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Volume 33, Number 3, July 1996


Diane Jeske

W bat duties do we have to ourselves? How does the content of our duties to our- selves differ from the content of our duties to others? These two questions have re- ceived little attention in contemporary moral philosophy, and tbe very notion of a duty to self has suffered from general ne- glect. This latter fact is rather surprising, given the significant interest in recent years in Kantian moral theory. Kant, after all, regarded the division of duties into two categories, duties to others and duties to ourselves, as both natural and important. Both types of duties are, for Kant, derived from tbe categorical imperative, which sets restrictions on bow we may treat rational beings, either other rational beings or our- selves. Although Kant regarded duties to self as having the same source as duties to


he claimed that the content of our

duties to self is different from the content of our duties to others: whereas we have duties to promote the happiness of others,

we have no duties to promote our own


Similarly, we have duties to

promote our own perfection as rational and moral agents but no such duties to promote the perfection of others. Kant's substantive thesis about the dif- ference in content between our duties to ourselves and our duties to others has been less often discussed by moral philosophers than have most other aspects of his moral theory, probably because of the general lack of interest in the notion of a duty to self that I noted abovel I want to rectify this neglect of what is, for several reasons,

one of the most interesting aspects of Kant's normative view. First, Kant pro- vides a conceptual framework in wb.icb we

can make sense of the notion of a duty to self without recourse to any theological


tinction between happiness and perfection raises interesting questions about the most fruitful way to understand those concepts and their relationship to a notion familiar to contemporary moral philosophers, that of well-being more generally. While I want to defend what is in essence a reversal of

Kant's thesis, i.e. I want to defend the claim that we have duties to promote our own happiness and the perfection of others, but no duties to promote the happiness of (most) others (I will agree with Kant that we have duties to promote our own perfec- tion), my goal is not, ultimately, to show

where Kant went wrong.

concerned to show how certain Kantian themes and elements of a Kantian concep- tual grid can be combined with certain no- tions familiar from contemporary ethics. and theories of the self to provide the too long neglected notion of a duty to self a new foothold in moral philosophy.


Second, his sharp dis-

I am primarily



In what follows I am not concerned to defend any particular interpretation of Kant's moral philosophy, but, rather, to present and to stress what seems to be a fairly straightforward aspect of his view on the content of duties to self and duties to




synopsis of the relevant portion of Kant's

ethical view. Of necessity, this presentation

will be brief and will ignore many impor- tant features of Kant's extremely complex

theory. I hope to bring out enough to make


claim about the content of our duties to self and our duties to others, and the elements of his conceptual framework of which I will

make use. For Kant the commands of morality are categorical imperatives; in fact, there is only one such command (which can be given at least three different formulations), and so he calls it the categorical imperative

(G 416). 3 Categorical imperatives are con-

trasted with hypothetical imperatives, where the distinction between the two

types of imperatives has to do with whether the imperative is "universally valid' ' (G

416) 4

universally valid; rather, it "is valid only un- der a subjectively contingent condition" (G 416). In other words, a hypothetical im- perative is a statement of a reason for ac- tion only for those agents who happen to have the relevant end(s). So, for example, imperatives of skill, such as "if you want to bake a good souffle, then you ought to beat the egg whites until they are stiff," recom- mend a particular course of action (beating the egg whites until they are stiff) to an agent, only if that agent has the relevant end (baking a good souffle). Hypothetical imperatives are valid only for those agents with the requisite inclinations, and they command courses of action as means to satisfying those inclinations. 5

A hypothetical imperative is not

I will begin by preseming a brief

both the basis for and nature of his

Imperatives of prudence are those that instruct us how to achieve our own happi- ness. Such imperatives do apply to all agents, because, in fact, all rational beings do seek their own happiness, "by a natural necessity" (G 415). Nonetheless, Kant says, " the precept of prudence, still remains hy- pothetical; the action is commanded not absolutely but only as a means to a further purpose" (G 416). Even though it is in my nature to want to be happy. the application of the requirement expressed by an im·

perative of prudence is still dependent on au end that I have-if I did not want to seek my own happiness, I would have no reason to do what the hypothetical impera-

tive of prudence instructed that I olilght to do. So the imperative of prudence is valid only for those agents with an inclination or desire for their own happiness, even if that

includes all of us. 6

think it odd for Kant to insist that we are all, by a "natural necessity," inclined to seek our own happiness. After all. given his subjective conception ofhappine·ss (see section JI below), achievement of happi- ness is simply satisfaction of whatever de- sires an individual happens to have or achievement of a pleasurable state of con- tentment with one's lot. Why shouldi we be deter mined, in any sense, to seek that? Kant's entire moral theory is an attempt to escape human determination by desires and inclinations, so it is odd that be would privilege one such desire in this way.) The categorical imperative, on the other hand, "immediately commands a certain conduct without having as its condition any other purpose to be attained by it" (G 416). This imperative is the imperative of moral- ity, of which Kant offers three formula- tions: universal law, humanity as an end in itself, and the kingdom of ends. This im- perative applies to all rational agents, re- gardless of what ends they have: no matter what you want, you ought to do as the im- perative commands you to do. So the oughts of morality are, to borrow W.O. Falk's nice phrases, oughts "twice over" which commit one "through and through.'' 7 There's no evading the cate- gorical imperative by ceasing to have a cer- tain end; it applies to you no maue·r what you want or what ends you have, because it "commands a certain conduct without having as its condition any other purpose to be attained by it" (G 416). Or, again, the categorical imperative represents "an ac- tion as objectively necessary in itself, with- out reference to another end" (G 414). So the categorical imperative is universally valid, and the necessity involved here is not merely a " natural necessity," as in tbe case

(Of course, we might


of imperatives of prudence: categorical im- peratives are universaUy valid for aU ra - tional agents independently of any of their ends. even of their necessary ends. In The Metaphysical Principles of Virtue (the second part of The Metaphysics of Morals). Kant states that one has no duty to promote one's own happiness:S

For one's own happiness is an end which, to

be sure, all men do

of himseiJ already inevitably wants does not belong under the concept of duty. because duty is a constraint to an end that is not gladly adopted. It is, therefore. a contradic- tion to say that one is obligated to promote his own happiness with all his powers (386).

