Notion of Duty | Immanuel Kant, Groundwork for Metaphysics of Morals 1 | Philosophy Core Concepts

hi this is dr. Gregory Sadler I'm a professor of philosophy and the president and founder of an educational consulting company called reason IO where we put philosophy into practice I've studied and taught philosophy for over 20 years and I find that many people run into difficulties reading classic philosophical texts sometimes it's the way things are said or how the text is structured but the concepts themselves are not always that complicated and that's where I come in to help students and lifelong learners I've been producing longer lecture videos and posting them to youtube many viewers say they find them useful what you're currently watching is part of a new series of shorter videos each of them focused on one core concept from an important philosophical text I hope you find it useful as well one of the notions that Kant makes constant reference to in the groundwork of the metaphysics of morals in addition to that of the good will and you know complex things that are a little bit harder to wrap our heads around like autonomy and Ronna me priori things like that is this word duty and it comes up over and over and over again and I've seen students get mixed up about this quite quite often Kant has a very important precise understanding of what it is for an action to actually or abolition a willing to be not only in accordance with duty but done from duty that's what gives an action or a volition it's more worth and cons view that's what makes a will a good will so when we're trying to understand the nature of the good will the one good thing that's that's good without qualification according to Kant we're looking at this this conception of Duty we want to make sense out of the concept of a will as he says estimable in itself good apart from any further end now that's going to involve duty but simply doing what we normally conceive of as our duties the things that we want to do that doesn't get us to where we need to be and that doesn't actually address this in the way that cotton wants to leave us so let's actually look at this what he calls the concept of Duty itself not just the experience of having duties you know like say being assigned chores or having made a promise to a friend and feeling yourself under an obligation to to fulfill that obligation that you've undertaken the promise that you've made not just legal duties not just you know duties that are connected with rights that we have as things that we know in our society so for instance if you have a right to free speech that's granted to to you by by the state I am supposed to not interfere with your free speech right there's a lot of different ways that could happen though and that's why it's so important for Kant to get away from these experiential what he calls empirical ways of wrapping our head around we want to think about the mere concept the pure concept of Duty and he says that this includes the concept of a goodwill so within the conception of actually doing duty or following Duty or fulfilling Duty is a certain way of orienting ourselves towards it a certain way of making ourselves do it so it's not just a sort of external getting ourselves in line with what it is that we are told we ought to do but don't really feel like doing that constitutes Duty if we think about the concept itself there's something a bit deeper something a bit more rich something a bit more that was yeah I guess you could say cure involved and when he talks about the idea of a goodwill he also says that the the goodwill we're understanding in terms of duty has what he called subjective limitations and obstacles and because he doesn't tell you what those are you might just pass over that part of the text and say yeah yeah that's all sorts of you know philosophers stuff but there really is something important that even he's he's getting at there so let's go through this bit by bit and this this section and see what we can dig up so he says we're trying to elucidate the concept of a will good apart from any further end this concept which is already present in a sound natural understanding and requires not so much to be taught as to be clarified how do we clarify it by thinking it through by stripping away some of the preconceptions that we have about it and really figuring out what lies at the roots so he says we're going to take up the concept of duty and these subjective limitations and obstacles don't actually hide a good will or disguise that they bring out by contrast and make it shine more brightly and it says I'm gonna adhere these it's going to divide actions up into a couple different types so if we have actions or Volition's you know things that we do things that we will but maybe don't actually bring about they can be against duty or they can be in agreement with you alright some reactions right from the start are going to be clearly immoral poisoning a person it doesn't really matter for Kant what sort of reason you did it for it goes contrary to your duty deliberately telling a person something that is untrue which will get them terribly main door in there's no way from a Content perspective that you're gonna make that part of your duty yeah that's going to be in accordance with duty that's always going to be a bad action there's certain things that's one of the nice things about conch in moral theory whether you agree with it or disagree with it it is very clear on certain certain things certain things are clearly against duty so we're not going to worry about that so much we're interested now in actions that are actually in agreement with duty so we're doing the thing that you want to do you're engaging in the action that you want to be doing you're actually choosing that action that's what it means have a free will you're choosing to do that thing that action you're choosing that policy that course towards the world towards other people towards yourself towards the things that you you have control over the question is why are you doing it what is what Kat calls your motive what is your purpose behind that action or that volition so here's where there's a fundamental dividing line there it's possible to