How does Hegel's philosophy compare with Kant's?

A comparison of the concept of duty between Kant and Hegel

Table of Contents

1 Introduction

2 The mandatory term in Kant
2.1 Derivation of the ultimate duty
2.2 Duties of law and virtue
2.2.1 Duties of Virtue Obligations to Others
2.2.2 Legal Obligations

3 The mandatory term in Hegel
3.1 Basic condition of morality
3.2 Free will and duty

4 Comparison of duty between Kant and Hegel
4.1 Basic condition
4.2 Allegation of formality
4.3 Primary duty
4.4 Freedom
4.5 Autonomy
4.6 Duty versus happiness / love / affection

5 conclusion

1 Introduction

The present work deals with the concept of duty in Immanuel Kant and Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel.

Based on a discrepancy between Hegel's criticism of Kant and the following statement by Hegel from the “Science of Logic - The Doctrine of Being”: “Duty is an ought against the particular will, against the selfish desire and the arbitrary interest; [...]. " (Hegel 2008 1812, p. 133) the question arises to what extent the concept of duty differs between Kant and Hegel, since at first glance the quoted sentence from Hegel's work resembles Kant's definition of duty.

Since it is not sufficient to merely examine the concept of duty, since it is always involved in an entire theory, in the first part of my study I will reconstruct the ethical theories of Kant (Chapter 2) and Hegel (Chapter 3) in order to use this to reconstruct the to present basic statements of both regarding the mandatory term. Kant's “Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals” and Hegel's “Basics of the Philosophy of Law” serve me as primary literature. Following the reconstruction, I will contrast and compare the approaches that have been worked out, taking into account the categories: basic conditions, reproach of formality, supreme duty, freedom, autonomy and duty versus happiness / love / inclination (Chapter 4).

The aim of the investigation is to compare the compulsory concepts of Kant and Hegel. In addition, the differences between the two theories should be revealed and a starting point created with which criticism of both theories can be exercised.

2 The mandatory term in Kant

The concept of duty can be found in Kant primarily in the works “Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals” and “Metaphysics of Morals”.1 For the reconstruction of the concept of duty as well as for what follows from the concept of duty I will refer to the works mentioned, but the “Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals” will serve me as the main source. The reason for this is that in the “Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals” the majority of Kant's decisive ideas are developed, which are only further developed in his later works (cf. Henning 2016, p. 9). This is not to say that these explanations are less relevant, but there is no room for them in my investigation, since I am dealing with the fundamental ideas of Kant's concept of duty.

2.1 Derivation of the ultimate duty

The derivation of the supreme duty is directly related to the derivation of the moral law and this is set up by Kant in the first section of the “Foundation”. It is possible to work out three premises that describe the derivation of the moral law: First, a moral value can only be thought where the actor has a motivation and this motivation can be goodwill. Second, goodwill is only there when it is said that action is taken out of duty. Third, when it is said that a subject acts out of duty, the content of the duty must be the moral law (cf. Kant GMS, AA IV, p. 399ff). With regard to these three established premises, the terms duty and good will as well as premises one and two are relevant for the time being.

Kant defines the will as imperatively good if it is not influenced by external factors and the subjective inclinations of an acting subject (cf. ibid., P. 398). The concept of duty is in direct relation to the concept of good will, because it is only possible to speak of good will in an action if one acts out of obligation. Kant uses the term mainspring in this context. This term denotes the reason for an action, so that the assumption just described can also be as follows: the mainspring of an action must be duty, not an inclination, because only then can one speak of an action with good will2 (See Henning 2016, p. 22).

In order to clarify the conflict between duty and inclination, Kant works with a comparison - human being versus God or, in other words, being that is not completely determined by reason versus being that is completely determined by reason. God is good willed because it is in his nature to do the right thing. There is no need for any duty and there is no acting out of duty for God, because this acting only exists in beings who do not have a will that is completely ruled by reason and are therefore always in conflict with their inclinations (cf. Kant GMS, AA IV , P. 412ff.).

Another example of treating the relationship between acting out of duty and acting out of inclination is that of “philanthropist”. A person who has a tendency to help others does not act out of good will as long as the tendency is the mainspring of the action. The mainspring must be duty and only then does Kant speak of good will (cf. ibid., P. 398). Friedrich Schiller ironically criticized this example. He writes: “I am happy to serve my friends, but unfortunately I do it with an inclination. And so it often annoys me that I am not virtuous. " (Schiller 1962, p. 299) Schiller is wrong with this criticism, because he ignored one thing: positive feelings and inclinations are not forbidden in actions, but if one wants to act with good will, one must not out of inclination, but must Act duty. (See Henning 2016, p. 27).

