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An examination of Kant's duties of Right and their moral basis

Joyce Lazier Baldwin, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


I argue that Kant's duties of Right have a moral basis, and must therefore be towards some end. Furthermore, this moral nature means there can be no heteronomy of law. Moreover, the end for duties of Right must also conform to the other constraints that are special to duties of Right that differentiate them from duties of Virtue. Namely, the end must also be a limiting condition on action that is externally constrained and begets narrow obligation. I propose that the highest good is the best candidate for this type of end. ^ My main focus is on the Metaphysics of Morals. Other Kantian texts considered include the Groundwork, the three Critiques and political writings. ^ Chapter I defines Kantian concepts like the categorical imperative, maxims and technical imperatives. Chapter II explores the position that duties of Right do not properly belong in Kant's morality. Chapters III and IV counter that position by showing possible applications of the categorical imperative in Rechtslehre, and suggesting that the internal incentive, which is essential to duties of Virtue, is foundational to societal structure. This provides the moral basis for duties of Right. Chapter V brings out five important distinctions between duties of Right and Virtue, all of which I argue the end for duties of Right must embody. Chapter VI uses Henry Allison's “Kant's Doctrine of Obligatory Ends” and Nelson Potter's “Kant's Ends that are at the Same Time Duties” to consider obligatory ends for duties of Right and concludes that these ends are not acceptable. Chapter VII uses Andrews Reath's article, “Two Conceptions of the Highest Good in Kant,” to explain the notion of the Highest Good. Chapter VIII searches the Metaphysics of Morals for possible duties of Right and shows how the highest good serves as an end for those duties. I conclude that the highest good nicely unifies duties of Right and Virtue into one moral theory. ^

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Recommended Citation

Baldwin, Joyce Lazier, "An examination of Kant's duties of Right and their moral basis" (2004). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3123452.