What Is the Significance of Kants Insistence on the Motive of Duty

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What is the significance of Kant’s insistence on the motive of duty?

A common question, which is perhaps considered to be one of the most important questions within ethical discussion, centres around what morality can and does require from us. Kant’s contentious contribution to this debate begins with his argument that the most basic aim of moral philosophy is “to seek out” the foundational principle of a metaphysics of morals, and we can see him pursue this initially through the Groundwork. Within the Groundwork he aims to “establish the supreme principle of morality” (G392), and it is in his method of doing this that we first encounter the notion and importance of Duty. Kant’s general argument claims that only acts that are done from the motive of duty are acts that have moral value. This essay will outline Kant’s idea of Duty, and then evaluate various critiques posited to Kant.

The Supreme Principle of Morality, also known as Kant’s moral law, has four conditions; “It would be practical, absolutely necessary, binding on all rational agents, and would serve as the supreme norm for the moral evaluation of action” (kersten p1). The law can only be derived by apriori knowledge, and this is due to the nature of moral requirements themselves; they present themselves as being an absolute necessity but it is clear that aposteriori methods are ill-fitted to establishing these, as they can only inform us of what we actually do, rather than what we must do. Kant’s anaylsis in deriving the supreme principle begins by looking at the concept of the ‘Good Will’. Kant defines the good will as “the only thing that is good without qualification or restriction” and is “good in all circumstances and in that sense is an absolute or unconditional good” (first sentences of chapter 1 of the groundwork). Another fact about the Good Will is that it is good “only because of its willing, and not because of its success in producing effects” (herman article p362). The key to having good willing is to be found when we look at the motivations in actions which are done from duty or repect for the moral law. This highlights Kant’s anti-consequentialist stance, and he quickly eradicates the idea of inclinations being a motive worthy of moral worth. This is because for example if an immediate inclination was to help someone, however the person you needed to help was doing a morally wrong action, then your inclination would lead to a morally bad outcome, hence inclinations can never become universal maxims. Kant rejects inclinations being the motive of acts from duty as they are known through a posteriori methods, and these types of methods conflict with the idea of the moral requirement being an absolute necessity as they are subjective, therefore are constantly changing and cannot build us with a objective universal law. Kant claims that “moral worth depends not on the actuality of the object of the action, but merely on the principle of violition in accordance with which the action is donw, without regard to ay object of the faculty of desire” (Kant 1785, 4:400). In his argument, Kant distinguishes two types of duties; and these are acting in conformity with duty, and acting from the sake of duty. Actions which are undertaken within the conformity of duty, but are not carried out from the motive of duty are not actions which possess moral worth (Kant 1785, 4:397). When Kant says one should always act from duty, it means that one should “do whatever the moral law obligates one to do; out of respect for that law”. (Sullivan p32, 400 the groundwork).Therefore acting from duty is acting from a respect for the moral law; as it is a law for all rational human beings and we can not rationally opt out of not converging to this law. My respect for lawfulness guides me in my moral actions. Kant’s emphasis on the importance of intentions is arguably extremely significant, and Acton claimed it was “becoming more and more important with civilized men” (p13...
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