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grounds alone would not determine that he cut his hair rather than do
one of these other things. As a basis for this choice, he must appeal to his
inclinations “ for example, his desire to be comfortable in this hot, humid
weather. If the person is to act at all, he must have some incentive on the
basis of which he chooses between the actions available to him. But for Kant,
in morally permissible yet not required actions, this incentive could only be
some inclination. Therefore, in Kant™s view only morally required actions
can be done from duty. Since Kant holds that an action has moral worth if
and only if it is done from duty, he holds in effect that only morally required
actions can have moral worth.
When Kant says at GMS 401 that in actions from duty an agent™s will is
determined by the representation of the law in itself, one might be tempted
to take him to mean simply that in such actions, the agent™s will is determined
by the Formula of Universal Law. After all, Kant does often refer to this
formula as “the law.” But it is important to resist this temptation. At this
point in the text, “the law” does not designate the Formula of Universal
Law, for Kant has not yet derived this formula. That is what he is in the
very midst of doing. What Kant means in this passage is that in actions
from duty, an agent™s will is determined by her representing a principle to
herself as a law “ that is, as unconditionally and universally binding. Since
only actions an agent takes to be morally required can be done from duty,
Kant is suggesting that, in actions from duty, an agent™s will is determined
by her notion that an unconditionally and universally binding principle
requires these actions. For an agent to represent a principle as a law, she must
be (or at some point have been) conscious of this principle, perhaps in a
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
100

rough-and-ready form.11 For Kant, when we do something from duty, we
derive our incentive to do it from the notion that doing it is required by a
principle we represent as a law.
There is a further feature of Kant™s view that I merely note in passing.
Kant holds that in us, human beings, the representation of a principle as a
law determines the will through the feeling of respect. Roughly, our repre-
senting a principle to ourselves as a law and being aware of what it requires
produces in us a feeling of respect for it, a feeling that constitutes an in-
centive for conforming to the principle. Kant™s statement that “an action
from duty is to put aside entirely the in¬‚uence of inclination” continues
thus: “hence there is left for the will nothing that could determine it except
objectively the law and subjectively pure respect for this practical law” (GMS
400). Kant™s discussion of respect is very complex “ he develops the concept
in detail in the second Critique (see KpV 71“89) “ and I do not pursue it
here.12 For our purposes, the important point is that in Kant™s view an agent
acts from duty only if her incentive for acting stems ultimately from her
notion that her action is required by a practical law.
It is helpful to relate the understanding of acting from duty suggested
by this ¬rst condition to contemporary discussion of related issues. Led by
Barbara Herman, some philosophers attribute to Kant a distinction between
acting from duty as a “primary motive” and acting from duty as a “limiting
condition” (or, equivalently, “secondary motive”).13 Acting from duty as a
primary motive involves meeting the ¬rst condition we mentioned for acting
from duty. It occurs only when an agent™s incentive for acting is the notion
that the action is required by moral principle. In acting from duty as a
limiting condition, however, an agent™s will need not be determined by the
notion that the action is morally required. An agent acts from duty as a
limiting condition when his conduct is governed by a commitment to doing
what duty requires. A person who cut his hair acted from duty as a limiting
condition if the following was the case. Had cutting his hair been contrary
to duty, then, since it was contrary to duty, the person would have refrained
from doing it. To act from duty as a limiting condition, the person obviously
need not have as an incentive the notion that his cutting his hair is morally
required. When an agent acts from duty as a limiting condition, he need
not have as his incentive the notion that he is morally obligated to act as he
does. He is often not morally required to act as he does, for example, in a
typical case of cutting one™s hair. To use Herman™s vocabulary, only actions
done from duty as a primary motive have moral worth, in Kant™s view.14
However, I do not employ this vocabulary myself. Kant would, I believe,
recognize a distinction between acting from duty (as a “primary motive”)
and governing one™s conduct by a commitment to do what moral principle
requires. According to one of Kant™s conceptions (what I call the whole
character view in section 3.7), a human being has a good will by virtue of
governing his conduct by a commitment to do what duty requires. And
Criteria for the Supreme Principle of Morality 101