The third premise leading to the moral law says that if an act is done out of duty, this duty must have a content. The content of a duty is called a maxim by Kant and these are subjective principles of will. Maxim are the internal principles according to which external actions are performed. Every mainspring that leads to an action is part of a maxim for action (cf. Kant GMS, AA IV, p. 400). At the same time, however, they must also be objective principles and must not have any subjective tendencies as their content. From this it follows that every person with a good will acts according to a maxim, since the maxim is the content of duty, and furthermore recognizes an objective principle in the maxim. From this it follows that the person acting out of duty acts without respect for his subjective inclinations and instead acts out of respect for a general law, or out of respect for the moral law. On the basis of the three derived premises, the moral law reads: "[...] only act according to the maxim through which you can also want it to become a general law." (ibid., p. 421)

The question that every person acting out of duty must ask himself is: Can the content of my duty or the maxim of my action apply as an objective law or moral law? Is my maxim completely free of subjective inclinations and is it based solely on the mainspring of duty and thus out of respect for the moral law?

2.2 Duties of law and virtue

The first duty is to respect the moral law. If this respect exists and a subject acts out of duty, then it acts at the same time with good will and according to the moral law, or according to the categorical imperative (cf. ibid., P. 400). The duties of law and virtue can be derived from the highest duty. Schnädelbach uses the terms legality and morality to distinguish between these obligations (cf. Schnädelbach, p. 147).

In addition, within these two forms of duty there is a distinction between perfect and imperfect duties (cf. Kant GMS, AA IV, p. 421).

2.2.1 Duties of Virtue

Duties of virtue are determined by each individual and are therefore not determined by external parties (cf. Kant MS, AA VI, p. 394ff.). The duties towards ourselves belong to the category of the duties of virtue. These are perfection and self-preservation (cf. Kant GMS, AA IV, p. 422f.).3

Perfection implies that a rational being must want his will to be strengthened. A will cannot only be designed for enjoyment, because then its talents would be neglected and possibly no longer usable. In relation to the highest duty, this means that a will must never be directed against the perfection of talents, because it is in the nature of the will that it develops all potential faculties in order to be able to pursue all potential intentions (cf. ibid., P . 423).

“The first principle of duty towards oneself lies in the saying: live according to nature (naturae convenienter vive), i. i. keep yourself in the perfection of your nature, the second in the sentence: make yourself more perfect than nature created you (perfice te ut finem; perfice tu ut medium) ”. (Kant MS, AA VI, p. 419)

The duty to perfect is an imperfect duty because it does not require specific actions but the setting of a general purpose. This form of duty is characterized by Kant as “wide” (cf. ibid., P. 390). This means that there is scope for arbitrariness, since the duty does not specifically dictate what is to be done, because an imperfect duty only determines the purpose. “Imperfect duties […] only require you to do something. What exactly that is is arbitrary or accidental from the point of view of morality. " (Henning 2016, p. 73)

If a person acts against the duty of perfection, he acts against reason, or against the nature of the will itself and this is, if one generalizes the action, a contradiction in willing, since no one can want to fight against nature. In addition, no rational person can want a maxim whose content is the fueling of enjoyment to become a general law.

The duty of self-preservation is the second duty towards ourselves and is at the same time a complete duty (cf. Kant GMS, AA IV, p. 422ff.). Perfect duties are narrower and require specific actions from the actors (cf. Kant MS, AA VI, p. 390). The necessary condition for fulfilling this duty is that a subject does not commit suicide, but this alone is not a sufficient condition. Not only must a subject not kill itself, it must happen for the right reasons. A sufficient motivation would be that a subject does not want to kill himself, since this means that he can no longer perceive the possibility of perfection. Kant himself mentions insufficient motivation. "Out of self-love, I make it a principle for myself when life threatens more evil than it promises comforts, when it lasts longer than it promises comforts, to shorten it for me." (Cf. Kant GMS, AA IV, p. 422) Self-love is thus the opposite of self-preservation. If an action is based on the driving force of self-love, then this is based on the motivation to fulfill the subjective inclinations and this alone violates the highest duty, because this says that a person must act according to reason and his driving force must therefore be duty which at the same time is determined free from subjective inclinations. If, however, a person continues his life, based on the mainspring of self-preservation, even if life has become difficult, then this is the fulfillment of the duty towards oneself (cf. ibid., P. 421f.).


1 Kant also develops his ethics in the work “Critique of Practical Reason”, in the work “Religion within the Limits of Mere Reason” and in smaller writings. In addition, material on his ethics can also be found in the lecture notes of Kant's students (cf. Henning 2016, p. 9).

2 Henning describes the relationship between duty and good will as an implication relationship. By this he means that the term duty contains or implies the term of good will (cf. Henning 2016, p. 22).

3 In the “Metaphysics of Morals” in the chapter “Elementary Ethical Doctrine”, Kant differentiates between “Duties towards ourselves as animal beings” (including perfection, self-preservation) and “Duties towards ourselves as moral beings (including lies, greed, creeping) (cf. Kant 2014 1797, A63-A97). He does not make this distinction in the “Foundation of the Metaphysics of Morals” and, moreover, this distinction is not necessarily relevant in the comparison with Hegel. For this reason I will not go into it further.

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