed by other philosophers to smithereens, others have stood the test of time. One of the imperatives struck me the most. In any situation, he clearly indicates how to act and why.

Act in such a way that you always treat humanity both in your own person and in the person of everyone else the same way you treat the goal, and never treat it only as a means.

Can not understand anything! But let's slow down for a minute. Kant believed that rationality is sacred. Rationality here does not mean the ability to play chess or solve Sudoku, but consciousness.

As far as we know now, we are the only example of intelligent self-organization in the Universe. The only beings who are capable of making decisions, weighing options, and assessing the moral consequences of their actions. So we need to take this seriously. Hence, rationality and the protection of conscious choice must be the basis of moral judgment. What exactly to do for this? See the rule above.

How it concerns our lives

Philosophy of Kant: how it relates to our lives
Philosophy of Kant: how it relates to our lives

Let's formulate the rule in a more understandable language.

A person should never be treated only as a means to achieve some goal. Treat it as a goal in its own right.

To make it even clearer, let's look at examples. Let's say I want to eat a burrito. I get in the car and drive to my favorite Mexican restaurant. In this situation, eating a burrito is my ultimate goal. That is why I get in the car, stop by on the way to the gas station, and so on. These are all means to an end.

The end goal is what we want, in and of itself. This is the main motivating factor in our decisions and actions. If I'm going for a burrito because my wife wanted it and I want to please her, then the burrito is no longer the end goal. The ultimate goal is to please the wife. But if I want to please her so that in the evening I have more chances for sex, the wife's joy is also not a goal, but a means of getting sex.

Chances are, after the last example, you thought I was some kind of nasty guy. This is exactly what Kant was talking about. Treating a person as a means to achieve one's goal is the basis of immoral behavior.

Let's check if this rule applies to other actions:

  • Lying is unethical because you disorient the person in order to achieve their own goals. That is, you use it as a means.
  • Cheating is unethical because it undermines the expectations of other sentient beings. You treat the rules that you agree to with others as a means to achieve your goal.
  • It is unethical to resort to violence for the same reasons: you use the person for personal or political ends.

What else falls under this principle


I am as lazy as others and often blame myself for it. We all know that messing around is inevitably hurting ourselves in the long run. But for some reason this does not stop. However, from the point of view of Kant, laziness is not at all unethical.

He believed that every person has a moral duty: always to do the best. Not for profit, self-esteem, or public benefit. You need to try to do everything in your power, because otherwise you treat yourself as a means, and not as an end.

Sitting on the couch and updating your feed on social networks for the twentieth time, you use your consciousness and attention only as a means to get pleasure.

You are not reaching the full potential of your consciousness. According to Kant, this is not just bad, but unethical.


Kant's philosophy: addiction is unethical
Kant's philosophy: addiction is unethical

We usually think of addiction as immoral because it harms others. But Kant argued that alcohol abuse is primarily self-immoral.

He wasn't exactly a bore. At dinner, Kant drank a little wine, and in the morning he smoked a pipe. He did not oppose all pleasures. He was against pure escapism. Kant believed that one should face problems. That suffering is sometimes justified and necessary. Therefore, it is unethical to use alcohol or other means to escape from life. You use your reason and freedom as a means to an end. In this case - to once again catch the buzz.

Desire to please others

What is unethical here, you say. Isn't trying to make people happy a manifestation of morality? Not when you're doing it for approval. When you want to please, your words and actions no longer reflect your real thoughts and feelings. That is, you use yourself to achieve a goal.

But it gets worse. You change your behavior to please others. Manipulate their perceptions of you to gain approval. So, use them as a means to an end. This is the basis of toxic relationships.

Manipulation and coercion

Even when you do not lie, but communicate with a person in order to get something from him without his clearly expressed consent, you are behaving unethically. Kant attached great importance to agreement. He believed that this is the only opportunity for healthy relationships between people. For that time it was a radical idea, and even today it is difficult for us to accept it.

Now the issue of consent is most acute in two areas. First, sex and romance. According to Kant's rule, anything other than a clearly expressed and sober agreement is ethically unacceptable. This is a particularly sore question today. Personally, I get the impression that people over complicate it. It's already starting to feel like you need to ask permission 20 times on a date before you do something. This is not true.

The main thing is to show respect. Say how you are feeling, ask how the other person is feeling, and respectfully accept the answer. Everything. No complications.

