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Immanuel Kant:
The Metaphysics of Morals (excerpts)

Division of the Metaphysics of Morals as a System of Duties Generally

All duties are either duties of right, that is, juridical duties (officia juris), or duties of virtue, that is, ethical duties (officia virtutis s. ethica). Juridical duties are such as may be promulgated by external legislation; ethical duties are those for which such legislation is not possible. The reason why the latter cannot be properly made the subject of external legislation is because they relate to an end or final purpose, which is itself, at the same time, embraced in these duties, and which it is a duty for the individual to have as such. But no external legislation can cause any one to adopt a particular intention, or to propose to himself a certain purpose; for this depends upon an internal condition or act of the mind itself. However, external actions conducive to such a mental condition may be commanded, without its being implied that the individual will of necessity make them an end to himself.

But why, then, it may be asked, is the science of morals, or moral philosophy, commonly entitled -- especially by Cicero -- the science of duty and not also the science of right, since duties and rights refer to each other? The reason is this. We know our own freedom -- from which all moral laws and consequently all rights as well as all duties arise -- only through the moral imperative, which is an immediate injunction of duty; whereas the conception of right as a ground of putting others under obligation has afterwards to be developed out of it.

General Preliminary Conceptions Defined and Explained

Imputation, in the moral sense, is the judgement by which anyone is declared to be the author or free cause of an action which is then regarded as his moral fact or deed, and is subjected to law. When the judgement likewise lays down the juridical consequences of the deed, it is judicial or valid (imputatio judiciaria s. valida); otherwise it would be only adjudicative or declaratory (imputatio dijudicatoria). That person -- individual or collective -- who is invested with the right to impute actions judicially, is called a judge or a court (judex s. forum).

When any one does, in conformity with duty, more than he can be compelled to do by the law, it is said to be meritorious (meritum). What is done only in exact conformity with the law, is what is due (debitum). And when less is done than can be demanded to be done by the law, the result is moral demerit (demeritum) or culpability.

The juridical effect or consequence of a culpable act of demerit is punishment (paena); that of a meritorious act is reward (praemium), assuming that this reward was promised in the law and that it formed the motive of the action. The coincidence or exact conformity of conduct to what is due has no juridical effect. Benevolent remuneration (remuneratio s. repensio benefica) has no place in juridical relations.

The good or bad consequences arising from the performance of an obligated action -- as also the consequences arising from failing to perform a meritorious action -- cannot be imputed to the agent (modus imputation is tollens). The good consequences of a meritorious action -- as also the bad consequences of a wrongful action -- may be imputed to the agent (modus imputation is poneus).

The degree of the imputability of actions is to be reckoned according to the magnitude of the hindrances or obstacles which it has been necessary for them to overcome. The greater the natural hindrances in the sphere of sense, and the less the moral hindrance of duty, so much the more is a good deed imputed as meritorious. This may be seen by considering such examples as rescuing a man who is an entire stranger from great distress, and at very considerable sacrifice. Conversely, the less the natural hindrance, and the greater the hindrance on the ground of duty, so much the more is a transgression imputable as culpable. Hence the state of mind of the agent or doer of a deed makes a difference in imputing its consequences, according as he did it in passion or performed it with coolness and deliberation.


What is Right?

This question may be said to be about as embarrassing to the jurist as the well-known question, "What is truth?" is to the logician. It is all the more so, if, on reflection, he strives to avoid tautology in his reply and recognise the fact that a reference to what holds true merely of the laws of some one country at a particular time is not a solution of the general problem thus proposed. It is quite easy to state what may be right in particular cases (quid sit juris), as being what the laws of a certain place and of a certain time say or may have said; but it is much more difficult to determine whether what they have enacted is right in itself, and to lay down a universal criterion by which right and wrong in general, and what is just and unjust, may be recognised. All this may remain entirely hidden even from the practical jurist until he abandon his empirical principles for a time and search in the pure reason for the sources of such judgements, in order to lay a real foundation for actual positive legislation. In this search, his empirical laws may, indeed, furnish him with excellent guidance; but a merely empirical system that is void of rational principles is, like the wooden head in the fable of Phaedrus, fine enough in appearance, but unfortunately it wants brain.

