What are the Criticism of Kant’s Theory of ‘Duty for Duty’s Sake’?

In the modern age, the best example of Rationalism is the rigorism of Kant. According to Kant, reason takes two forms (i) Speculative or pure reason and (ii) Practical reason. Analysing pure reason, Kant has determined and founded the limits of reason.

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Kant advocates the principle of ‘duty for duty sake’. A moral life is an autonomous life. Moral directives are directives issued by practical reason. The aim of life is virtue and not pleasure.

According to Kant, goodwill is the only jewel which shines in its own light. Practical reason itself inforces moral laws upon itself. Emotion has no place in a moral life. Kant holds that it is not moral to help another one is pained by his sorrow and the help is consequent upon this feeling.


The value of actions depends upon their motive, not result. It acting there can be only one proper motivating cause and that is a faith in moral law. Sublime qualities like love, sympathy etc. should be adhered to only as a duty, not due to attachment. There is obligatation in duty. Its directive is the ultimate directive. It does not depend upon the desire or aversion of the individual. Other orders do exhibit a cause effect relation. Cause effect relation has no bearing what soever on moral laws. They are not based on experience and neither does experience validate them. Moral laws are universal. Duty is indispensable in any and every circumstances.


The following objections can be made against the unqualified nature of moral law and the theory of duty for duty sake:

(i) Will cannot be objectless:


According to Jacobi, “Kant’s a will that will nothing.” Volition cannot be without object. The moral laws of Kant are mere forms and one cannot as certain from them his duty in a particular situation.

Psychological dualism:

The theory duty for duty’s sake is based on a psychological dualism. Kant treats reason and sentience as mutually contradictory forgetting that the two are in separable parts of the soul. Sensibility is the content of a moral life. No activity is possible without it. Every activity has some motivating cause or the other.

(iii) Partial standard:


Kant’s theory becomes rigorous by completely excluding sentience from a moral life. He has directed a strong negation of sentience but such a life, lacking it feeling, would be one sided. The highest aim is self advancement, but this would become impossible to some extent by an exclusion of feelings. Rigorism is as partial as hedonism. Perfectionism is the final consummation of both.

(iv) Some exceptions are good:

Recognisisng moral law to be completely unqualified Kant does not licence any exceptions whatever but something are good just because they are exceptions. Each cannot be a celibate. If every one did exercise celibacy, then every celibacy would became extinct because procreation would come to an end. But though there are exceptions, no one denies the virtue of celibacy.

(v) Stress on the inevitability of inner struggle:

It is Muirhead’s opinion about Kant that – ‘Virtue, in fact, lives in the life of its antagonist,’ In Kant’s opinion, the morality of an act increases, in direct propertion, with the intensity of this struggle. This thought, on the otherhand, necessitates the putting of moral force macriterion and on the other, makes struggle essential.

(vi) Individualism:

In the words of James Seth, ‘Kill your sensibility, and you separate yourself from your fellows.’ Rationalism inevitably becomes Individualism. The basis of our sociability is not reason but feelings like love and sympathy.

(vii) Rigorism:

According to Jacobi, “The law is made for the sake of man and not man for the sake of law.” Man cannot obey laws with his eyes shut, thus it looks like rigorism to say that moral laws are unqualified. But this statement does possess importance in showing the inviolability of duty.

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