What everyone

Our moral duties correspond to the rea- sons formulated in categorical imperatives, those that apply to us independently of whatever incljnations we have. Further, not only does "ought" imply "can," but "ought" also implies " might not ," in the

sense that "ought" implies that there is the

possibility of

the agent's refraining from

And because we


the action c<>mmanded.

are all by virtue of our nature inclined to pursue our own happiness, we can have no duty to do so. to But we do not all have as an end the perfection of our natures, and. thus, we can be and are obligated to pursue such perfection. The perfection of one's self involves " the cultivation of one's ca- pacities" (M 387). both one's under- standing and one's will. The cultivation of

one's understanding involves developing all of those abilities that are distinctive of one's human as contrasted with one's ani-

mal nature.

involves becoming disposed to act out of respect for the moral law, i.e., involves a disposition to act in the right manner as a result of having cenain types of motives: "it is one' s duty to push the cultivation of his will up to the purest vinuous disposition, in which the law is at the same time the incentive of one's actions which are in ac- cordance with duty, and is obeyed from duty" (M 387).

Thus, it seems clear that, for Kant , I can- not be obligated to promote the perfection of other perS<>ns, because no one but the

The cultivation of one's will

agent herself can be responsible for her pursuing certain ends for cenain types of reasons (M 386). We can, however. be ob- ligated to promote the happiness of other

persons. in so far as we do not always take


promotion of o tl1ers' happiness is an im- perfect duty. i.e., a duty with respect to which I can choose when and how I will fulfill it, 11 so "what they count as belonging to their happiness is left up to them to de- cide; but I may decline many of these things which I do not regard as so belong- ing, if they otherwise have no right to de- mand them of me" (M 388). So I am not obligated to take all of another's ends as my own. I can ignore those ends that " I do

belonging [to their happi-

ness)". I also have perfect duties to refrain from doing anything that might impede an- other's own pursuit of her moral and natu- ral perfection. But such duties arc, by necessity. negative in character; I must re- frain, for example, from putting tempta-

tions in the way of another (M 394). I have no positive duties to promote the perfec- tion of others' natures. According to Kant, then, the imperative to promote the happiness of others is cate- gorical, it provides us with an "ought" that we cannot avoid by altering our e nds o r by failing to have the happiness of others as our end: we o ught to have their happiness as an end of ours. 12 The imperative to pro- mote our own perfection is also categori- cal: we ought, no matter what we do actually want, to pursue our own natural and moral perfection. But the imperative to pursue our own happiness is merely hy- pothetical, the ought with which it s u pplies

us is contingent for its application upon our wanting to be happy, something all hu- man beings are in fact inclined to pu rs ue. In the following sections, l will argue that there are categorical imperatives instruct- ing us to pursue our own and others ' per- fection, and to pursue our own happiness (and the happiness of a limited class of oth· crs). Imperatives to promote the happi- ness of any other persons, however, are merely hypothetical.

the happiness of others as our end.

not regard as





For Kant categorical imperatives are not consequentialist in nature; in Olher words, it is not the case that the categorical im- perative instructs us to promote some end because of the value of that end. Ra1her, the categorical imperative is a deontologi- cal re.striction on our conduct, a restriction on how we may act, no matter what the value of the consequences of our so acting. As Kant says, the categorical imperative represents " an ac1ion as objectively neces-

sary in itsel£ without reference to another

end" (G 414; emphasis mine). We might agree with Kant that categori-

cal imperatives are those that command some action regardless of the contingent subjective states of the agent, and yet hold, contra Kant, that at least some such im- peratives command actions as means to valuable consequences that we ought to have as ends even if we do noL ln other words, categorical imperatives can also be tied to the promotion of objective value. If a state of affairs is objectively valuable, then any agent in a position to do so bas reason to promote that state of affairs; i.e., there is agent-neutral reason to promote itn So, an agent's having an agent-neutral reason to promote a state of affairs is inde- pendent of her wanting to bring about that state of affairs. She ought to have that state of affairs as one of her ends. The require- ment to bring about an objectively valuable state of affairs is an ought "twice over:" you ought to want to promote such value,

and you ought to promote it. t 4 Categorical

imperatives that express reasons deriving from the promotion of objective value do not represent actions as "objectively neces- sary" in themselves, but necessary as means to ends that one ought to have, no matter whal one's inclinations. 1 5 Hypothetical imperatives, on the other hand, can be lied to the promotion of sub- jective value. A state of affairs has subjec- tive value for some agent if and only if that agent subjectively values (wants, desires, has as an end) that state of affairs. (Of

course, we would need to modify this state- ment, and say that a state of affairs sub- jective value for an agent if she values it

g. con-

under the appropriate conditions, e

ditions of adequate information, correct reasoning, etc.) lf a state of affairs is sub- jectively valued by an agent, then she has

agenr-relarive reason to promote that state of affairs, i.e., she has reason to promote that state of affairs and that reason is not necessarily shared by any other agent. lf another agent shares her end, then and only then will that agent also have an agent-relative reason to promote it. So suppose that I want to bake a good souffle;

