Kant's Moral Philosophy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)
understand better the relationship between moral and prudential reason within his theory In the Groundwork and elsewhere, Kant identifies happiness with the . Kant's Relationship to Hume and British Moral Philosophy; 3. .. which enables her to resent the misery of others or rejoice in their happiness. who has given profound consideration to the connection between freedom and that Kant's moral philosophy contains distinctions that can be of relevance to.
A few additional differences are worth noting. First, both philosophers recognize and discuss a plurality of virtues and vices. But, unlike Hume, Kant insists on the unitary nature of virtue: Second, Hume casts a much wider net with regard to the qualities that count as virtues. The concepts of virtue and vice can apply to things outside our control, such as traits and motives that spring involuntarily from our basic temperament. Kant, by contrast, restricts the application of these concepts to traits, behaviors, and attitudes that are voluntarily adopted and cultivated as a matter of principle.
For Kant each virtue and each vice has its own maxim MM 6: This would be true even of wit or good memory, for example. Wit and good memory are certainly things that an agent might cultivate for the sake of her natural perfection. A third important contrast concerns justice. Justice is an immensely significant virtue for Hume, but is not treated by Kant as a virtue at all. As long as one does not hinder their freedom in a way that violates universal law or legitimate positive law, one complies with the demands of justice.
It is a matter not of justice itself, but of ethics, if one respects the rights of others not from fear of punishment but from respect for persons or law. The moral worth adhering to acting rightly out of respect for right is not part of justice, but of ethics; it is a matter of self-constraint or virtue. Finally, their conceptions of moral vice are quite different. For Hume a vice is a mental quality that provokes disapproval from a judicious spectator. But Kant holds that vice is a propensity to act contrary to the moral law Rel 6: Freedom and Necessity Hume and Kant both believe that freedom is essential to morality.
Moreover, both believe that a philosophical theory and vindication of human morality requires reconciling freedom with universal causal necessity determinism. However, they offer different conceptions of freedom, different ways of reconciling it with necessity, and different ways of understanding why this reconciliation matters for morality. In the Treatise, Hume distinguishes between two conceptions of freedom or liberty: On this view, a person is free when, and only when, her action is not necessitated by any antecedent causes.
Hume rejects this idea as unintelligible T 2. So the liberty of spontaneity is freedom from violence, but not freedom from necessity per se. These are cases where we lack the liberty of spontaneity. But a person has such liberty whenever she is able to do what she wants to do.
Gary Watson, Kant on Happiness in the Moral Life - PhilPapers
In such cases, her actions are causally necessitated, just like any other event in nature; but they are caused by motives that spring from her own character. According to Hume, this is the form of liberty at issue in religion, morality, law, and common life. The liberty of spontaneity, as just described, is perfectly compatible with causal necessity.
There are two main reasons people often believe otherwise. First, we tend to conflate the two ideas of liberty. In cases where we enjoy the liberty of spontaneity, our experience suggests that we also enjoy something more. Yet this is a mistake explained by the blind spots of introspection. An outside observer, whether a friend or a scientist, can commonly infer our actions from our motives and character; and even where he cannot, he concludes in general, that he might, were he perfectly acquainted with every circumstance of our situation and temper.
People are prone to think that necessity rules out liberty because they conflate necessity with compulsion or force. They believe that when A causes B, A compels or forces B.
Kant's Moral Philosophy
Hume holds that this is a mistake, however. For example, experience shows that the vibration of a particular string is constantly conjoined with a particular sound. As a result, the mind develops the habit of immediately inferring the sound from the vibration EHU 7.
We believe that the sound is causally necessitated by the vibration, but the necessity is a product of the imagination, which associates the idea of the sound with the perception of the vibration. This feeling that there is a necessary connection between them is the whole of the matter EHU 7. So defined, causal necessity no longer poses an obvious threat to liberty. But causes do not force or compel their effects. The only real threat is necessitation by external forces, as when a person is forced to do something she does not want to do.
On this reading, Hume analyzes the concepts of liberty and necessity in order to show that, properly understood, they do not conflict. We can be rationally justified in holding a person responsible for her action even though all human actions are caused. The only question is whether she, rather than some other person or external force, is the cause of her action.
Above all it is an empirical explanation for why we sometimes feel that people are responsible for their conduct. He starts with the occasions in common life when we hold people responsible for their behavior, and then asks, what happens in the mind on such occasions?
The above interpretations provide two different explanations for why this is the case. Our judgments about responsibility entail judgments about the causal antecedents of action, and such judgments are consistent with determinism. On this view, the liberty of spontaneity is essential to morality because attributions of responsibility, which permeate morality as well as law and religionare unjust and unreasonable without it.
