Categorical Imperative Kant

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“What does it feel like to be moral?” Kant and the Subjective Vitality of the Moral Law Obeying the categorical imperative, by definition, requires a person to abstract from their conscious inclinations, acting from a higher kind of motivation that is not oriented toward personal gain. What kind of conscious mental state, precisely, is denoted by Kant’s references to this kind of motivation, however, is not immediately obvious. It certainly cannot be a mere desire for the end toward which an action prescribed by the moral law is geared – this would place the action right back into the sphere of inclinations. Nor, I will argue, can it be a desire to obey the categorical imperative as such – at least, not in the conventional sense of “desire”…show more content…
The swimmer, motivated by her knowledge that she will regret it if she doesn’t (admittedly an inclination, but sufficiently remote from her immediate state to act here as a metaphor for the moral law), decides with dread to quit her cosy sleeping bag and make her way, shivering, to the intimidatingly high ledge hanging over the edge of the water. Paralysed by unwillingness, she tries in vain to convince herself to jump by reasoning that the experience will be worthwhile, until she realizes that the only way to carry out her plan will be to forget about her disinclination and choose to act on that bare knowledge about her future feelings, carrying out the simple action of a small jump that is actually physically very easy to do. She simply tells her legs to launch her forward, disinclinations and all. I would characterize this moment of action without inclination, motivated purely by an end one knows one ought to have, as a moment resembling an act of faith. Such a moment may be usefully compared to similar moments of faith as performed by religious figures. The writer of the eleventh chapter of the letter to the Hebrews characterizes faith as “assurance about what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1), and…show more content…
This knowledge represents the features of the moral law (freedom from inclination, human dignity, the kingdom of ends, etc.) to us as morally valuable, which value inspires our assent to adopting morality per se as our end as though we were that way inclined, but does not emotively pull us toward the particular actions it recommends. In “Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View”, Kant describes a kind of self-deception by which we undertake to behave as though we were morally inclined (151). He says that this self-deception, although counterfeit, is necessary and is meant to “lead man to virtue” (152). “Force accomplishes nothing in the struggle against sensuality in the inclination; instead we must outwit these inclinations” (152) – in the absence of true moral character, we can still achieve morality’s demands by pretending that we are moral. This recalls the picture of the swimmer, who, in the moment of leaping into the frigid water, behaves as though her inclinations were different in that moment from what they in fact are. I would then agree with Hinman’s claim that such an account of moral behaviour as a kind of self-denying theatrical performance “can provide a more satisfactory account of the relation between reason and emotion” (261). It
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