Kant’s three significant formulations of the categorical imperative are:
- Act only according to that maxim by which you can also will that it would become a universal law.
- Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.
- Every rational being must so act as if he were through his maxim always a legislating member in a universal kingdom of ends.Kant’s categorical imperative and the trial of Adolf Eichmann: In 1961, discussion of Kant’s categorical imperative included even the trial of the infamous SS Lieutenant Colonel Adolf Eichmann in Jerusalem.
As Hannah Arendt wrote in her book on the trial, Eichmann declared “with great emphasis that he had lived his whole life … according to a Kantian definition of duty”. Arendt considered this so “incomprehensible on the face of it” that it confirmed her sense that he wasn’t really thinking at all, just mouthing accepted formulae, thereby establishing his banality.
Judge Raveh indeed had asked Eichmann whether he thought he had really lived according to the categorical imperative during the war. Eichmann acknowledged he did not “live entirely according to it, although I would like to do so.”
Deborah Lipstadt, in her book on the trial, takes this as evidence that evil is not banal, but is in fact self-aware.