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Social Theory and Practice

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published on June 26, 2018

Martin Sticker, Marcel van Ackeren

The Demandingness of Beneficence and Kant’s System of Duties

This paper contributes to the discussion of the moral demandingness of Kantian ethics by critically discussing an argument that is currently popular among Kantians. The argument from the system of duties holds that (a) in the Kantian system of duties the demandingness of our duty of beneficence is internally moderated by other moral prescriptions, such as the indirect duty to secure happiness, duties to oneself and special obligations. Furthermore, proponents of this argument claim (b) that via these prescriptions Kant’s system of duties incorporates into morality what current debates on (over-)demandingness call happiness and personal projects. These two claims are in conjunction supposed to establish that Kant’s ethics, at least when it comes to beneficence, is not plagued by the problem of excessive moral demands. We show that claims (a) and (b) are mistaken given what Kant says about beneficence, the application of imperfect duties and about emergencies. We finally argue that special obligations towards loved ones, a class of obligations largely overlooked by advocates of the system of duties, are the most promising candidates for internal moderation. These duties are, however, of a narrow scope.

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