Transcript Phil 160

Phil 160 Philippa Foot: “Morality as a System of Hypothetical Imperatives”

Kant’s Distinction (to rehash)

• A duty is a kind of obligation, and Kant says that there are two sorts of obligations (or imperatives): – Hypothetical Imperative: If ______ then you should ______. E.g. If you want a burrito, you should go to Chipotle. This hypothetical imperative has no hold on anyone who does not want a burrito. – Categorical Imperative: Do what reason reveals as your duty. This is “categorical” because it applies to the whole category of rational beings.


• Foot argues that regarding morality as a categorical imperative is not plausible, and provides two kinds of counterexamples: – The examples of etiquette and club rules – The example of the amoralist

Etiquette and Club Rules

• • Traditionally, it is argued that morality must be a categorical imperative because it obligates people to follow it no matter whether they feel like it or not. If the moral sense of the word ‘should’ applies to people no matter what, it is not a hypothetical use of the word ‘should’, so therefore the moral ‘should’ is categorical.

Foot provides a counterexample to the above argument. The rules of etiquette are an example of rules that apply to people whether they feel like it or not, but are not therefore regarded to be categorically imperative.

The amoralist

• • It is part of Kant’s distinction that if someone knows what morality demands of them, that they must necessarily be motivated to pursue it.

The amoralist is a person who understands what morality demands, but simply doesn’t care. If such a person is possible, then morality cannot necessarily motivate.

Foot’s Distinction:

• •


Many kinds of obligation are non-hypothetical (they apply to people whether those people feel like following them or not) For Foot, morality is one of these. Foot agrees that morality obligates people to act in certain ways.


What Foot disagrees with is the motivational force that is supopsed to come along with a categorical imperative. If someone knows what morality demands are they necessarily motivated to follow it, or only contingently motivated to follow it?

Moral Motivation is Contingent

• • Foot contends that a person who understands what morality demands of them does not necessarily have any motivation to accede to those demands. Any person’s motivation to follow what morality demands of them is contingent upon their having properly moral reasons for acting.

Where does this leave morality?

• Foot contends that we can preserve the important facts about morality even in the face of morality as a hypothetical imperative. Examples: – A person who is charitable because they happen to care about the well-being of others has a morally good motive, while someone who is charitable to build a repuation does not have a morally good motive. Though each may know what morality demands of them, the second is moral by accident, while the first is moral on purpose, and this is more worthy.

– Someone who is honest out of a desire to live openly and trust others is more worthy than one who is honest only because it is good for business.

Morality as a system of hypothetical imperatives is still deontological:

• Even if morality is not a categorical imperative, it still seems that the right-making characteristics of an action are contained in the action itself, and not in the consequences.

• • •

Examination of morally proper motives is value pluralistic:

Many motives that people can have could be distinct from one another and still be justifiably called ‘moral’. This mirrors what Ross argued in saying that we have many duties, and that they may conflict.

This also mirrors what Feinberg points out in saying that we have many rights, and those may sometimes conflict as well.

Consolidating some vocabulary:

• • Foot’s “Acting from morally good motives” might as well be equivalent to Ross’s “Acting from one duty or another”. Since duties imply rights (and vice versa), any talk of duties must be, ipso facto, talk of rights. Since acting from duty is equivalent to acting from morally appropriate motives, all of the deontologists we have read and discussed are up to essentially the same thing, though each goes about it in a different way.