According to the naturalist approach, liberty is essential for a different reason. They are, in his terminology, impressions or sentiments rather than ideas.
These sentiments are partially caused by beliefs about the source of the behavior to which we are responding. We would not feel approval or disapproval unless we had been led to think of the person as the cause of the action.
If we believed that her action was either compelled or uncaused, we would neither approve nor disapprove of her.
Our responses or thoughts would be about something else. Hume does not argue that the latter justifies attributions of responsibility. His claim is that it causally contributes to such attributions. They are made by means of feelings of approval and disapproval, which are are a core feature of human morality as we know it. Therefore, the idea of liberty, properly reconciled with necessity, is essential to morality. Like Hume, Kant seeks to reconcile freedom with a commitment to causal determinism.
Yet the two philosophers operate with different conceptions of causal necessity and very different ideas about the nature of freedom. For present purposes, it is important to focus on the main difference between their conceptions of freedom. His treatment looks downstream from the will to its execution in action. A person has liberty when her action is caused by her will, which Hume equates with an occurrent motive or desire T 2.
The question of what ultimately moves the will is irrelevant. Kant, by contrast, looks upstream to what determines the will: Both are concerned with the freedom of the person or agent, but Kant thinks the person is not truly free unless her will is free.
This is the first point about the main difference between Kant and Hume. The second point is that Kant, unlike Hume, believes that the will is not free unless it can be determined by pure reason.
Note that this is not obviously equivalent to what Hume calls the liberty of indifference, which implies a complete absence of causes or necessitation.
On the contrary, Kant seems to think that the will is free if, and only if, it is necessitated. But it must be necessitated by the right sort of thing and in the right way: That is, the will is free if and only if can be determined by pure reason, which lies outside the realm governed by empirical laws. This conception of freedom has profound implications for the task of reconciling freedom with causal determinism.
Kant maintains that all events, including human actions, are causally determined by antecedent events in accordance with empirical laws. With this line of thought, Kant seeks to reconcile freedom and natural necessity by means of his transcendental idealism. The appeal to transcendental idealism is controversial, of course. Others understand Kant to be distinguishing between only different standpoints we take, identifying the noumenal world with the practical standpoint that we take when we think of ourselves as autonomous, responsible beings, and the phenomenal world with the theoretical standpoint we take when we think of ourselves as part of the natural, deterministic, empirical world see Beck There are concerns about both.
Many find the notion of two worlds metaphysically cumbersome; but others question whether the two standpoints approach is adequate for transcendental and practical freedom. See Irwinesp. Kant has a number of reasons for thinking that freedom is essential to morality. First, freedom is necessary for moral responsibility. One important but unorthodox line of interpretation suggests a fourth reason for thinking that freedom is essential to morality. According to this view, Kant holds in at least some places that freedom is our most fundamental value, the source from which all other moral value derives.
When comparing Hume and Kant, it is a mistake to ask simply which philosopher has the best account of freedom or does the best job of reconciling freedom and necessity. As a result, they focus on somewhat different topics. Hume concentrates on what happens downstream from the will, that is, on how motives determine action. One important question is whether morality requires the sort of freedom Kant has in mind. The issue here is not just about free will.
It is about which conception of morality is most plausible.
Kant and Hume on Morality
Standard textbooks classify Kant as a libertarian incompatibilist about free will, but those who study Kant most intensively often disagree about the nature of his view. Some argue that Kant offers a form of incompatibilism e. It is impossible to know whether we actually have free will CPrR 5: Their treatments of the subject differ significantly, but they have a few important things in common, especially on the question of how religion relates to morality.
Above all, both philosophers advocate a secularized approach to moral philosophy. That is, both argue for the independence of morality from religion and the importance of keeping the two distinct. And they both seek to undermine a good deal of Christian theology, including traditional arguments for the existence of God. There are also important areas of disagreement, however. Kant, by contrast, seems far more attuned to the benefits of religion, especially its attempts to address the perhaps unavoidable need for ultimate answers or consolation in the face of death and suffering.
This is evident from his distinctive version of sentimentalism. This claim is made in the context of arguing against a form of moral rationalism that locates the foundation of morality in immutable truths discoverable by reason Schneewind Against rationalists like Samuel Clarke, Hume claims that morality is a distinctly and entirely human phenomenon; there are no grounds for believing that human beings exist in any kind of moral community with God or that God is answerable to the moral norms that bind us Schneewind For present purposes, there are two additional points to appreciate.
When we behave virtuously, we further the purposes for which we were created. Hume frequently draws attention to the moral and political costs of religion. He never argues that religion is inherently destructive, but he consistently claims that it tends to distort and corrupt morality.