Respect plays an important role in Kant's value system. He argued that all sentient beings have dignity and this must be reckoned with. The question of consent is a show of respect. Any action without consent between two people is somewhat disrespectful. All this sounds a little old-fashioned, but the problem of consent affects any human relationship, and its consequences are enormous.

Another problematic area is sales and advertising. Almost all marketing strategies are based on treating people as a means of making money. Kant would call this unethical. He was dubious about capitalism, believing that it is impossible to accumulate a fortune without resorting to some kind of manipulation and coercion. He was not an anti-capitalist (communism did not exist then), but the staggering economic inequality worried him. In his opinion, the moral duty of everyone who has accumulated a significant fortune is to distribute most of the needy.


Many Enlightenment thinkers had racist views, which was common at the time. Although Kant also expressed them at the beginning of his career, he later changed his mind. He realized that no one race has the right to enslave another, because this is a classic example of treating people as a means to an end.

Kant became a fierce opponent of colonial policy. He said that the cruelty and oppression necessary to enslave the people destroy the humanity of people regardless of their race. For that time, it was such a radical idea that many called it absurd. But Kant believed that the only way to prevent war and oppression was through an international government that unites states. Several centuries later, the United Nations was founded on this basis.


Most Enlightenment philosophers believed that the best way to live was to increase happiness and reduce suffering as much as possible. This approach is called utilitarianism. This is the most common view today.

Kant saw life in a completely different way. He believed this: if you want to make the world a better place, start with yourself. Here's how he explained it.

In most cases, it is impossible to know whether a person deserves happiness or suffering, because it is impossible to know his real intentions and goals. Even if it is worth making someone happy, it is not known what exactly is needed for this. You don't know the feelings, values, and expectations of the other person. You do not know how your action will affect him.

Moreover, it is not clear what exactly happiness or suffering consists of. Today, divorce can cause you unbearable pain, and in a year you will consider it the best thing that happened to you. Therefore, the only logical way to make the world a better place is to become better yourself. After all, the only thing that you know with any certainty is yourself.

Kant defined self-development as the ability to adhere to categorical imperatives. He considered it everyone's duty. From his point of view, the reward or punishment for non-fulfillment of duty is given not in heaven or hell, but in the life that everyone creates for themselves. Following moral principles makes life better not only for you, but for everyone around you. Likewise, breaking these principles creates unnecessary suffering for you and those around you.

Kant's rule triggers the domino effect. By becoming more honest with yourself, you will become more honest with others. This, in turn, will inspire people to be more honest with themselves and bring positive changes in their lives.

If enough people adhered to Kant's rule, the world would change for the better. Moreover, it is stronger than from the purposeful actions of some organization.

Self esteem

Self-respect and respect for others are intertwined. Dealing with our own psyche is a template that we use to interact with other people. You will not be very successful with others until you understand yourself.

Self-respect is not about feeling better. This is an understanding of your value. Understanding that everyone, whoever they are, deserves basic rights and respect.

From Kant's perspective, telling yourself that you are a worthless piece of shit is as unethical as saying that to another person. Harming yourself is as disgusting as hurting others. Therefore, self-love and self-care is not something that can be learned and not something that can be practiced, as they say today. This is what you are called to cultivate from an ethical standpoint.

How it affected me and how it might affect you

Philosophy of Kant: how it affected me and how it might affect you
Philosophy of Kant: how it affected me and how it might affect you

Kant's philosophy, if you dive deeply into it, is full of contradictions. But his initial ideas are so powerful that they undoubtedly changed the world. And they changed me when I stumbled upon them a year ago.

I spent most of my 20 to 30 years time on some of the points above. I thought they would make my life better. But the more I strove for this, the more devastated I felt. Reading Kant was an inspiration. He discovered an amazing thing for me.

It is not so important what exactly we do, the purpose of these actions is important. Until you find the right target, you will not find anything worthwhile.

Kant was not always a routine freak. In his youth, he also liked to have fun. He sat up late with friends over wine and cards. He got up late, ate too much, and threw big parties. Only at 40, Kant abandoned all this and created his famous routine. According to him, he realized the moral consequences of his actions and decided that he would no longer allow himself to waste precious time and energy.

Kant called this "developing character." That is, to build life, trying to maximize their potential. He believed that most would not be able to develop character until adulthood. In their youth, people are too tempted by various pleasures, they are thrown from side to side - from inspiration to despair and vice versa. We are too fixated on the accumulation of funds and do not see which goals are moving us.

To develop character, a person must learn to manage their actions and themselves. Few can achieve this goal, but Kant believed that this is exactly what everyone should strive for. The only thing worth striving for.