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Moral Theory in Philosophy and Psychology. Roger A. Chadwick Dr. David Trafimow, advisor*. The imperfection of perfect duty classifications *Note, the views are those of the student, not necessarily of the advisor . Topics. Immanual Kant: rational morality John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism

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moral theory in philosophy and psychology

Moral Theory in Philosophy and Psychology

Roger A. Chadwick

Dr. David Trafimow, advisor*

The imperfection of perfect duty classifications

*Note, the views are those of the student, not necessarily of the advisor 

  • Immanual Kant: rational morality
  • John Stuart Mill: Utilitarianism
  • Evolutionary theories of morality
  • Attribution of moral dimensions
amelie rorty on kant
Amelie Rorty on Kant
  • Sharpest critique is the separation of practical reason from psychological motivation in the establishment of an entirely separate domain of morality.
  • i.e. it doesn’t apply to reality

Mind in Action, 1988

what is morality kant
What is morality? Kant
  • A rational conclusion
  • Each man is an end unto himself
  • Duties based on Rights
  • Reasoned morality
what is morality mill utilitarianism
What is morality? Mill: Utilitarianism
  • Judgment of right or wrong
    • With regard to society’s good
    • Maximum Happiness for all
    • Empirical
evolution of morality flack de waal
Evolution of Morality (Flack & De Waal)
  • Evolutionary Origins of Morality
  • Primate research and human morality
  • An implicit agreement among group members that enabled individuals to profit from the benefits of co-operative sociality.
evolutionary morality flack de waal
Evolutionary Morality (Flack & De Waal)
  • Elements of moral systems are tools social animals use to make living together a possiblity
  • Check competition (conflicting interests of individuals)
  • Sympathy related traits
flack de waal 4 ingredients of morality
Flack & De Waal4 ingredients of morality
  • Sympathy related, cognitive empathy
  • Norm related

internalization of rules

anticipation of punishment

3. Reciprocity: giving, trading, revenge

4. Getting along: peacemaking

community concern, negotiations

teleological morality
Teleological Morality
  • Teleological: exhibiting or relating to design or purpose especially in nature
  • “Divine Command”
  • What is moral is dictated by God.
  • e.g. The 10 commandments
deontological theories
Deontological Theories
  • de·on·tol·o·gythe theory or study of moral obligation
  • Theories based on duties, rights
  • Kant wanted to get away from teleological arguments *
immanual kant
Immanual Kant
  • Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals (1785, T.K. Abbott, trans.)
  • Metaphysics of Morals (1797)

Declaration of independence (U.S.A) (1776)

French revolution (1789)

morality for autonomous rational beings
Morality for Autonomous Rational Beings
  • Morality is defined by rational logic.
  • No empirical knowledge of human conditions are required.
  • Defines what “ought” to be moral for rational beings.
morality through pure logic
Morality through Pure logic
  • Formal rational knowledge: logic
  • Cannot rest on experience
  • Logic cannot have any empirical part
  • Kant’s “Metaphysic of morals”
  • Determination of the supreme principle of morality.
  • All duties are either duties of RIGHT, that is, juridical duties (officia juris), or duties of VIRTUE, that is, ethical duties (officia virtutis s. ethica).
  • Juridical duties are such as may be promulgated by external legislation


by Immanuel Kant translated by W. Hastie

  • Perfect duties: external
    • (legislation)
  • Imperfect duties: internal
    • (conscience, moral feeling)
supreme principle of morality
Supreme principle of morality

"Act according to a maxim which can likewise be valid as a universal law." Every maxim which is not qualified according to this condition is contrary to Morality.”


  • Nothing can be called “good” except a good will.
  • Intelligence, wit (talents of mind)
    • Desirable
    • Can be used for evil purposes
  • Moderation, self control, calm deliberation
    • Useful for a good will, but not good in themselves
Kant on will,



Under the will, taken generally, may be included the volitional

act of choice, and also the mere act of wish, in so far as reason

may determine the faculty of desire in its activity. The act of choice

that can be determined by pure reason constitutes the act of

free-will. That act which is determinable only by inclination as a

sensuous impulse or stimulus would be irrational brute choice

(arbitrium brutum). The human act of choice, however, as human, is

in fact affected by such impulses or stimuli, but is not determined by

them; and it is, therefore, not pure in itself when taken apart from

the acquired habit of determination by reason.

