Kant, Duty, and Moral Worth

Kant, Duty, and Moral Worth

Kant, Duty, and Moral Worth

Kant, Duty, and Moral Worth

Synopsis

Kant, Duty and Moral Worth is a fascinating and original examination of Kant's account of moral worth. The complex debate at the heart of Kant's philosophy is over whether Kant said moral actions have worth only if they are carried out from duty, or whether actions carried out from mixed motives can be good. Philip Stratton-Lake offers a unique account of acting from duty, which utilizes the distinction between primary and secondary motives. He maintains that the moral law should not be understood as a normative moral reason but as playing a transcendental role. Thus a Kantian account of moral worth is one where the virtuous agent may be responsive to concrete particular considerations, whilst preserving an essential role for universal moral principles. Kant, Duty and Moral Worth is a lucid examination of Kant's moral thought that will appeal to Kant scholars and anyone interested in moral theory.

Excerpt

In the last chapter I argued that Kant cannot hold onto the view that there is an essential and direct connection between morality and rationality if his claim that a morally good person would tend to do what she should solely from duty is understood as a claim that she would do what she should just because she should so act. This is because the fact that I ought to Φ is not a normative reason to Φ. If, therefore, a morally good person were one who tends to Φ solely because she ought to Φ, she would tend to be motivated to act by a consideration which is not a reason why she should act in this way. the reason why we should do the required acts is not the fact that they are morally required, but the reason why these acts are morally required. If there is an essential and direct connection between morality and rationality, then a morally good person will tend to act from these reasons. But whatever these reasons are, they cannot be or include the fact that the relevant act is morally required. For the fact that some act should be done, or is right, cannot be cited in support of the claim that this act should be done, or is right. It cannot, therefore, be a normative reason in support of this action.

There are two ways in which one might respond to this argument. One could claim either that a good-willed person is not one who tends to act from duty, or that acting from duty should not be understood as doing what one should just because one should. the first type of response is too drastic, and should be adopted only if the second response proves hopeless. For the notion of acting from duty is so central to Kant's ethical thought that if it were abandoned it is difficult to see that anything distinctively Kantian would be left. If we are to defend Kant from this criticism, therefore, we must respond in the second way. This is the line I wish to pursue in Chapters 4 and 5. There I shall offer an alternative interpretation of acting from duty which builds on Barbara Herman's and Marcia Baron's distinction between primary and secondary motives. Before I do that, however, I want to consider an alternative way in which this line of argument might be pursued.

Kant claims not only that duty is the sole moral motive, but that respect for the moral law is. According to the standard interpretation, to act from respect for the moral law is just to do the right thing because it is right. But we have seen that this interpretation is unsatisfactory. a different way of understanding Kant's theory

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