given Kant™s view of human nature, especially his conviction that human
inclinations are often incentives for immoral action, a human being™s good
will will sometimes manifest itself in actions from duty. For in cases in which
an agent is inclined to do wrong, the only way he can do right, and thus
manifest his commitment to morality, is to rely on the incentive provided to
him through his representation of moral principle. Of course, a person with
a good will does not constantly perform morally required actions; some of
what he does is morally permissible but not required, and thus cannot be
done from duty (as a “primary motive”). Although Kant would acknowledge
a distinction between an agent™s acting from duty (as a “primary motive”)
and her governing her conduct by a commitment to conforming to moral
principle, he does not refer to individual cases of her doing the latter but not
the former as ones of acting from duty.15 However entrenched the vocabulary
of acting from duty as a “limiting condition” or “secondary motive” has
become in contemporary discussions, it is not Kant™s. For simplicity™s sake,
I do not adopt it. In my terminology, an agent acts “from duty” only in cases
in which his incentive for acting stems from the notion that doing so is
morally required. Only in such cases, suggests Kant, does his action have
moral worth.
Although Kant holds that actions from duty exclude the in¬‚uence of
inclination, he does not maintain that having an inclination to do something
is incompatible with doing it from duty. This point has recently been made
by several philosophers, and I do not belabor it here.16 According to Kant,
an agent™s motive for doing something can be that the supreme principle
of morality requires it, even if the agent wants to do it. I might have an
inclination to keep my promise to a friendly acquaintance. But that does
not entail that my motive for keeping it could not be that the supreme
principle of morality requires it.17 Kant implicitly distinguishes between an
action™s being accompanied by an inclination and its being motivated by
one “ that is, its being done from inclination.18 The former is compatible
with the action™s having moral worth.
But what about actions done both from duty and from inclination? Could
there be such actions on Kant™s scheme, and would any of them have moral
worth? These questions have recently been at the center of intricate and
extensive debate.19 Exploring them in detail would take us far from our
central concern: Kant™s derivation of the supreme principle of morality.
Brief consideration of these questions, however, can lead us to a second
condition that must be met if an agent is to act from duty.
As we have noted, Kant says that “an action from duty is to put aside
entirely the in¬‚uence of inclination” (GMS 400; see also KpV 72 and 81).
Re¬‚ecting on Kant™s theory of agency and his account of nonmoral action
leads us to a better understanding of this dictum.20 Kant embraces the Incor-
poration Thesis, according to which no incentive can determine an agent™s
will unless she has incorporated it into a maxim (see sections 1.2 and 2.2).
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
102

This thesis applies not only to inclinations as incentives but also to moral
principle as incentive. The thought that an action is required by moral prin-
ciple can serve as an agent™s motive for acting only if she has taken account
of this thought in some self-given rule. Let us now consider an alleged case
of acting both from duty and from inclination. Suppose that from both an
agent keeps a promise. She has incorporated into her maxim both an in-
clination, one to preserve professional ties with a business associate, and
the thought that keeping the promise is required by a moral principle. Her
maxim would be something like this: “Because I want to maintain my busi-
ness reputation and because keeping promises is morally required, I will do
what it takes to keep my promises to my business associates.” Contrary to
Kant™s dictum, in acting on this maxim the in¬‚uence of inclination is obvi-
ously not entirely excluded. For the maxim makes the agent™s doing what
it takes to keep her promise conditional on her wanting to maintain her
business reputation. She will not act on her maxim unless she has a desire
to maintain it. Therefore, acting on this maxim would not amount to acting
from duty. When Kant suggests that an action from duty excludes entirely
the in¬‚uence of inclination, he is implying that an agent who acts from duty
must take the action™s being morally required as itself generating enough
of an incentive for her to do it. The second condition on conforming to a
moral principle from duty “ that is, conforming to it because the principle
requires it “ is that one must take the action™s being morally required itself
to generate a suf¬cient incentive for performing it.
But is it really the case that no actions done both from duty and from incli-
nation could meet this second condition? Suppose someone acted on the fol-
lowing, rather awkward, maxim: “Because I want to maintain my good busi-
ness reputation and because keeping promises is morally required (which is
itself suf¬cient incentive for me to keep them), I will do what it takes to keep
my promises to my business associates.” It appears that the agent would be
acting not only from inclination, but also from duty, thereby ful¬lling the
second condition. Yet the agent would not actually count as acting from
inclination. Kant, I have argued, has a hedonistic view of acting from incli-
nation (sections 1.6“8). According to him, if an agent acts from inclination,
his performing the action is conditional on his expectation that realizing its
object will give him pleasure. Suppose that from my inclination to preserve
my professional ties with an associate, I do what it takes to keep my promise
to him. In this case, my taking the necessary steps to keep my promise is
conditional on my expectation that preserving these ties will have a hedonic
payoff. I do not treat the notion that keeping promises is morally required as
a suf¬cient incentive for doing what it takes to keep my promise. Therefore,
I cannot be acting on the maxim in question: one in which an agent does
treat the moral necessity of keeping promises as a suf¬cient incentive for his
action. If one genuinely performs an action from inclination in Kant™s sense,
then she cannot ful¬ll Kant™s second condition on acting from duty “ she
Criteria for the Supreme Principle of Morality 103

