Morality and the Pursuit of Happiness : A Study in Kantian Ethics

University dissertation from Johan Brännmark, Department of Philosophy, Lund University

Abstract: This work seeks to develop a Kantian ethical theory in terms of a general ontology of values and norms together with a metaphysics of the person that makes sense of this ontology. It takes as its starting point Kant’s assertion that a good will is the only thing that has an unconditioned value and his accompanying view that the highest good consists in virtue and happiness in proportion to virtue. The soundness of Kant’s position on the value of the good will is defended against criticisms directed against it by G. E. Moore and it is argued that there is an ambiguity in Moore’s notion of ‘intrinsic value’ that makes him unable to fully understand and appreciate the Kantian view. It is also argued that the special value of moral goodness has been unduly neglected in modern moral philosophy, even by those working in the Kantian tradition, and it is suggested that the possibility of a Kantian ethical theory centred on the notion of the highest good remains to be explored. In order to lay the ground for such a theory a Kantian approach to reasons for action and the metaphysics of the person is developed and defended, albeit in a way that, in contrast to Kant himself, emphasizes the social dimension inherent in being a person and acting on reasons. It is also argued that there exists what Henry Sidgwick has called a dualism of practical reason, which means that there are two systematic modes, the self-interested and the moral, of approaching action. These two modes correspond to the two components of the highest good as understood by Kant and it is argued that the highest good represents a reasonable way of unifying them. These two parts of the highest good are then considered, each in turn, and Kantian models for understanding them are elaborated and defended against main rivals. On the matter of happiness, it is argued that standard philosophical theories fail to properly account for the way in which a subject’s own opinions about what constitutes her happiness are important in determining where her happiness actually lies. On the matter of morality, Kantianism is contrasted with consequentialism, the other leading theory that understands morality in terms of an ideal of impartiality and it is argued that the Kantian ideal, which can be called ‘impartiality as universalizability’ is superior to the consequentialist one, which can be called ‘impartiality as impersonality’. A version of Kantian ethics that places its emphasis on the Formula of Universal Law is then elaborated and it is argued that it is reasonable to understand maxims, or at least those maxims eligible for the universalizability test, as having to do with the basic general principles according to which we live. This kind of interpretation creates a large room for the exercise of judgment on the part of the agent and it is suggested that the standards according to which such judgment is exercised are largely determined through our actual moral practices and discourses.

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