Similarly, Hume emphasizes the difference between moral and religious sources of motivation. When a person pays a debt or restores a loan, for example, his divinity is nowise beholden to him; because these acts of justice are what he was bound to perform, and what many would have performed, were there no god in the universe.
But if he fast a day, or give himself a sound whipping; this has a direct reference, in his opinion, to the service of God. No other motive could engage him to such austerities. He clearly believes that monotheistic religions tend to focus human attention on the one God rather than on the enjoyment of life on earth.
Monotheism also tends to promote intolerance, factionalism, and even violence. Like Hume, Kant holds that the foundation of morality is independent of religion. The Metaphysics of Morals, for instance, is meant to be based on a priori rational principles, but many of the specific duties that Kant describes, along with some of the arguments he gives in support of them, rely on general facts about human beings and our circumstances that are known from experience.
In one sense, it might seem obvious why Kant insists on an a priori method. Such a project would address such questions as, What is a duty? What kinds of duties are there? What is the good? What kinds of goods are there? These appear to be metaphysical questions. Any principle used to provide such categorizations appears to be a principle of metaphysics, in a sense, but Kant did not see them as external moral truths that exist independently of rational agents.
Moral requirements, instead, are rational principles that tell us what we have overriding reason to do. Metaphysical principles of this sort are always sought out and established by a priori methods. However, the considerations he offers for an a priori method do not all obviously draw on this sort of rationale. The following are three considerations favoring a priori methods that he emphasizes repeatedly.
The first is that, as Kant and others have conceived of it, ethics initially requires an analysis of our moral concepts. Given that the analysis of concepts is an a priori matter, to the degree that ethics consists of such an analysis, ethics is a priori as a well. Of course, even were we to agree with Kant that ethics should begin with analysis, and that analysis is or should be an entirely a priori undertaking, this would not explain why all of the fundamental questions of moral philosophy must be pursued a priori.
Indeed, one of the most important projects of moral philosophy, for Kant, is to show that we, as rational agents, are bound by moral requirements and that fully rational agents would necessarily comply with them. Kant admits that his analytical arguments for the CI are inadequate on their own because the most they can show is that the CI is the supreme principle of morality if there is such a principle.
Kant must therefore address the possibility that morality itself is an illusion by showing that the CI really is an unconditional requirement of reason that applies to us.
This is the second reason Kant held that fundamental issues in ethics must be addressed with an a priori method: The ultimate subject matter of ethics is the nature and content of the principles that necessarily determine a rational will.
Fundamental issues in moral philosophy must also be settled a priori because of the nature of moral requirements themselves, or so Kant thought. This is a third reason he gives for an a priori method, and it appears to have been of great importance to Kant: Moral requirements present themselves as being unconditionally necessary.
But an a posteriori method seems ill-suited to discovering and establishing what we must do whether we feel like doing it or not; surely such a method could only tell us what we actually do. Kant argued that empirical observations could only deliver conclusions about, for instance, the relative advantages of moral behavior in various circumstances or how pleasing it might be in our own eyes or the eyes of others.
Such findings clearly would not support the unconditional necessity of moral requirements. To appeal to a posteriori considerations would thus result in a tainted conception of moral requirements. It would view them as demands for which compliance is not unconditionally necessary, but rather necessary only if additional considerations show it to be advantageous, optimific or in some other way felicitous.
Thus, Kant argued that if moral philosophy is to guard against undermining the unconditional necessity of obligation in its analysis and defense of moral thought, it must be carried out entirely a priori.
Nevertheless, this idea of a good will is an important commonsense touchstone to which Kant returns throughout his works. The idea of a good will is supposed to be the idea of one who is committed only to make decisions that she holds to be morally worthy and who takes moral considerations in themselves to be conclusive reasons for guiding her behavior. This sort of disposition or character is something we all highly value, Kant thought.
He believes we value it without limitation or qualification. By this, we believe, he means primarily two things. First, unlike anything else, there is no conceivable circumstance in which we regard our own moral goodness as worth forfeiting simply in order to obtain some desirable object. By contrast, the value of all other desirable qualities, such as courage or cleverness, can be diminished, forgone, or sacrificed under certain circumstances: Courage may be laid aside if it requires injustice, and it is better not to be witty if it requires cruelty.
There is no implicit restriction or qualification to the effect that a commitment to give moral considerations decisive weight is worth honoring, but only under such and such circumstances. Second, possessing and maintaining a steadfast commitment to moral principles is the very condition under which anything else is worth having or pursuing.
