Great Throughts Treasury

This site is dedicated to the memory of Dr. Alan William Smolowe who gave birth to the creation of this database.

Immanuel Kant

German Philosopher, Metaphysician

"A lie is the abandonment and, as it were, the annihilation of the dignity of man."

"A free will and will subject to moral laws are one and the same."

"All our knowledge begins with sense, proceeds thence to understanding, and ends with reason, beyond which nothing higher can be discovered in the human mind for elaborating the matter of intuition and subjecting it to the highest unity of thought."

"Act only on that maxim [intention] whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature. Always act so as to treat humanity, whether in yourself or in others, as an end in itself, never merely as a means. Act always as if to bring about, and as a member of, a Kingdom of Ends [that is, an ideal community in which everyone is always moral]."

"Always so act that the immediate motive of thy will may become a universal rule for all intelligent beings."

"Among the voluntary modes of raising... contributions, lotteries ought not to be allowed, because they increase the number of those who are poor, and involve danger to the public property."

"Beneficence is a duty. He who frequently practices it, and sees his benevolent intentions realized, at length, comes really to love him to whom he has done good. When, therefore, it is said, “Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself,” it is not meant, thou shalt love him first and do him good in consequence of that love, but thou shalt do good to thy neighbor; and this thy beneficence will engender in thee that love to mankind which is the fullness and consummation of the inclination to do good."

"Both love of mankind, and respect for their rights are duties; the former however is only a condition, the latter an unconditional, purely imperative duty, which he must be perfectly certain not to have transgressed who would give himself up to the secret emotions arising from benevolence."

"Enthusiasm is always connected with the senses, whatever be the object that excites it. The true strength of virtue is serenity of mind, combined with a deliberate and steadfast determination to execute her laws. That is the healthful condition of the moral life; on the other hand, enthusiasm, even when excited by representation of goodness, is a brilliant but feverish flow which leaves only exhaustion and languor behind."

"An action done from duty derives its moral worth, not from the purpose which is to be attained by it, but from the maxim by which it is to be determined, and therefore does not depend on the realization of the object of the actions, but merely on the principle of volition by which the action has taken place, without regard to any object of desire."

"Be so that thy conduct can be law universal."

"Every man is to be respected as an absolute end in himself: and it is a crime against the dignity that belongs to him as a human being, to use him as a mere means for some external purpose."

"Conscience is not a thing to be acquired, and it is not a duty to acquire it; but every man, as a moral being, has it originally within him."

"Have patience awhile; slanders are not long-lived. Truth is the child of Time; erelong she shall appear to vindicate thee."

"Freedom and the consciousness of it as a faculty of following the moral law with unyielding resolution is independence of inclinations, at least as motives determining (though not as affecting) our desire, and so far as I am conscious of this freedom in following my moral maxims, it is the only source of an unaltered contentment which is necessarily connected with it and rests on no special feeling."

"Happiness is the condition of a rational being in the world, in whose whole existence everything goes according to wish and will. It thus rests on the harmony of nature with his entire end and with the essential determining ground of his will."

"I have therefore found it necessary to deny knowledge in order to make room for faith."

"If we attend to the experience of men’s conduct, we meet frequent and, as we ourselves allow, just complaints that one cannot find a single certain example of the disposition to act from pure duty. Although many things are done in conformity with what duty prescribes, it is nevertheless always doubtful whether they are done strictly from duty, so as to have moral worth."

"Honesty is beter than all policy."

"It is not enough to do what is right, but we should practice it solely on the ground of its being right."

"In law a man is guilty when he violates the rights of others. In ethics he is guilt if he only thinks of doing so."

"It is only as a moral being that man can be a final purpose of creation."

"It is the original moral bent of our nature, as a subjective principle, that will not let us be satisfied, in our review of the world, with the finality which it derives through natural causes, but leads us to introduce into an underlying supreme Cause governing nature according to moral laws."

"Laughter is an affection arising from the sudden transformation of a strained expectation into nothing."

"Limit knowledge to make room for faith."

