Virtue and Prudence in a Footnote of the Metaphysics of Morals (MS VI: 433n)

Jahrbuch für Recht Und Ethik / Annual Review of Law and Ethics. Themenschwerpunkt: Das Rechtsstaatsprinzip / The Rule of Law-Principle 21 (2013)
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In this paper, I provide an interpretation of the latitude of wide duties by analyzing Kant’s reinterpretation of Horace’s adage insani sapiens nomen habeat; aequus iniqui - ultra quam satis est virtutem si petat ipsam (the wise man has the name of being a fool, the just man of being iniquitous, if he seeks virtue beyond what is sufficient”, MS VI: 404n., 409 and 433n) and his criticism of Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean. In support of my interpretation I also analyze Kant’s distinction between lying and reticence in his correspondence with Maria von Herbert and between openheartedness and reticence in the Religion. I argue that since there is no upper limit to the extent we may realize moral ends it may be morally permissible to take one’s prudential considerations into account when deciding how to comply with wide duties. In contrast, the deliberate disregard of one’s permissible prudential interests may reflect what Kant calls a fantastic conception of virtue, according to which agents vainly believe that they can completely achieve virtue in this life. I call attention to the fact that for Kant the wise (sapiens) is also a prudens, a person who does not think fantastically in matters of virtue and consequently does not attempt to “maximize virtue” at the expense of one’s permissible prudential interests as a finite being.



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Alice Pinheiro Walla
McMaster University

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