The value of a good will thus cannot be that it secures certain valuable ends, whether of our own or of others, since their value is entirely conditional on our possessing and maintaining a good will.
Indeed, since a good will is good under any condition, its goodness must not depend on any particular conditions obtaining. Human beings inevitably feel this Law as a constraint on their natural desires, which is why such Laws, as applied to human beings, are imperatives and duties. A human will in which the Moral Law is decisive is motivated by the thought of duty. A holy or divine will, if it exists, though good, would not be good because it is motivated by thoughts of duty because such a will does not have natural inclinations and so necessarily fulfills moral requirements without feeling constrained to do so.
Kant confirms this by comparing motivation by duty with other sorts of motives, in particular, with motives of self-interest, self-preservation, sympathy and happiness.
He argues that a dutiful action from any of these motives, however praiseworthy it may be, does not express a good will. Only then would the action have moral worth. Many object that we do not think better of actions done for the sake of duty than actions performed out of emotional concern or sympathy for others, especially those things we do for friends and family.
What is crucial in actions that express a good will is that in conforming to duty a perfectly virtuous person always would, and so ideally we should, recognize and be moved by the thought that our conformity is morally obligatory. The motivational structure of the agent should be arranged so that she always treats considerations of duty as sufficient reasons for conforming to those requirements.
In other words, we should have a firm commitment not to perform an action if it is morally forbidden and to perform an action if it is morally required. Having a good will, in this sense, is compatible with having feelings and emotions of various kinds, and even with aiming to cultivate some of them in order to counteract desires and inclinations that tempt us to immorality.
Suppose for the sake of argument we agree with Kant. We now need to know what distinguishes the principle that lays down our duties from these other motivating principles, and so makes motivation by it the source of unqualified value. Duty and Respect for Moral Law According to Kant, what is singular about motivation by duty is that it consists of bare respect for the moral law. What naturally comes to mind is this: Duties are rules or laws of some sort combined with some sort of felt constraint or incentive on our choices, whether from external coercion by others or from our own powers of reason.
For instance, the bylaws of a club lay down duties for its officers and enforce them with sanctions. City and state laws establish the duties of citizens and enforce them with coercive legal power. Thinking we are duty bound is simply respecting, as such, certain laws pertaining to us.
Respect for such laws could hardly be thought valuable. For another, our motive in conforming our actions to civic and other laws is rarely unconditional respect. We also have an eye toward doing our part in maintaining civil or social order, toward punishments or loss of standing and reputation in violating such laws, and other outcomes of lawful behavior.
Indeed, we respect these laws to the degree, but only to the degree, that they do not violate values, laws or principles we hold more dear. Yet Kant thinks that, in acting from duty, we are not at all motivated by a prospective outcome or some other extrinsic feature of our conduct except insofar as these are requirements of duty itself.
We are motivated by the mere conformity of our will to law as such. Human persons inevitably have respect for the moral law even though we are not always moved by it and even though we do not always comply with the moral standards that we nonetheless recognize as authoritative.
The force of moral requirements as reasons is that we cannot ignore them no matter how circumstances might conspire against any other consideration.
Basic moral requirements retain their reason-giving force under any circumstance, they have universal validity. So, whatever else may be said of basic moral requirements, their content is universal.
Only a universal law could be the content of a requirement that has the reason-giving force of morality. This brings Kant to a preliminary formulation of the CI: This is the principle which motivates a good will, and which Kant holds to be the fundamental principle of all of morality.
Categorical and Hypothetical Imperatives Kant holds that the fundamental principle of our moral duties is a categorical imperative. It is an imperative because it is a command addressed to agents who could follow it but might not e.
It is categorical in virtue of applying to us unconditionally, or simply because we possesses rational wills, without reference to any ends that we might or might not have. It does not, in other words, apply to us on the condition that we have antecedently adopted some goal for ourselves.
A hypothetical imperative is a command that also applies to us in virtue of our having a rational will, but not simply in virtue of this. It requires us to exercise our wills in a certain way given we have antecedently willed an end. A hypothetical imperative is thus a command in a conditional form. For Kant, willing an end involves more than desiring; it requires actively choosing or committing to the end rather than merely finding oneself with a passive desire for it.
Further, there is nothing irrational in failing to will means to what one desires. The condition under which a hypothetical imperative applies to us, then, is that we will some end.
Now, for the most part, the ends we will we might not have willed, and some ends that we do not will we might nevertheless have willed. But there is at least conceptual room for the idea of a natural or inclination-based end that we must will.
The distinction between ends that we might or might not will and those, if any, we necessarily will as the kinds of natural beings we are, is the basis for his distinction between two kinds of hypothetical imperatives. If the end is one that we might or might not will — that is, it is a merely possible end — the imperative is problematic.
