Category: Philosophy Essay
Kant's "Moral Duties"

One of the most difficult tasks is to give the interpretation of Kant’s moral duty. The definition of moral duty is a contradictory one even according to Kant’s own terminology. One of the reasons is his usage of the term duty. Paton believes that Kant uses the moral duty to define the motive of obeying the moral law. A person does something because it is his or her moral duty. However, when Kant tries to define duty, he always refers to it as an action. According to this fact, there is a question of whether duty can be both the action and the obligation at the same time. Probably, Kant uses duty as an action to define it as a term, while when Kant uses duty as a motif, he refers to it as different aspects of moral duty.

According to Kant’s perception of moral duty, this phenomenon is necessary to discuss from both aspects: from the point of view that moral duty is an action and that moral duty is a motif. Kant defines moral duty as a necessity of action caused by respect to the law. Kant views it as an action that one is obliged to obey. However, the obligation is predetermined as a necessity of free action. From the empirical perspective, Kant divides moral duty into three steps. The first step is the case when the moral agent must respect the moral law. The second circumstance is when moral agents must respect the situation and know how to perform in a particular case. The third case is when a moral agent must perform his or her act as fulfilling the duty. According to this theory, moral duty is an action that is performed by a person because of his or her personal moral obligation, which is based on free will. In other words, a person has a certain world view and a certain perception of all things that happens to him or her. According to this perception of the world, each person formulates his or her own rules or obligations. These rules become the fundamentals of a person’s moral principles. They are created by a person and are not forced by society or somebody else, but a person is obliged to perform them and this obligation is caused by his or her own decision, free will. Thus, it can be said that moral duty is the obligation that a person chooses personally for himself or herself and he or she agrees to perform in a certain situation.

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Moreover, according to Kant, the moral duty should include four principles. They are the following: do not harm yourself, do not harm others, do what is good for yourself, do what is good for others. Thus, moral duty is something more than simply an obligation to act in a particular way and in a particular situation. Moral duty predetermines that an action motivated by moral duty will not cause harm to a moral agent and to other people. Besides, an agent will receive something good from it as well as other people who participate somehow in a particular situation.

The formulation of moral duty requires obeying to certain steps in order to fulfill the moral duty. They are goodwill, reason, duty, rational beings, self-discipline, acting on universal principles. Any moral duty begins with goodwill or an intention to act in a particular manner in a particular situation. The person’s decision to be polite with other people is also a moral duty. A person makes an act to demonstrate good manners while communicating with other people. This decision is based on free will and its obligation depends on the person’s readiness to obey this rule that is created by this person. The next step is a reason; a person should have a significant reason to follow this principle. The reasons for obeying a moral duty are absolutely different. For example, it may be a character-building factor that was formed in childhood. Another reason is the goal to establish good relations with people in order to find reliable friends or partners in the future. In other words, each person has his/her own reasons for obeying a moral duty, but there could not be the absence of such reason because otherwise obeying moral duty loses its necessity. The reason plays a motivating role and, thus, a person is ready to follow his or her moral duty.

The third step is a duty. In the case of moral duty, the term duty has a bit different connotation. When one talks about duty, he or she usually means performing a certain action because of certain circumstances or situations. For example, the civic duty of citizens is to protect their native country from foreign invaders. In this case, the duty is an act that a person must perform in case of a foreign threat, but this duty is obligated by society, but not by a person himself or herself. In fact, it was not a personal decision to perform this duty, though there are many people who agree that this duty they are ready to perform, but still it is not their personal decision to obey it. In the case of moral duty, the initiator of a moral obligation is a person himself/herself. A person creates a duty that is necessary to obey because of his or her personal beliefs or principles. Other people may influence the decision of obeying a certain duty, but still, a person is the only one who can make himself or herself follow this obligation.

The next step is rational beings, which means obeying to a duty that is viewed as a rational one. A person will not try to obey a moral duty in case this duty seems irrational for him or her. The main condition of obeying a moral duty is a person’s faith in it. If a person truly believes that this moral duty is correct and it can be performed, then this moral duty is a real one. However, a person may create a moral duty, which cannot be performed in case of such a necessity. In other words, this moral duty exists only indeed and not in name. In this case, moral duty loses its significance because the decision as to such duty was an irrational act. Thus, it can be said that one of the important circumstances is the ability to obey a moral duty.

Self-discipline is necessary to make a person follow his or her moral duty and perform it in a certain situation. Without self-discipline, a moral duty cannot be performed even if all other factors are respected. The last condition is acting on universal principles. Moral duty is easier to obey if it is connected with some universal principle, for example, some virtue, which is obligatory for everyone like telling the truth and not lying or being honest with other people. Moral duties based on universal principles are more likely to be accepted by other people and, thus, such actions will be highly valued not only by the individual but also by the rest of the society.

