Rethinking Kant on Duty

Review of Metaphysics 74 (296):497-526 (2021)
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According to a common caricature of Kant’s ethics, it is synonymous with the Categorical Imperative (CI) and with the sublime and clarion call of duty. But in this paper, I argue that the conjunction of Kant’s concept of duty and his idea of morality as a system of imperatives is unsustainable on the grounds that it commits him to the following two theses: (I) If an agent has a duty to D, then she must be constrained to D, and (II) the Supreme Law of Morality always manifests in the form of duty for humans. I begin by examining (and rejecting) various attempts to defend these two theses. I then explore how this bears on various central aspects of Kant's thought including “ought implies can” (OIC), “ought implies able not to” (OIAN), his system of duties, and the nature of respect.

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Samuel J. M. Kahn
Indiana University Purdue University, Indianapolis

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