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Morality. 1. Fundamental differences between abstract right and morality ( 1) Unlike the content of abstract right, the content of the moral will is not external to the will itself Rather , the willing subject has its own free will (and thus itself) as its object:

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1. Fundamental differences between abstract right and morality

(1) Unlike the content of abstract right, the content of the moral will is not external to the will itself

Rather, the willing subject has its own free will (and thus itself) as its object:

… the infinite subjectivity of freedom, which now has being for itself, constitutes the principle of the moral point of view. (§ 104)

The moral point of view is the point of view of the will in so far as the latter is infinite not only in itself but also for itself. (§ 105)


Infinite = not limited by something external to itself

For itself = has its own previously implicit essence (in itself) as its object

Something essential but only implicit (i.e. the concept of the will) → consciousness of this essence and its actualisation by means of concrete acts of willing

In this way, morality represents a more adequate manifestation of freedom than does abstract right


Subjectivity becomes an object of right with its own demands, because it turns out to be a necessary condition of the full consciousness and actualisation of freedom

Only in the will as subjective will can freedom, or the will which has being in itself, be actual. (§ 106)

From the moral standpoint, I am interested in my actions and their effects only in so far as they manifest my subjectivity

Only what was already present in my subjective will do I recognize as mine in that will’s expression, and I expect to reencounter my subjective consciousness in it. (§ 110A)


Self-determination involves being determined by something that is mine rather than by something external to me

The moral point of view therefore takes the shape of the right of the subjective will. In accordance with this right, the will can recognize something or be something only in so far as that thing is its own, and in so far as the will is present to itself in it as subjectivity. (§ 107)

Moral autonomy v. determination of the will by something external to it (heteronomy in Kant’s terms) - ‘objective’ will that ‘lacks the infinite form of self-consciousness’ (§ 26)

The uncivilized human being lets everything be dictated to him by brute force and by natural conditions; children have no moral will and allow themselves to be determined by their parents; but the cultivated and inwardly developing human being wills that he should be present in everything he does. (§ 107A)


(2) Since it concerns the subjective will, morality, unlike abstract right, concerns itself with the intentions, motives, purposes etc. that agents have (§ 106A)

Move from externality to inwardness

Morality must, therefore, be concerned with an agent’s desires, drives, inclinations, needs etc.


2. Increasing levels of self-determination

Dual nature of moral subjectivity

Moral subject has an awareness of itself as:

(1) A free agent in the abstract sense of being subject only to universally valid principles of practical rationality

(2) A particular individual with desires, needs, interests etc. that are specifically one’s own

(1) and (2) may be incompatible

My particular desires, needs, interests etc. may motivate me to act in ways that do not accord with universally valid principles of practical rationality


Self-determination requires bringing (1) and (2) into harmony by:

(1) Giving my particular acts of willing a rational form (e.g. limiting my desires in accordance with principles of reason)

(2) Giving my abstract rationality a determinate content through turning its universal principles into my particular ends and actions

[T]he development of the right of the subjective will – or of its mode of existence – whereby this subjective will further determines what it recognizes as its own object so that this becomes the will’s true concept – i.e. becomes objective in the sense of the will’s own universality. (§ 107)

In order truly to have itself as its object, the subjective will must adopt something universal as its object and end


Third moment of concept of the will – ‘speculative’ unity of the universality and the particularity of the will (concrete universality)

Since this unity presents itself as a task, morality assumes the form of an ‘ought’:

… it (i.e. subjectivity, DJ) has not yet been posited as identical with the concept of the will, so that the moral point of view is consequently the point of view of relationship, obligation, or requirement. (§ 108)

Thus there remains ‘the possibility of [the content] not being in conformity with the concept’ (§ 111)

As free in sense of possessing freedom of choice, I may not will to do what I am obliged to do


3. Rights of moral subjectivity – subjective freedom

Right of knowledge – ‘I can be made accountable for a deed only if my will was responsible for it (§ 117)

