Natural motives and the motive of duty: Hume and Kant on our duties to others

In this paper I argue that the ground of this disagreement is different than philosophers have traditionally supposed. On the surface, the disagreement appears to be a matter of substantive moral judgment: Hume admires the sort of person who rushes to the aid of another from motives of sympathy or humanity, while Kant thinks that a person who helps with the thought that it is his duty is the better character. While a moral disagreement of this kind certainly follows from their views, I will argue that the source of the disagreement lies elsewhere, namely in their different conceptions of action and motivation. This difference leads in turn to a surprisingly deep difference in their conception of our relation to other people, and of what it means to interact with other people. It is his conception of human interaction that leads Hume to think that benevolence is natural while there is something artificial about our motives to act justly and to keep our promises. For Kant, on the other hand, no form of adult human motivation is “natural” in Hume’s sense – all adult human motivation involves the agent’s use of nonnatural concepts such as law or reason. But Kant’s theory of interaction grounds another sense in which it is just as “natural” to be motivated to keep our promises and agreements as it is to be motivated to help each other out when we are in need.
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