To help people deal with ethical situations, philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804) created the “Categorical Imperative.”
According to Kant, the Categorical Imperative is as follows: “Act on a maxim (principle) that you would rationally want to apply to everybody.” In other words, the Categorical Imperative advises you, when facing an ethical situation, to “act in such a way that your action should become a universal law for everyone.”
With this approach, for an action to be moral, the underlying principle has to be universal—it has to hold true for anyone else in similar circumstances. Thus, the key question you must ask yourself when you face a situation is this: “What if everyone did that?”
For example, suppose you are in a line at the grocery store and someone shoves you from behind. Should you push back? Applying the Categorical Imperative, you should ask yourself if you would want your intended response to be what everyone should do in the same circumstance. Would you want everyone else in the world to respond in anger or would you want others to show restraint? Act as if your decision would instantly become a universal law for everyone. That’s the Categorical Imperative.