a good will
A Good Will
  • A good will has value in itself
  • Regardless of the consequences or results
  • Human beings: the will does not accord completey with reason.
human beings and free will
Human beings and Free Will
  • Inclinations
  • Free will
  • Autonomous agents
    • Autonomy is the criteria for morality
  • Man endowed with reason rather than simply instincts: fulfills a purpose
  • What purpose does rationality fulfill?
action from duty
Action from Duty
  • Action done from duty derives it’s moral worth,not from the purpose which is to be attained by it, but from the maxim by which it is determined.
  • Duty to maintain one’s own life
  • Duty to be beneficent when we can
  • Duty to secure one’s happiness (indirect)
  • Actions must be done from duty to be moral.
    • There may be no such knowable case
duty to maintain one s own life
Duty to maintain one’s own life
  • Most men have also a direct inclination to preserve their own life
  • No intrinsic worth, life preserved as duty dictates, but not because duty dictates
  • Consider a man who has no reason to live but decides to preserve his life from duty.
  • “Ought”, or “Shall”
  • A command of reason
  • Obligation
  • Commands are either:
    • Hypothetical or Categorical
hypothetical imperitives
Hypothetical Imperitives
  • The practical necessity of a possible action as a means to something else that is willed (or possibly willed).
  • Actions good as a means to something else
categorical imperitive
Categorical Imperitive
  • That which represents an action as necessary of itself without reference to another end.
  • Objectively necessary
  • A will which conforms to reason, good in itself, categorical.
imperitives of action
Imperitives of action




three sorts of principles
Three Sorts of Principles
  • Rules of skill (technical)
  • Counsels of prudence (pragmatic)
    • Involve necessity, but........
    • Only hold under a contingent subjective condition (how things really turn out)
  • Commands (laws) of morality (moral)
    • Involves objective necessity
    • Must be obeyed
      • even in opposition to inclination
imperitives of skill
Imperitives of Skill
  • The end being rational or good is not an issue.
  • The question is simply what one must to to attain the end.
  • The means are variable (?)
  • To will the end is to will the means
  • One end all humans have is happiness.
  • Hypothetical Imperitive
  • Skill in choice as to actions to this end is called prudence.
  • Action is not commanded absolutely, only as a means to the purpose of happiness.
prudence for happiness
Prudence (for Happiness)
  • Although one may wish for happiness, one cannot be certain what to do.
  • Unable, on ANY principle to determine what action
  • Happiness is subjective, empirical.
  • Impossible for a clear sighted man to know exactly what he wills..
    • Riches lead to anxiety
    • Knowledge leads to a sharper eye for evils
prudence consilia
Prudence (consilia)
  • Empirical counsel, cannot be commanded
    • taught by experience
  • Regimen
  • Frugality
  • Courtesy
  • Reserve
imperitive of morality
Imperitive of Morality
  • Categorical Imperitive
  • Does not concern the matter of the action, or the result
  • The form and principle of the action
  • What is important is the mental disposition, “let the consequences be what they may”
morality categorical imperitive
Morality: Categorical Imperitive
  • Act on that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.
  • Treat each man as an end , never only as a means (alternate version)
  • Duties derived from this principle
divisions of duties
Divisions of Duties
  • Duties to ourselves
  • Duties to others
  • Perfect duties
  • Imperfect duties
imperfect duties
Imperfect Duties
  • The moral law can provide only the maxim of actions, not actions themselves.
  • What is required is that we take to heart certain principles, not that we act in certain ways.
supreme moral principle
Supreme moral principle
  • Ask: Can you also will that the maxim should be a universal law?
  • If not, the maxim must be rejected
applying the principle
Applying the principle
  • Situation, proposed action.
  • Is it right?
  • Formulate maxim
  • Apply as a universal law
  • Is this contradictory?
example deceit
Example: Deceit
  • Situation: need money , cannot pay back.
  • Maxim: Everyone may make a deceitful promise when he finds himself in a difficult situation from which he cannot otherwise extricate himself
  • Can will lying, but cannot will lying be a universal law, if so no promises at all valid.
  • Applying the principle results in a logical contradiction...
  • Lying becomes impossible if willed that all can lie.
  • At least according to Kant
example sloth
Example: Sloth
  • A man has a talent but chooses not to develop it.
  • Ask: Whenever anyone has a talent they should choose not to develop it.
  • Not contradictory, simply undesirable
example sloth43
Example: Sloth
  • “a system of nature could indeed subsist with such a universal law...but he cannot will this a universal law..for as a rational being he necessarily wills that his faculties be developed since they serve him...” (nonsense)
example beneficience
Example: Beneficience
  • A man of wealth sees poor people and asks “what concern is it of mine”
  • It is possible that a rule of nature might exist in accord with this universal maxim, but it is impossible to will that such a principle should have universal validity..for a will which resolved this would contradict itself since a law of nature sprung from one’s own will would preclude him of help when needed.
example suicide
Example: Suicide
  • Man in despair, weary of life.
  • From self love I adopt it as a principle to shorten my life when it’s duration is likely to bring more evil than satisfaction.
example suicide46
Example Suicide
  • “Now we see at once that a system of nature of which it should be a law to destroy life by means of the very feeling whose special nature it is to impel the improvement of life would contradict itself”
derivation of perfect imperfect duties
Derivation of Perfect, Imperfect duties
  • From the supreme moral principle it is derived that some duties are
  • Perfect: obligitory and defined
  • Imperfect: obligitory but not defined
    • (specific actions are not dictated)
john stuart mill
John Stuart Mill
  • Utilitarianism (1863)
    • Epicurus, Bentham
  • Mill: Kant fails to show that the conclusions are logically contradictory, merely that they are undesirable
  • I agree. Kant represents rationalization rather than rationality.
  • Maximize total happiness (for all)
  • Utility (value)
  • The ultimate “end” is an existence without pain and with pleasure
  • This is the standard of morality.
telling a lie
Telling a lie
  • May be expedient for an individual to lie, but ill for society, therefore it is immoral.