1. The conception of right -- as referring to a corresponding obligation which is the moral aspect of it -- in the first place, has regard only to the external and practical relation of one person to another, in so far as they can have influence upon each other, immediately or mediately, by their actions as facts.

2. In the second place, the conception of right does not indicate the relation of the action of an individual to the wish or the mere desire of another, as in acts of benevolence or of unkindness, but only the relation of his free action to the freedom of action of the other.

3. And, in the third place, in this reciprocal relation of voluntary actions, the conception of right does not take into consideration the matter of the matter of the act of will in so far as the end which any one may have in view in willing it is concerned. In other words, it is not asked in a question of right whether any one on buying goods for his own business realizes a profit by the transaction or not; but only the form of the transaction is taken into account, in considering the relation of the mutual acts of will. Acts of will or voluntary choice are thus regarded only in so far as they are free, and as to whether the action of one can harmonize with the freedom of another, according to a universal law.

Right, therefore, comprehends the whole of the conditions under which the voluntary actions of any one person can be harmonized in reality with the voluntary actions of every other person, according to a universal law of freedom.

Universal Principle of Right

"Every action is right which in itself, or in the maxim on which it proceeds, is such that it can coexist along with the freedom of the will of each and all in action, according to a universal law."

If, then, my action or my condition generally can coexist with the freedom of every other, according to a universal law, any one does me a wrong who hinders me in the performance of this action, or in the maintenance of this condition. For such a hindrance or obstruction cannot coexist with freedom according to universal laws.

It follows also that it cannot be demanded as a matter of right, that this universal principle of all maxims shall itself be adopted as my maxim, that is, that I shall make it the maxim of my actions. For any one may be free, although his freedom is entirely indifferent to me, or even if I wished in my heart to infringe it, so long as I do not actually violate that freedom by my external action. Ethics, however, as distinguished from jurisprudence, imposes upon me the obligation to make the fulfillment of right a maxim of my conduct.

The universal law of right may then be expressed thus: "Act externally in such a manner that the free exercise of thy will may be able to coexist with the freedom of all others, according to a universal law." This is undoubtedly a law which imposes obligation upon me; but it does not at all imply and still less command that I ought, merely on account of this obligation, to limit my freedom to these very conditions. Reason in this connection says only that it is restricted thus far by its idea, and may be likewise thus limited in fact by others; and it lays this down as a postulate which is not capable of further proof. As the object in view is not to teach virtue, but to explain what right is, thus far the law of right, as thus laid down, may not and should not be represented as a motive-principle of action.

Right is Conjoined With the Title or Authority to Compel

The resistance which is opposed to any hindrance of an effect is in reality a furtherance of this effect and is in accordance with its accomplishment. Now, everything that is wrong is a hindrance of freedom, according to universal laws; and compulsion or constraint of any kind is a hindrance or resistance made to freedom. Consequently, if a certain exercise of freedom is itself a hindrance of the freedom that is according to universal laws, it is wrong; and the compulsion of constraint which is opposed to it is right, as being a hindering of a hindrance of freedom, and as being in accord with the freedom which exists in accordance with universal laws. Hence, according to the logical principle of contradiction, all right is accompanied with an implied title or warrant to bring compulsion to bear on any one who may violate it in fact.

Strict Right May Be Also Represented as the Possibility
of a Universal Reciprocal Compulsion in Harmony with
the Freedom of All According to Universal Laws

This proposition means the right is not to be regarded as composed of two different elements -- obligation according to a law, and a title on the part of one who has bound another by his own free choice to compel him to perform. But it imports that the conception of right may be viewed as consisting immediately in the possibility of a universal reciprocal compulsion, in harmony with the freedom of all. As right in general has for its object only what is external in actions, strict right, as that with which nothing ethical is intermingled, requires no other motives of action than those that are merely external; for it is then pure right and is unmixed with any prescriptions of virtue. A strict right, then, in the exact sense of the term, is that which alone can be called wholly external. Now such right is founded, no doubt, upon the consciousness of the obligation of every individual according to the law; but if it is to be pure as such, it neither may nor should refer to this consciousness as a motive by which to determine the free act of the will. For this purpose, however, it founds upon the principle of the possibility of an external compulsion, such as may coexist with the freedom of every one according to universal laws. Accordingly, then, where it is said that a creditor has a right to demand from a debtor the payment of his debt, this does not mean merely that he can bring him to feel in his mind that reason obliges him to do this; but it means that he can apply an external compulsion to force any such one so to pay, and that this compulsion is quite consistent with the freedom of all, including the parties in question, according to a universal law. Right and the title to compel, thus indicate the same thing.

