I'm reading through the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals Section 1 and would like some confirmation on the topic in the title. From what I read it seems that one can still act from duty despite having an inclination as long as the inclination doesn't influence the motive...that is the motive is from duty. Therefore those who gain pleasure from an action could still be doing it from duty. Is my interpretation of Kant right, and if so is there a piece of text somewhere in Section 1 that Kant makes this duality explicit?

1 Answer 1


That's a complicated question in a sense.

Largely this hinges on the interpretation of what we call in English the "shopkeeper passage."

There Kant presents depending on your interpretation either three or four different courses of action that the shopkeeper can take with respect to moral action.

  1. Acting in a completely immoral way.
  2. Acting in a way that simulates morality but for obviously immoral reasons.
  3. Acting in a way that simulates morality but out of inclination.
  4. Acting in a way that is moral because one acts for duty.

The rub that makes things a bit confusing is that the way Kant words it, it sounds like he's presenting a dichotomy between 3 and 4 in terms of whether or not the agent has inclinations to do the action since the description of 4 is about the agent being cold.

But most Kant interpreters are not fans of that position. Instead, they suggest that what's going on is that Kant's speaking by contrast but really focusing on the "motivation" that guides the person's action.

This interpretation is also consistent with what he says about the categorical imperative later in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and with the third antinomy about freedom in the Critique of Pure Reason.

It's not quite so compatible with what he says about choices that bind us towards or away from morality in Religion within the bounds of reason alone but that's a lengthy discussion for a different question.


Marcia Baron, Kantian Ethics Almost without Apology

Allen Wood

Thomas Hill

Baron Onora O'Neill

(These are from memory people who work on this distinction -- I'm sure there's more -- such as Christine Korsgaard's interpretation).


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