Active Sympathetic Participation: Reconsidering Kant's Duty of Sympathy

Kantian Review 14 (1):31-52 (2009)
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In the Doctrine of Virtue Kant divides duties of love into three categories: beneficent activity , gratitude and Teilnehmung – commonly referred to as the duty of sympathy . In this paper I will argue that the content and scope of the third duty of love has been underestimated by both critics and defenders of Kant's ethical theory. The account which pervades the secondary literature maintains that the third duty of love includes only two components: an obligation to make use of our natural receptivity to sympathetic feelings as a means to fulfilling other duties of love, and an indirect duty to cultivate these feelings. As a result, Kant's duty of sympathy has been widely regarded as a duty whose value is derived from the way in which it serves other duties, in particular, the duty of beneficent activity, which obliges agents ‘to promote according to one's means the happiness of others in need’ . Teilnehmung has thus assumed something of a second-class status among the duties to others. My aim in this paper is to demonstrate that the prevailing account of Kant's third duty of love is incomplete

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Melissa Seymour Fahmy
University of Georgia


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