On the value of acting from the motive of duty

Philosophical Review 90 (3):359-382 (1981)
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Abstract

Richard Henson attempts to take the sting out of this view of Kant on moral worth by arguing (i) that attending to the phenomenon of the overdetermination of actions leads one to see that Kant might have had two distinct views of moral worth, only one of which requires the absence of cooperating inclinations, and (ii) that when Kant insists that there is moral worth only when an action is done from the motive of duty alone, he need not also hold that such a state of affairs is morally better, all things considered, than one where supporting inclination is present. Henson's proposals seem to me both serious and plausible. I do not think that either of his models, in the end, can take on the role Kant assigns to moral worth in the argument of the Groundwork. But seeing the ways Henson's account diverges from Kant's makes clearer what Kant intended in his discussion of those actions he credits with moral worth. [...] An action has moral worth if it is required by duty and has as its primary motive the motive of duty. The motive of duty need not reflect the only interest the agent has in the action (or its effect); it must, however, be the interest that determines the agent's acting as he did.

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Barbara Herman
University of California, Los Angeles

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