Front Page Titles (by Subject) INTRODUCTION. - The Metaphysics of Ethics
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
Also in the Library:
INTRODUCTION. - Immanuel Kant, The Metaphysics of Ethics 
The Metaphysics of Ethics by Immanuel Kant, trans. J.W. Semple, ed. with Iintroduction by Rev. Henry Calderwood (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1886) (3rd edition).
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
Sec. 1.—The Notion of a Duty owed by Mankind to himself appears at first sight to involve a contradiction.
WHEN the obligating “I” is taken in exactly the same sense with the “I” obliged, then undoubtedly duty owed to myself imports an absurdity: for the idea Duty brings along with it the notion of passive necessitation (I am obliged or beholden); whereas in a matter of debt owed to myself, I figure myself to be the obliger, that is, in a state of active necessitation (I, the very same person with the former, am the Obligor). And a position announcing a duty owed by mankind to himself (I ought to oblige myself), would state an obligement to become obliged, i.e., a passive obligation, which were, notwithstanding, at the same time and in the same terms, an active one; a statement repugnant to itself, and contradictory. The contradiction contained in such a proposition may be set under a yet clearer light, by showing that the author of the obligation could always grant a dispensation to the obliged from the obligement; that is, by consequence, when the Author and the Subject of the obligation are the same, then, in such case, the obliger would not be at all beholden to any duty imposed by him upon himself; and this, again, is just the contradiction above insisted on.
Sec. 2.—There are Duties owed by Man to himself.
For, put the case, that there were in effect no such self-incumbent duties, then would all other duties, even the outward ones, be abolished; for I only acknowledge myself beholden and obliged to others, so far forth as I at the same time, along with the other, put that obligation upon myself; the law, by dint whereof alone I can recognise myself to be obliged, emanating in every instance from my own practical reason. By this reason I am necessitated, and so am at the same time my own necessitator.*
Sec. 3.—Solution of this Apparent Antinomy.
Man regards himself, when conscious of a duty to himself, in a twofold capacity: first, as a sensible being, i.e.,as a man, where he ranks only as one among other sorts of animals; but, second, he regards himself not only as an intelligent being, but as a very reason (for the theoretic function of reason may perhaps be a property of animated matter), resident in a region inscrutable to sense, and manifesting itself only in morally practical relations, where that amazing quality of man’s nature—freedom—is revealed by the influence reason exerts upon the determination of the will.†
Mankind, then, as an intelligent physical being (homo phenomenon), is susceptible of voluntary determination to active conduct by the suggestions of his reason; but in all this the idea of obligation does not enter. The very same being, however, considered in respect of his personality (homo noumenon), i.e., cogitated as one invested with inward freedom, is a being capable of having obligation imposed upon him, and, in particular, of becoming obligated and beholden to himself, i.e., to the humanity subsisting in his person; and, so considered in this twofold character, mankind can acknowledge the obligations he stands under to himself, without incurring any contradiction, the notion man being now understood to be taken in a twofold sense.
Sec. 4.—On the Principle of subdividing the Duties owed by Man to himself.
This division can take place only according to the different objects incumbent on him, for there can be no room for it in respect of the self-obliging subject. The obliger and the obligated is always just one and the same person; and although we may theoretically distinguish betwixt man’s soul and his body, as distinct qualities of his system and known nature, yet it is quite disallowed to regard them as different substances, founding distinct obligations in respect of them, and so we cannot be entitled to divide our duties into those owed to the body, and those due to the soul. Neither experience nor the deductions of reason afford us any ground to hold that man has a soul (meaning by soul a spiritual substance dwelling in his material framework, distinct from the last, and independent of it); and we do not know whether life may or may not be a property of matter. However, even on the hypothesis that man had a soul, still a duty owed by man to his body (as the subject obliging) would be quite incogitable.
First. There can obtain, therefore, only one objective division, extending at once to the form and to the matter of the duties owed by man to himself,—the first whereof, the formal duties, are limitary or negative duties; the second, the material, are extensive and positive duties owed by man to himself. The former forbid mankind to act contrary to the ends and purposes of his being, and so concerns simply his ethical self-preservation; the latter ordain him to make a given object of choice his end, and command the perfecting of his own nature. Both these, as moral duties, are elements of virtue; the one as duties of omission (sustine et abstine), the other as duties of commission (viribus concessis utere). The first go to constitute man’s ethic health (ad esse), and to the preservation of the entireness of his system, both as objected to his exterior and to his interior senses (i.e., support his receptivity); the second constitute his ethic opulence (ad melius esse)—a wealth consisting in the possession of functions adapted for the realization of all ends, in so far as these powers and functions are matters of acquisition, and belong to self-culture as an active and attained perfection. The first principle of duty is couched in the adage, “Naturæ convenienter vive,” i.e., “Maintain thyself in the original perfection of thy nature;” the second, in the position, “Perfice te ut finem, perfice te ut medium”—Study to perfect and advance thy being.
But second. There is, however, a subjective division of the duties owed by man to himself; that is, such a one, where mankind, the subject of the obligement, regards himself as an animal, though also at the same time moral being, or as a moral being singly.
Now, the instincts of man’s animal nature are threefold, viz. (1) the instinctive love of life, whereby nature preserves the individual; (2) that instinct whereby nature aims at the preservation of the kind; and (3), and lastly, those appetites of hunger and thirst which are intended for enlivening the frame,—keeping it fitted for its ends,—and at the same time for securing an agreeable, though only animal enjoyment of existence. The vices which are here subversive of the duty owed by man to himself, are (1) self-murder; (2) the unnatural use of the appetite for sex; (3) that excess in meat or drink which checks and lames the functions of the soul. As for the duty owed by man to himself as a moral being singly, it is formal, and consists in the coincidence of the maxims of his will with the dignity of the humanity subsisting in his person; by consequence, in the prohibition not to renounce the pre-eminence of his rank, which consists in his power of acting upon systematic principles and rules of life; that is, in the injunction not to despoil himself of his inward freedom,—that he become not thereby the toy and football of his own appetites and instincts, and so a mere thing. The vices subversive of this duty are lying, avarice, and spurious humility. These vices rest on maxims diametrically opposed, even already by their form, to the characters of mankind as a moral being; that is, they are formally repugnant to and subversive of the inborn dignity of man’s nature, his inward freedom, and make it, as it were, a man’s maxim to have none, and so no character; that is, to slattern himself down to zero, and so to sink beneath contempt. The virtue opposed to all these vices is self-reverence, and might be called the love of one’s own inward honour; a cast of thought having no common part with pride, which last is a love and ambition of outward honours, and may be, as it often is, abject and vile. This pride (superbia) is particularly treated of in the sequel, under this title, as a vice.
[* ]Even in common speech we say, This is what I owe to myself.
[† ]Ref. 4, from p. 40.—C.