cannot, at the same time, hold that the action™s being morally required itself
engenders a suf¬cient incentive for performing it. She must acknowledge
that a further incentive is needed as well, namely the expectation that doing
the action will have some hedonic payoff. Kant does not recognize the possibility
of an action™s being done at the same time from inclination and from duty.
If, contrary to this conclusion, Kant held that a particular action could be
done at the same time from duty and from inclination, then he would also
be committed to the view that a hedonically conditioned action could have
moral worth. For Kant, of course, all actions done from duty have moral
worth. In the second Critique, however, Kant says:

Now, because all determining grounds of the will except the one and only pure prac-
tical law of reason (the moral law) are without exception empirical and so, as such,
belong to the principle of happiness, they must without exception be separated from
the supreme moral principle and never be incorporated with it as a condition, since
this would destroy all moral worth just as any empirical admixture to geometrical
principles would destroy all mathematical evidence. (KpV 93)

In the Analytic of the second Critique, Kant offers a purely hedonistic account
of happiness, according to which happiness is “a rational being™s conscious-
ness of the agreeableness of life uninterruptedly accompanying his whole
existence” (KpV 22).21 For Kant the term “agreeableness” (Annehmlichkeit)
designates a kind of sensation (KpV 22). Since to experience this sensa-
tion is to experience pleasure (see, e.g., KpV 23), Kant is suggesting at KpV
93 that an action™s being conditional on the expectation that it will result
in some hedonic bene¬t for the agent destroys its moral worth. In effect,
Kant denies the possibility that a hedonically conditioned action could have
moral worth. That he denies this is, of course, consistent with my contention
that he does not recognize the possibility of an action™s being done at the
same time from inclination and from duty (thus accruing moral worth).
To employ contemporary terminology, I am denying that in Kant™s view
there can be “overdetermined” actions “ actions done from both duty and
inclination, where either motive by itself would have suf¬ced.22 For Kant an
agent simply does not count as acting from inclination unless the motive
of duty would not suf¬ce for the action. All actions from inclination are
hedonically conditioned.
In this section we have addressed some complex issues regarding Kant™s
conception of acting from duty. But our main aim has been to clarify when
an agent conforms to a principle because the principle requires it. We have
found that for this to occur, two conditions must be met. First, the agent™s
incentive for acting must stem from the notion that the principle (repre-
sented by the agent as a law) requires the action. Second, the agent™s notion
that the action is morally required must itself provide suf¬cient incentive
for him to perform it. In short, when an agent acts from duty, his notion
that his action is morally required provides him with a suf¬cient incentive
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
104

for acting. In effect, our investigation has shown that a principle to which
an agent could conform from duty would have to meet one of the criteria
we discussed earlier for the supreme principle of morality. According to
this other criterion, which is the focus of section 5.7, the supreme principle
must be such that an agent™s representing this principle as a law “ that is,
a universally and unconditionally binding principle “ gives him suf¬cient
incentive to conform to it. As we have seen, if, from duty, an agent conforms
his action to a principle, then his (in itself suf¬cient) incentive for acting
stems from the notion that the action is required by an unconditionally and
universally binding principle: a principle the agent has represented as a law.
Although in this section I have set out two necessary conditions for an
action™s being done from duty in Kant™s sense, it has not been my intention
to offer ( jointly) suf¬cient conditions for an action™s being done from this
motive. Before I try to do this (section 6.9), I need to make explicit two
further necessary conditions for an action™s being done from duty.
At any rate, this section and the preceding one have led us to a better
understanding of what Kant means when he suggests in Groundwork I that
we cannot hold a principle to be the supreme principle of morality unless
we can maintain that all and only actions that conform to it because the
principle requires it have moral worth. For Kant, maintaining this commits
one to the view that all actions with moral worth must actually conform to
the supreme principle of morality (section 5.2). It also commits one to the
view that in all actions with moral worth the agent™s incentive is ultimately
that the action is morally required “ an incentive that the agent himself takes
to be a suf¬cient basis for his action.