Almost all non-moral, rational imperatives are problematic, since there are virtually no ends that we necessarily will as human beings.
As it turns out, the only non-moral end that we will, as a matter of natural necessity, is our own happiness. Any imperative that applied to us because we will our own happiness would thus be an assertoric imperative.Beginner's Guide to Kant's Moral Philosophy
Rationality, Kant thinks, can issue no imperative if the end is indeterminate, and happiness is an indeterminate end. Since Kant presents moral and prudential rational requirements as first and foremost demands on our wills rather than on external acts, moral and prudential evaluation is first and foremost an evaluation of the will our actions express.
Likewise, while actions, feelings or desires may be the focus of other moral views, for Kant practical irrationality, both moral and prudential, focuses mainly on our willing.
That is, do such imperatives tell us to take the necessary means to our ends or give up our ends wide scope or do they simply tell us that, if we have an end, then take the necessary means to it. Hence, morality and other rational requirements are, for the most part, demands that apply to the maxims that we act on. Since this is a principle stating only what some agent wills, it is subjective.
A principle that governs any rational will is an objective principle of volition, which Kant refers to as a practical law. For anything to count as human willing, it must be based on a maxim to pursue some end through some means. Hence, in employing a maxim, any human willing already embodies the form of means-end reasoning that calls for evaluation in terms of hypothetical imperatives.
To that extent at least, then, anything dignified as human willing is subject to rational requirements. First, formulate a maxim that enshrines your reason for acting as you propose. Second, recast that maxim as a universal law of nature governing all rational agents, and so as holding that all must, by natural law, act as you yourself propose to act in these circumstances.
Third, consider whether your maxim is even conceivable in a world governed by this law of nature. If it is, then, fourth, ask yourself whether you would, or could, rationally will to act on your maxim in such a world. If you could, then your action is morally permissible. If your maxim passes all four steps, only then is acting on it morally permissible. Following Hillwe can understand the difference in duties as formal: Hence, one is forbidden to act on the maxim of committing suicide to avoid unhappiness.
By contrast, the maxim of refusing to assist others in pursuit of their projects passes the contradiction in conception test, but fails the contradiction in the will test at the fourth step. Hence, we have a duty to sometimes and to some extent aid and assist others. Kant held that ordinary moral thought recognized moral duties toward ourselves as well as toward others. Hence, together with the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties, Kant recognized four categories of duties: Kant uses four examples in the Groundwork, one of each kind of duty, to demonstrate that every kind of duty can be derived from the CI, and hence to bolster his case that the CI is indeed the fundamental principle of morality.
We will briefly sketch one way of doing so for the perfect duty to others to refrain from lying promises and the imperfect duty to ourselves to develop talents. The maxim of lying whenever it gets you what you want generates a contradiction once you try to combine it with the universalized version that all rational agents must, by a law of nature, lie when doing so gets them what they want.
Here is one way of seeing how this might work: My maxim, however, is to make a deceptive promise in order to get needed money. And it is a necessary means of doing this that a practice of taking the word of others exists, so that someone might take my word and I take advantage of their doing so. It is a world containing my promise and a world in which there can be no promises.
Hence, it is inconceivable that I could sincerely act on my maxim in a world in which my maxim is a universal law of nature. Since it is inconceivable that these two things could exist together, I am forbidden ever to act on the maxim of lying to get money. By contrast with the maxim of the lying promise, we can easily conceive of adopting a maxim of refusing to develop any of our talents in a world in which that maxim is a universal law of nature. This video is part of my series on human well-being and the good life, and it examines Immanuel Kant's account of well-being in his moral, political, and religious writings.
For Kant, the highest good for human beings is attaining both complete virtue and happiness at the same time. But not only is there no necessary connection between the two, frequently it is the case that doing what is right is in opposition to doing what would make us happy.
Of these two components of the highest good, Kant's focus in his moral and political writings is on virtue and what individuals must do to cultivate a virtuous character. For Kant, virtue is the strength possessed by individuals to resist bodily inclinations and do what is right simply because it is the right thing to do.
This capacity for virtue is unique to human beings, because human wills are affected, but not determined, by bodily desires. This characteristic places our wills between those of non-rational animals, whose wills are determined by bodily desires, and those of divine beings, whose wills are determined by reason.
Kant claims that the true vocation of human reason is not to help us to become happy, but rather to make us worthy of happiness by assisting us in becoming virtuous. Kant closely associates morality, reason, and freedom. One necessary condition of morally praiseworthy actions is that they are performed freely. But here, Kant's understanding of freedom may be a bit different than what we are used to.