Please write 300 – 500 words where you demonstrate your knowledge of the readings and answer the following questions:What is the connection between duty and rationality according to Kant? How does Korsgaard’s distinction help to salvage the idea that you can be happy and doing your duty at the same time?Give an example of a pleasure or pain where you evaluate each of Bentham’s seven variables. Explain your answers.
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The volumes in this series
seek to address the present debate
over the Western tradition
by reprinting key works of
that tradition along with essays
that evaluate each text from
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Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Kant, Immanuel, 1724–1804.
[Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten. English]
Groundwork for the metaphysics of morals / Immanuel Kant ;
edited and translated by Allen W. Wood ; with essays by J. B. Schneewind . . . [et al.].
p. cm.—(Rethinking the Western tradition)
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-300-09486-8 (cloth)—ISBN 0-300-09487-6 (paper)
1. Ethics—Early works to 1800. I. Wood, Allen W. II. Schneewind, J. B. (Jerome B.) III.
Title. IV. Series.
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Kant’s position on acting from duty troubling. For what he clearly does hold
is that acting from inclination, no matter how laudable the inclination, is in
some important way not as good—not as morally worthy—as acting from
duty. This seems strange, and it is disturbing to many people, even though
they fully understand that one can act from duty without gritting her teeth,
hating what she is doing, resenting having to do it, and so on. It is disturbing
for two reasons.
First, surely it is better to enjoy helping the needy than not to. Yet the
reader of the Groundwork is left with the impression that it does not add
anything at all, that it does not make it better. As long as one acts from duty,
it doesn’t seem to matter to Kant whether one does it with gritted teeth or
does it with pleasure. This is disturbing. Surely helping from duty with
pleasure is better than helping from duty with gritted teeth. Yet it seems that
on Kant’s view—at least as it comes across in the Groundwork—it makes
The second reason why it is disturbing is this. Compare two people. One
helps because she wants to; the other helps from duty and also wants to. To
many readers it seems that there is nothing superior about the conduct of the
second person. Yet Kant undeniably holds that the conduct of the second
person has moral worth, while that of the first person does not. Why? What
is so great about acting from duty?
Let us consider these two concerns in turn. To make the first concern
clearer, let me offer an example. I recently helped an acquaintance by
taking care of her child for a few afternoons when she was undergoing
chemotherapy. When she thanked me, I didn’t say, ‘‘Think nothing of it. We
all have to do our duty,’’ but something more along the lines of ‘‘I was glad I
could help.’’ Why does the first seem inappropriate, and what, if anything,
does the fact that it seems inappropriate tell us?
One reason it would be inappropriate to say ‘‘We all have to do our duty’’
in response to an expression of thanks has to do with how we usually
understand the word ‘duty’. We think of duty as something imposed on us,
something that we may well not endorse. We associate the word ‘duty’ with
legal requirements, requirements of one’s role (e.g., as a parent) or one’s
office (e.g., treasurer), requirements of one’s job (to hold office hours),
requirements of those who are members of a club (to pay dues), and expec-
Acting from Duty
tations, which may not quite rise to the level of requirements, of members
of a club or an academic department, or residents of a neighborhood. If I
live in a town in which it is required by law that we remove the snow from
the sidewalk in front of our homes, it is my duty to shovel my walk (or
arrange for someone else to do so); if I live in a neighborhood in which we
all do this and expect one another to do so, here, too, I may regard it as my
duty. In each case I need not endorse it. I may think the law silly, or wish that
I lived in a neighborhood in which a more laissez-faire attitude toward
snow removal prevailed. To say ‘‘We all have to do our duty’’ in reply to an
expression of gratitude suggests that this is something I did not exactly
choose to do but felt pressured to do.