5.4 All Actions from Duty Have Moral Worth
In addition to understanding Kant™s ¬rst criterion, we need to isolate his
grounds for it. We have already considered Kant™s grounds for holding that
only actions that are in accordance with the supreme principle of morality
can have moral worth (section 5.2). We now need to examine why he claims
that whatever the supreme principle of morality is, we must be able to hold
that all and only actions conforming to it because the principle requires
such conformity have moral worth. Put more simply, we need to examine
Kant™s grounds for claiming that all and only actions from duty have moral
worth. I propose to do so in this and the next section. This section is devoted
to Kant™s claim that if an action is done from duty, then it has moral worth “
that is, all actions done from duty have moral worth. The next section (5.5)
focuses on Kant™s claim that if an action has moral worth, then it is done
from duty “ that is, no action done from a motive other than duty has moral
worth.
A suf¬cient condition for an action™s having moral worth, claims Kant
in Groundwork I, is that it be done from duty.23 But Kant does not there
Criteria for the Supreme Principle of Morality 105

present an argument for this claim. He sets out grounds for rejecting the
notion that actions from motives other than duty have moral worth (section
5.5). Yet he apparently ¬nds it unnecessary to argue that all actions done
from duty possess such worth. Consider, for example, Kant™s discussion of
self-preservation. Kant suggests that we have a duty to preserve our lives and
that, the vast majority of the time, when we take steps to preserve them, we
are acting from an immediate inclination to stay alive. “But on this account,”
Kant says, “the often anxious care that most people take of [their lives] still
has no inner worth and their maxim has no moral content. They look after
their lives in conformity with duty but not from duty” (GMS 397“398). Kant
simply assumes here that, if a person preserves his life not from inclination
but from duty, “his maxim has moral content,” and thus acting on it has
moral worth. It appears that while Kant thinks he needs to help us to see
that actions done from immediate inclination fail to have moral worth, he
supposes we ¬nd it obvious from the very outset that actions done from duty
possess moral worth. He assumes that this view is obvious to “ordinary moral
reason.” If we re¬‚ect on our moral judgments, we will very quickly ¬nd that,
in our view, doing what is morally required because it is morally required
has moral value.
At bottom Kant seems to take it as given that, according to ordinary
moral reason, if an action is done from duty, then it has moral worth. Kant
does, however, suggest an account of what is so special about such actions:

The human being is a being with needs, insofar as he belongs to the sensible world,
and to this extent his reason certainly has a commission from the side of his sensibility
which it cannot refuse, to attend to its interest and to form practical maxims with
a view to happiness. . . . But he is nevertheless not so completely an animal as to be
indifferent to all that reason says on its own and to use reason merely as a tool for
the satisfaction of his needs as a sensible being. For, that he has reason does not at
all raise him in worth above mere animality if reason is to serve him only for the
sake of what instinct accomplishes for animals; reason would in that case be only a
particular mode nature had used to equip the human being for the same end to
which it has destined animals, without destining him to a higher end. (KpV 61“62)

For Kant, in all acting an agent employs practical reason. (Without the
faculty of reason, he could not give himself maxims, that is, the rules on
which, in Kant™s view, an agent acts.) When an agent acts from inclination,
she always to some extent employs her reason as a tool for the satisfaction
of her needs as a sensible being. In acting from many inclinations “ for
example, those for food, shelter, or sex “ an agent is in a straightforward
way aiming to satisfy such needs. But what about acting from an inclination
to write a good novel or to solve a mathematical puzzle? Even in acting
from these inclinations, which might not seem to have much to do with
her needs as a sensible being, an agent would to some extent be using her
reason as a tool to satisfy such needs. For Kant, one of the needs we have
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
106

as sensual beings is to experience pleasure and avoid pain. In all actions
from inclination, an agent™s acting is conditional on his expectation that
doing so will have some hedonic bene¬t. This is true with regard to actions
done from the inclination to solve a mathematical puzzle just as it is with
regard to actions done from the inclination for sex. Nature has foisted on
all animals, including human beings, a need for pleasure. In all of our
acting from inclination, we necessarily take account of this need to some
extent. When an agent acts from duty, however, he is not necessarily using
his reason as a tool for the satisfaction of his needs as a sensible being.
His having suf¬cient incentive to act does not depend on his expectation
that acting will enable him to gain some hedonic bene¬t. That actions from
duty are not tied to sensible needs, which we share with other animals, gives
them a special value. In acting from duty we fully elevate ourselves above the
beasts.24