I then have agent-relative reason to beat

my egg whites until they are stiff. Y-ou will have an agent-relative reason to do so if and only if you also want me to bake a good souffle. Our reasons are dependent on our happening to subjectively value the state of affairs in which I bake a good souf- fle. If we assume that my baking a good souffle is not an objectively valuable state of affairs, then there is no categorical im- perative stating a reason to have as an end my baking a good souffle. 1 6 It is important to notice that certain sub- jective states of agents, such as pleasure, or certain states determined by subj ective states of agenls, can have objective value. Non-egoistic hedonists, for example, hold that we all have reason to promote pleas- ure, ours or anyone else's; i.e., they regard certain subjective states of agents as having objective value. Similarly, on a desire-satis- faction conception of objective value, my subjecti vely valuing my having a dog as a pet makes it the case that everyone bas reason to promote the satisfaction of my desire. If a subjective state of mine has ob- jective value, then it is valuable not only

fo r me, but valuable simpliciter. If a state

of affairs has merely subjective value, how- ever, it is valuable only for the agent who

Thus, we need to

keep apart the metaethical distinclion be- tween the concepts of objective and sub- jective value, and normative claims about


is particularly important, in what follows,

subjectively values it.

what has objective or subjective value.


to keep in mind that one could give a purely subjective normative account of ob-

jective value. Any plausible account of objective value will be a welfarist conception of objective value. In other words, all and only the well- being or welfare of sentient or rational be-


ings has objective value. 18 The welfarist conce ption of objective value is what dis- tinguishes utilitarianism from other ver- sions of (maximizing) consequentialism, thereby rendering it the most plausible of such consequentialist theories. But utili - tarians differ among themselves as to what constitutes the well-being or, to use a more Aristotelian term, ''flourishing" of rational creatures. (From now on, I will not be con- cerned with merely sentient creatures.) I think that there is reason to refrain from identifying the notion of such well-being straightforwardly with that of pleasure (a Ia Bentham) or with that of the satisfaction of all and any actual desires. 19 We can un- derstand an agent's failing to be well-off even if she experiences nothing but pleas- ure or gets everything that she happens to want; we think that the source of one's pleasures or the content of one's desires matters. 20 So the notion of well-being is not a purely subjective notion. Nonethe- less, to be well-off a person must have cer- tain subjective attitudes towards her life; she must be satisfied and regard her life as worth living. 21 So a well-off person must get some of what she actually wants, but what such a person actually wants will be the same as or at least will not conflict with what she ought to want. What ought one to want (with regards to oneself)? Here we can agree with Kant, Mill, and Aristotle, that we ought to want to develop our capacities that distinguish us as human beings from other creatures. Part of what it is for beings like us to be well-off must involve the development of

creative, rational,

And part of the

development of those capacities rnay nec- essarily involve the development and pur-

suit of one's own individual subjective preferences. 23 Of course, many pleasures

our intellectual, mora1 and emotive capacities.



are also components of our well-being. There is no denying that of two individuals

who both develop their capacities the one whose life has, on balance, more pleasure than pain is better-off than the one whose life is full of pain and misery. Also, the ful- fillment of basic needs for food, shelter, medical care, etc., are basic preconditions of well-being, and so also have objective value, even if only instrumental rather than intrinsic objective value. The notion of hu- man well-being, then, is complex, involving the "perfection" of our natures, the getting of pleasure (which will naturally follow from our getting at least some of what we want) or, at the least, the avoidance of pain and suffering, and the fulfillment of basic needs as a precondition. 24 This notion of well-being is objective in T. M. Scanlon's sense, because it " provides a basis for ap- praisal of a person's well-being which is in- dependent of that person's tastes and interests," 25 or, at least, independent to a large extent of such preferences. Kant has no such notion of weU-being (although he speaks sometimes of P'hysical or moral well-being, such well-being is not the complex notion of overall well-being

discussed above; see,

Rather, he straightforwardly contrasts the perfection of our natures with happiness. It is not entirely clear bow Kant under- stands the notion of happiness. but it is clear that he understands it as a purely sub- jective notion. He uses happiness to mean " uninterrupted prosperity" ( G 393), and "a maximum of well-being in my present and in every future condition" (G 418). In The

Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, he de-

fines "happiness" as "satisfaction with one's condition as far as he is certain of its continuance" (387). The reason why Kant does not state any imperatives of prudence is that he thinks it is indeterminate as to what the contents of such imperatives are. We do not know what will make us happy, because what we want may not be what we would want under conditions of greater knowledge of the future, or what we want may not bring us the pleasure we expect (G 418). So, for Kant, happiness is to be

e .g., M 393 -394).


identified either with pleasure or some sort of informed desire-satisfaction.

I think that Kant is right to understand

happiness as a purely subjective notion. However, it is wrong to identify it with the notion of pleasure; we need only imagine cases where individuals experience pleas- ure as a result of the false belief that they are getting what they want. It is right to say, though, that an agent is happy when she promotes what has subjective value for her. An agent can be happy, then, without the perfection of her nature. Of course, as I said above, to be well-off one must get at least some of what one wants, so there is overlap between the notion of well-being

and that of happiness.

