The Concept of the Rational Being in Kant's "Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals"

Dissertation, Georgetown University (1981)

Chapter I is a summary of the general argument of the thesis. It defines the key concept of a rational being and draws the relationship of the concept of rational being to those of a person and a human being. This chapter sketches the two roles the concept of a rational being has in the Groundwork and the connection between these two roles. ;Chapter II contains an analysis of moral worth. In this chapter there is a focus on the distinction between actions performed in accordance with duty and those performed out of duty . I argue that the importance of this distinction cannot be fully appreciated without a consideration of the concept of a rational being. Specifically, arguments which support this crucial distinction are rooted in the idea that the person understood as a rational being, has a value which establishes it as an end in itself. ;This is the most exegetical of the chapters because the notion of moral worth for Kant has been so widely misunderstood. This chapter contains a specific interpretation of Kant's theory taking into account some of Kant's critics and defending his view. ;Chapter III is the central thesis concerning Kant's use of the concept of the rational being in the construction of the Categorical Imperative. I also compare Kant's theory with those of Mackie and Hare, and argue that while there are similarities in their conception of the universality of moral judgments, there are crucial differences concerning the source and justification of that universality. Kant's theory is one which can explain why moral judgments must be universal and I argue that his reasons are given in the idea of a rational being as a formal principle and as a being with unconditional worth. ;In Chapter IV I defend what has been regarded as Kant's failure to argue for his idea of human beings as ends in themselves. I argue that Kant believed that such an argument was unnecessary , but I try to make Kant's position more plausible by constructing what is the proper context for Kant's belief, namely the work of Rousseau. While it is not imperative to may thesis that Rousseau's exact influence on Kant be proved it is important to see that Kant did not argue for the value of persons. He argues for the Categorical Imperative, for its requirement of autonomy, but not specifically for the value of the rational being. This latter point he takes as, in a significant sense, obvious. ;Chapter IV closes with a brief sketch of a fruitful direction for further study in Kant's moral theory. That is, to focus on Kant's metaphysical analysis of the person and the importance such a concept has in his theory. By a "metaphysical" analysis I mean specifically an analysis of personal identity and the relationship of personal identity to the concept of a person understood in Kant's case as a rational being. While contemporary moral theory approaches the difference between, for example, deontology and utilitarianism, from the standpoint of justification, Parfit has made the important point that these theories may differ on their respective views of person and personal identity. While it is not possible in this work to support or fully investigate this claim, it is one which lends some plausibility to my thesis concerning the role I argue the concept of the rational being has. Parfit's work provides a structure for analyzing Kant's concept of a rational being further, perhaps drawing still more important links from this concept to the construction of Kant's moral theory. ;In Chapter V I present a brief synthesis of the primary ideas of this work and I make some concluding remarks.
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