The British moralist's such as Anthony Cooper, Shaftesbury, Francis Hutcheson and David Hume Held that morality is ultimately based on sentiment or feeling. Kant of course founds this notion unsatisfactory. Kant's objection to the British moralist's thesis that morality stems from sentiment can be found in the following passage from his Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals:

"Everyone must admit that if a law is to be morally valid, i.e., is to be valid as a ground of obligation, then it must carry with it absolutely necessity. He must admit that the command, "Thou shalt not like," does not hold only for men, as if other rational beings had no need to abide by it, and so with all the other moral laws properly so called; and he must concede that the ground of obligation here must therefore be sought not in the nature of man nor in the circumstances of the world in which man is placed, but must be sought a priori solely in the concepts of pure reason; he must grant that every other precept which is founded on principles of mere experience - a precept that may in certain respects be universal - insofar as it rests in the least on empirical grounds -perhaps only in its motive - can be indeed be called a practical rule, but never a moral law.
Thus not only are moral laws together with their principles essentially different from every kind of practical cognition in which there is anything empirical, but all moral philosophy rests entirely on its pure part. When applied to man, it does not in the least borrow from acquaintance with him (anthropology) but gives a priori laws to him as a rational being."

Thus Kant' aruges that morality cannot be founded on sentiment or feeling as these are empirical and for Kant if a law is to be morally valid then it must hold with absolute necessity. Thus, Kant famously proclaims that the true moral action is the one done from duty. Thus one who helps someone in need from a feeling of compassion cannot rightly be held to be moral. But the person who helps someone in need solely from the duty to obey the moral law (perhaps feeling no compassion whatsoever) is moral.

Philip Blosse sums up the issue aptly in the following from his essay; "A Problem in Kant’s Theory of Moral Feeling;"
"Since only experience can show us whether a feeling of pleasure or pain will arise in the presence of a certain object, no universally valid moral law can possibly be based on a maxim for the realization of practical pleasure. (KpV, 58) If our act is motivated by feelings of personal satisfaction, it cannot have moral value, for Kant, even if what we do is right. It may have “legality,” but not “morality.” (KpV, 71) But acting from feeling offers no guarantee that an action will be right. At best, it guarantees that we will act from natural self-interest. But even if our desire was for the sublime pleasure that comes from acting morally, this still would not make such pleasure a moral motive for action. (KpV, 115) The only thing that can guarantee the moral worth of our actions is to act from duty. For this, Kant says, the moral law must directly determine the will. (KpV, 71)"

The following resources may be helpful for those to wish to inquiry further:
Philip Blosser: A Problem in Kant’s Theory of Moral Feeling
Kant Immanuel. "Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals."
Gill, Michael. "Moral Rationalism vs. Moral Sentimentalism: Is Morality More Like Math or Beauty?." Philosophy Compass 2.1 (2007): 16-30. Web. 1 Dec 2009.
Allen W. Wood's "Kant’s History of Ethics"
Kant and Hume on Morality
Kant's Moral Philosophy
The Role of the Sublime in Kant's Moral Metaphysics
By John R. Goodreau
Moral Philosophy From Montaigne to Kant
By Jerome B. Schneewind
The British moralists and the internal "ought", 1640-1740 By Stephen L. Darwall
Christine M. Korsgaard's "Natural Motives and the Motive of Duty, Hume and Kant on Our Duties to Others"

Joshua Duke

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