Nonetheless, they

are most profitably viewed as distinct no-

tions; cert:ain satisfactions will not be objec- tively valuable, and perfection of our natures is a component of well-being but not necessarily of happiness. Such perfec- tion is part of an agent's happiness only if she happens to subjectively value her own perfection. So my notion of happiness does not provide a standard independent of a person's tastes and interests; it pro-


vides a subjective criterion of evaluation.2 Whereas happiness is purely a subjective notion, well-being is only partially subjec- tive; and it is arguable that the objective component of well-being is the central and most important component, that the truly well-off agent is the one who derives her central pleasures from achieving her objec- tive ends. Of course, the best state is one in which an agent can be both well-off and happy, because most of what she subjec- tively values does not come into conflict with or is identical with what is objectively valuable. Now that we have the lay of the land with respect to the interrelations between well- being, perfection, and happiness, we can consider Kant's thesis about the content of our duties to ourselves and to others. I will begin by considering our duty to promote well-being, where I have suggested that we should understand well-being as having perfection as a constitutive element.



lf we accept that human well-being or flourishing is objectively valuable, then we are claiming that we all have an agent-neu- tral reason to promote such well-being. Thus, there is a categorical imperative re- quiring us to promote the well-being both of ourselves and of others. In other words, we have duties to promote the well-being of ourselves and of others, where well-be- ing is partially constituted by the perfec- tion of our rational and moral natures. But we need to ask two questions at this point. First, are categorical imperatives instructing us to promote our own well-being impera- tives of morality, or are they imperatives of rationality? Do we really have a moral duty to promote our own welfare? Second, given that "perfection" is a component of well-being, is it possible for us to have posi- tive duties to promote others' well-being, or do we just have, as Kant claimed, nega- tive duties not to interfere with their pro- motion of their own well-being? I will begin with the first question. If we

accept that human welfare is objectively valuable, then we will accept the claim that there are categorical imperatives instruct- ing us to promote welfare, including our own welfare. Thus, the requirement to promote our own well-being is valid for us no matter what our subjective, contingent ends happen to be. But is such a require- ment a moral requirement? Jf we were to regard moral requirements as re-quire- ments with a certain content, e.g. require- ments to promote the good of others, then clearly it would simply be contradictory to claim that we have moral duties to pro- mote our own well-being. Such a charac- terization of moral duties is wrong:. The categorical imperative instructing me to pursue my well-being instructs me to do so not because it is my well-being, but be- cause it is well-being, which is objectively valuable. The requirement arises as a re- sult of the intrinsic character of the state of affairs that is to be promoted. I could know that I ought to promote that s~ate of


affairs without knowing how or even whether I figure in to that state of affairs. 27 Rational principles; in the sense of princi- ples that instruct me how to promote my own interests require, for their application, knowledge of which among many individu- als is me. Thus, we can understand moral duties to self (as opposed to requireme nts of prudence or rationality) as those re- quirements on action expressed by "ought" statements that I can know arc valid for me prior to my knowing which particular indi-

vidual I am. But some might argue that duties to pro- mote objective value are not duties owed to any particular persons, that they are im- perfect duties. But if duties to promote welfare are duties to no one in particular, are they really duties that each of us owes to his or her self? An unwillingness to see duties to promote value as duties to par- ticular persons arises from a rec- ognize that a concern for total value is a concern for total well-being, and the latter is just a concern for the well-being of all individual persons. We are obligated to

possible,2 9

because each person has a claim on us to promote her well-being, given that her well-being has objective value. But all such claims are merely prima facie and can be outweighed by an appeal to other such claims or by appeal to the presence of deontological restrictions on conduct. So when it turns out that the best way for me to promote welfare is by promoting my own welfare, then I have a duty to myself to promote my own well-being. My claim to my own efforts outweighs all other such claims. The duty is like an imperfect duty because the means of fulfilling it are still Left to me to decide, but it is not imperfect in so far as, if I fail in my duty, the person whose claim on my beneficent efforts was strongest has the right to complain.JO So I think that there is no reason not to hold that our duties to promote well- being are duties that we owe to one another and to ourselves. 31 Therefore, because the development of our rational and other distinctively human

produce as much well-being as


capacitie-s, or our "perfection" as human beings, is an important constituent of our welfare or flourishing, we have duties to ourselves and to others to promote the perfection of our and their natures. The former claim Kant accepted, wh.i.le he de- nied the latter. But now we see that we have reason, within a limited consequen- tialist (or limited deontological) frame--

work, of accepting both claims. But can we positively promote the per- fection of others' natures, or can we, at the most, refrain from interfering with their

perfection of their own natures?

certainly right.that we cannot do for others

what we can do for ourselves; we have con- trol over our own actions and moti ves in

ways that we do not have contro·l over those of others. We cannot insure that oth- ers have the correct ends for the right rea- sons. But we can attempt to gua·rantee them the necessary preconditions for their promotion of their own perfection. So we can insure that others have their basic needs fulfilled, and also their perhaps not so basic needs such as education. Kant himself recognized the importance of edu- cation, and claimed that we have duties to see that children and young adults have the

As many liberal

political philosophers since Mill have real-

ized, we do others little good by just re-

specting their rights to liberty if we do not make attempts to guarantee to them that they can exercise those rights; as Rawls says, we must distinguish liberty from the

Kant is

training that they need.


worth of liberty.

sources may be necessary to insure that others can take advantage of their rights. Kant is right that for certain states. of af- fairs involving x's doing A , that state of af- fairs may only be valuable if x does A

voluntarily and for the right reasons, after a certain course of delibera.tion. But that does not preclude others' being able to provide resources necessary to put x in a position to engage in the appropriate de- liberation that will lead to his doing A for the right reasons. And, as I have said just. above, Kant himself sometimes seemed to recognize precisely this point.


Positive provision of re-


And so we can agree with Kant that we have duties to ourselves to promote our

own perfection.