do the right thing but to do it for what considers to be not necessarily the wrong reasons but not the right reasons the only right reason is ultimately because it's the right thing to do because it is your duty because you choose to will in accordance with and from duty you make that your sole motive anything else what you call some other motive or principle is going to make the action not necessarily immoral something against duty but it's going to deprive it of its moral worth so you could say that it becomes a moral or non moral the only thing that's truly moral that has moral worth our actions that are in agreement with duty and that are done from the motive so he gives you some examples these are ones that he considers later on you know a grocer or any merchant who is giving a fair price to customers right now if he gives the unfair price to customers he screws some people over he's doing something that goes against duty he should give a fair price right the question is why is he doing it why is he giving a fair price is he doing that because he recognizes that that's the right thing to do and he actually does that in every circumstance even when it doesn't necessarily pay off for him or you know translate into some benefit or fulfill some other thing that he wants to achieve where is he doing the good action the right thing because he's motivated by by something else in that case it's not really the good action that he is choosing for you know for himself he's choosing that as a means to a certain end and the end could be any of these sort of things and these these overlap quite a bit he gives some examples with the grocer right maybe the grocer is acting out of self-interest maybe he thinks you know yeah I better not overcharge people because if I do that the cops are gonna come in or they're gonna bust me or people are gonna get wise to this and say hey don't go to him he screws you over it's kind of random there could be all sorts of things where somebody you know reasons this out and says I shouldn't do the wrong thing I should do the right thing but I should do it because it's good business you know you often hear this in business ethics people say why should businesses be ethical well because it improves the bottom line well that would be you know a perfect example of what count is talking about here that's not that you know that's very far from doing the right thing we're being ethical because it's important to be ethical if you're doing it just because it improves the bottom line or keeps your public image alive it keeps you out of trouble then you're doing it for some other reason than then because it's the right thing let's say that's not a you know fully in line with duty what else immediate inclination maybe he loves everybody maybe he's the kind of person who's just personable and enjoys dealing with with people and customers and so he wants to give them a fair price because he feels good towards them right you could say the same thing about teachers maybe you know do I have a duty to teach my students and to make sure that all of them actually learn yes now why well because I'm getting paid because if I don't do that I'll get in trouble because I just happen to like these people and I enjoy the act of teaching I would say any of those sort of things are getting away from doing Duty for its own sake other inclinations you know there's another number of different possible inclinations that we have that could could they do this maybe somebody says I am going to do the right thing because I want to carry out an experiment with my life I want to see what doing the right thing will bring it out for me and I'm not necessarily trying to obtain some sort of beneficial good or you know enjoyable good for myself I'm just curious well that wouldn't be acting out of out of duty either that would be acting in accordance with duty but not from do our feelings you know we tend to look at it as a good thing if we have good feelings towards other people God says well they're not bad you know it's good to have good feelings towards other people but it's not morally good it's not something that that makes an action or a willing a choice on your part something that's morally good so you know you give some some other examples here which I'm going to skip over you want to get to a little bit further on he talks about he doesn't makes a distinction here he says it's Douglas in this sense we should understand the passages for scripture in which were commanded to love our neighbor neither even our enemy love out of inclination cannot be commanded you can have it right you can be inclined to love other people even to love enemies but you can't command that but kindness done from duty although no inclination impels us and even though natural and in conquerable disinclination stands in our way is practical in that pathological love residing in the will and not in the pretensions of feeling you know the idea that he's getting at here is that when we're acting from duty for the sake of duty not out of consideration of what we're going to get out of it for some inclination because we're already sort of headed in that that direction but we make ourselves do that in a certain way there's a purity of will present that's not present in in these cases there's much more that can be said about that but I'm not going to try to unpack that here then he gives us a few propositions and these are important when it comes to duty as well so I'm actually going to erase some of this stuff over here so we can sort of unpack these the first one is basically along the lines of what I was just erasing telling us that we should act I would have duty we should will we should act out of duty not just in accordance with duty so understand out of motivated by okay so that's the first thing that we can say about about duty another thing that he says is an action done from duty has its moral worth and not in the purpose to be attained by it but in the maximum in accordance with it with which it is decided upon it depends therefore not on the realization of the object of the action but solely on the principle of volition in accordance with which the action has been for performing so there's a lot