Duties To and Regarding Ourselves<sup>1</sup>

Robert N. Johnson

in Self-Improvement

Published in print October 2011 | ISBN: 9780199599349
Published online January 2012 | e-ISBN: 9780191731556 | DOI:
Duties To and Regarding Ourselves1

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What is the difference between having a duty to a person and a duty merely regarding them? It would be nice if Kantians could say that we have a duty to a person to do something just in case they have a right to our doing it, and this is not true of the person regarding whom we have a duty. The problem is that Kantians also claim that while we have a duty to others to promote their happiness, no one in particular has a right to our promoting their happiness; this duty is, in other words, an imperfect duty. The puzzle is this: Kantians hold that we have imperfect duties to others and to ourselves. Yet an imperfect duty seems not to carry a correlative right. It is argued that while no one in particular need receive a correlative right when we owe an imperfect duty to others, collectively the group “others” holds a correlative right against us, that we promote the happiness of others. It is a right, however, that is not to any particular performance at any particular time. Likewise, we can have duties to ourselves that carry a correlative right, in this case, that we ourselves hold against ourselves. It is simply not a right to a particular performance of a self-developing action.

Keywords: consent; imperfect duties; Kant; Plato; Reath; rights; Singer; Wolff; Wood

Chapter.  9918 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

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