Sunday, April 21, 2013


**This is from guest blogger, Kelsen.**

Kant will reject Consequentialism as the means to moral goodness and promote his ideas about good will. In this process there are many steps and one point of focus can be on his definition and implications of duty. We will go from there.

Kant defines the concepts of duty and in conformity with duty as separate things. Both of these will be actions that arise despite no immediate inclination and yet one will do the action anyway because of another inclination. This is the easy case to see that it comes from duty. The less easy case is where there is an inclination but the action is still done from duty. In his example with a shopkeeper, the shopkeeper will charge everyone the same even if he sees that it is a child who won't know the right price. He does this either out of honesty or out of self interest in being able to sell to anyone. They trust that the prices are fair and so it is also in his self interest to keep a fixed price for all customers. He argues however that preserving one's life is from duty due to an immediate inclination to do so. "But on this account the often anxious care that most people take care of it still has no inner worth and their maxim has no moral content." (527, Ethical Theory). This is a case of in conformity with duty and not from duty. The main purpose of looking after their lives is not because of the duty but because they want to keep on living. So contrary, if a person is considering death and decides to live without wanting to because of his duty to preserve his life; this is from duty. Kant continues and argues that a person who is from inclination of duty has less moral content than a man acting from duty alone. He says that an act that is an inclination of duty is honorable and praiseworthy but it has no moral content as the morality was never tested.

Kant argues that there is an indirect duty to happiness and that happiness can sum up many but not all of the inclinations a person can have. The rest of the argument follows from here and will not be discussed in this blog post. The groundwork for determining how happiness plays a role starts with clear definitions of duty and inclination. 

I don't particularly have any qualms with his definitions or explanations but it doesn't seem so clear that a person can't act from duty when there are other inclinations motivating him. The primary cause of any action seems relevant and not the appearance of particular components.

Here is an example which I think will provide a good foundation for discussion:

Consider a jar full of colored balls, we can place balls into other jars which will break when a specific color is placed in them or when too many total balls are loaded. So if we are loading the jar that breaks from a blue ball with red ones and finally place a blue ball in it, we have two options. Either the jar reached maximum capacity and then broke, or the blue ball broke it. If this ball was red and wouldn't have broken the jar, the property that is important would have been the blueness of the ball and not the number of balls. If the ball had been red and the jar would still have broken however, we have two causes for the jar breaking. The primary cause however is the number of balls. No matter which color was placed in the jar it would have broken. So, the property that matters is that is was a ball no matter the color. The blueness is irrelevant in this case although on it's own also would have been good enough to cause the action. 

I can come up with two interpretations:
(1) the property of being blue is relevant when it is the only cause and so duty is only relevant when it is the only cause.
(2) the property of being blue is only one of the properties and can be the primary cause so the number of balls in the jar before the blue one is placed is irrelevant because the blue ball would do it no matter how many balls. So, even if the inclinations were a big consideration, a slight consideration, or no consideration at all, the duty to do an action was trumping all of that.
I want to agree with (2) but (1) is the simple, more compelling answer based on the examples above. What do you think?

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