I might, in such a situation, choose to act on a statement of the form, "If I desire some specific end (e.g. happiness, maximum pleasure, power, etc.), then I ought to do such and such an action." In doing so I would be acting on what Kant calls "a hypothetical imperative." However, Kant has already ruled out ends as the grounds for moral obligation; thus *hypothetical imperatives cannot serve as the basis for determining my moral duty*. However, if I act on a principle which has the form, "In circumstances of such and such a character, I ought to do this particular act, (quite apart from consequences)," then I am acting on what Kant calls a "categorical imperative."
Hypothetical imperatives apply to someone who wishes to attain certain ends. For example:
• if I wish to quench my thirst, I must drink something;
• if I wish to acquire knowledge, I must learn.
Categorical imperative, on the other hand, denotes an absolute, unconditional requirement that must be obeyed in all circumstances and is justified as an end in itself. It is best known in its first formulation:
Act only according to that maxim whereby you can, at the same time, will that it should become a universal law