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THE GROUNDING OF THE METAPHYSICS OF MORALS:

AN INITIAL, QUICK OVERVIEW

 

1. Each rational being is to think for himself or herself and to exercise self-determination--not to let external authorities or emotions determine one's decisions and actions. The point is not that one is forbidden to get ideas (or projects for action) from outside one's reason, but that one must not accept such ideas (or projects) unthinkingly. Only those ideas which one's own reason has validated are consistent with our functioning as autonomous agents. Kant's essay, "What Is Enlightenment?" expands on this thought.

2. Each person is worthy of respect because of their capacity for rational, moral self-determination. The dignity of the person puts an absolute limit on what we may do.

3. The maxims on which we act must be capable of functioning as universal principles. What is a maxim? A maxim is an individual's principle for acting in a particular situation. Expressed fully, a maxim states three things: the action to be performed, the conditions under which it is appropriate to perform this action, and the motive.

4. There is an historical dimension to Kant's ethical thought that is implicit in Kant's talk about the kingdom of ends. Kant's essays, "Idea for a History with a Cosmopolitan Intent" and "Perpetual Peace," expand upon this dimension. The kingdom of ends is an advanced civilization in which everyone functions according to the moral law. Could our maxims function as principles in such a civilization?

5.  Kant articulates his philosophy of morality in contrast to several competing approaches in ethics:

·        religious ethics, which commands the individual to love God and the neighbor, or exhorts the agent to imitate a moral exemplar (e.g., Jesus of Nazareth)

·        ethics whose goal is one's own happiness (understood in terms of physical-emotional feeling)

·        ethics whose goal is happiness, understood in terms of (variable) moral feeling or intuition

·        ethics based on a concept of perfection, as an undefined concept (presupposing morality)

·        ethics based on a concept of perfection, conceived as the will of God (which must either conform to our own concepts of morality . . . or violate them).

6.  To what extent is the development of Kant's moral philosophy compatible with religious ethics?  Kant may be thought of as one who tried to put Christian ethics through a filter of reason.  Kant recognizes nothing higher than reason to which or to Whom one may appeal for guidance; any "higher inspiration" would have to justify its guidance to reason--otherwise how could we be sure that the guidance is indeed superior (or "of God")?  In the Grounding see pages 21.1 (page 21, first indented paragraph), 47.1, and 34.1 (Hackett edition).  Though we may hope for divine aid to strengthen our devotion to goodness and to restrain our radical evil (this idea comes from Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone), it is the job of reason is to "make the will good."  Kant criticizes the golden rule (37 note) and offers his own interpretation of the command to love (12.4).  Kant conceives of human nature as having just two main dimensions: (1) reason and (2) material aspects--the body and most feelings; there is no actual or potential spiritual level or "kingdom within."

 

STUDY QUESTIONS ON THE GROUNDING

Waking up the question.  The Preface.

  1. What is our ordinary concept of duty?
  2. What does it feel like to perform one's duty? Are there different kinds of case in which you would give different answers?
  3. What does it feel like to fail to perform one's duty?
  4. What is the difference between duty as defined politically or by social authorities and duty in Kant's sense?
  5. What is wrong, according to Kant, with an anthropological approach to morality?
  6. What does Kant mean by an "apriori" component in ethics?
  7. Why is "a power of judgment sharpened by experience" needed in addition to a knowledge of moral laws (p. 3)?
  8. What is the primary purpose of the Grounding (p. 5)?

First Section

  1. What, according to Kant, is the key to a good character (p. 7)?
  2. What is Kant's point in insisting that consequences do not affect the moral worth of one's action (7-8)? Would Mill disagree?
  3. What does Kant mean by "pathological" love (p. 12)?
  4. What does Kant mean by "practical" love (p. 12)?
  5. Does it make sense to command an emotional response?
  6. Can love be commanded?
  7. What is wrong, according to Kant, with thinking of morality as the pursuit of happiness?

Second Section

  1. Explain the different kinds of imperatives--rules of skill, counsels of prudence, and commands of morality.
  2. Memorize and explain the categorical imperative (in its universal-law formulation, p. 30).
  3. Explain and illustrate Kant's four types of duties.
  4. What does Kant affirm as the one end of absolute, intrinsic worth--an end-in-itself, not merely something to be used as a means?
  5. How does Kant attempt to prove that we should regard others as being ends-in-themselves?
  6. How does Kant's affirmation of human dignity square with footnote 14 on p. 14 (AK 402) and with the bottom of p. 40 (AK 435)?
  7. On what basis are persons worthy of respect?
  8. Explain how Kant applies the respect-for-persons formulation of the categorical imperative to his four types of duties.
  9. What does "autonomy" mean?
  10. What does it mean to "legislate for a kingdom of ends"?
  11. What problems with religious ethics does Kant raise (p. 47)?

Third Section

  1. What is the sense of Kant's axiom, "'Ought' implies 'can'"?
  2. Why, according to Kant, am I unable to p r o v e that I or anyone else ever acts morally?
  3. Can you prove that you are free?
  4. Why, according to Kant, am I unable to p r o v e that I am free?
  5. If we cannot prove our freedom, what should we do?
  6. What concept of human nature does Kant work with? What is to be said for and against his concept?
  7. What are the two perspectives from which actions can be regarded according to Kant?
  8. What evidence does Kant give of recognizing feelings that are not mere material emotions (recall also note 14, p. 14)?
  9. How does Kant's conclusion show "how an apriori moral principle is possible"?

 


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