I can be held responsible only for acts or events that (1) I directly intended (e.g. setting fire to a barn) and (2) I could have reasonably foreseen as resulting from my act (e.g. the fire spreading to neighbouring buildings)

Oedipus was held to be guilty of parricide even in the absence of (1) - evidence of the ancients’ lack of recognition of subjectivity

To hold an individual responsible for (2) as well as for (1) is to respect ‘the right of the action to assert itself as known and willed by the subject as a thinking agent’ (§ 120)

Respect for the agent’s status as a free and rational being


Right of subjective freedom

Recognising oneself in an action means being able to identify oneself, as this particular individual, with the end in accordance with which one acts and to find value in it

In identifying oneself with the action, an agent experiences a kind of satisfaction (not necessarily simple sensation of pleasure) in relation to it

The fact that this moment of the particularity of the agent is contained and implemented in the action constitutes subjective freedom in its more concrete determination, i.e. the right of the subject to find its satisfaction in the action. (§ 121)

As well as asking from what end an agent acts, we may also ask why he or she chose to adopt this end (importance of motives, reasons)


Deepening of moral subjectivity – increasing inwardness - a historical product:

The right of the subject’s particularity to find satisfaction, or – to put it differently – the right of subjective freedom, is the pivotal and focal point in the difference between antiquity and the modern age. This right, in its infinity, is expressed in Christianity, and it has become the universal and actual principle of a new form of the world. Its more specific shapes include love, the romantic, the eternal salvation of the individual as an end, etc. (§ 124R)

(Historical development mirrors conceptual one?)


Content of the will, whose pursuit or attainment produces satisfaction, falls into two main groups:

(1) Given (natural needs, inclinations etc.) - Welfare or happiness

This is the point of view of thought which does not yet comprehend the will in its freedom, but reflects on its content as something natural and given. (§ 123R)

Can be (i) individual or (ii) general (i.e. welfare or happiness of others as well as one’s own) – universal applicability based on rational self-interest

Ends of welfare or happiness as ‘ends of particularity’ are different from the ‘universal’ and may or may not be in conformity with it (§ 125)

Contingent, as opposed to essential, relation between particularity and universality of will


(2) The (objectively) good

Moral agent has an unconditional obligation in relation to the good, which is universally valid

The good is something that the agent ‘ought’ to produce through its actions - one ‘ought’ (?) to be happy v. one ‘ought’ to tell the truth

For the subjective will, the good is … absolutely essential, and the subjective will has worth and dignity only in so far as its insight and intention are in conformity with the good. (§ 131)

It is not a matter of renouncing all particular ends and interests but only of bringing them into conformity with the good and subordinating them to the latter - If agents had to renounce all such ends, they would not be sufficiently motivated to will the good


What explains the ‘necessity’ of transition from (1) to (2)?

Move form (1) to (2) mirrors transition from happiness to autonomy of the will in Introduction

Happiness operates as a kind of universal, in which various desires, drives, ends etc. are organised into a whole

Its content is, however, ultimately a contingent one that depends on what a particular agent takes happiness to be

There is, therefore, no independent, universally valid principle that determines the content of the will

In the case of autonomy, by contrast, the content of the will is determined by self-imposed, universally valid principles of action


But why must autonomy of the will in this sense be introduced at all?

Identity of particular will (qua individual rational agent subject to universal principles of action) and the universality of the will (qua the objective, universally valid object and end of the moral agent’s will)

Does the necessity of the transition from (1) to (2) ultimately depend, then, on Hegel’s theory of the logical concept?

