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Virtue, Rules, and JusticeKantian Aspirations$
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Thomas E. Hill, Jr

Print publication date: 2012

Print ISBN-13: 9780199692002

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: September 2012

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780199692002.001.0001

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Kant on Weakness of Will

Kant on Weakness of Will

(p.107) 5 Kant on Weakness of Will
Virtue, Rules, and Justice

Thomas E. Hill Jr.

Oxford University Press

This chapter reviews the background in Kant’s moral psychology, suggests how weakness of will might be understood in Kant’s theory, and comments on the implications for moral responsibility. In brief, the proposal is this. For Kant, weakness of will is not a physical incapacity or disability but contrasts with virtue understood as developed strength of will to do our duty despite obstacles. The will is not literally a force, strong or weak, but is conceived as either law-giving practical reason (Wille) or choice to act on a maxim (Willkür). Morally weak persons choose to act on particular maxims in conflict with both practical reason and their general maxim to act as they should. Our general life-governing maxims, like laws of the state, may be weak in content (vague and indeterminate) or willed weakly (with little provision for implementation). Moral weakness mitigates culpability without excusing. Contrary to some interpretations, weak-willed bad acts are, in an important sense, freely chosen and not necessarily failed efforts to act well. How this is possible, in Kant’s view, cannot be explained empirically or metaphysically.

Keywords:   Kant, moral weakness, virtue, the will, duty, maxims, excuses, responsibility

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