There is Only One Innate Right: The Birthright of Freedom

Freedom is independence of the compulsory will of another; and in so far as it can coexist with the freedom of all according to a universal law, it is the one sole original, inborn right belonging to every man in virtue of his humanity. There is, indeed, an innate equality belonging to every man which consists in his right to be independent of being bound by others to anything more than that to which he may also reciprocally bind them. It is, consequently, the inborn quality of every man in virtue of which he ought to be his own master by right (sui juris). There is, also, the natural quality of justness attributable to a man as naturally of unimpeachable right (justi), because be has done no wrong to any one prior to his own juridical actions. And, further, there is also the innate right of common action on the part of every man, so that he may do towards others what does not infringe their rights or take away anything that is theirs unless they are willing to appropriate it; such merely to communicate thought, to narrate anything, or to promise something whether truly and honestly, or untruly and dishonestly (veriloquim aut falsiloquim), for it rests entirely upon these others whether they will believe or trust in it or not. But all these rights or titles are already included in the principle of innate freedom, and are not really distinguished from it, even as dividing members under a higher species of right.


Of the Reason for Conceiving an End Which Is Also a Duty

An end is an object of the free elective will, the idea of which determines this will to an action by which the object is produced. Accordingly every action has its end, and as no one can have an end without himself making the object of his elective will his end, hence to have some end of actions is an act of the freedom of the agent, not an affect of physical nature. Now, since this act which determines an end is a practical principle which commands not the means (therefore not conditionally) but the end itself (therefore unconditionally), hence it is a categorical imperative of pure practical reason and one, therefore, which combines a concept of duty with that of an end in general.

Now there must be such an end and a categorical imperative corresponding to it. For since there are free actions, there must also be ends to which as an object those actions are directed. Amongst these ends there must also be some which are at the same time (that is, by their very notion) duties. For if there were none such, then since no actions can be without an end, all ends which practical reason might have would be valid only as means to other ends, and a categorical imperative would be impossible; a supposition which destroys all moral philosophy.

Here, therefore, we treat not of ends which man actually makes to himself in accordance with the sensible impulses of his nature, but of objects of the free elective will under its own laws -- objects which he ought to make his end. We may call the former technical (subjective), properly pragmatical, including the rules of prudence in the choice of its ends; but the latter we must call the moral (objective) doctrine of ends. This distinction is, however, superfluous here, since moral philosophy already by its very notion is clearly separated from the doctrine of physical nature (in the present instance, anthropology). The latter resting on empirical principles, whereas the moral doctrine of ends which treats of duties rests on principles given a priori in pure practical reason.

What Are the Ends Which Are Also Duties?

They are:
A. Our Own Perfection
B. The Happiness of Others

We cannot invert these and make on one side our own happiness, and on the other the perfection of others, ends which should be in themselves duties for the same person.

For one's own happiness is, no doubt, an end that all men have (by virtue of the impulse of their nature), but this end cannot without contradiction be regarded as a duty. What a man of himself inevitably wills does not come under the notion of duty, for this is a constraint to an end reluctantly adopted. It is, therefore, a contradiction to say that a man is in duty bound to advance his own happiness with all his power.

It is likewise a contradiction to make the perfection of another my end, and to regard myself as in duty bound to promote it. For it is just in this that the perfection of another man as a person consists, namely, that he is able of himself to set before him his own end according to his own notions of duty; and it is a contradiction to require (to make it a duty for me) that I should do something which no other but himself can do.

