The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics eBook

This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 46 pages of information about The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics.

It is the notion of an end which is also a duty, a notion peculiar to ethics, that alone is the foundation of a law for the maxims of actions; by making the subjective end (that which every one has) subordinate to the objective end (that which every one ought to make his own).  The imperative:  “Thou shalt make this or that thy end (e. g., the happiness of others)” applies to the matter of the elective will (an object).  Now since no free action is possible, without the agent having in view in it some end (as matter of his elective will), it follows that, if there is an end which is also a duty, the maxims of actions which are means to ends must contain only the condition of fitness for a possible universal legislation:  on the other hand, the end which is also a duty can make it a law that we should have such a maxim, whilst for the maxim itself the possibility of agreeing with a universal legislation is sufficient.

For maxims of actions may be arbitrary, and are only limited by the condition of fitness for a universal legislation, which is the formal principle of actions.  But a law abolishes the arbitrary character of actions, and is by this distinguished from recommendation (in which one only desires to know the best means to an end).

VII.  Ethical Duties are of indeterminate, Juridical Duties of

strict, Obligation

{Introduction ^paragraph 65}

This proposition is a consequence of the foregoing; for if the law can only command the maxim of the actions, not the actions themselves, this is a sign that it leaves in the observance of it a latitude (latitudo) for the elective will; that is, it cannot definitely assign how and how much we should do by the action towards the end which is also duty.  But by an indeterminate duty is not meant a permission to make exceptions from the maxim of the actions, but only the permission to limit one maxim of duty by another (e. g., the general love of our neighbour by the love of parents); and this in fact enlarges the field for the practice of virtue.  The more indeterminate the duty, and the more imperfect accordingly the obligation of the man to the action, and the closer he nevertheless brings this maxim of obedience thereto (in his own mind) to the strict duty (of justice), so much the more perfect is his virtuous action.

Hence it is only imperfect duties that are duties of virtue.  The fulfilment of them is merit (meritum) = + a; but their transgression is not necessarily demerit (demeritum) = — a, but only moral unworth = o, unless the agent made it a principle not to conform to those duties.  The strength of purpose in the former case is alone properly called virtue [Tugend] (virtus); the weakness in the latter case is not vice (vitium), but rather only lack of virtue [Untugend], a want of moral strength (defectus moralis). (As the word Tugend is derived from taugen [to be good for something], Untugend by its etymology signifies good for nothing.) Every action contrary to duty is called transgression (peccatum).  Deliberate transgression which has become a principle is what properly constitutes what is called vice (vitium).

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The Metaphysical Elements of Ethics from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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