Autonomy, progress and virtue: why Kant has nothing to fear from the overdemandingness objection

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Abstract

Is Kant’s ethical theory too demanding? Do its commands ask too much of us, either by calling for self-sacrifice on particular occasions, or by pervading our lives to the extent that there is no room for permissible action? In this article, I argue that Kant’s ethics is very demanding, but not excessively so. The notion of ‘latitude’ (the idea that wide duty admits of ‘exceptions’) does not help. But we need to bear in mind (i) that moral laws are self-imposed and cannot be externally enforced; (ii) that ‘right action’ is not a category of Kantian ethics – there is a more and a less, and lack of perfection does not entail vice; and (iii) that only practice makes perfect, i.e. how much virtue can realistically be expected can vary from agent to agent. The principle that ‘ought’ is limited by ‘can’ is firmly entrenched in Kant’s ethical thought.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)379-397
Number of pages19
JournalKantian Review
Volume23
Issue number3
Early online date21 Aug 2018
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2018

Keywords

  • Demandingness
  • Autonomy
  • Latitude
  • Moral progress

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