Virtue, self-mastery, and the autocracy of practical reason

In Lara Denis & Oliver Sensen (eds.), Kant’s Lectures on Ethics: A Critical Guide. Cambridge University Press. pp. 223-238 (2014)


As analysis of Kant’s account of virtue in the Lectures on Ethics shows that Kant thinks of virtue as a form of moral self-mastery or self-command that represents a model of self-governance he compares to an autocracy. In light of the fact that the very concept of virtue presupposes struggle and conflict, Kant insists that virtue is distinct from holiness and that any ideal of moral perfection that overlooks the fact that morality is always difficult for us fails to provide an appropriate model of human virtue. No matter how morally good we are or become, virtue remains a disposition to do one’s duty from duty, out of necessitation by practical reason. Yet, even though finite rational beings require a power of self-constraint in accordance with the commands of duty to comply with the law (which we obey reluctantly), the virtuous agent displays a unified soul that is at peace. This picture of virtue uncovered from the Lectures on Ethics thus reveals the way in which Kant’s conception of virtue accords with his foundational commitments in his moral theory, while at the same time representing a more complex theory of moral character and a life lived in accordance with practical reason.

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Anne Margaret Baxley
Washington University in St. Louis

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Kant's Lectures on Ethics.Jens Timmermann & Michael Walschots - 2021 - In Julian Wuerth (ed.), The Cambridge Kant Lexicon. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. pp. 760-766.
The Fate of Autonomy in Kant’s Metaphysics of Morals.Stefano Bacin - 2022 - British Journal for the History of Philosophy 30 (1):90-108.

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