The Moral Good and the Natural Good in Kant's Ethics

Review of Metaphysics 36 (2):397 - 437 (1982)
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THE heterogeneity of the good--its division into the moral good, as virtue, and the natural good, as happiness--is central to Kant's philosophy. In order to clarify and sustain this division, Kant was compelled to specify the valuational characteristics of each kind of good and their relation to one another. But in trying to analyze the good in its heterogeneity Kant faced a terminological difficulty. He could no longer speak simply of "the good" without speaking ambiguously. To avoid this ambiguity Kant decided to refer to the moral good by the term "das Gute," and to the natural good by the term "das Wohl," to moral evil by the term "das Böse," and to natural evil by the term "das Übel." This attempt at linguistic reform was not successful, however, for at least two reasons. First, Kant did not carry his reform of the language far enough. And second, Kant seriously underestimated and quickly fell victim to the power of common usage. The force of linguistic habit, both personal and social, and the wisdom inherent in common usage opposed the adoption of his terminology.



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