How can metaphysics be justified

Summary of basis on the metaphysics of ethics

The short century of the German Enlightenment

The young Kingdom of Prussia, which was only formed in 1701, experienced from 1740 under Frederick II - Raised as "Frederick the Great" to a world historical legend - a cultural and military bloom. Under Frederick's reign, Prussia rose to become a major European power in the Seven Years' War between 1756 and 1763. In terms of social policy, Friedrich was a reformer who abolished torture, exercised tolerance in questions of faith and described himself as the first servant of the state. Absolutism merged in him with the new spirit of the Enlightenment, whose greenhouses were the intellectual salons of Paris and Berlin and which were mainly directed against religious dogmatism and anti-science superstitions. The intellectual debate flourished in this liberal atmosphere and, unlike in the past, was largely conducted in public. On August 17, 1786, Frederick the Great died after almost 50 years of reign. The century of the German Enlightenment ended with his death - under his successor, Friedrich Wilhelm II., the strict censorship returned to Prussia, especially in religious matters. Immanuel Kant came into conflict several times and was ultimately banned from publishing on religious topics.


After Critique of Pure Reason by 1781, the first of Kant's three great reviews on knowledge, morality and aesthetics followed with the Foundation of the metaphysics of morals his first published work on morality. The conclusion of the criticism announced this change of subject from knowledge to morality. And by this point in time - the 60-year-old Kant was about to retire - he had been dealing intensively with morals for a good 20 years. Work on the Foundation have started. Initially, however, the intention was not a basic moral-philosophical work, but rather to settle accounts with a contemporary critic: ChristianGarve. It wasn't just Kant's criticism with an extremely negative review, but also in a book about Cicero defending feelings as a moral foundation - Kant did not want to let that stand. The "counterattack" like the one from KönigsbergJohann G.Hamann called, but quickly turned into a fundamental text on moral philosophy. Garve no longer plays a role in this, but all the more Ciceronian terms such as “will”, “dignity” or “autonomy”. By working on the renovation of his retirement home as well as the Prolegomena from 1783 the completion of the text was delayed again and again. In the summer of 1783, however, Kant and his secretary worked hard on it, and by August of that year the text should by and large have been completed. In September 1784 Kant sent the finished manuscript to his publisher Johann Friedrich Hartknoch.

Impact history

The Foundation of the metaphysics of morals appeared on April 8, 1785 at Hartknoch in Königsberg and became an event in the Königsberg scholarly world. The first edition was sold out quickly, a second, slightly revised edition followed a year later. Intellectual Prussia had long waited for Kant's first work on questions of morality. The reactions were not entirely positive, however. Especially Hamann and Johann G. Herderwho already have the criticismof pure reason had criticized the demanding rationalism more skeptical than ever. What bothered her about Kant's moral philosophy -Schiller called it their "rigorism" - numerous prominent critics have since repeated: Hegel, Schopenhauer, Nietzsche - they all criticized Kant's high demands on the individual's willpower and ability to act as unworldly excessive demands. But other thinkers, includingSoeren Kierkegaard or Ludwig Wittgenstein, assessed Kant's demarcation from lower desires and lofty ideals positively. With the discourse ethics of Jürgen Habermas and Karl-Otto Apel as John Rawls Moral philosophy also see two of the most important current positions in moral theory in the succession of Kant. Even thought leaders of utilitarianism like Marcus G. Singer or Richard M. Hare have adapted Kant's moral philosophy. Although it is one of his shortest works, this remains Foundation to this day one of the most widely read and discussed texts in philosophy. It is unreservedly recognized as a peak in the history of philosophy and has had a decisive influence on its course.