  • It may be nothing but painful to tell the truth at times, providing exceptions..withholding information from a malefactor, bad news from someone who is ill, etc.
  • External sanctions
  • Internal sanctions (conscience)
  • “a feeling in our own mind, a pain, more or less intense, attendant on violation of duty”
  • The conscientious feelings of mankind
mill punishment
Mill: Punishment
  • Something is wrong if punishment is due. A desire to punish is present.
  • Moral feeling is bestowed on us by nature
    • This does not legitimize it’s promptings
  • Intellectual and animal instincts
  • Wrong: punishment due
    • Legal punishment
    • Opinion of others (social disdain)
    • Reproachment of Conscience
mill on perfect imperfect duties
Mill on Perfect / Imperfect Duties
  • Poorly chosen terms
  • The difference between justice and beneficence:
    • Someone’s rights are violated
  • Perfect duty violations involve the violation of someone’s rights
  • Imperfect duty violations do not involve violating someone’s rights.
  • A duty is something that can be extracted from someone, like a debt.
desire to punish
Desire to punish
  • Natural
  • “a spontaneous outgrowth from two sentiments, both natural”
    • Self defense
    • Sympathy
  • Feelings of retaliation, vengence
  • It is moral to act in the direction of the good of society, not simply on personal hurt, unless society has a common interest in the repression of the evil.
what is a person s right
What is a person’s right?
  • A valid claim on society to protect him in possession of it. (General Utility)
  • Force of law
  • Force of public opinion
thirst for justice
Thirst for justice
  • Derived from the extraordinary important kind of utility which is concerned.
  • Security is a concern for all, the most vital of interests (after nutrition)
  • There is disagreement about what is just, and what is fit punishment
lex talionis an eye for an eye
lex talionis: an eye for an eye
  • Punishment proportioned to the offense?
  • Punishment minimal to preclude the behavior?
  • Good for good, evil for evil.
  • A continuous function of value is implied.
evil for evil
Evil for Evil
  • Responsible for voluntary action only
  • Responsible for what one could have voluntarily avoided
  • Punishment proportioned to offence
  • Unjust to condemn anyone unheard
mill highly immoral acts
Mill: Highly immoral acts
  • Breach of friendship (disloyalty)
    • “few hurts which human beings can sustain are greater”
  • Breach of promise (dishonesty)
particular cases of social duty
Particular cases of social duty
  • “Thus, to save a life, it may be not only allowable, but a duty, to steal, or take by force, the necessary food or medicine, or to kidnap and compel..the medical practitioner”
    • (J.S. Mill, Utilitarianism, 1863)
the bottom line
The bottom line
  • Utilitarianism is conerned with value to society.
  • Kant is too cut and dry, black and white.
  • Placing lying and stealing in the category of “honesty” may be overgeneralizing.
attribution of moral traits
Attribution of moral traits
  • Attribution of dishonest, disloyal behaviors does not reflect Kant’s perfect duty morality.
problems with perfect imperfect classifications
Problems with Perfect Imperfect Classifications
  • Is this too general?
  • Is lying the same as stealing?
  • Is stealing a loaf of bread the same as stealing a television set?
  • We need a moral theory that predicts specific behavior attributions
degrees of moral indignation
Degrees of moral indignation
  • Killed an enemy soldier
  • Killed a man in a fight
  • Killed his own brother
  • Killed a woman
  • Killed a woman and her unborn child
attributing behaviors
Attributing behaviors
  • Characterizing behaviors as perfect or imperfect duty violations is limiting.
  • Does not deal with degrees
  • Suggest a moral continuum
goal of the human organism
Goal of the human organism
  • Nature dictates the “goal” of a life has been shaped so as to maximize inclusive fitness. There is no goal.
  • Can rationality over-ride disposition?
  • Agreement that there is a natural sense of morality. What role does rationality play? (rationalization)
darwinian utilitarianism
Darwinian Utilitarianism ?
  • Maximize inclusive fitness for one’s genes.
  • Happiness (positive affect) is tied to fitness inducing behaviors / results
    • Beautiful landscapes, satisfaction, etc
psychological morality model
Psychological Morality Model
  • Evolutionarily important relations
  • Hunter-Gatherer Societies
  • In groups / out groups
  • Specific relations
    • Mates, kin, strangers, social status
    • Gender, immigrants,