Edited by Luigino Bruni and Pier Luigi Porta
Chapter 6: Kant on Civilization, Moralization and the Paradox of Happiness
Sergio Cremaschi 1. Kant on happiness Immanuel Kant is often thought to hold that happiness is not valuable, and even to have ignored it wholly in his ethics. This is a serious mistake. It is true that for Kant moral worth is the supreme good, but by itself it is not the perfect or complete good. To be virtuous, for Kant, is to be worthy of happiness, and the perfect good requires that happiness be distributed in accordance with virtue . . . Happiness, or the sum of satisfaction of desires, is a conditional good. It is good only if it results from the satisfaction of morally permissible desires. But it is intrinsically valuable nonetheless: It is valued by a rational agent for itself, and not instrumentally.1 This assessment by a recent inﬂuential interpreter turns two centuries of misunderstanding upside down; in fact Kant was not the proponent of a ‘grumpy’ morality, which he thought indeed to be mistaken,2 but only meant to avoid its opposite, an ‘enticing’ morality that would try to encourage virtuous conduct through promises of happiness as a reward to virtue, which he believed to be a corruption of genuine morality. Kant’s polemics against eudemonism is well known, but also overstressed. In fact, he wanted to avoid doctrines corrupting the true principles of morality, or the simple reasons for acting that the conscience, or heart, of any plain man is able to perceive easily enough. But a desire to be happy was for him natural, and strong...
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