The availability of motives

Two celebrated passages in Kant center on a problem that is sometimes called the ‘availability’ of motives. One concerns the naturally sympathetic man whose mind becomes “overclouded by sorrows of his own which extinguish all sympathy with the fate of others”. Kant argues that even in this state, when he has no “inclination” to help others, he can do so, since he can act “for the sake of duty alone”.1 The other passage states that the commandment to love our neighbor cannot mean that we must act from “pathological love”, that is, an emotion or feeling of love. Feeling is not under our control. We can, however, perform acts of “practical love”, that is, acts of assistance, and these acts we can perform from the motive of duty.2 One way to combine the conclusions of these two arguments is to say that for Kant the motive of duty is always ‘available’, but motives like sympathy and “pathological love” are not. One question that arises here is whether Kant drew a mistaken conclusion from the second argument. W.D. Ross seemed to think so, because he takes the argument to be completely general.3 That is, he takes Kant to have proved that no motive, including the sense of duty, is always available. Ross’ focus was on obligation-making motives. He took his view about the availability of motives, along with the principle that ‘ought’ implies ‘can’, to entail PR.
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