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In the definition of both hypothetical and categorical imperatives, we will concentrate on the viewpoints of Immanuel Kant about ethics and morality. According to him, a hypothetical imperative is a kind of imperative that conditionally demands the performance of something such as an action for the sole purpose of a foreseeable end. The simple implication of this imperative is that “You do A so that you can achieve B.” combining it with moral ethics, it implies that people are obliged to morally to achieve a positive end. On the other hand, a categorical imperative is one which is demanded unconditionally such that, you do something because it is of high necessity. The simple implication is that “You just do A” and to combine with ethics or morals, one is obliged to do something in a most ethical way or morally not because there is a foreseeable good but because it should be.

The two imperatives for action are comparable in that they argue the importance that is attached to ethics. In the two, ethics is seen as a most critical thing to living, where, hypothetical imperative encourages one to do something because there is something good at the end, while the categorical one is like a demand. The difference in the two is that while the hypothetical one is conditional, the categorical one is unconditional. This is to mean that one adheres to the hypothetical one because there is a certain condition. For example, unless one acts ethically or morally, then, one cannot achieve what he or she desires. On the other end, the categorical imperatives are unconditional to mean that something does not depend on the other or results to the other. For example, something is not achieved because one has acted ethically, and acting this way is just as a matter of necessity.

Landau (2007) argues that the two forms of imperatives can be said to be hypothetical only that one uses the term ‘should’ while the other utilizes the form of ‘would’. This is to mean that one is necessary while the other depends on other stimuli, and specifically, the hypothetical imperative utilizes ‘would’ while categorical imperative utilizes ‘should’. The categorical imperative is a changed form of hypothetical imperative in the sense that it gives an action but does not give the end. The two seem to agree that acting ethically or morally is highly needed, but one promises an end as a form of motivation while the other does not specify this end. However, the two differs in the sense that one qualifies an action while the other does not qualify at all. In the categorical imperative, it is like the God’s commandment that, “Thou shall not kill.” The other is not entirely a command but a requirement, where, if placed in the form of a God’s commandment, it would be, “Do not kill and you will inherit the kingdom of God.”


The requirements in this world are placed into forms of imperatives, and these are the hypothetical and the categorical imperatives. The two are placed in the platform of acting well, ethically or morally, and the biggest difference is that while one promises a good end or a bad one when he or she acts ethically, morally or unethically the other one does not promise anything but just commands in an unconditional way. The similarities that have been noted in the two are that the categorical imperative is a changed form of hypothetical imperative. Again, the two forms are seen to direct people into acting ethically or morally as proposed by Immanuel Kant. The difference seen in that one is unconditional and utilizes shall or should while the other is just conditional and gives a promise to a certain form of directions of ethics taken.


Landau, R. (2007). Foundations of ethics: An anthology. Oxford: Blackwell Publishing.