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Compassion and Moral Worth*

  • Sharon E. Sytsma (a1)


Mon projet est de montrer qu'une meilleure compréhension de la position de Kant sur la valeur morale et sur le rôle de la compassion révèle que les objections soulevées par les théoriciens contemporains de la psychologie morale et par les féministes ne sont pas fondées, et que la position de Kant sur ces questions n'est pas du tout contre-intuitive. D'autres on dej´ soutenu que Kant accorde un rôle important á la compassion et que sa présence, pour lui, ne diminue pas la valeur morale des actions, mais je soutiens, plus positivement, que la présence de la compassion, pour Kant, est la marque d'une personne qui a progressé vers I'idéal, inaccessible et pourtant nécessaire, de la vertu morale et que la personne idéale de Kant est quelqu'un qui agit par devoir et qui a développé un sens aigu de la compassion.



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1 Schopenhauer, Arthur, On the Basis of Morality, translated by Payne, E. F. J. (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), p. 65, and The Worldas Will and Representation, translated by Payne, E. F. J. (New York: Dover Publications, 1969), Vol. 1, p. 527.

2 See Prior, William, “Compassion: A Critique of Moral Rationalism,” Philosophy and Theology, 2 (Winter 1989): 180; Sabini, John and Silver, Maury, “Emotions, Responsibility and Character,” in Responsibility, Character and the Emotions: New Essays in Moral Psychology, edited by Schoeman, Ferdinand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987), p. 169; and Blum, Lawrence A., Friendship, Altruism and Morality (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1980), p. 84.

3 See Tong, Rosemary, Feminine and Feminist Ethics (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing, 1993), p. 22; Sedgwick, Sally, “Can Kant's Ethics Survive the Feminist Critique?Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, 71 (1990): 72; and Dillon, Robin S., “Respect and Care: Toward Moral Integration,” Canadian Journal of Philosophy, 22, 1 (March 1992): 105–32.

4 Kant, Immanuel, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, translated by Abbott, Thomas K. (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1949) (Ak.4:403–405, Abbott translation, p. 20; hereinafter FP in text).

5 See Herman, Barbara, “On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty,” in The Practice of Moral Judgment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1993), pp. 122. This chapter is a revision of her article by the same name published inThe Philosophical Review, 40, 3 (July 1981): 359–82. See also Henson, Richard, “What Kant Might Have Said: Moral Worth and the Overdetermination of Dutiful Action,” The Philosophical Review, 88, 1 (January 1979): 3954, and Mendus, Susan, “The Practical and the Pathological,” The Journal of Value Inquiry, 19 (1985): 235–43.

6 FP (Ak.4:390, Abbott translation, p. 6); Critique of Practical Reason, translated by Beck, Lewis White (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956) (Ak.5:71, Beck translation, p. 74; hereinafter CPrR in text), and Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, translated by Greene, Theodore M. and Hudson, Hoyt H. (New York: Harper & Row, 1960) (Ak.6:30, Green and Hudson translation, pp. 25–26; hereinafter R in text.).

7 See Reath, Andrews, “Kant's Theory of Moral Sensibility: Respect for the Moral Law and the Influence of Inclination,” Kantstudien, 80 (1989): 284302.

8 Richard Henson identifies Broad, Sidgwick, and Ross as commentators who have equated moral worth with moral correctness. See his “What Kant Might Have Said,” p. 39, n.1.

9 Herman, “On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty,” p. 6.

10 For an excellent account of the relation between moral worth and maxims, rather than intentions, see O'Neill, Onora, Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant's Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), pp. 83, 130, 150–52.

11 Henson, “What Kant Might Have Said,” p. 48.

12 Ibid., pp. 50–54.

13 Herman, “On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty,” p. 3.

14 Barbara Herman gives compelling arguments against the “battle-citation” model (“On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty”).

15 CPrR (Ak.5:154; Beck translation, p. 157); MM (Ak.6:447, Gregor translation, p. 241); RR (Ak. 6:29, Greene and Hudson translation, p. 25).

