Why Positive Duties cannot Be Derived from Kant’s Formula of Universal Law

Philosophia 50 (3):1189-1206 (2022)
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Abstract

Ever since Hegel famously objected to Kant’s universalization formulations of the Categorical Imperative on the grounds that they are nothing but an empty formalism, there has been continual debate about whether he was right. In this paper I argue that Hegel got things at least half-right: I argue that even if negative duties (duties to omit actions or not to adopt maxims) can be derived from the universalization formulations, positive duties (duties to commit actions or to adopt maxims) cannot. The paper is divided into three main sections. In the first, I set out the procedures generally accepted among Kantians for deriving positive duties from the universalization formulations. In the second, I set out the arguments from section 1 in more detail and explain why they do not work. In the third, I examine a strategy that might be used to supplement the arguments from section 2 and I argue that it also does not work.

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

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