But we have not seen a

reason to deny that we also have duties to

others to promote their perfection.


claiming that we have a duty to promote

the well-being and thereby the perfection of others need not commit us to any anti- liberal views about using coercion to force others to live in the ways that we think that they ought to live. Of course, such conclu- sions may fall out of certain conceptions of well-being or "perfection," for example, conceptions under which it is better for one to be compelled not to engage in homosex- ual sex even if one desires such sexual in- tercourse, conceptions under which people ought not to be exposed to the art of cer- tain races, or conceptions under which a woman's perfection necessarily involves rearing children. The facl that human per- fection has been construed in ways that lead people to think that they are required to do morally repugnant things is no argu- ment against the claim that we do have a duty to promote the perfection (well-be- ing) not only of ourselves but also of oth- ers. by providing others with resources necessary to the development of their ca- pacities, where such development is plausibly construed to require space to autonomously

deve lop

one's own subjective prefer-



We can now consider our duty to pro- mote happiness. I have identified happi- ness with subjective value, or (informed) desire-satisfaction. Thus, an agent is happy when she is realizing all or many of her sub- jective ends. Of course, the happy agent will lead a pleasurable life, in so far as pleasure is the usual by-product of desire- satisfaction (although not always) and peo-

usua lly desire pleasure for

themselves. But happiness is not to be iden- tified with pleasure. Do I have a duty to promote the happi- ness of others? Let us return to Kant's claim that "what they [others) count as be- longing to their happiness is left up to them

ple do

to decide; but I may decline many of these things which l do not regard as so belong- ing, if they otherwise have no right to de· mand them of me" (M 388). How could I possibly not regard as belonging to your

happiness what you do regard as so be- longing? If we were to take a hedonistic view of happiness, it might be tTue that you think that going bungee jumping will bring you pleasure, and so you desire to go bungee jumping, but I, having gone bungee jumping and knowing you well, know that

it would not bring you pleasure. Or, you

might want to go bungee jumping only be- cause you have failed to appreciate the fact

that that activity involves a certain risk of the cord fraying and breaking and of your plunging to an ugly death. Howe·ver, in what follows, I am going to set aside such worries, by assuming that you have delib- erated with adequate information about your desires, so that what you actually want has subjective value for you. I n such a case, there will be no question of my cor- rectly believing that, although you want x, x is not a component of your happiness. Now, do I have a duty to promote your


not have any such duty. Suppose that you do want to go bungee jumping. Does your wanting to do so provide me with any rca- son to help you to go bungee jumping? My wanting to do something provides me with at least prima facie reason to do so, but your wanting to do something does not, in itself, provide me with any even prima facie reason to help you to do it. Perhaps I have

a negative duty not to stop others from pursuing their own happiness, when such does not involve any immoral ends or ends that conflict with my own happiness, but I do not have a positive duty to promote oth- ers' happiness.

Of course, as I have said, there is overlap between the concepts of well-being and of happiness, if we assume that to be well-off

a person must get at least some of the

things she subjectively values. Also, we all do want to be free from suffering and to experience pleasure, and, if a certain bal- ance of pleasure over pain is necessary for

well-being, tben, again, there will be com- mon components of our well-being and of

It is plausible to say that I do


our happiness.

see that you get a certain amount of what you want because I have a duty to promote your well-being, not because I have a duty to promote your happiness. Happiness is best understood as a purely subjective con- cept. You are responsible for the subjec- tive ends that you develop, whereas, simply

in virtue of the sort of bein~ you are, you

have certain

I am respon-

sible to you with regard to the latter, but not with regard to the former. I do not fail to treat you as an end in yourself just be- cause I do not take your subjective ends as being ends for me. I would fail to treat you as an end only if I failed to take your ob- jective ends as my ends. Of course, doing the latter may involve allowing you space to develop your subjective ends, but, once I have fulfilled that negative duty, I have no positive duty to help you to promote your subjective ends regarded simply as constituents of your happiness, i.e. regarded as things that you simply happen to want. This point can be illustrated by consider- ing a nice example offered by Scanlon 36 to argue for a similar point. Suppose that there is a man whose overriding end in life is to build a temple to his god. He is willing to forgo adequate food, medical care, and shelter, in order to build the temple. When we distribute resources, should we take into account that he subjectively values the building of the temple more than he sub- jectively values the fulfillment of his basic needs? I agree with Scanlon that we would be justified in refusing to help him to build his temple, while offering him the resources necessary for meeting his needs. The ful- fillment of those needs are basic precondi- tions of his meeting his objective ends and of avoiding a certain amount of pain and suffering, whether he realizes it or not. If be refuses our help in meeting his objective ends, we have no duty to insure that he can build his temple just because that is what be wants. However, we may be required to minimize his suffering by offering some as- sistance, and we are certainly required not to prevent his being able to build his temple. 37 But now suppose that it is my best frie.nd Tracy who wants to go bungee jumping. Am I justified in refusing to help her to go

But then I have a duty to

objective ends. 3

bungee jumping? (Let us put aside any worries that I might have about the safety of Tracy's desired activity.) I regard bungee jumping as frivolous and, there- fore, as a waste of time and money. But Tracy wants very strongly to go bungee jumping. Given that she is my friend, it seems that I should take Tracy's desires as providing me with at least prima facie rea- son for action. I should ignore my own views and help her fulfill her g()als. I should encourage her efforts and assist her when she asks. Friendship requires taking the friend 's subjective valuings as reasons for one to act, even in cases where one does not share the subjective valuing. If a stranger wants to go bungce jumping, that is no business of mine, and I have no re-

sponsibility to see that she can do so simply

because she wants to.

not tbe case, when it is my friend wbo wants to go bungee jumping. So I have du- ties to promote the happiness of certain other persons, namely my intimates: my friends and family members, at the least. Of course, I must also promote their well- being, and there is no guarantee that their happiness and well-being will not co nflict. So, we might say that I am obligated to pro- mote the happiness of my friends and fam- ily members to whatever extent my doing so does not conflict with my promotion of their well-being.38 Do I have duties to promote my own happiness? Kant thought not, because we all necessarily have our own happiness as an end. (I noticed in section I that it is odd that Kant makes this claim.) However, we can notice that even if we are all inclined

to promote our own present happiness, it is sureIy not the case that we are all inclined to promote our own fwure happiness. The happiness of myself at sixty is something that I may completely neglect or even hin- der by smoking, drinking, or laziness. And this may not be a case of weakness ·Of will; rather, I might just say that I do not really

care if I ruin the health of my sixty year old self, and there is no reason to suppose that I may not be completely sincere in my as- sertion. Kant claimed that happiness is "a maximum of well-being in my present and

