Duty and Morality


Selections from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

Duty and Morality

This selection is only the first section of Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals. I am only going to discuss duty and morality. Kant gives three propositions regarding duty (p.107). Kant argues that the will that acts from reason is the will guided by duty.

The first proposition is helps us distinguish which actions have moral worth by differentiating acts that are motivated because of duty and acts that are not. Kant shows the differences using a few examples, the first is a salesman who does not overcharge a customer even if he knows they are inexperienced, but the salesman’s reasoning behind this is that he doesn’t want to tarnish his reputation if he were to get caught overcharging an inexperienced customer. Kant says this is not because of morals, because the salesman was not motivated by duty to treat the customer fairly.

The second proposition is “an action done from duty has its moral worth, not in the purpose that is to be attained by it, but in the maxim according to which the action is determined.”(p.107). This meaning that an action is morally good if the motivating forces behind the decision to make that action are good.

The third proposition is a combination of the first two, stated, as “Duty is the necessity of an action done out of respect for the law.”(p.107). Kant thinks you must respect the law. The law is the only thing “which can determine the will except objectively the law.”(p.108).  So because the law can be objective, even if you are inclined to break it, you should not.

Duty and reason often conflict for an individual. An example that Kant uses is lying. When you lie, you expect that other people will believe your lie, you believe this because the universal law is that you should be truthful. In this situation you have expected that the universal law you should live by is to be truthful, but you have also decided that you are going to allow yourself to make an exception to this universal law and lie. Kant describes the universal law as the categorical imperative. The categorical imperative is the law by which you should live by to be morally good, but you can also choose not to follow that law.

Kant, Immanuel. “Selections from Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals.” Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals (1993): 104-112. Blackboard. Web. 12 Oct. 2014.