Kant on Happiness in the Moral Life

This paper is a study of the role of happiness in Kant’s theory. I begin by noting two recurrent characterizations of happiness by Kant, and discuss their relationship. Then I take up the general issue of the relation of happiness to moral virtue. I show that, for Kant, the antagonists are not morality and happiness, but the moral point of view and “self-conceit”, the inveterate tendency to elevate the concern for contentment or satisfaction of inclination to the status of a supreme principle. Indeed, I try to show that there are deep positive connections between happiness and moral virtue because of the distinctive content of the moral life and of the indeterminacy of happiness. The capacity to unite one’s ends into a “system” in accordance with reason requires the moral point of view. Not only is morality not imprudent, but by itself prudence alone gives no definite principle of organization.The second issue I investigate is Kant’s theory of the non-moral or cond itional good. Since the Highest (complete) Good for Kant consists of perfect virtue and happiness, it follows that all non-moral goods have value only because they are components or conditions of happiness. This is a strong and dubious position. Given Kant’s account(s) of happiness, it entails that nothing that fails to affect contentment or the satisfaction of inclination has non-moral value. This denies the possibility of non-moral ideas of excel ence that could compete with both morality and happiness for human allegiance. Consequently, although Kant is often thought to give too little importance to happiness in human life, arguably he accords it too much value.
Keywords Contemporary Philosophy  History of Philosophy
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ISBN(s) 0164-0771
DOI 10.5840/pra1983919
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