self-regarding action

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Immanuel Kant (1724—1804) German philosopher

John Stuart Mill (1806—1873) philosopher, economist, and advocate of women's rights



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An action that affects no one other than the agent. Some authorities locate this categorization of action in Kant's treatment of the ordinary moral consciousness, others in Bentham's account of the relationship between pains, pleasures, and motives. But the most extended classical treatment is undoubtedly in J. S. Mill's On Liberty (1859). Here Mill distinguishes a province of virtue from a province of duty. An action in the former province is self‐regarding and subject only to personal persuasion and inducement. Such an action becomes other‐regarding and open to public sanction if, and only if, it either harms an interest, violates a right, or neglects a duty owed to another person or persons. Hence a soldier or policeman merely drunk is self‐regarding, a soldier or policeman drunk on duty is other‐regarding. This kind of categorization is often regarded as one essential foundation of the liberty principle.


Subjects: Politics.

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