Such, however, is

in every future condition" ( G


If we


include future satisfactions as part of our happiness, then it is just false to claim that we all take our own happiness as an end, given that people can fail to care about their distant futures. Ought we to take our own future happi- ness as an end? If it is plausible to accept, as I have suggested, that we ought to take our friends' happiness as our end (isn't that, after all, part of what it is to be some- one's friend?), then it must be at least as plausible that we ought to take our own future happiness as our end. After all, my future self is just me in the future; she stands in an even more intimate relation- ship to me than do my friends. Of course, to make this distinction between future and present selves may require a meta- physical commitment to a Humean or neo- Humean conception of the self. Only on such views do we get a real distinction be- tween present and future selves. If we ac- cept that the person is a Cartesian ego, strictly or perfectly identical over time, then we may not be able to speak of duty to self in other than a metaphorical sense; some well-known objections to the notion of a duty to self depend upon a notion of the ~erson as perfectly identical over time. 9 However, if those objections are misplaced or if one accepts a Humean or neo-Humean conception of the self, the no- tion of a duty to promote one's own future happiness should seem plausible.40 We can now see what we ought to do in certain case.s of an agent's changing her values over time. Nagel offers us the case of a radical young man who, for some rea- son, knows that, at forty, he will have highly

conservative values.

twenty, plan for the satisfaction of his fu- ture selfs desires, given his own radical val- ues? ln cases where an agent foresees a change in her mere desires, such as a shift in preference from gardening to cooking, then it seems that the agent ought (in both the moral and prudential sense) to plan for the satisfaction of her future self's desires to cook instead of garden. But an agent


Should he now, at

University of Iowa

may believe that a change in her desires will lead to a decline in her well-being, and, in that case, she ought to frustrate h·er own future selfs happiness in order to attempt to provide for her welfare. If the young radical believes that his forty year old con- servative self will pursue ends that pre- clude his pursuing his actual objective ends, then he ought to attempt to frustrate his future self, insure that his future self will not have those conservative values, or do as much as he can now to promote his objective ends before he loses his clear-

sightedness about such ends.

the young radical may be wrong about the nature of his objective ends, and tben be will be wrong about what be will think that be ought to do.)

We have duties then, to promote the happiness of both our own future selves and of our friends and family members. We do not, however, have duties to pro- mote the happiness of all and any other


from that of Kant but also from that of many utilitarians who offer a purely sub- jective conception of welfare, or who iden- tify welfare with happiness.

(Of course,

This conclusion differs not only


Many of my claims have drawn on less than obvious views about, for example, how to understand moral duty4 2 and about the significance for action of our intimate relationships both with others and with our own future selves. But, as I said above. my project is primarily to revive the notion of a duty to self, both by showing the interest of Kant's views on the topic, and by show- ing how we can build on and modify Kant's suggestions. Discussion of duties to self can play an important role in discussions of value, the nature of duty, our relationships with others and ourselves, and of the na- ture of human welfare. Thus, duties to self (and Kant's views on that topic) deserve the attention of contemporary moral phi-


Receiv ed February I, 1996



I. Another reason for this neglect is perhaps that most co01emporary moral philosophers take the

But The

Metaphysics of Morals contains more detail regarding Kant's substantive normative eth ical vie ws, including details about the content of our duties to ourselves and to others and about the way that Kant understands happiness and perfection. (The Grounding and the second part of The Meta- physics ofMorals (The Metaphysical PrinciplesofVirrue) are reprinted together as Ethical Philoso-

will cite the former

phy, James W. Ellington, tr. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., lnc

as Gin the text, and the latter as M, followed by marginal numbers indicating the page reference

Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals as their primary source for Kant's moral theory.

l983) . I

following the Prussian Academy Edition of Kant's works.)

2. Such is certainly not true of many earlier moral philosophers. A glance through, for e><ample,

British Moralists 1650·1800, D. D. Raphael, ed. (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 1991), reveals bow often duties to self were viewed as being, ultimately, duties to the Creator.

3. There is only one (what we migbt call) basic categorical imperative. However, specific i.mpcra-

tives of duty, such as the imperative that commands us not to murder, are categorical imperatives that can be derived from the basic categorical imperative. So wbcn I speak of the categorical imperative, I am referring to the basic one, while when I speak of categorical imperatives I am referring to a type of imperative (contrasted with hypothetical imperatives) of which there are also

specific derivative ones.

4.1! is important to note that,for Kant, to say of an imperative that it is universally valid impUics that it is necessarily valid. If an imperative is universally valid, we can know a priori that it is valid for all rational beings.

5. And because it is always a matter of empirical fact what specific ends some particular agent has,

we cannot know a priori whether a given hypothetical imperative is valid for that particular agent.

6. So the hypothetical imperatives of prudence are universally valid, because all rationaU agents necessarily have their own happiness as an end. Thus, as I indicate in what follows, categorical imperatives must be understood as those imperatives that are universally valid independently of tbe ends. even the necessary ends, of any or all rational agents.

However, a caveat is in order here. Kant speaks of "the precept of prudence" (emphasis mine). If there were only one such precept then it would be universally valid. But if happiness is different for eacb agent, and, given Kant ' s purely subjective conception of happiness (see section 11 below), it will be, then there will not be merely one imperative of prudence: the content of such imperatives will vary from agent to agent. Nonetheless, we might say, whatever the content of the imperatives of prudence for each agent, such are necessarily valid/or that agent. [n contrast, imperatives of skill regarding the baking of soufnes. for example, may be relativizcd to agents with respect to the altitudes at which they live, but, nonetheless, the imperative of skill relativized to the class of agents at your altitude is still not necessarily valid for you.

