Humanity: the Kantian virtue to care for others


CALL: 2015

DOMAIN: SC - Societal Challenges

FIRST NAME: Heidemann

LAST NAME: Dietmar



HOST INSTITUTION: University of Luxembourg

KEYWORDS: Kant, Ethics, CareFeeling, Virtue, Duty

START: 2015-09-01

END: 2015-12-31


Submitted Abstract

The topic of the project is Humanity: the Kantian virtue to care for others. It does not come as a surprise that the concept of caring for others is a central aspect of many contemporary ethical theories, and there are obvious applications in applied ethics, particularly medical ethics and animal ethics. Kant’s ethical works, however, seem an unlikely source of inspiration for a theory of caring for others. Kant dismisses actions determined by anything other the law of duty as morally worthless. Human beings ought to be kind to each other, but not because they feel sympathy or compassion. Feeling is not a reliable guide to moral action. Rather, there is a law of pure practical reason that requires kindness. It is only when action is determined by the recognition of the authority of the law that it counts as an expression of a truly good will. In the lectures on ethics and the late Metaphysics of Morals (1797) Kant refines this point, now accepted by most Kantian ethicists. It is in this context that we learn more about different kinds of duty, and that there is a duty of care. There is still no suggestion that Kantian principles of duty no longer take precedence. That is why it would be grossly misleading to call Kant’s ethics as a whole an ‘ethics of care’ in the modern sense of the term. But the two paradigms share the supposition that there is only so much that a moral principle just by itself, in isolation, can do. For Kant, it completely and unambiguously determines and motivates strict duty, while leaving the sphere of wide duty underdetermined. Wide duty commits us to adopting comparatively general principles to promote certain ends. A correct assessment not just of the moral boundaries of strict duty but also of the situation and its morally salient features is required to these abstract policies guide action. Wide duties, unlike strict duties, possess ‘latitude’. There have been several important contributions to our understanding of Kant’s conception of care or humanity in the last twenty years. But the present project seeks to extend the discussion significantly, aiming both at historical accuracy and at contemporary significance, sharply distinguishing these separate stages. The leading assumption is that a painstaking reconstruction of Kant’s actual argument and the development of his thought is needed as a foundation for anything that might be put to philosophical use today. This is why the project also connects with Professor Balling’s team, Luxembourg Centre for Systems Biomedicine, with respect to questions concerning moral care of Parkinson patients. The results – a substantial article or series of articles – will be made available in an international top publication. Dr Timmermann’s stay at the University of Luxembourg will be significant because it ties in with the previous CKP project (Inter Mobility 2013-2014). Dr Timmermann was an external member of the CKP research group and presented at the workshop “Ethics after Kant.

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