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Ethics as Social Science

The Moral Philosophy of Social Cooperation

Leland B. Yeager

With this important book, esteemed economist Leland B. Yeager grounds moral and political philosophy in the requirements of a well-functioning society, one whose members reap the gains from peaceful cooperation while pursuing their own diverse goals.
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Chapter 9: Duty and Universalizability

Leland B. Yeager


KANT’S AND OTHER VIEWS OF DUTY The remark about “falling on grenades” (quoted in Chapter 8) brings to mind the view that duty is the centerpiece of ethics. Why be moral? Because duty so requires. An act is especially virtuous, on this view, if done contrary to one’s own interest and inclination. Duty, by the word’s derivation, is action that is due, owed. It concerns fulfilling obligations to other persons (and arguably to oneself). On a utilitarian view, the concept and sense of duty are instrumental: ideally, dutiful behavior serves happiness. Duty for its own sake is senseless. Contrary to Kant, the type of personal character that leads to specific behavior only from a sense of duty is less estimable than character that leads to it from inclination. Moritz Schlick agrees with Marcus Aurelius, who said: In the stage of perfection “thou wilt do what is right, not because it is proper, but because thereby thou givest thyself pleasure” (quoted in Schlick 1930/1961, p. 207, and passim for similar remarks; cf. Taylor 1970 and Olson 1965). Suppose one man has a joyful interest in other people and their welfare; he helps his distressed neighbor because he likes him, feels his distress, and takes satisfaction in helping. A second man dislikes his neighbor yet grudgingly gives the same help because he feels a moral obligation. On the view being criticized, he is the more virtuous, for his sense of duty overrides his inclinations. The first man is not particularly praiseworthy; for...

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