7. In his "Morality, Self, and Others," in Morality and the Language of Conduct (Detroit: Wayne

State University Press, 1965), p. 43.

8. At G 399, Kant does claim that "to secure one's own happiness is a duty (at least indireclly)" . If

an individual is unhappy, be

one's happiness is a duty only in-so-far as it is a necessary condition of fu lfilling one's duties. But, given what Kant says about duty (sec following text), it is difficult to sec how he can support the claim that promoting one's own happiness inven indirectly a duty.

9.So imperatives are never valid for a divine will: "the ought is here out of place, because the would is already of itself necessarily in agreement with the law'' (G 414). So the notion of a.cting in

accordance with law (Kant 's fundamental moral concept) can be applicable even in cases where one necessarily waots to do what is in accord with the law.lltus, tbc divine will can act in accord with moral law and thereby be considered moral; however, it cannot be regarded as acting in accord with duty, because the notion of duty or of "ought" does require for its application that one not

(I am grateful to an anonymous referee for this

will be unable to attend to his duties appropriately. So promoting

necessarily want to do what one ought to do. journal for helpful clarification on tbis point.)


10. We need to spec ify that we cannot have as a duty an action the performance of which we are

necessarily inclined to pursue. If we were all inclined, as a matter of fact, to give food to the poor,

we would still be obligated to be charitable. Duty can overlap with our comingem ends; after all,

See, e .g. , G

the sympathetic person has as many duties as Kant 's cold-hearted philanthropist


11. Or. we can say that my imperfect duty to do.r is one which no person has a right or claim .against

me that I fulfill by doing some specific action. See section ID for a further discussion of imperfect


12. This imperative instructs us to seek a certain end. However, one might say that the imperative

remains non-consequentialist, because we are instructed to pursue the end not because of the value of happiness, but because of the nature of rational beings: respect for s uch beings involves taking their ends (or at least some of their ends) as our own.

13. For discussions of agent-neutral vs. agent-relative reasons, see Derek Parfit, Reason.• and

Persons (Oxford University Press,1984), 143,and Thomas Nagel, Tire View From Nowhere (Oxford

University Press,l986), 152ft.

14. At the end of the L ectures on Etlric:s, tr. Louis Infield, (Indianapolis: Hackett Publishi-ng Co.,

loc., 1963), Kant makes the following claim: "The end, therefore, for which man is destined is to

achieve his fullest perfection through his own freedom


universal end of mankind is the

highest moral perfection. If we all so ordered our conduct that it should be in harmony with the universal end of ma.okind,the highest perfection would be attained. We must e ach of us, therefo re, endeavour to guide our conduct to this end; each of us must make such a contribution of bis own

that if all contributed similarly the result would be perfection" (252}. These remarks suggest that Kant could agree with me that certain actions are commanded by categorical imperatives in so far as those actions are means to our universal, final, or highest end. If so, then, contrary to his own remarks about the nature of categorical imperatives, not all such command ao action '' without refer ence to another end". (I am grateful to an anonymous referee for this journal for emphasizing this point.)

15. Of course, if certain actions are objectively valuable, then categorical imperatives will com-

mand us to perform those actions for their own sakes.

must view all statements of reasons as s tatemen ts of prima facie reasons. So my having

16. We

reason to beat my egg whites until they arc stiff can be outweighed by my reason to abandon my

apartment, given the fact that a fire is roaring through it.

17. Another way to distinguish the concepts of objective value and of subjective value is te> notice

that a state of affairs could have objective value without being related in any way to the subjective

states of agents. Such is not the case with respect to subjective value, however: to be subjectively valuable just is to be appropriately related to certain subjective states of agents.

18. Ofcourse, here I am talking about intrinsic value. Anything that is a means to the well-being of

sentient or rational creatures will have objective value, but it will have only instrumental objective


19. In fact, however, most utilitarians have offered either a hedonistic or some version of a

desire-satisfaction conception of human well-being. Many philosophers will, therefor e, identify utilitarians as those consequentialists who have such a purely subjective conception of well-being, i.e., a conception under which what bas value are certain subjective states of the agent or is determined by certain subjective states of the agent. Nonetheless, utilitarians have tended to identify well-being with pleasure or happiness, i.e., with some purely subjective notion. So those consequentialists who reject such a purely subjective conception of welfare are still appropriately regarded as utilitarians. See David Brink, Moral Realism and the Foundations of Ethics (Cam- bridge: Cambridge University Press,1989), for a defense of a version of "objective utilitarianism."

20. Following Aristotle, we can say that the life. of pleasure fails to satisfy the condition of

self-sufficiency: it does not seem that in and of itself, pleasure makes a life worth living. Similarly, the life of pleasure is not the most cboiceworthy life: even i£ we have pleasure, we still hav e reason to pursue or to choose other ends. See Aristotle, Nicomachean Ethics,Terence Irwin,tr. (Indian· apolis: Hackett Publishing Co., Inc., 1985), pp. 7,13-15.


21. See Richard Kraut, "Two Conceptions of Happiness," The Philosophical Review, vol. 88 (1979),

pp. 181-82. Kraut makes a distinction between a subjective conception of happiness and an objective conception of happiness which corresponds (at least in broad outline) to my distinction between happiness and well-being.

22. The standards by which we measure the development of an individual's capacities may be

relativizcd to the individual 's inherent limitations, rather than being the same for all individuals, as they are for Aristotle. Mill, given much of what he says on freedom of lifestyle in On Liberty (Indianapolis: Hackel! Publishing Co., Inc., 1978), would agree with the former claim rather than with Aristotle's. See Kraut,192ff.

