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Morality and Interest

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  30 January 2009

Bernard Harrison
University of Sussex


Among the miscellany of philosophical achievements bequeathed us by the Enlightenment is the account, worked out by Hobbes, Locke, Hume and others, of the conditions for the existence of the kind of civil or commercial association that depends upon contract. The theory of civil association has subsequently exercised the kind of fascination for moral philosophers that a highly successful theory is apt to exercise in any field of enquiry: it has, that is, both inspired later writers and to some extent restricted their horizons.

Research Article
Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy 1989

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1 This is the point of the black joke of Francis I, quoted by Kant in the Critique of Practical Reason, ‘What my brother Charles wants (Milan), I want too’

2 Conversely the thought that one's own acts have put one beyond the possibility of enjoying such interests can be searing: cf. Macbeth, V, iii, ‘And that which should accompany old age/As honour, love, obedience, troops of friends/I must not look to have …’

3 Cf. Foot, Philippa, ‘Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives,’ in Virtues and Vices (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1978), 159Google Scholar: ‘When we say that a man should do something and intend a moral judgement we do not have to back up what we say by considerations about his interests or his desires; if no such connexion can be found the “should” need not be withdrawn’

4 Paton, H. J. (ed., trans.), The Moral Law, or, Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals (London: Hutchinson, 1948), 83.Google Scholar

5 Cf. Foot, , op. cit., 164.Google Scholar

6 Cf. Gilbert's, Paul insightful discussion in ‘Friendship and the Will’, Philosophy 61, No. 235 (01 1985), 6170.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

7 The text of this essay was delivered as a Professorial Inaugural Lecture at the University of Sussex on 28 April 1988.