• Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

What does Kant mean when he says that an action has moral worth only if it is done 'from the motive of duty'? Is he right?

Extracts from this document...


What does Kant mean when he says that an action has moral worth only if it is done 'from the motive of duty'? Is he right? A person's actions are right or wrong, a person is morally worthy or lacks moral worth (i.e., is morally base). A person's actions determine her moral worth, but there is more to this than merely seeing if the actions are right or wrong. All the things we do can be divided into those things which are voluntary actions, and those that are mere behaviour (e.g., knee jerk reflexes). Of course there is no moral worth based on mere behaviours. All voluntary actions can be divided into those that are contrary to duty and those which are not contrary to duty. Kant claims that this distinction is based on the categorical imperative. Clearly, no moral worth is attained by doing actions that are contrary to duty. All those action that are not contrary to duty can be divided again into those action which are required by duty and those actions which are not required by duty. Actions that are required by duty are things like keeping promises, paying debts, and other things that we commonly consider to be our duties. ...read more.


Kant would argue that based on these actions both drunks are equally bad, and the fact that one person got lucky does not make them any better than the other drunk. After all, they both made the same choices, and nothing within either one's control had anything to do with the difference in their actions. The same reasoning applies to people who act for the right reasons. If both people act for the right reasons, then both are morally worthy, even if the actions of one of them happen to lead to bad consequences by bad luck. There is a further intuitive appeal of this theory, it has the advantage that a person is totally in control of whether they are a good person. A person does not have to be in a position of power and be able to bring about good consequences in order to be a good person, all that they need to do is to act for the right reasons. This makes Kant's theory fairly egalitarian. It also explains how people with greatly differing moral opinions can still have respect for each other as people. It is not just selfishness that is ruled out by Kant's theory, but any motive at all other than morality. ...read more.


There is also a tendency to think that Kant says it is always wrong to do something that just causes your own happiness, like buying an ice cream cone. This also I believe to be false. Kant thinks that you ought to do things to make yourself happy as long as you make sure that they are not immoral (i.e., contrary to duty), and that you would refrain from doing them if they were immoral. Getting ice cream is not immoral, and so you can go ahead and do it. Doing it will not make you a morally worthy person, but it won't make you a bad person either. Many actions that are permissible but not required by duty are neutral in this way. Therefore according to Kant a good person is someone who always does their duty because it is their duty. It is fine if they enjoy doing it, but it must be the case that they would do it even if they did not enjoy it. It seems to me that Kants argument is strong and that he is correct in the idea that moral worth only comes from the sense of duty. Alex O'Cinneide 27th March 2004 PH416 ...read more.

The above preview is unformatted text

This student written piece of work is one of many that can be found in our University Degree Religion in Society section.

Found what you're looking for?

  • Start learning 29% faster today
  • 150,000+ documents available
  • Just £6.99 a month

Not the one? Search for your essay title...
  • Join over 1.2 million students every month
  • Accelerate your learning by 29%
  • Unlimited access from just £6.99 per month

See related essaysSee related essays

Related University Degree Religion in Society essays

  1. Explain why it is central to Kant's moral philosophy that we treat people, including ...

    It states that rational beings should act only in ways that respect 'others capacities to act' and therefore 'leave them able to act on the maxims we ourselves adopt' (3). Kant is not saying here that we should never treat people as means to our own ends, but that we should not do so exclusively.

  2. What does it mean to say that moral judgements are subjective? Is the claim ...

    why there are so many stray dogs in countries such as Thailand. Even in The West, some people after encountering his teachings have radically changed their way of life by devoting their life to mastering their mind so that they to can witness these truths themselves.

  1. To what extent are individual soldiers morally responsible for the protection of civilians during ...

    However, even if we do not accept the basis of Derrida's argument, I would assert that his conclusion is correct. All people are morally equivalent, not necessarily because they are all equally 'other' to us but because a moral theory should not differentiate between people based on arbitrary characteristics such as their race or nationality.

  2. Philosophy - Kant's Universal Law Formation of the Categorical Imperative.

    First, it is clear that the widow expects to know the truth. A lie would only serve to spare her feelings if she believed it to be the truth. Therefore, even people who would consider lying to her, must concede that the correct and expected action is to tell the truth.

  1. Comparison of the Moral Status of Fetus's and Animals.

    that all born humans have the same moral status (both type and magnitude), or we consider them to anyway. So anything that differs among born humans, such as intelligence, obligation, responsibility, capacity, superiority, etc. cannot be used to compare the moral status of fetus's and animals.

  2. The term moral panic is a popular expression yet it has been widely misused.

    This case was related to the violent film "Child's Play 3", which the offenders had previously watched.16 It is clear that this deviant act committed by fellow children dominated newspaper headlines and created a panic and outrage. The murder was portrayed by the media as a horrific act, which symbolised

  1. "What Is A 'Moral Panic'? What Does This Tell Us About Crime And Criminality? ...

    (Ives, n.d.). Before looking more closely at three further incidences of moral panics, it could be considered important to look at the way in which moral panics can be broken down into five elements, which define it: concern, hostility, consensus, disproportionality and volatility (Goode and Ben-Yehuda 1994, p.33-40).

  2. Can we Predict Moral Behaviour? It is Kohlberg's stage theory of moral development which ...

    As a general hypothesis, Kohlberg predicts that moral behaviour is more consistent, predictable and responsible at the higher stages (Kohlberg et al, 1975, as cited by Crain). The stages themselves employ more stable and general standards. Kohlberg never said that there should be a one-to-one correspondence between moral reasoning and

  • Over 160,000 pieces
    of student written work
  • Annotated by
    experienced teachers
  • Ideas and feedback to
    improve your own work