It is important to understand that ‘duty’ (Pflicht) in Kant’s ethics is tied
not to social expectations or laws, but to rationality. ‘Duty’ for Kant means,
roughly, what one would do if one were fully rational. We are rational
beings, but we are to be contrasted with those beings—if we can imagine
such creatures—with ‘‘holy wills.’’ Beings with holy wills cannot do other
than what reason prescribes.∏ We, by contrast, feel the tug of inclinations,
which not infrequently are at odds with reason. Hence we—rational beings
whose wills are not and cannot be holy—experience the sense of duty as a
constraint, because we are pulled toward what reason demands and toward
what our inclinations urge. To do our duty is not to give in to social expectations but to do what reason requires (which may or may not be the same
One reason, then, why it is inappropriate to say ‘‘We all have to do our
duty’’ in response to an expression of gratitude has to do with connotations
of ‘duty’ in ordinary speech, connotations that have no bearing on Kant’s
conception of duty.
A related reason why it is inappropriate is that in general when one does
a favor for another and is thanked for it, it is inappropriate to draw attention
to the effort one expended on behalf of the other, or to dwell on it if the other
draws attention to it. If someone thanks me for a present and says, ‘‘That’s
too generous!’’ it wouldn’t do to say, ‘‘It was a lot of money and a lot of
effort and I was horribly busy then so didn’t really have the time, but after
all you are a good friend.’’ Or if a friend comes to visit and I throw a party
for her and she thanks me and says, ‘‘I really appreciate it. I can see it must
have taken a lot of work,’’ I should not say in reply (unless perhaps in pure
and clear jest), ‘‘It sure did, and I’m utterly exhausted, so I’m glad you
appreciate it.’’ We can see from reflecting on these exchanges that the
inappropriateness of saying, ‘‘We all have to do our duty’’ tells us nothing at
all that indicates that acting from duty is in some way objectionable. It only
reflects the fact that a certain graciousness, even modesty (in the form of not
drawing attention to or dwelling on the effort to which one went for one’s
friend), is in order in such situations.
But this only partly answers the worry. The issue is not only what the
benefactor says to the recipient, but also the benefactor’s attitude (even if
not conveyed to the recipient). It is not just that it is undesirable that one
disclose to the recipient that she found it to be quite a burden. That she
found it to be such a burden is itself not good. And so the point remains: it is
preferable that the person who does us a favor does it with pleasure rather
than simply because she sees it to be her duty. This need not mean unalloyed
pleasure or pleasure free of ambivalence. We might prefer that, too—that a
friend do us a favor with unalloyed pleasure—but that is not a preference
that moral theory should strive to accommodate. (Why shouldn’t my friend
be ambivalent about spending two hours driving me to the airport, or giving
up a delicious stretch of free time to visit me in the hospital? I would have to
be extremely self-centered to think that she is wanting as a friend—or, even
more implausibly, as a person—if she is ambivalent.) But a preference that
people aid us with pleasure rather than without does not seem petty or selfcentered or in any other way an unreasonable or unworthy preference.
There is no getting around it: the character of someone who helps with
pleasure—and, more generally, who acts from duty with pleasure—seems
clearly to be better, ceteris paribus, than the character of one who acts from
duty without pleasure. Can Kant recognize this, or is his view of moral
motivation and character at odds with it?
To determine this we need to look at Kant’s other works. There is nothing in the Groundwork that suggests that he does not or cannot recognize
this (that is, nothing that suggests that his view of moral motivation and
character is at odds with it), but there is also nothing to suggest that he does.
The work to look at is the Metaphysics of Morals, for which the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals was, as the title indicates, intended to
be the foundation.
Kant indicates at a number of points in the Metaphysics of Morals that a
person who acts from duty would ordinarily act with pleasure. Certainly a
virtuous person would.
The rules for practicing virtue . . . aim at a frame of mind that is
valiant and cheerful in fulfilling its duties. . . . What is not done with
pleasure but merely as compulsory service has no inner worth for one
who attends to his duty in this way and such service is not loved by him;
Acting from Duty
instead, he shirks as much as possible occasions for practicing virtue.