5.5 Only Actions from Duty Have Moral Worth
To defend the view that only actions from duty have moral worth, Kant
highlights two conditions on actions with such worth, both of which he
takes to be accepted by everyday moral consciousness. He then intimates
that no action from inclination could meet these conditions.
Kant introduces the ¬rst condition in the Groundwork Preface:
[I]n the case of what is to be morally good, it is not enough that it conform with the
moral law; but it must also be done for the sake of the law; without this, that conformity
is only very contingent and precarious, since a ground that is not moral will indeed
now and then produce actions in conformity with the law, but it will also often
produce actions contrary to the law. (GMS 390)

As we discussed earlier (section 5.2), Kant holds that only actions that con-
form with duty can be morally good, that is, have moral worth. Kant here
points to a condition on a morally valuable action: it must be done from
a motive that will not produce actions contrary to duty. In the Groundwork,
Kant maintains that acting “for the sake of the law” “ that is, doing some-
thing because you take it to be required by moral principle “ meets this
condition, whereas acting from inclination does not.
Kant invokes this condition in his famous discussion of the “philan-
thropist” (or “friend of humanity”) (GMS 398). Before undertaking this
discussion, Kant suggests a distinction between acting from a mediate in-
clination (self-interest) and acting from an immediate inclination (GMS
397). A mediate inclination to do something is an inclination to do it for
the sake of ful¬lling some further inclination. The shopkeeper in Kant™s ex-
ample presumably has a mediate inclination to charge his customers fairly.
He wants to do it but merely as a means to satisfying another end, for ex-
ample, that of having a thriving business. An immediate inclination to do
Criteria for the Supreme Principle of Morality 107

something is an inclination to do the thing itself. Since he is “sympatheti-
cally attuned,” the philanthropist presumably has an immediate inclination
to promote the well-being of others. His inclination to help them is not
one that he strives to satisfy merely to ful¬ll some further desire. Kant, of
course, denies that acting from this inclination has moral worth. Doing so,
he says, is like acting from other inclinations, for example, the inclination
to honor, “which, if it fortunately lights upon what is in fact in the com-
mon interest and in conformity with duty and hence honorable, deserves
praise and encouragement but not esteem” (GMS 398).25 Here Kant un-
derscores the possibility that, in acting from an immediate inclination to
help others, that is, from sympathy, an agent might do something that con-
¬‚icts with duty. (To echo a well-known example, someone might, because
of his sympathetic temper, have an immediate inclination to help someone
he sees late one night quietly struggling to move a sculpture out the back
door of an art museum and into his waiting car.26 Acting from this incli-
nation might presumably be contrary to duty.) Since the philanthropist is
acting from an immediate inclination, and thereby doing something that
might fail to accord with duty, his action, Kant suggests, does not have moral
worth.
Yet, as Herman emphasizes, in his discussion of the philanthropist Kant
points to a further condition he places on an action™s having moral worth.27
Kant says that the maxim on which the philanthropist acts “lacks moral
content, namely that of doing such actions not from inclination but from
duty” (GMS 398). Kant does not tell us explicitly what the philanthropist™s
maxim is. From the description Kant provides, however, we can assume
that it is something like the following: “Because I want to help others, I
will promote their happiness.” This maxim, says Kant, lacks moral content,
and it is not hard to pinpoint a reason why. The maxim re¬‚ects no com-
mitment to the action™s being morally permissible, that is, in accordance
with what moral principle requires. In other words, the maxim expresses no
interest in the rightness of the kind of action it speci¬es, namely promot-
ing others™ happiness. If we re¬‚ect on our ordinary moral understanding,
suggests Kant, we ¬nd that we are willing to attribute moral worth only to
actions done on maxims that (if fully speci¬ed) re¬‚ect a commitment to
doing only what is morally permissible. The grounds of a morally valuable
action “ its motive “ must express an interest in the action™s moral right-
ness. This is Kant™s second condition for an action™s having moral worth.
It is a necessary condition, not a suf¬cient one. That an agent does some-
thing against the background of a commitment to doing what is morally
permissible does not entail that his action has moral worth. What the agent
does might be morally permissible but not morally required. And for Kant
only morally required actions can have moral worth. According to Kant, of
course, actions from duty ful¬ll this second condition. In them, an agent™s
basis for acting “ his maxim “ obviously expresses concern for his action™s
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
108

moral rightness, for it invokes the notion that actions of its kind are morally
required.
As Herman has pointed out, Kant would insist that an action might ful¬ll
the ¬rst condition for moral value without ful¬lling the second.28 Suppose,
for example, that the philanthropist™s immediate inclination to help others
were such that it served as the basis only for morally permissible actions.
In that case, the philanthropist™s bene¬cent actions would ful¬ll Kant™s ¬rst
condition; they would be done on a motive that always produced actions

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