Freedom and Morality in Kant's Ethics

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Freedom and Morality in Kant's Ethics

By | October 2007
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Kant's Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals is an exploration and argument that seeks a universally binding first principle for morals. Kant presents an essay in which empirical observations and facts are not adequate to answer the question of, why be moral? Instead Kant relies on theoretical concepts, such as autonomy, morality, duty and goodwill to explain how necessity and causality are ordered. In this essay I will attempt to explain the Kantian connection between freedom and morality. In order to demonstrate the relationship between the Kantian notion of freedom and morality, I will first briefly summarize Kant's broader explanations of good will, duty and the categorical imperative. Kant begins his argument with the characterization of goodwill. According to Kant, goodwill is that which "is good only through its willing, i.e., it is good in itself." (395) For Kant, goodwill is independent of "what effects or accomplishes" (394) it has, and is separate from estimable characteristics and/or other gifts of fortune a person may have. The notion of ‘duty' arises when we examine what actions are morally good. Kant asserts that duty is the exercise of goodwill, that is, an action has moral worth only if the agent performs an act out of duty. However, this is not to say that an act done out of duty alone has moral worth. For Kant, moral duty is a universal law. Moral duty cannot be mitigated nor exaggerated by circumstance (otherwise it would not be a moral duty). However, Kant stipulates that moral duty can only apply to rational beings that have a will. Moreover, these rational beings must be able to recognize the moral laws that compel them to do their moral duty. For example, to use Professor Darwall's lecture example, if I hold an object three feet from the ground and then remove my hands from the object, then the object crashes to the floor, it was I, the agent, and not the object that committed an action. Obviously, inanimate objects do not possess a...

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