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  • Print publication year: 2010
  • Online publication date: December 2010

4 - The moral psychology of Kantian virtue

Summary

In his theory of virtue, Kant emphasizes the fact that finite rational beings with sensibility are affected by principles of practical reason, and he explicitly includes feelings, desires, and interests that are shaped by reason as important ingredients in virtue. Kant identifies moral feeling, conscience, love for humanity, and self-respect as “moral endowments” that lie at the very basis of morality, as subjective conditions of moral agency that make us receptive to moral obligations (MS 6: 399; 528). In addition, he contends that love and respect are duties that we are enjoined to adopt, and portrays love and respect as morally valuable feelings that facilitate our ability to fulfill our duties of virtue. Furthermore, Kant insists that sympathy is a feeling implanted in us by nature that enables us to do what the mere thought of duty alone may not be able to accomplish (MS 6: 456–7; 574–5). Sympathy is important for virtue, because sympathy makes us sensitive to the joy and pain of others, and thereby provides us with the moral insight and knowledge we need in order to alleviate the suffering of our fellow human beings and promote their happiness. If these claims were not sufficient to indicate that the moral psychology at the heart of Kant's considered account of moral character marks a significant development in his ethics, we should note that the temperament of Kantian virtue is not sullen and morose, for, as Kant describes her, the genuinely virtuous person desires to act as reason dictates and takes satisfaction and pleasure in virtuous activity.

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