Kant states that all these steps are essential stages of creating a moral duty. Moral duty is a complex phenomenon, which is predetermined not only by the free will of the individual but also by the moral law in a wide meaning of this term. Moral duty should be based on moral laws; otherwise, moral duty is a variety of human principles. Moreover, Kant underlines that moral duty should contain the principle of humanity. According to this fact, it is necessary to outline what definition Kant includes in this term. Kant believes that humanity should not predetermine the usage of other people as a means of achieving personal goals. If such things happen, then moral duty will lose its morality because moral duty a priori predetermines virtues that cannot be viewed as a negative phenomenon.

In my opinion, moral duty is a plan of action that every person selects for himself or herself. I agree with Kant’s statement that moral duty is an obligation, which is based on free will. Probably, this statement may be irrational because such terms as free will and obligation cannot be used for the connotation of the same phenomenon. However, in the case of moral duty, I absolutely agree that moral duty is the phenomenon that predetermines obligatory performance of a particular principle and this decision should be made only by free will. I think that every person has some principles, but not everybody may have a moral duty. According to Kant, moral duty includes humanity and without this fact moral duty cannot be considered from the moral point of view. Moral duty predetermines those actions that an individual performs according to his or her moral beliefs and they must be based on the moral law. In other words, if there is no moral background, the moral duty cannot exist and that action is only a principle. Human principles can have a positive or a negative connotation, while moral duty should be based on general virtues. According to this fact, moral duty without morality is not a moral duty anymore

I agree with Kant’s statement about the role of morality in the moral duty, but I cannot take a blind eye that there are some situations when a moral duty obliges a person to act immorally. Kant also says that moral duty should not cause harm to other people, but what should one do when his or her moral duty contradicts this idea. If one follows his or her moral duty obligation, then he or she can harm other people. However, if a person does not act in this way, it may cause harm to him or her. For example, a person has a moral duty, to be honest, and to tell truth to other people. Conditions of this moral duty respond to all principles of Kant’s theory of moral duty. This moral duty is grounded on the moral law and is supposed to be appropriate by other people in society. Nevertheless, there are such situations, which make the performance of such simple moral duty very difficult. For example, let one imagine such a situation in which one individual is a person who has a moral duty, to tell the truth. The best friend of this individual hit his boss’s car, but nobody saw that and this friend decided to leave the place of the accident to avoid the punishment. The friend tells an individual about this case and he explained that he had no other choice because he just found a good job and he had no money to pay for the repair. In case, this friend told about his friend’s accident, this friend would probably lose his new job because his boss would view him as an unreliable employee. The individual understands that his duty is to report about this accident and name who is guilty. In this way, on the one hand, he will perform his moral duty, but on the other had his friend will have serious troubles. Here, the individual faces the dilemma and the contradiction of his moral duty. Nevertheless, moral duty requires telling about this accident, yet moral duty predetermines that the consequences of moral duty should not harm others.

I think that such situation is not the unique one and every moral duty faces the similar conditions, which contradict the main principle of a moral duty. I believe that in such situations every person is the only one who decides what circumstances are moral for him or her in particular situations. I understand that such point of view may be opposite to the Kant’s theory, but still one should remember that moral duty is based on free will. Thus, I believe that the principle of free will has a supreme role in this dilemma.

To sum up, it should be said that Kant’s moral duty is an issue that cannot be solved from only one point of view. This theory should be observed from different aspects and even Kant could not absolutely identify it. Moral duty is an obligation that a person performs because of his or her personal beliefs and world view. The essential condition of moral duty is free will. Kant believes that moral duty cannot be considered as a moral one if it is obligatory to be performed by someone else, but not a person himself or herself. According to this fact, moral duty is a result of person’s views. Kant also states that moral duty should contain the moral law as the essential condition of morality. Moral law predetermines obeying to universal morality such as virtues. If a person has a moral duty, it should not contradict the principles of morality in the society where he or she lives. In other case, his or her moral duty cannot be viewed from the point of view of morality. Kant states that moral duty should not cause harm to a person and to other people and it should be targeted at improvement and self-development.

In my opinion, Kant’s theory of moral duty is a deep philosophical analysis of the human psychology. One may face social duty or other kinds of duty, but moral duty is something that each person chooses for himself or herself; it is an obligation that a person wants to perform because he or she believes that it is a right decision and it is necessary to do.

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