Monday, April 14, 2008

[Xanga] little note on Kant

In Kant's 1785 Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals, he includes a passage often translated as advocating a begrudging adherence to duty as more praiseworthy than a delighted or joyful act of duty. The logic goes that one's duty ought to be performed out of love of that duty as an end in itself, and if any superceding or, yes, even adjunct reason for performing duty exists, that the praiseworthy nature of the carrying out of that duty has been in some way lessened. Opposed to this is an act of begrudging duty, wherein one does not enjoy an act that must be undertaken, but instead chooses to carry out the act because of mere love of duty.

The question is, of course, is one then to constantly begrudge his duties? It seems inconsistent with what we think of as duty and morality to say that the most moral person is he who acts in a way so as always to be moral, but so as never to love that which is done. In fact, it is even consistent with many systems of morality to say that acting in a way so as to begrudge one's moral duty is in itself immoral; the flip side of which is to say that acting in such a way as to grow to love one's moral duty is in itself a moral duty.

However, in Kant's 1793 Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, he includes a passage pertaining to sin and evil which seems to me clarifying his stance on duty and morality.
He writes that "although [any] maxim is good with respect to its object... and perhaps even powerful enough in practice, it is not purely moral, i.e. it has not, as it should be, adopted the law alone as its sufficient incentive... in other words, actions conforming to duty are not done purely from duty." Moreover, "there is no difference... between a human being of good morals and a morally good human being, except that the actions of the former do not always have, perhaps never have, the law as their sole and supreme incentive, whereas those of the latter always do."

Perhaps Kant is drawing a distinction between merely duty-bound actions and moral actions? I forget the exact context and phrasing of the passage from the Groundwork, but perhaps he is placing moral actions on a level above and beyond duty-bound actions, as a teleological understsanding of morality replaces a deontological framework (at least, possibly does). While one does not understand "the law as their sole and supreme incentive," as in the case of the "human being of good morals," following duty begrudgingly is preferable to following duty that is sought-after. When one, however, comes to an understanding of "the law itself," by whatever means, that law is then internalized and one may begin to live as a "morally good human being."

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