Since the concept of the will exhibits this logical structure, there must be a phenomenal form of willing that corresponds to it


4. The critique of Kantian morality

As highly reflective Kantian morality respects:

The right of the subjective will …that whatever it is to recognize as valid should be perceived by it as good, and that it should be held responsible for an action … as right or wrong, good or evil, legal or illegal, according to its cognizance of the value which that object has in this objectivity. (§ 132)

Discussion has moved to the moral value (or disvalue) of an action, and not simply the matter of whether or not it can be attributed to an agent’s will

The question of moral value is a matter of thought (as opposed to feeling, say)


Problem of moral formalism

The right to recognize nothing that I do not perceive as rational is the highest right of the subject, but by virtue of its subjective determination, it is at the same time formal … Because of its formal determination, insight is equally capable of being true and of being mere opinion and error. (§132R)

Kant’s categorical imperative is a moral principle designed to tell us what counts as an objectively valid duty

Formula of Universal Law:

Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law (Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals)


In order to determine whether or not a course of action accords with duty, one must ask oneself what would be the implications of everyone pursuing the same course of action

If application of this moral principle results in a contradiction (in conception or willing), the proposed course of action cannot be morally valid or permissible

According to Hegel, this abstract, universally valid moral principle by itself fails to yield any determinate morally valid principles of action

At some level certain concepts (e.g. property) whose validity is simply presupposed will have to be introduced to generate any determinate duties


One may indeed bring in material from outside and thereby arrive at particular duties, but it is impossible to make the transition to the determination of particular duties from the above determination of duty as absence of contradiction, as formal correspondence with itself. (§ 135R)

Introducing a content whose validity is merely presupposed violates the right ‘to recognize nothing that I do not perceive as rational’

Hegel also argues that absence of contradiction can be used to ‘justify any wrong or immoral code of action’. (§ 135R)

Considered in abstraction, any content can be shown either to produce or not to produce a contradiction when universalised


The maxim ‘help the poor’ when universalized would contradict itself because there would be no poor people left to help or everyone would be poor!

By implication, the maxim ‘do not help the poor’ would be morally valid

Typical defences of Kant:

(1) FUL can be made to yield moral duties and to exclude immoral maxims (without presupposing the validity of a given content?)

(2) Hegel ignores Kant’s other formulations of

CI, which are essential when it comes to applying this moral principle


5. Conscience

Conscience promises:

(1) To provide the notion of moral duty with determinate content in the shape of the conviction that a particular action is a duty

One looks beyond general principles to focus on particular situations and takes the responsibility upon oneself to decide what is the morally right thing to do in the circumstances

(2) To respect the right of subjective freedom:

Conscienceexpresses the absolute entitlement of subjective self-consciousness to know in itself and from itself what right and duty are, and to recognize only what it thus knows as the good; it also consists in the assertion that what it thus knows and wills is truly right and duty. (§137R)


‘Formal’ conscience

There is no universally valid standard (e.g. law, principle) independent of personal conviction which can tell us whether or not a conviction represents a true moral belief

Thus the good is made to depend entirely on what an individual takes it to be

‘Formal’ conscience results in ethical subjectivism, despite appealing to the notion of objective, universally valid moral duties by claiming that something is ‘truly right’:

… its appeal solely to itself is directly opposed to what it seeks to be – that is, the rule for a rational and universal mode of action which is valid in and for itself. (§ 137R)


But does conscience claim to provide a rule for determining what is universally valid?

Implicit or explicit rule = to judge what is morally right or wrong solely in accordance with the dictates of one’s conscience

Always act in accordance with your best conviction concerning your duty, or, Act according to your conscience (Fichte, The System of Ethics)

Leads to various forms of ‘evil’ in which the good is treated as a mere ‘form or semblance’ subordinated to, and dependent on, agent’s ‘particularity’ (given desires, self-interest, intentions, personal convictions etc.) (§ 140)


‘True’ conscience

Form of conscience in which subjective conviction of the goodness and truth of something corresponds to what is objectively and universally valid and is therefore the source of genuine determinate duties:

True conscience is the disposition to will what is good in and for itself; it therefore has fixed principles, and these have for it the character of determinacy and duties which are objective for themselves. (§ 137)

The standpoint of the true conscience is attained only in ethical life (Sittlichkeit)