Imperfect duties

Marcia Baron

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingEntry for encyclopedia/dictionary


Although the distinction between perfect and imperfect duties predates Immanuel Kant (1724–1804; see Kant, Immanuel), it received its most sustained and (currently) most influential development from Kant. Kant mentions the distinction in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, explaining it briefly in a footnote and indicating that he will develop it more fully in a future work. In that footnote (Groundwork 421, n.) he says he understands a perfect duty (see Duty and Obligation) as “one that admits no exception in favor of inclination,” leaving the reader to surmise that imperfect duties do allow exceptions in favor of inclinations. In The Metaphysics of Morals, where he develops the distinction, the distinction is more complex and less tidy than it sounded in the Groundwork. Indeed it is untidy enough that it is more accurate to view imperfect duties as falling along a slide which at one end has juridical duties (those duties that entail a corresponding right to exercise compulsion) (see Rights) and at the other, those duties with greatest latitude (what Thomas E. Hill, Jr. [1992] has called the “wide imperfect duties”).
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationInternational Encyclopedia of Ethics
EditorsHugh LaFollette
Number of pages5
ISBN (Electronic)9781444367072
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • Kant, Immanuel
  • Normative ethics


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