University of Pittsburgh, Fall Term 1998
Ben Eggleston, Instructor
Philosophy 0300—CRN 35193: Introduction to Ethics
mailbox: CL 1001—office: CL 1428E
Thursdays, 5:45 p.m. to 8:10 p.m., in CL 142
office hours: Tuesdays, 5:15–6:15, and Thursdays, 4:40–5:40

Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals

I. Background Information

Immanuel Kant was born in 1724 in Königsberg, in East Prussia. His early writings concern the sciences, especially physics and astronomy. He even predicted the existence of the planet Uranus more than twenty years before it was actually discovered. In 1770, he took a philosophical post at the University of Königsberg and embarked on a series of works that would make him, by almost anyone’s reckoning, the most influential of all the modern philosophers. His Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, published in 1785, is an indispensable part of the history of ethical theory.

for September 24:

II. Reading Assignment

III. Study Questions

  1. Of the three sciences into which ancient Greek philosophy was divided, which one is formal and which two are material?
  2. What are the names Kant gives to the two “parts” into which he divides ethics? What’s the difference between these parts?
  3. Does Kant think that moral philosophy should be based on facts about human nature?
  4. What does Kant demand of conduct in addition to demanding that it “conform to the moral law”?
  5. Of what degree of correctness and precision in moral matters does Kant think the human mind is capable?
  6. What does Kant say is the purpose of this book?
  7. Why does Kant deny that such things as intelligence, courage, and health are “good without qualification”?
  8. By what argument does Kant attempt to prove that it is part of the purpose of nature for a person not simply to be happy, but to have his or her will be governed by reason?
  9. Kant distinguishes three kinds of conduct in accordance with duty: (a) conduct done from immediate inclination, (b) conduct done not from immediate inclination but still for selfish reasons, and (c) conduct done not from immediate inclination or for selfish reasons, but solely from duty. Give an example of an act of each of these kinds.
  10. What situation is Kant talking about when he says, “then for the first time his action has genuine moral worth”?
  11. Kant distinguishes “practical love” from “pathological love.” What is the difference between these? Which does Kant say can reasonably be commanded or demanded from a person?
  12. According to a footnote supplied by the editor, what does Kant think of as the first proposition of morality?
  13. According to the second proposition of morality, how much does the moral worth of conduct depend on its purpose?
  14. According to Kant’s discussion of the third proposition of morality, which is more important, from the moral point of view: to satisfy one’s inclinations or to make one’s conduct express respect for law?
  15. Does Kant allow that conduct can be good on the basis of its expected effects being good?
  16. What is the first statement of the categorical imperative that Kant gives?
  17. What is the precise reason, according to Kant, that it does not accord with duty to make a lying promise?
  18. Does Kant think that most ordinary people are capable of thinking along the lines of the categorical imperative in order to figure out what conduct accords with duty and what conduct does not accord with duty?
  19. Why, according to Kant, is it necessary to undertake a philosophical investigation into the laws of duty?

IV. Suggestions for Further Reading

  1. Roger Scruton, Kant (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982) (Hillman circulating B2798 S37 1982), particularly chapter 5, “The categorical imperative.”
  2. Anthony Kenny, Oxford History of Western Philosophy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994) (Hillman reference B72 O8 1994b), pp. 190–92.

V. Outline of Topics to be Covered in Class

  1. Who was Kant?
  2. preface: overview of the project
    1. the division of labor
    2. rationality, not humanity
    3. pure, not empirical
    4. the book’s aim
    5. the book’s method
  3. first section
    1. nature’s purpose
    2. Kant’s characterization of the good will
    3. Kant’s propositions of morality

for October 1:

VI. Reading Assignment

VII. Study Questions

  1. Does Kant think it’s possible to identify cases in which persons act only on the basis of moral considerations, instead of on the basis of inclinations such as selfishness?
  2. Why, according to Kant, is it a mistake to try to derive morality from examples of supposedly moral conduct?
  3. What purpose does Kant say such examples can serve?
  4. Does Kant think people are more likely or less likely to act morally if the morality they believe in appeals to their feelings and inclinations as well as their faculties of reason?
  5. What is the difference between working according to laws, as Kant says everything in nature does, and acting according to one’s conception of laws, as Kant says a rational being does?
  6. Some imperatives are hypothetical; others are categorical. What’s the difference between hypothetical imperatives and categorical imperatives? Of the following imperatives, which is hypothetical and which is categorical?
    1. Always tell the truth.
    2. If you want to make cookies, use flour.
  7. Some hypothetical imperatives are rules of skill; others are counsels of prudence. What’s the difference between rules of skill and counsels of prudence?
  8. What does Kant mean when he says that “we do not . . . have the advantage of having its [i.e., a categorical imperative’s] reality given in experience”?
  9. What is the precise reasoning by which Kant deems committing suicide to be immoral?
  10. Why does Kant say that a person willing both (a) to make a false promise and (b) that everyone should freely do likewise is contradicting himself?
  11. How is the contradiction in the case of the person intending to neglect his talents different from the contradiction in the case of the person intending to make a false promise?
  12. Is the contradiction in the case of the person intending to be uncharitable like the contradiction in the case of the person intending to make a false promise, or like the contradiction in the case of the person intending to neglect his talents?
  13. What are the two kinds of contradiction that were present in the four examples?
  14. Why, according to Kant, must we not “derive the reality of the principle [i.e., the categorical imperative] from the special characteristics of human nature”?
  15. What does Kant say the worth of a good will consists in?
  16. What, according to Kant, gives something absolute, and not merely relative, value? (Hint: It’s what makes persons objective ends, or ends in themselves, and not merely subjective ends.)
  17. What is the “end in itself” formulation of the categorical imperative?
  18. What does Kant say is the “supreme limiting condition of every man’s freedom of action”?
  19. What does Kant say “is the specific mark distinguishing a categorical imperative from a hypothetical one”?
  20. What explanation does Kant give for (what he sees as) the failure of previous attempts to discover the principle of morality?
  21. What makes a rational being belong to a kingdom of ends?

VIII. Suggestions for Further Reading

See the suggestions for further reading for September 24, above.

IX. Outline of Topics to be Covered in Class

for October 8:

X. Reading Assignment

XI. Study Questions

  1. Why is it important to think of each person being not just subject to the laws of kingdom of ends, but also as a legislator in the kingdom of ends?
  2. What makes something have dignity, not merely a price?
  3. What two things have dignity, and what are some of the (many) things that have prices?
  4. What distinguishes rational nature from the rest of nature?
  5. According to Kant, can people who follow the categorical imperative expect to thereby achieve happiness?
  6. What paradox does Kant think follows from this?
  7. What makes a will autonomous?
  8. What makes a will heteronomous?
  9. What connection is there between whether a will is autonomous or heteronomous and the kinds of imperatives with which it may comply?
  10. Two “empirical” approaches to morality that Kant criticizes are (a) basing morality on happiness and (b) basing morality on moral feeling, or a special moral sense. What’s wrong with basing morality on happiness?
  11. What’s wrong with basing morality on moral feeling, or a special moral sense?
  12. A “rational” approach that Kant criticizes is basing morality on the idea of perfection, whether non-theologically or theologically. What’s wrong with the non-theological version of this?
  13. What’s wrong with the theological version of basing morality on perfection?
  14. What do all four of these flawed approaches to ethics have in common, which makes them flawed?

XII. Suggestions for Further Reading

See the suggestions for further reading for September 24, above.

XIII. Outline of Topics to be Covered in Class