Natural teleology and Kant’s duties to oneself as an animal being

Dissertation, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign (2020)
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Abstract

In the "Metaphysics of Morals," Kant appears to claim that there is a category of duties to oneself, known as the duties to oneself as animal beings, that is based in the natural teleology of the natural appetites. Commentators, rightly puzzled by these claims, have said that any appeal to natural teleology would be inconsistent with Kant’s account of the ground of the moral law, and also with Kant’s understanding of human beings as autonomous. As such, the duties to oneself as an animal being are typically given some sort of non-teleological explanation. I claim that such an explanation leads to conceptual and interpretive difficulties. In this dissertation I defend a teleological account of the duties to oneself as an animal being. I begin by explaining the duties to oneself as an animal being in the context of Kant’s moral psychology and his account of human nature. The duties to oneself as an animal being are properly understood as limiting one’s actions only in cases where one acts to satisfy a natural appetite. Kant’s understanding of natural appetite satisfaction, moreover, is teleological from the outset. The feeling of pleasure and displeasure, according to Kant, just is an awareness of some condition as agreeing or disagreeing with one’s life. Because natural appetite satisfaction is teleological from the beginning, Kant’s appeal to natural teleology in the account of the duties to oneself as an animal being does not involve the introduction of some external or heteronomous commitment.

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