Andrew Fyfe
University of Maryland
Kant and the Moral Worth of Acting from Mistaken Moral Duty

Kantians hold that all and only actions done from the motive of moral duty possess moral worth. But what should Kantians say about sincere attempts to fulfill one’s moral duty that misfire - immoral actions that result not from an agent’s lack of commitment to morality but instead from a morally committed agent’s honest mistakes regarding what morality requires? Samuel Kerstein (1999, 2002) has argued that Kant and Kantians must admit that all actions done from a sincere commitment to morality possess moral worth, even when the resulting action proves to be contrary to duty in virtue of an agent’s mistaken moral beliefs. For example, Peter Singer famously donates significant sums to worthy charities out of a sense of utilitarian moral obligation. Singer’s actions would seem to possess moral worth given his motive, despite the fact that he is acting from mistaken (says the Kantian) utilitarian moral beliefs. The same would seem to be true of any utilitarian who acts contrary to Kant’s Categorical Imperative, so long as he is acting from thoroughly considered and sincerely held utilitarian moral beliefs. Jill Graper Hernandez (2006, 2010) has criticized Kerstein’s argument and defended the claim that no actions contrary to duty can possess moral worth (a view that Kant himself explicitly espoused). In this talk I will respond to Hernandez on Kerstein’s behalf and defend the conclusion that Kant and Kantians must admit the moral worth of actions performed out of well-meaning utilitarian moral duty (and from any other equally mistaken moral beliefs).

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Skinner 1115