In the opening of The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Kant starts talking about good will to build grounds for, in so far as I understand, the concept of acting from duty. Could someone provide any explanation of how the transition from good will to duty is done? Because it's not clear to me from the text. He just starts talking about duty without having defined it or having said anything about it previously in fact.

I'm not even necessarily asking how it's done in the text; if anyone could provide an explanation as to how good will leads to (?) acting from duty, I'd appreciate that.

1 Answer 1


In The Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant examines the question of how humans can act in a good way. For Kant, the basis for acting good is the good will. His criterion for the good will is acting from duty.

Kant gives the example of a salesman, who serves his customers honestly and for fair prices. But one cannot see from the outside if the salesman acts from duty, or if he has other reasons, e.g. the fear of losing customers. To understand Kant, it's important to understand the difference between acting from duty and dutiful action: while the salesman would act dutifully when not cheating his customers out of fear of losing them, he wouldn't act from duty. He would do that only if he acts fair because of his good will.

  • Thank you very much. This clarifies a lot. Just to make sure I understand this, would it be correct to say that the two statements 'the agent does X from duty' and 'the agent does X because of his good will' are equivalent? Dec 16, 2014 at 23:49

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