August 8th, 2008


duty and character

It is well understood that duty cannot defer to passion. Actions that defer to passions, can at best proceed in accordance with duty. Such deference preempts the possibility of acting from duty. It is equally certain that duty cannot defer to orientation, construed as a certain regularity in passions. Nor can it defer to outlook, construed as a cohesive diachronic account of passions. For regularity and cohesion add nothing principled to the mix. But by the same token, it is far from clear that duty is independent of character, construed as a cohesive diachronic organizing principle of passions and constituent motive of actions.

Assuming these definitions, is there a coherent notion of acting from duty that makes it coextensive with acting from character?

Update: I mean to ask a basic question. Actions that proceed from passion are by definition teleological. They aim to cure a lack. This aim preempts their capacity for answering to principle regardless of anticipated outcomes. By contrast, answerability to principle is a general condition of modern deontology, as distinct e.g. from its classical theological construal in the manner of Augustine’s “Dilige, et quod vis fac.” On the other hand, by making allowances for supererogation, even the deontologist leaves room for accommodating diverse norms of character. (Here I am construing character broadly, as ἦθος rather than ἕξις.) So the duty in regard to a certain course of action may be perfect or imperfect, depending on its mandate by the agent’s character. Thus even in the absence of a conflict of duties, it is possible to accommodate individual differences of principle.

Crossposted to [info]larvatus and [info]real_philosophy.