The context in which the passage occurs bears mention. The quotation is
from a section of the Metaphysics of Morals titled ‘‘Ethical Ascetics,’’ in
which Kant argues that the picture of the cultivation of virtue that takes as
its motto the Stoic saying ‘‘Accustom yourself to put up with the misfortunes of life that may happen and to do without its superfluous pleasures’’ is
defective. Kant explains: ‘‘This is a kind of regimen . . . for keeping a man
healthy. But health is only a negative kind of well-being. . . . Something
must be added to it . . . This is the ever-cheerful heart, according to the idea
of the virtuous Epicurus’’ (MS 6:484–85).π It is part of being virtuous that
one takes pleasure in life and in living as one does, i.e., takes pleasure in
helping others, developing one’s talents, and so on.
When we turn to Kant’s discussion of specific virtues and vices, there,
too, it is evident that he does not regard the sentiments with which we act as
a matter of indifference. We have a duty, he says, to cultivate our compassionate impulses (susceptibility to which ‘‘Nature has already implanted’’
in us [MS 6:456]).∫ We also have duties of gratitude (MS 6:455)Ω and duties
not to be envious (MS 6:459) and not to gloat over others’ misfortunes (MS
6:460). ‘‘To rejoice immediately in the existence of such enormities destroying what is best in the world as a whole, and so also to wish for them to
happen, is secretly to hate human beings; and this is the direct opposite of
love for our neighbor, which is incumbent on us as a duty’’ (MS 6:460). It is
also a duty to be forgiving (but not to tolerate wrongs meekly or to renounce
rigorous means for preventing the recurrence of wrongs by others [MS
Reading only the Groundwork, it is easy to get the impression that
sentiments do not matter (or, worse, that they matter only negatively, as
obstacles to acting as we should). We need to bear in mind that the aim of
Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals is simply to lay the groundwork
for the later work. My point is not only that the Metaphysics of Morals
presents the final form of Kant’s ethics, the fully developed theory—although I think it does.∞≠ Given the particular task of the Groundwork, it is
no wonder that we find little there about sentiments, and that what we do
find underscores their irrelevance, or their lack of ‘‘standing.’’ The main
task of the Groundwork is to seek out and establish the supreme principle of
morality and to show that it can and must have a purely nonempirical
foundation. Hence the insignificance of emotions and sentiments to morality is much more apparent in that work than is their significance. They do
not play any role in grounding morality,∞∞ and so we hear little about them in
that work—except what they do not do.
Before turning to the second objection to Kant’s discussion of acting
from duty, I want to mention a common misunderstanding, related to the
one noted above, that may lie behind the view that Kant is unable to recognize that acting from duty with pleasure is better than acting from duty with
gritted teeth. It is sometimes supposed that as Kant sees it, someone who
acts from duty has as his purpose simply ‘‘duty’’ (whatever that would
mean). On this mistaken view, whereas the person who helps another just
because he wants to cares about the other’s happiness, the person who helps
from duty is indifferent to it, caring only about doing his duty. The first is
seen as having as his purpose to help the other; the second is seen as having
as his purpose only to do his duty. The temptation to draw a sharp division
between caring about doing one’s duty and caring about the content of that
duty can be explained only by an error noted earlier, that of thinking that
duty (Pflicht) in Kantian ethics is something imposed on us from without.
That error may lead us to think that to care about doing one’s duty is to care
about pleasing an authority figure, getting ‘‘brownie points,’’ or maintaining social respectability. But since duty is something that the agent rationally endorses, it would hardly make sense for someone to care about
doing his duty but to be indifferent to the content of the particular duty.
A careful reading of the text makes it plain that someone who helps from
duty does not care only about doing his duty. Kant emphasizes that what
distinguishes an action done from duty from an action done from inclination is not its purpose, but the maxim by which it is determined—that is,
why the person chose so to act (G 4:399). Both the agent who acts from duty
and the agent who acts from inclination want to help the person they are
helping, but only the former sees the person’s needs as making a moral
claim on him.∞≤
Still, one might think that because one person is drawn to the action by
emotion, and the other is not, only the former will help another with pleasure. But the fact that what led the agent to the action was not emotion or
feeling does not mean that one will lack emotion and feeling when she acts.
