Kant on love for oneself: Why respect for the moral law, but not the desire for happiness, is a moral incentive

Lawrence Joseph Masek, Marquette University

Abstract

After reading Kant's claim that only the moral law and respect for the moral law can motivate moral actions, readers sometimes caricature Kant's moral theory as a bizarre form of rule-fetishism that provides no good explanation of why people should act morally. My dissertation challenges this caricature by defending the thesis that Kant correctly maintains that moral actions always benefit the agent. This thesis seems to contradict Kant's claim that self-love cannot motivate moral actions and his distinction between acting morally and pursuing happiness. However, the first chapter of my dissertation argues that a sound moral theory must show that acting morally always benefits the agent in order to provide an adequate explanation of why people should act morally. Remaining chapters show that Kant does not distinguish acting morally from pursuing happiness because he denies that acting morally always benefits the agent. Instead, he makes this distinction because he argues that being rational causes people to pursue an end other than happiness (i.e., the worthiness of being happy). Far from denying the claim that acting morally benefits the agent, Kant's discussion of the incentives of moral actions presupposes this claim. According to Kant, moral actions benefit humans by allowing them to realize the highest good for rational beings. Therefore, moral actions allow people to reach a state in which all of their interests are satisfied.

Recommended Citation

Masek, Lawrence Joseph, "Kant on love for oneself: Why respect for the moral law, but not the desire for happiness, is a moral incentive" (2002). Dissertations (1962 - 2010) Access via Proquest Digital Dissertations. AAI3076306.
https://epublications.marquette.edu/dissertations/AAI3076306

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