Herman, Barbara, and . On the Value of Acting From the Motive of Duty

1981, Philosophical Review 90(3): 359-382.

Abstract: Richard Henson attempts to take the sting out of this view of Kant on moral worth by arguing (i) that attending to the phenomenon of the overdetermination of actions leads one to see that Kant might have had two distinct views of moral worth, only one of which requires the absence of cooperating inclinations, and (ii) that when Kant insists that there is moral worth only when an action is done from the motive of duty alone, he need not also hold that such a state of affairs is morally better, all things considered, than one where supporting inclination is present. Henson’s proposals seem to me both serious and plausible. I do not think that either of his models, in the end, can take on the role Kant assigns to moral worth in the argument of the Groundwork. But seeing the ways Henson’s account diverges from Kant’s makes clearer what Kant intended in his discussion of those actions he credits with moral worth. […] An action has moral worth if it is required by duty and has as its primary motive the motive of duty. The motive of duty need not reflect the only interest the agent has in the action (or its effect); it must, however, be the interest that determines the agent’s acting as he did.

Comment: This article is a good discussion of the issue of acting out of inclination as opposed to duty in Kant's philosophy. It would provide a useful perspective on that issue in a course on Kant's philosophy. As it engages with R.G. Henson's argument on the subject, it would be usefully taught wherever his work is, but it could also be taught in isolation from it as familiarity with Henson's work is not required to understand the article.