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The maxim ( French maxim motto , from lat. Maxima (add: propositio) "the greatest or highest (statement)") refers to current understanding, the "supreme personal rule of life" or a personal principle of willing and acting ( La Rochefoucauld , Goethe ).

The term originally comes from logic and was used in French in moral studies . With the French moralists Luc de Clapiers, Marquis de Vauvenargues (1715–1747) and François de La Rochefoucauld (1613–1680), the maxim became a high form of philosophical statement. Goethe's collection of aphorisms, Maximen und Reflexionen , was first published in 1833.

Word history

The noun "Maxime" goes back to the expression Maximae et principales propositiones (Eng. "The highest and most general statements") used by Boethius . With Albert von Rickmersdorf it still has the logical meaning ( locorum alius dicitur locus maximus ; dt. "Another topos is referred to as the 'uppermost topos'"). In French the ethical-practical meaning of les maximes develops from this . De La Rochefoucauld's Réflexions ou sentences et maximes morales (1665) had a particularly strong impact . But the original use of the word can also be found later, e.g. B. in D'Argens († 1771):

«Propositions évidentes et générales, telles que sont elles qu'on appelle maximes ou axiomes […] On appelle ces premiers principes des maximes ou des axiomes, parce que ce sont des propositions, dont il suffit de concevoir le sens, pour être convaincu de leur certitude. »

“Self-evident and general statements are called maxims or axioms . [...] These first principles are called maxims or axioms because they are statements whose meaning one only has to grasp in order to be convinced of their correctness. "

"Maxime" in the sense of Kant

For Immanuel Kant, maxims are an expression of the rational striving for unity and generalization ; they are subjective insofar as they are not taken from the object of reason, but are an expression of the interest of reason:

"I call all subjective principles , which are taken not from the nature of the object but from the interest of reason, with regard to a certain possible perfection of the knowledge of the object, maxims of reason."

In the Kantian ethics , as Kant u. a. Negotiated in the Critique of Practical Reason , “maxim” attains great importance as a “subjective law according to which one really acts”, as a “subjective principle of will”. Any practical principles are maxims if they also become subjective reasons for actions, subjective principles.

The categorical imperative demands the strict generalizability of the maxims:

"Act only according to the maxim by which you can at the same time want it to become a general law."

- Foundation for the Metaphysics of Morals Immanuel Kant: AA IV, 421

"Act in such a way that the maxim of your will can also apply at any time as the principle of general legislation."

- Critique of practical reason, § 7

The moral value of an action is given when a person can think of his maxims without contradiction through rational considerations as practical general laws, i.e. that is, if he can want the maxims of his action to become general legislation at the same time (see categorical imperative ).

Based on Kant, Charles S. Peirce called the basic rule for his pragmatism to clarify our thoughts as the pragmatic maxim .


  • Maria Schwartz: The concept of the maxim in Kant. An investigation of the maxim concept in Kant's practical philosophy . Lit Verlag, Münster / Berlin 2006, ISBN 3-8258-9422-3 .

Web links

Wiktionary: Maxime  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. ^ De topicis differentiis 1.4
  2. Jean-Baptiste de Boyer: La philosophie du bon-sens, ou reflections philosophiques sur l'incertitude des connoissances humaines à l'usage des Cavaliers et du beau-sexe. The Hague 1737
  3. Immanuel Kant, Collected Writings. Ed .: Vol. 1-22 Prussian Academy of Sciences, Vol. 23 German Academy of Sciences in Berlin, from Vol. 24 Academy of Sciences in Göttingen, Berlin 1900ff., AA IV, 421 .