23. See Mill, On Liberty, Chapter Ill, and Scanlon, p. 658.

24. Of course, in every individual life, there will arise questions about wben .it is appropriate t.o trade

away a certain amount of perfection for a great deal of pleasure, or even for a moderate amount of pleasure. I am not going to auempt to addresssuch questions here.

25. See

26. See Scanlon, p. 656.

27. See Thomas Nagel, The Possibility ofAltruism (Princeton University Press, 1978), Part 111.

28. As I pointed out in footnote 9 above, for Kant, the notion of law is more fundamental for

morality than is that of duty, where the Iauer alone is tied to the notion of the moral "ought". I

reject this aspect of Kant's view, but will not pursue that issue here because it docs not figure centrally in my argument.and would take us too far afield.

29. Some consequentialists claim tbat we ought to "satisfice" rather than to maximize with respect

to value, i.e. that we are morally bound to bring about "enough" value or a certain amount of value but not bound to bring about the most that we possibly can. I cannotsettle this disagreement here. For a discussion of satisficing consequentialism, sec Michael Slote, Common-sense Morality and

his "Preference and Urgency,' ' The Journal of Philosophy, vol. 72 (1975), p. 658.

Consequentialism (Boston: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1.985), Chapter


30. This way of viewing consequentialist duties should be attractive to those with various types of

egalitarian moral and/or political theories who want to claim that the worst-off have claims to a

certain share of resources.

31. !think that failing to see the point that I am making in the text has led to some infl.ueotial

criticisms of utilitarianism. For example, Michael Stocker, in "The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories," reprinted in Twentieth Century Ethical Theory, Cahn and Haber, cds. {Engle·

wood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1995),claims that "what is lacking in these theories (consequentialist

.the person" (535). Stocker accuses such consequentialists of

being concerned with the value of a person and not with the person, where I am claiming tbat tbe former cannot be understood as anything other than the Iauer, unless one is seriously confused about the nature of value. If Stocker's criticism does succeed against Moore ( I do oottbink that it does), that would be an argument against non-naturalism, not against moral theories concerned with the promotion of value as such.

32. See, for example, tbe discus.~ion headed ''Duties Arising From Differences of Age,. in the

Lectures on Ethics.

theories sucb as Moore's) is simply

33. A Theory ofJustice (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1971), p. 204.

34. Again, see Mill, On Liberty. Of course, we must also make a distinction between what we are

obligated to do and what we are permitted to do through the means of governmental coercion. I may not be permitted to use legal means to fulfill my dut ies t o promote the perfection of othe rs, or to fulfill all such duties.

35. There is a very complicated and difficult issue here that I am ignoring. To what extent are we

"responsible" for the subjective ends that we develop? ) am relying on a distinction between the way we acquire our preferences and the way that we are assailed by diseases and natural disasters. See Ronald Dworkin, "liberalism," in A Matter ofPrinciple (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), pp. 192ft.

36. "Preference and Urgency," pp. 659-60.


37. 1t has bee n suggested to me (by an anonymous referee for this journal) that Kant might say that I have a duty to promote what people want only in·SO·far as they deserve to get what they w.ant, i.e.,

in so far as their being virtuous makes them worthy of happiness. U that were Kanl's claim, then

Kant and I might be more in accord with respect to when we are obligated to secure for others the satisfaction of their desires; at least, we would be in agreement that we have no general duty to do so. (However, Kant would be claiming that we have a duty to promote such desire satisfaction as rewards, and I am arguing that we have a duty to promote such when they are contributo:ry to or components ofwell·being.) However, many of Kant's claims seem to contradict sucb an interpreta · Lion. Most interestingly, in the Lectures on Ethics, he discusses our duties with respect to the "rogue" (197). See alsop. 200 of that text.

38. This sort of attention to friends simply in virtue of their being friends is, of course, foreign to

much moral theory, including Kant's. For a discussion and defense of such attention, see my "Friendship, Virtue, and Impartiality," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research (forthcoming) . 39. Sec, for example, Marcus G. Singer, " On Duties to Oneself," Ethics, vol. 69 (1959), pp. 202-5. Singer's worries apply only to the notion of duty. He claims that the notion requires for its application the distinctness of the subjec t of the duty and of the obligee. However, the notion of concern does not require for its application such distinctness, as Butler made clear. See his "Of Personal Identity," reprinted in Persona/Identity, ed. John Perry (Berkeley: University of Califor· nia Press, 1975), pp. 99-106. Butler, in fact, argues that the notion of conce rn for one's future self requires the strict or perfect identity of the subject over time. 40. For a discussion of duties to future selves as an implication of psychological reductionism, see Parfit, Reasons and Per.rons, 318ff. For another attempt to connect concern for friends and concern "

for future selves, see Jennifer Whiting,"Friends and Future Selves

The Philosophical Review, vol.

95 (1986) , pp. 547 -80.

41. The Possibility of Altruism, p. 74. There are, without doubt, difficulties in understanding such a makes it seem as though our future selves are lurking around the corner,just waiting for us to go away so that they can take our places, rather than being simply ourselves at some future t:ime. Nonetheless, we do seem to be able to make some sense of the case.

42. See Philippa Foot, "Morality as a System of Hypothetical lmperativeoS," in Virtues and v:;ces and

157· 73,

for a well-known auempt to refute Kant's e-quation of moral duties with the reasons expressed in

categorical imperatives.

43. 1 would like to thank Richard Fumerton, Guenter Zoeller, and an anonymous referee for this

Other Essays in Moral Philosophy (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1978), pp

journal for helpful comments on and discussion of previous drafts of this paper.