"It is therefore correct to say that the sense do not err - not because they always judge rightly, but because they do not judge at all."

"Love is a matter of feeling, not of will or volition and I cannot love because I will to do so, still less because I ought (I cannot be necessitated to love); hence there is no such thing as a duty to love... What is done from constraint is not done from love."

"Man seeks to acquire a rank among his fellow men, whom he detests, but without whom he cannot live."

"Let each thinker pursue his own path... reason is always the gainer."

"Men can never acquire respect by benevolence alone, though they may gain love, so that the greatest beneficence only procures them honor when it is regulated by worthiness."

"No virtue is ever so strong that it is beyond temptation."

"Morality... must have the more power over the human heart the more purely it is exhibited. Whence it follows that, if the law of morality and the image of holiness and virtue are to exercise any influence at all on our souls, they can do so only so far as they are laid to heart in their purity as motives, unmixed with any view to prosperity, for it is in suffering that they display themselves most nobly."

"Not only are moral laws with their principles essentially distinguished from every other kind of practical knowledge in which there is anything empirical, but all moral philosophy rests wholly on its pure part. When applied to man, it does not borrow the least thing from the knowledge of man himself (anthropology), but gives laws a priori to him as a rational being. No doubt these laws require a judgment sharpened by experience, in order on the one hand to distinguish in what cases they are applicable, and on the other to procure for them access to the will of the man and effectual influence on conduct; since man is acted on by so many inclinations that, though capable of the idea of a practical pure reason, he is not so easily able to make it effective in concreto in his life."

"Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness."

"Opinion is a consciously insufficient judgment, subjectively as well as objectively. Belief is subjectively sufficient, but is recognized as being objectively insufficient. Knowledge is both subjectively and objectively sufficient. Subjective sufficiency is termed conviction (for myself); objective sufficiency is termed certainty (for all)."

"Nothing can possibly be conceived in the world, or even out of it, which can be called good, without qualification, except as good will."

"Philosophy must then assume that no real contradiction will be found between freedom and physical necessity of the same human actions, for it cannot give up the conception of nature any more than that of freedom."

"Ought implies can."

"Prudence reproaches; conscience accuses."

"Right... comprehends the whole of the conditions under which the voluntary actions of any one person can be harmonized in reality with the voluntary actions of every other person, according to a universal law of freedom."

"Sincerity is the indispensable ground of all conscientiousness, and by consequence of all heartfelt religion."

"So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in ever case as an end withal, never as a means only."

"That in the order of ends, man (and with him every rational being) is an end in himself, that is, that he can never be used merely as a means by any (not even by God) without being at the same time an end also himself, that therefore humanity in our person must be holy to ourselves, this follows now of itself because he is the subject of the moral law, in other words, of that which is holy in itself, and on account of which and in agreement with which alone can anything be termed holy. For this moral law is founded on the autonomy of his will, as a free will which by its universal laws must necessarily be able to agree with that to which it is to submit itself."

"The agreement of an action with ethical laws is its morality."

"The beautiful is the symbol of the morally good."

"So sharply and clearly marked are the boundaries of morality and self-love that even the commonest eye cannot fail to distinguish whether a thing belongs to the one or the other."

"The desire of a man for a woman is not directed at her because she is a human being, but because she is a woman. That she is a human being is of no concern to him."

"The laws of freedom, as distinguished from the laws or nature, are moral laws."

"The moral worth of an action does not lie in the effect expected from it, nor in any principle of action which requires to borrow its motive from this expected effect. For all these effects - agreeableness of one’s condition and even the promotion of the happiness of others - could have been also brought about by other causes, so that for this there would have been no need of the will of a rational being; whereas it is in this alone that the supreme and unconditional good can be found. The pre-eminent good which we call moral can therefore consist in nothing else than the conception of law in itself, which certainly is only possible in a rational being, in so far as this conception, and not the expected effect, determines the will. This is a good which is already present in the person who acts accordingly, and we have not to wait for it to appear first in the result."

"The notion of happiness is so indefinite that although every man wishes to attain it yet he never can say definitely and consistently what it is that he really wishes and wills."