of jargon here let's put down some of this so we can we can make some sense of this there's a term that he's using here that we want to focus on an action done from duty as it's more worth so it is good morally good not from its purpose not from the effects that you're trying to achieve by it by its maxim in accordance with which it is decided so another way of putting this if we wanted to use some concrete examples would be to say that when we're acting and we're doing the right thing we're choosing the right thing what makes it good is not the purpose of the action what it is that the action is supposed to bring about but the form or the kind of thing that we're willing the description that we could give to it so you know think for example about giving water to a thirsty person out in the desert right what are you sort of classical movie motifs some guy is crawling around sand water water you've got a canteen of water you give it to him he drinks the water you've done a good thing what made it good now in a certain sense it's good because you know his body stays alive and all that in cat says yeah yeah that's that that's fine we're interested in the moral goodness of the action now so when you actually gave him the canteen when you chose to do that instead of saying well screw you I'm gonna go over here or I need to keep my water for myself or you know everyone's got their own water you you you know you've obviously used up yours when you've decided to give him your water it wasn't that you had this purpose of say feeling good or keeping God happy with you or keeping this guy alive or any of the actual empirical effects of it it was you deciding on a certain Maxim a certain rule that that describes the kind of action the kind of willing that you're engaged in so the the maximun that's where the case would be something along the lines of whenever I see a person in need of resources which I have at my disposal and can grant to that person I will in fact grant those resources to that person there's other ways we could describe that Maxim it's that Maxim that makes the action done from duty good so even if it backfired or even if I had other inclinations I was like you know showing off for somebody let's say I was kind of you know mixed mind about this if I was actually forcing myself to do it nevertheless because I recognized that that's the sort of action that a person ought to do because it's that kind of action that meets that sort of maxim then my action would have moral worth my choice would have moral value the other thing that he says that it's particularly important he talks about a third proposition that's an inference from these others he says Duty is the necessity to act out of reverence for the law duty is assess the reverence for the law and what law does he actually mean moral not just any old law but the moral cut thinks that although we don't follow it all the time and we don't recognize it much of the time within the human being because the human being is rational there is a moral law which we can come to recognize a moral law includes these things that we call Maxim's certain kinds of Maxim's tells us that we ought to do this we ought not to do this tells us what sort of dispositions to a certain degree we ought to have what kind of beings we ought to make of ourselves so Duty is going to be involving on the person's part the person who is actually acting out of duty he has a kind of reverence for the moral law they recognize it as being something valuable for its own sake not because it's good business or because it makes them happy or because God likes it or because mom and dad told you you need to do it or any of those sorts of reasons it's good because it is good because it is the moral law and for cut you you reach a certain bedrock point where you know he can keep on giving you all sorts of other deductions and reasonings when you reach a certain bedrock point where if somebody says well yeah but why should I have reverence for the moral law Kant would actually have to look at it and say because you ought to that's that's what it means for it to be the moral law it's the kind of thing that you ought to have reverence for and now that's not a word that we use an awful lot these days what does reverence mean you know practically speaking reverence is not so much about feeling a certain way as about choosing and behaving a certain way you tell what a person has reverence for by the structure of their their actions the patterns of their reactions the fabric of the life that they form the character that they display so somebody who has reverence for example for the flag would be willing to actually charge up the hill to you know fight other people to keep the flag from dipping it's kind of a some ways a trivial thing but you know when somebody has reverence for the flag hopefully it's not just that that piece of faux fabric up there it's because they have reverence for what it represents when somebody has reverence for the moral law that means that they when push comes to shove when inclination sets up obstacles and says hey let's you know cut a corner here you don't have to be so rigorous the person says no this is actually precisely in the sort of case where I need to be rigorous because that's what it means actually recognized duty not just as something that's imposed on somebody from from without as you know a chore as a regulation as an imposition but as something that you you say yeah as a reasonable person I see this is what I ought to do this is the right thing and even though I don't really feel like doing it I got to make myself somehow do this right thing that's what it would be to act from duty and you notice all three of these imply each other they they connect with each other they reinforce each other so this is this is what Kant means by duty as being the motive of the goodwill it's not something that you can reduce just to a bunch of examples this is something that he thinks you have to think out as a concept I think it is helpful to use examples to make sense of this and you know we did a few in this condom self uses a few examples but ultimately it comes down to these sorts of rules so that's that's the conception of duty