16 Influences can cooperate in different ways. In this example, influences operate in the sense that each by itself is insufficient to bring about the action, but together are sufficient.

17 Beneficence is an imperfect duty, and so it might be objected that beneficence is never required. However, Kant claims that it is morally required to adopt a maxim for beneficence, and some situations are such that omission of kindness indicates the failure to adopt the maxim.

18 Herman, “On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty,” p. 12.

19 Sabini and Silver, “Emotions, Responsibility and Character,” p. 166.

20 See Mendus, “The Practical and the Pathological,” for a rebuttal of this view.

21 Kant, Immanuel, Lectures on Ethics, translated by Infield, Louis (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1983), pp. 198, 237; hereinafter LE in text.

22 Susan Mendus refers to a similar passage in the Lectures on Ethics and calls them part of his “later” moral writings (p. 239). However, these lectures were given in the late 1770s while he was working on the first Critique. While Mendus recognizes that Kant understood that emotions can be cultivated and that certain emotions are serviceable to morality, she does not explicitly state, as I do, that the presence of these emotions contributes to moral worth.

23 Kant states there: “If someone practices [beneficence] often and succeeds in realizing his beneficent intention, he eventually comes actually to love the person he has helped. So the saying ‘you ought to love your neighbor as yourself’ does not mean that you ought immediately (first) to love him and (afterwards) by means of this love do good to him. It means, rather, do good to your fellow man, and your beneficence will produce love of man in you” (MM, Ak.6:402, Gregor translation, p. 203).

24 Thus, Kant's view of the role of compassion and other emotions in moral life is not inconsistent with the view proposed by Bennett, Jonathan, “The Conscience of Huckleberry Finn,” Philosophy, 49 (April 1974), and by Callahan, Sidney, “The Role of Emotion in Ethical Decisionmaking,” Hastings Center Report (June/July 1988).

25 Kant, Immanuel, Critique of Judgement, translated by Pluhar, Werner S. (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing, 1987), Ak.5:262, p. 121.

26 RR (Ak. 6:24, Greene and Hudson translation, p. 19). Hence, Allison, Henry speaks of Kant's “Incorporation Thesis” regarding human agency (Kant's Theory of Freedom [Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990], p. 5).

27 Herman, “On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty,” pp. 14–17.

28 I thank the editor of CJP for offering this additional possibility.

29 Herman, “On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty,” p. 16.

31 Ibid., p. 14.

32 See Benson, Paul, “Moral Worth,” Philosophical Studies, 51 (1987): 365–82. Benson also argues that morally permissible acts guided by the motive of duty as a limiting condition have moral worth. However, he does not make the further points that (1) in such cases the non-moral “originating” motive is not the “primary motive” and, more relevant for this article, (2) the presence of compassion may indicate an increased moral worth, insofar as a person cultivates compassion out of duty.

33 See Stocker, Michael, “The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories,” The Journal of Philosophy, 63, 4 (August 12, 1976): 453–66; Williams, Bernard, “Persons, Character and Morality,” in The Identities of Persons, edited by Rorty, Amelie O. (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 214–15; and Dillon, “Respect and Care: Toward Moral Integration,” pp. 105–32.

34 Marcia Baron comes closer than she realizes to the Kantian view when she says, “On the view that I am recommending, duty is seen as attaching primarily not to individual actions but to conduct, to how one lives, and only derivatively to isolated action” (The Alleged Moral Repugnance of Acting from Duty,” Journal of Philosophy, 81 [1983]: 197220).

35 On this point, I am indebted to Nelson Potter's unpublished paper, “Maxims in Kant's Moral Philosophy,” which he presented at the APA in Chicago in April 1993.

* An earlier version of this paper was read at conferences of the Illinois Philosophical Association and the Central States Philosophical Association, both in November 1994. I would like to thank Robert Roberts, my commentator at the IPA meeting, and William Tolhurst for their many helpful suggestions.

Compassion and Moral Worth*

  • Sharon E. Sytsma (a1)


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