As Christine Korsgaard explains,
Once you have adopted a purpose and become settled in its pursuit,
certain emotions and feelings will naturally result. In particular, in ordinary circumstances the advancement or achievement of the purpose will
make you happy, regardless of whether you adopted it originally from
Acting from Duty
natural inclination or from duty. So a dutiful person, who after all really
does value the happiness of others, will therefore take pleasure in making others happy.∞≥
Once again, the Metaphysics of Morals brings out more sharply than the
Groundwork does that conducting oneself as one morally ought usually
brings with it certain sentiments. The happiness of others is an obligatory
end. We have a duty, that is, to make others’ ends our own.∞∂ Someone
lacking in sympathy for others, someone unmoved by the plight of human
suffering, would seem—without some special explanation—not to have
adopted as an end the happiness of others. At the very least, the person
seems not to have integrated that end into her life in a way that develops the
kinds of feelings that Kant thinks are part of having, and seeking to promote, the end.∞∑
Now in unusual circumstances one’s ability to enjoy helping may be
marred. This is the situation of the man whose mind is so ‘‘clouded over with
his own grief’’ that ‘‘the distress of others does not touch him’’ (G 4:398).
But as noted above, this is not typical, and Kant constructed the example as
he did in order to isolate the moral incentive and to make it absolutely clear
that the man was acting from duty. Even in this case, however, there is
reason to hope that having torn himself ‘‘out of this deadly insensibility’’ (G
4:398), the man now does take pleasure in helping others. If he doesn’t yet,
he very likely soon will (if he doesn’t relapse into his insensibility and cease
to help others). Kant says of beneficence that if ‘‘someone practices it often
and succeeds in realizing his beneficent intention, he eventually comes actually to love the person he has helped’’ (MS 6:402).
I turn now to the second reason why Kant’s account of acting from duty and
moral worth is troubling even to those who understand that acting from
duty does not require that one lack an inclination so to act or that one not
take pleasure in what one does from duty. To recap, the first was that surely
it is better to enjoy helping the needy than not to; yet Kant shows no signs in
the Groundwork of recognizing this. We have seen, though, that when he
discusses virtues and vices and duties to cultivate certain qualities of character, it becomes clear that he does not take the sentiments and attitudes
with which one acts to be a matter of indifference, and that he regards taking
pleasure in doing what is morally required to be a part of virtue. The second
An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation
Copyright ©2010–2015 All rights reserved. Jonathan Bennett
[Brackets] enclose editorial explanations. Small ·dots· enclose material that has been added, but can be read as
though it were part of the original text. Occasional •bullets, and also indenting of passages that are not quotations,
are meant as aids to grasping the structure of a sentence or a thought. Every four-point ellipsis . . . . indicates the
omission of a brief passage that seems to present more difficulty than it is worth. Longer omissions are reported
between brackets in normal-sized type.—The numbering of paragraphs in small bold type is Bentham’s.—The
First Edition of this work was privately printed in 1780 and first published in 1789. The present version is based
on ‘A New Edition, corrected by the Author’ [but not changed much], published in 1823.
Chapter 1: The Principle of Utility
Chapter 2: Principles opposing the Principle of Utility
Chapter 3: The Four Sanctions or Sources of Pain and Pleasure
Chapter 4: Measuring Pleasure and Pain
Chapter 5: The Kinds of Pleasure and Pain
Chapter 6: Circumstances influencing Sensibility
Principles of Morals and Legislation
compress themselves into epigrams. •They recoil from the
tongue and the pen of the declaimer. •They don’t flourish in
the same soil as sentiment [see Glossary]. •They grow among
thorns, and can’t be plucked (like daisies) by infants as they
run. Labour, the inevitable lot of humanity, is nowhere more
inevitable than along this path. . . . There is no easy road to
legislative science, any more than to mathematical science.
1:; The Principle of Utility
[The present version of this work aims to make its content more easily
accessible, at the cost of losing much of the colour and energy of Bentham’s writing. A good example of this trade-off starts at the ellipsis
immediately above, where Bentham wr …
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