That's interesting, because you can think about some religious thoughts that some people have (I know I did): I'm gonna do good things so I go to a good place after I die. According to Kant that's not a very good motive. We should be acting like that for the sake of acting like that because it's the right thing to do. Well, that's something that sounds almost a little crazy to say nowadays lol can we really be that selfless and not act because of other interests and just for the sake of doing the right thing?… Let's see… I'll keep watching…

Thanks for this video, I've been trying to understand Kant's moral system for a while and your explanation of duty really gets to the bottom of it.
Suffice to say I completely disagree with Kant, but at least I don't have a straw man of his position in my head like I had been worried.

I'm so glad I'm going into the feild with more technology than chalk. I would entirely lose my train of thought while writing on the board, I need PowerPoints all day for every day.

at about 21:50 you said that Kant at a certain point just says "because you ought to" in response to why someone should follow the moral law. That sounds to me like there is a hole in his theory, and I don't imagine Kant would let there be a hole like that. It seems to me that there has to be some good reason for why we ought to revere something or why something would be our duty. I must be missing something, can you point me in the right direction?

From what i understood about "the good" is that happiness is the result of achieving the good, but in respect to the good will you are performing an action simply because it is the right thing to do and you have the duty to do such. This may or not bring about happiness. Say for example that you are going through a divorce with children involved and  it is apparent that your spouse is a better mother than you are a father. You would have a duty to give the mother custody but this will leave you feeling miserable. 

Prof Sadler, thank you for your videos; they are exremely good. What's the text you recommend that we read to follow you better?

Great video- But one question that I have is: Immanuel Kant emphasizes “duty” as the factor that legitimizes the “moral worth” of an action. For Aristotle “moral virtue is the standard with regard to achieving the “good in action.” What is the difference between the two

Well, I've said this on other vids, when asked about translations — I'm not a good judge, because I don't systematicaly compare them. I just use whatever I happen to have handy, because if need be, I can go to the source and read it in the original.

That actually makes me kind of lazy, when you get down to it.

You're very welcome! It's the Patton translation of the Groundwork — not necessarily the best one, just the one I happened to have handy!

Thanks for another great and easy to understand video. Can you tell me what book you were looking at?

So, you want to understand "duty" to mean something like in accordance with a law of nature.

You're quite free to give "duty" whatever sense you like, but if you give it one that doesn't allow much dialogue with other moral theories — for instance, by just making assertions of this sort — I'm not sure what you mean to do with all this.

I'm sure this seems to all make sense as a system to you, but frankly, it's rather confusing. Perhaps better to write it all down than to post it here

Well, to start off, if you mean for this to in any way be engaging Kant and his views on duty, you're not going to be able to do that by simply rolling out a whole bunch of statements like that — and this is a Kant video, after all.

Second, One can certainly perform an action without a law of the nature or the universe requiring us to — otherwise we could not go against such a law.

It's unclear what you're aiming at here — expressing your views? engaging Kant? engaging in dialogue?


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