Explanation of These Two Notions

A. Our Own Perfection

The word perfection is liable to many misconceptions. It is sometimes understood as a notion belonging to transcendental philosophy; viz., the notion of the totality of the manifold which taken together constitutes a thing; sometimes, again, it is understood as belonging to teleology, so that it signifies the correspondence of the properties of a thing to an end. Perfection in the former sense might be called quantitative (material), in the latter qualitative (formal) perfection. The former can be one only, for the whole of what belongs to the one thing is one. But of the latter there may be several in one thing; and it is of the latter property that we here treat.

When it is said of the perfection that belongs to man generally (properly speaking, to humanity), that it is in itself a duty to make this our end, it must be placed in that which may be the effect of one's deed, not in that which is merely an endowment for which we have to thank nature; for otherwise it would not be duty. Consequently, it can be nothing else than the cultivation of one's power (or natural capacity) and also of one's will (moral disposition) to satisfy the requirement of duty in general. The supreme element in the former (the power) is the understanding, it being the faculty of concepts, and, therefore, also of those concepts which refer to duty. First it is his duty to labour to raise himself out of the rudeness of his nature, out of his animal nature more and more to humanity, by which alone he is capable of setting before him ends to supply the defects of his ignorance by instruction, and to correct his errors; he is not merely counselled to do this by reason as technically practical, with a view to his purposes of other kinds (as art), but reason, as morally practical, absolutely commands him to do it, and makes this end his duty, in order that he may be worthy of the humanity that dwells in him. Secondly, to carry the cultivation of his will up to the purest virtuous disposition, that, namely, in which the law is also the spring of his dutiful actions, and to obey it from duty, for this is internal morally practical perfection. This is called the moral sense (as it were a special sense, sensus moralis), because it is a feeling of the effect which the legislative will within himself exercises on the faculty of acting accordingly. This is, indeed, often misused fanatically, as though (like the genius of Socrates) it preceded reason, or even could dispense with judgement of reason; but still it is a moral perfection, making every special end, which is also a duty, one's own end.

B. The Happiness of Others

It is inevitable for human nature that a man should wish and seek for happiness, that is, satisfaction with his condition, with certainty of the continuance of this satisfaction. But for this very reason it is not an end that is also a duty. Some writers still make a distinction between moral and physical happiness (the former consisting in satisfaction with one's person and moral behaviour, that is, with what one does; the other in satisfaction with that which nature confers, consequently with what one enjoys as a foreign gift). Without at present censuring the misuse of the word (which even involves a contradiction), it must be observed that the feeling of the former belongs solely to the preceding head, namely, perfection. For he who is to feel himself happy in the mere consciousness of his uprightness already possesses that perfection which in the previous section was defined as that end which is also duty.

If happiness, then, is in question, which it is to be my duty to promote as my end, it must be the happiness of other men whose (permitted) end I hereby make also mine. It still remains left to themselves to decide what they shall reckon as belonging to their happiness; only that it is in my power to decline many things which they so reckon, but which I do not so regard, supposing that they have no right to demand it from me as their own. A plausible objection often advanced against the division of duties above adopted consists in setting over against that end a supposed obligation to study my own (physical) happiness, and thus making this, which is my natural and merely subjective end, my duty (and objective end). This requires to be cleared up.

Adversity, pain, and want are great temptations to transgression of one's duty; accordingly it would seem that strength, health, a competence, and welfare generally, which are opposed to that influence, may also be regarded as ends that are also duties; that is, that it is a duty to promote our own happiness not merely to make that of others our end. But in that case the end is not happiness but the morality of the agent; and happiness is only the means of removing the hindrances to morality; permitted means, since no one bas a right to demand from me the sacrifice of my not immoral ends. It is not directly a duty to seek a competence for one's self; but indirectly it may be so; namely, in order to guard against poverty which is a great temptation to vice. But then it is not my happiness but my morality, to maintain which in its integrity is at once my end and my duty.

