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Abstract: A central question is ethics is that of what we ought and ought not to do. The theory of obligation aims at answering this question, and all the major moral philosophers provide answers of one kind or another. Kant, however, is famous for holding that an action that conforms to duty may have no moral worth. Putting the overarching idea in what is now more common language—one can do the right thing for the wrong reason. A confidence trickster, for instance, could, at some expense and risk, help a prosperous accident victim, but wholly for the purpose of defrauding the person later. If Kant’s view is right, we have the paradox that one can do the morally right thing—even a very good thing—without our action’s having moral worth. Aristotle and other moral philosophers have held similar views, so the problem goes beyond a challenge to understand the Kantian view. This presentation explains the problem, offers a solution that clarifies Kantian ethics, and shows how the problem leads to important questions about the scope of morality.
Speaker: Professor Robert N. Audi is John A. O'Brien Professor of Philosophy at University of Notre Dame. His work focusses on four areas: Moral and Political Philosophy, Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind and Action, and Philosophy of Religion. Recent publications include 'Means, Ends, and Persons: The Meaning and Psychological Dimensions of Kant’s Humanity Formula' (Oxford University Press, 2016); 'Moral Perception' (Princeton University Press, 2013); and 'Epistemology: A Contemporary Introduction to the Theory of Knowledge', 3rd ed. (Routledge 2010). He has also written important works of political philosophy, particularly on the relationship between church and state. He is a past president of the American Philosophical Association and the Society of Christian Philosophers.
Organised by The Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics