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Kantian Deontological Ethics

2. Acting from Duty vs. Motives of Love/Compassion

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About this Lecture


Three people are sitting on a bus, when an elderly passenger gets on. Each of them stands up to offer their seat, but they do so for different reasons: the first is motivated by self-interest, the second by feelings of compassion, and the third by a sense of duty unaccompanied by any emotions at all. But which of these three has acted most morally? In this module, we think about Kant's response to this question, including his ethical formula of 'ought implies can'.


In this course, Dr Iain Law (University of Birmingham) thinks about Kantian deontological ethics, one of the three main normative ethical theories alongside utilitarianism and virtue ethics. We begin in the first module by introducing the concept of a moral theory and outlining what distinguishes deontological theories from other kinds of moral theories, before introducing the deontological theory of Immanuel Kant more specifically. After that, we consider Kant's distinction between acting from duty and acting (merely) in accordance with duty. In the third module, we think about the difference between hypothetical and categorical imperatives, before turning in the fourth and fifth modules to *the* Categorical Imperative, as Kant described it. In the fourth module, we focus on the first formulation of the Categorial Imperative (sometimes known as the Formula of Universality) and in the fifth, we focus on the second formulation (sometimes known as the Formula of Humanity). Finally, in the sixth module, we think about some potential objections to Kantianism, including the limitations of the Formula of Universality, clashes of duties, and its lack of interest in what might ordinarily be considered important motives, e.g. compassion, empathy.


Iain Law is a Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham. His main interests are in meta-ethics, applied ethics and ethical theory, and he is currently working on papers in moral theory, moral psychology, the philosophy of medicine and applied ethics.

Cite this Lecture

APA style

Law, I. (2019, January 09). Kantian Deontological Ethics - Acting from Duty vs. Motives of Love/Compassion [Video]. MASSOLIT.

MLA style

Law, I. "Kantian Deontological Ethics – Acting from Duty vs. Motives of Love/Compassion." MASSOLIT, uploaded by MASSOLIT, 09 Jan 2019,