Exposition of the Duties of Virtue as Intermediate Duties

(1) Our Own Perfection As an End Which Is Also a Duty

(a) Physical perfection; that is, cultivation of all our faculties generally for the promotion of the ends set before us by reason. That this is a duty, and therefore an end in itself, and that the effort to effect this even without regard to the advantage that it secures us, is based, not on a conditional (pragmatic), but an unconditional (moral) imperative, may be seen from the following consideration. The power of proposing to ourselves an end is the characteristic of humanity (as distinguished from the brutes). With the end of humanity in our own person is therefore combined the rational will, and consequently the duty of deserving well of humanity by culture generally, by acquiring or advancing the power to carry out all sorts of possible ends, so far as this power is to be found in man; that is, it is a duty to cultivate the crude capacities of our nature, since it is by that cultivation that the animal is raised to man, therefore it is a duty in itself.

This duty, however, is merely ethical, that is, of indeterminate obligation. No principle of reason prescribes how far one must go in this effort (in enlarging or correcting his faculty of understanding, that is, in acquisition of knowledge or technical capacity); and besides the difference in the circumstances into which men may come makes the choice of the kind of employment for which he should cultivate his talent very arbitrary. Here, therefore, there is no law of reason for actions, but only for the maxim of actions, viz.: "Cultivate thy faculties of mind and body so as to be effective for all ends that may come in thy way, uncertain which of them may become thy own."

(b) Cultivation of morality in ourselves. The greatest moral perfection of man is to do his duty, and that from duty (that the law be not only the rule but also the spring of his actions). Now at first sight this seems to be a strict obligation, and as if the principle of duty commanded not merely the legality of every action, but also the morality, i.e., the mental disposition, with the exactness and strictness of a law; but in fact the law commands even here only the maxim of the action, namely, that we should seek the ground of obligation, not in the sensible impulses (advantage or disadvantage), but wholly in the law; so that the action itself is not commanded. For it is not possible to man to see so far into the depth of his own heart that he could ever be thoroughly certain of the purity of his moral purpose and the sincerity of his mind even in one single action, although he has no doubt about the legality of it. Nay, often the weakness which deters a man from the risk of a crime is regarded by him as virtue (which gives the notion of strength). And how many there are who may have led a long blameless life, who are only fortunate in having escaped so many temptations. How much of the element of pure morality in their mental disposition may have belonged to each deed remains hidden even from themselves.

Accordingly, this duty to estimate the worth of one's actions not merely by their legality, but also by their morality (mental disposition), is only of indeterminate obligation; the law does not command this internal action in the human mind itself, but only the maxim of the action, namely, that we should strive with all our power that for all dutiful actions the thought of duty should be of itself an adequate spring.

(2) The Happiness of Others As an End Which is Also a Duty

(a) Physical welfare. Benevolent wishes may be unlimited, for they do not imply doing anything. But the case is more difficult with benevolent action, especially when this is to be done, not from friendly inclination (love) to others, but from duty, at the expense of the sacrifice and mortification of many of our appetites. That this beneficence is a duty results from this: that since our self-love cannot be separated from the need to be loved by others (to obtain help from them in case of necessity), we therefore make ourselves an end for others; and this maxim can never be obligatory except by having the specific character of a universal law, and consequently by means of a will that we should also make others our ends. Hence the happiness of others is an end that is also a duty.

I am only bound then to sacrifice to others a part of my welfare without hope of recompense: because it is my duty, and it is impossible to assign definite limits how far that may go. Much depends on what would be the true want of each according to his own feelings, and it must be left to each to determine this for himself. For that one should sacrifice his own happiness, his true wants, in order to promote that of others, would be a self-contradictory maxim if made a universal law. This duty, therefore, is only indeterminate; it has a certain latitude within which one may do more or less without our being able to assign its limits definitely. The law holds only for the maxims, not for definite actions.

(b) Moral well-being of others (salus moralis) also belongs to the happiness of others, which it is our duty to promote, but only a negative duty. The pain that a man feels from remorse of conscience, although its origin is moral, is yet in its operation physical, like grief, fear, and every other diseased condition. To take care that he should not be deservedly smitten by this inward reproach is not indeed my duty but his business; nevertheless, it is my duty to do nothing which by the nature of man might seduce him to that for which his conscience may hereafter torment him, that is, it is my duty not to give him occasion of stumbling. But there are no definite limits within which this care for the moral satisfaction of others must be kept; therefore it involves only an indeterminate obligation.

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