Hedonism, Heteronomy, and Kant's Principle of Happiness

Andrews Reath

in Agency and Autonomy in Kant's Moral Theory

Published in print February 2006 | ISBN: 9780199288830
Published online May 2006 | e-ISBN: 9780191603648 | DOI:
 Hedonism, Heteronomy, and Kant's Principle of Happiness

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This chapter addresses the issue of whether Kant was a psychological hedonist about natural desires and the actions for which they are the motives. It calls this interpretation into question, and argues that Kant did not adopt a simple hedonistic psychology of non-moral choice, and that nothing in his moral theory, in particular the central distinction between autonomy and heteronomy, depends on such a psychology. The chapter is organized as follows. Section I introduces some of the issues that a hedonistic psychology would raise for Kant's moral psychology and moral theory. Sections II to IV take up the relevant texts and show why they do not indicate a crude hedonistic psychology. It is argued that the principle of happiness does not express a hedonistic theory of motivation, but a principle of choice in which actions are evaluated in terms of expected satisfaction or the strength of the desires they will satisfy. Finally, Section V considers how the proposed interpretations of Kant's views bear on the broader issues raised in the introduction.

Keywords: hedonist; natural desires; hedonistic psychology; choice; happiness; moral theory

Chapter.  19818 words. 

Subjects: History of Western Philosophy

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