Kant’s Moderate Cynicism and the Harmony between Virtue and Worldly Happiness

Journal of the History of Philosophy 54 (1):75-109 (2016)
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For Kant, any authentic moral demands are wholly distinct from the demands of prudence. This has led critics to complain that Kantian moral demands are incompatible with our human nature as happiness-seekers. Kant’s defenders have pointed out, correctly, that Kant can and does assert that it is permissible, at least in principle, to pursue our own happiness. But this response does not eliminate the worry that a life organized around the pursuit of virtue might turn out to be one from which we cannot expect any of this (permissible) happiness. To address this worry, Kant would need to establish that there is a kind of harmony between virtue and our own happiness that can give us confidence that aiming at morality does not require us to abandon our hope for happiness in this life. This paper aims to show that Kant—building on insights from Rousseau that Kant identifies with Cynicism—does offer an account of such a harmony between virtue and worldly happiness.

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David Forman
University of Nevada, Las Vegas


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