Through his discussion of morals in the Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, Immanuel Kant explores the question of whether a human being is capable of acting solely out of pure duty and if our actions hold true moral value. In passage 407, page 19, Kant proposes that if one were to look at past experiences, one cannot be certain that his or her rationalization for performing an action that conforms with duty could rest solely on moral grounds. In order to fully explain the core principle of moral theory, Kant distinguishes between key notions such as a priori and a posteriori, and hypothetical imperative vs. categorical imperative, in order to argue whether the actions of rational beings are actually moral or if they are only moral because of one’s hidden inclinations.
When Kant says, "For when moral value is being considered, the concern is not with the actions, which are seen, but rather with their inner principles, which are not seen," in page 19, he is suggesting that a person's true motives behind the action are more important in determining if the action holds true moral value. As Jonathan Bennett, a British philosopher of language and metaphysics who translated Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, says, when moral worth is in question it is not a matter of visible actions but of their invisible inner principles (Bennett, 19). Kant explains that a human being might have inclinations, reasons for doing something, beyond moral reasons. Inclinations are motives (desires, interests, incentives, fears, or impulses) that one may possess, but will sometimes seem hidden when performing an action. If there lies a motive behind carrying out an action, aside for the sake of duty alone, then it can be considered to be immoral. Kant explains in his first and second preposition of morality that when an action that is done from duty is considered to have moral value, it is not from the purpose that was to be achieved through it but from the maxim that it involves ¬– the reason behind the action.
In order to further explain the different kinds of motivations behind our actions, Kant distinguishes between two types of imperatives that are essential to reason: hypothetical and categorical. Hypothetical imperative is the "practical necessity of some possible action as a means to achieving something else that one does or might want" as defined on page 19 of Bennett’s translation, whereas categorical is an action that is "objectively necessary in itself without regard to any other end" (Bennett, 19). When Kant says, "We like to flatter ourselves with the false claim to a more noble motive; but in fact we can never, even by the strictest examination, completely plumb the depths of the secret incentives of our actions," on page 19, he is suggesting that even though human beings think that there only exists principled and virtuous thoughts in ourselves, there lies greater motivations and reasons behind our actions.
Kant explains that a plausible...