Kant and Atheism

I heard an atheist whose wisdom and judgment I respect declare that he was the moral legislator for himself, and he was the person who would find, for himself, was righteous and just and true and decent, in accord with the Kantian Moral Imperative.


Kant famously said that in order to be a standard, a moral standard had to be universal, that is, one would will as legislature for the whole world what one wills for oneself.

In order to fit the definition of a moral imperative, the proposed moral maxim had to be an imperative to be follow without any necessary reward, material or mental, not even self congratulation.

In other words, so Kant argues, that if the imperative is dependent on a reward, it is a means to an end, therefore not actually a moral imperative: “Thou Shalt Not Steal” is hence a moral imperative, whereas “Crime Does Not Pay” is a statement of means and ends.

The problem with the Kantian moral imperative, is that it is a purely formal description of moral imperatives without content, which is logically posterior to the moral imperatives by which the conscience already operates.

For example a suicidal nihilist who wishes to destroy all human life, on the grounds that this is what he wills for himself, satisfied the same form — universality — as a man who respects the right to life in others because he respects his own.

The Christian obeys a person — Christ — for the same reason a child obeys a father, a student obeys a teacher, a subject obeys a king, a citizen obeys the written law, namely, filial piety, recognition of superior skill and wisdom, deference to lawful authority, and fidelity to one’s sworn word freely given.
At no point does the Christian forswear the use of his conscience any more than any man who obeys father, teacher, king or contract.
Contrariwise, the atheist propose a paradox. How can a man have an obligation to “obey” an abstract principle which is nothing more than a description of the form of the moral imperatives one already obeys?
The Kantian Categorical Imperative does not explain why murder, fraud, and theft is wrong. It only explains that IF these things are wrong for some, THEN they are wrong for all.
And this is an insufficient basis for a moral code. It is, at best, a way to describe one element of a moral code which already exists.