Moral Self-Knowledge in Kantian Ethics

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HON 344, Critical Summary Paper
Dylan Morgan
2-23-2012

In the article titled, Moral Self-knowledge in Kantian Ethics, Emer O’Hagan discusses Kant’s views and ideas concerning self-knowledge and the role it plays in duty and virtuous action. O’Hagan first introduces a key feature of Kant’s ethical theory which is its recognition of the psychological complexity of human beings. O’Hagan uses this recognition of psychological complexity by Kant to dive into Kant’s feeling on self-knowledge. Once a basic understanding of Kant’s attitude towards self-knowledge has been established, O’Hagan then uses Kant’s ethical theory to show how self-knowledge can be used as a means to help determine the goodness of an action. The arguments presented by O’Hagan are logical and clearly supported and verified through the presented evidence.

Kant is shown to have recognized the psychological complexity of the human being in recognizing that, “judgments concerning the rightness of actions are vulnerable to corruption from self-interested inclination” (O’Hagan 525-537). Kant is saying that that even though an action may start out as from duty, our internal feelings as human beings can create a beneficial end as a means for the action, thus rendering it not from duty. Kant also recognizes that our own judgments about us may not be accurate. Moral self-development is a practice to develop accuracy for our self-judgments and takes into consideration one’s motives for action. O’Hagan tells us that this moral practice requires moral self-knowledge which is a form of self-awareness disciplined by respect for autonomy, the theoretical foundation of Kantian ethics.

According to Kant, the first command of the duties to oneself as a moral being is self-knowledge. This is the ability to know yourself in terms of whether your heart is for good or evil and whether your actions are pure or impure. Kant describes duties of virtue to be wide duties, in that there is not a clear standard...
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