Imperatives are instructions; they tell us what to do. Kant distinguished between two types of imperative: hypothetical and categorical.

Hypothetical imperatives tell you what to do in order to achieve a particular goal: “If you want to have enough money to buy a new phone, then get a job”; “If you don’t want to go to prison, then don’t steal cars”.

Hypothetical imperatives only apply to people who want to achieve the goal to which they refer. If I don’t care about having enough money for a new phone, then “If you want to have enough money to buy a new phone, then get a job” doesn’t apply to me; it gives me no reason to get a job. If I don’t mind going to prison, then “If you don’t want to go to prison, then don’t steal cars” doesn’t apply to me; it gives me no reason not to steal cars.

Morality, according to Kant, isn’t like this. Morality doesn’t tell us what to do on the assumption that we want to achieve a particular goal, e.g. staying out of prison, or being well-liked. Moral behaviour isn’t about staying out of prison, or being well-liked. Morality consists of categorical imperatives.

Categorical imperatives, unlike hypothetical imperatives, tell us what to do irrespective of our desires. Morality doesn’t say “If you want to stay out of prison, then don’t steal cars”; it says “Don’t steal cars!” We ought not to steal cars whether we want to stay out of prison or not.