Skip to main content Accessibility help

Moral Rationalism and Demandingness in Kant: A Response to van Ackeren and Sticker

  • Roger Crisp (a1)


Because my time and competence are limited, I shall avoid exegetical discussion of Kant and restrict myself to discussion of some of the apparent implications of the views attributed to Kant by van Ackeren and Sticker (AS) in their insightful and suggestive article.


Corresponding author


Hide All

1 At a later point in their paper (p. 417), AS seem to interpret Kant as holding a restricted version of what we might call ‘moral monism’, according to which, when duty requires some action A, other reasons for A-ing fall away: ‘whatever non-moral reasons there were to act on one’s inclinations before the conflict, these are not to be weighed against duty since they do not count as reasons any more when they would conflict with duty’. Such monism is restricted in the sense that it will allow for genuine non-moral reasons in cases where no moral requirement is in play. So, given a choice between two actions, one of which will make me happy and the other of which will not, if all else is equal I have a non-moral reason to choose the former. But we need to ask why Kant might feel the need for restricted moral monism. AS suggest that it is a matter of correct moral motivation. Kant would have doubts, they suggest, about someone who said that they paid back a debt because (a) it was her duty and (b) it enabled her to avoid punishment or a bad reputation. But this again seems to blur the line between deliberation and normativity. On a more plausible view, the self-interested non-moral reasons to A remain even when A-ing is required by morality, but the virtuous agent will not take them into account or be motivated by them.

2 Note also what AS say when explaining the differences between the accounts of silencing in McDowell and Kant (pp. 416-17). Kant allows for psychological conflict, since the objects of our inclinations remain attractive to rational finite agents – even if, we may assume, they are virtuous (Kant’s virtuous agents, that is to say, are moral heroes, and have to be, since there would be nothing of moral worth in the actions of truly ‘non-moral’ saints, who have no inclinations to overcome). But despite the psychological conflict, this ‘is no longer a case of conflicting reasons that need to be weighed against each other’ (because, that is to say, there is no longer any conflict). The virtuous agent will feel the pull of her inclinations towards the cake, but – knowing that she has no genuine reason to eat it – will act against her inclinations and out of pure respect for the moral law. In the same way, when duty and inclination coincide, as in the case of repaying a debt discussed in the previous note, the virtuous agent’s action is entirely to be explained by her acting out of respect for the moral law – even though she feels the attraction of avoiding punishment and a bad reputation. This is of course all very mysterious, but that is entirely in line with the Kantian metaphysics in the background to his ethics. Also puzzling is how, if Kant is indeed a dualist of the practical reason, there can be reasons at all in the absence of moral demands. Given that Kant tends to understand reasons in terms of what can be rationally willed, and to equate rationality and free agency with acting out of duty, there must be a case for understanding him as an unrestricted moral monist. This would make his view even more remarkable than that of Aristotle. According to Aristotle, I never have reason to do anything except exercise the virtues; but that is because such exercise will maximally promote my happiness. According to Kant, I have no ultimate reason, ever, to promote my own happiness. Rather, my only ultimate reason is to act out of a sense of duty. On this view, the issue of demandingness, arising out of a conflict between the demands of morality and the agent’s happiness, does not disappear, but it becomes entirely deracinated and insignificant. What is needed for a genuine problem of demandingness is a conflict of reasons, not a ‘conflict’ (if the term is even appropriate here) between a single reason and a good which there is no reason to pursue.

3 We have to assume a world different from our own, of course, since in this world billionaires always have the chance to help others, and so would end up sacrificing billions, even if in very small amounts.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

Kantian Review
  • ISSN: 1369-4154
  • EISSN: 2044-2394
  • URL: /core/journals/kantian-review
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 0 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between <date>. This data will be updated every 24 hours.

Usage data cannot currently be displayed