The famous categorical imperative!
Kant was the most famous philosopher of he Enlightenment, and he had some truly remarkable contributions to the human civilization. One of his most notable achievements is the creation of an ethical framework based purely on rational thinking. Previous ethical frameworks, at least in Western civilization, were all based on god.
The categorical imperative is the one fundamental rule that defines what it is to be a good person. It has several different formulations, all meaning the same thing. Here is one formulation:
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
Kant chose preciseness over clarity in his formulation, so it takes some time to digest what he is saying.
Let me try to simplify his words (and by doing so, choose clarity over preciseness):
Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.
My personal value system is very much in line with Kant’s… I’d say it’s 99% the same. Why not 100%, you ask? Only because of this: Kant’s value system is based on rules and not on consequences of one’s actions. I firmly believe that there are situations in life where blindly following rules – no matter how smartly defined those rules are – is not the right thing to do. One always has to be mindful of the potential consequences, and apply good judgement before following any rule.
Rules or consequences – this is a well known debate among philosophers: it’s called the deontological vs the consequentialist ethical system. Kant was representative of the deontological school of though. Nietzsche was representative of the consequentialist school.