Immanuel Kant: Moral Law, Virtue, And Happiness

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A seminal philosopher across fields from epistemology to aesthetics and politics, Immanuel Kant is famous best known for his work in ethics and his famous categorical imperative. At the heart of his conception of the moral law is the question of how virtue and happiness relate. In his Critique of Pure Reason, Kant describes the immortality of the soul and the ontology of a supreme being as being fundamentally unknowable through theoretical human reason, neither able to proved or disproved. However, his thesis in The Critique of Practical Reason asserts the human ability to know the realm of the noumenal through the logical consequences of the moral law, virtue, and happiness. While a plethora of thinkers addressed the relationship between virtue …show more content…
In contrast to the Epicureans and the Stoics who seek to synthesize virtue and happiness in the empirical world, Kant treats virtue and happiness completely separately in practical terms. Kant’s conception of virtue is grounded in the exercise of the human will in fulfilling the duty of the moral law. Respect for the moral law is universally present in human nature, but its fulfillment, virtue, requires conscious direction of the will. For Kant, virtue is not defined merely a physical action like donating money to the homeless, or slaying a dragon. It is the action and this intention that propels it. Thus, donating money to the homeless is not a virtuous act if the intention behind it is to make a public display of charity and garner goodwill from onlookers. Even, the act of donating money to the homeless for no goals of external acclaim, but for the purpose of experiencing gratification from the act is not virtuous. A strictly deontological reading of Kant misses this nuance. Virtue is not a means to utility because as Kant puts it, rather bluntly, “The majesty of duty has nothing to do with the enjoyment of life.” The act of upholding the moral law is not an instrument for pleasure. However, in order to fully comprehend Kant’s rejection of the commensurability of virtue and happiness it is necessary to comprehend his understanding of

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