Phil 160

Phil 160
Philippa Foot: “Morality as a System
of Hypothetical Imperatives”
Kant’s Distinction (to rehash)
• A duty is a kind of obligation, and Kant says that
there are two sorts of obligations (or
– Hypothetical Imperative: If ______ then you should
______. E.g. If you want a burrito, you should go to
Chipotle. This hypothetical imperative has no hold on
anyone who does not want a burrito.
– Categorical Imperative: Do what reason reveals as
your duty. This is “categorical” because it applies to
the whole category of rational beings.
• Foot argues that regarding morality as a
categorical imperative is not plausible, and
provides two kinds of counterexamples:
– The examples of etiquette and club rules
– The example of the amoralist
Etiquette and Club Rules
• Traditionally, it is argued that morality must be a
categorical imperative because it obligates people to
follow it no matter whether they feel like it or not. If
the moral sense of the word ‘should’ applies to people
no matter what, it is not a hypothetical use of the word
‘should’, so therefore the moral ‘should’ is categorical.
• Foot provides a counterexample to the above
argument. The rules of etiquette are an example of
rules that apply to people whether they feel like it or
not, but are not therefore regarded to be categorically
The amoralist
• It is part of Kant’s distinction that if someone
knows what morality demands of them, that
they must necessarily be motivated to pursue
• The amoralist is a person who understands
what morality demands, but simply doesn’t
care. If such a person is possible, then
morality cannot necessarily motivate.
Foot’s Distinction:
• Many kinds of obligation are
non-hypothetical (they
apply to people whether
those people feel like
following them or not)
• For Foot, morality is one of
these. Foot agrees that
morality obligates people to
act in certain ways.
• What Foot disagrees with is
the motivational force that
is supopsed to come along
with a categorical
imperative. If someone
knows what morality
demands are they
necessarily motivated to
follow it, or only
contingently motivated to
follow it?
Moral Motivation is Contingent
• Foot contends that a person who understands
what morality demands of them does not
necessarily have any motivation to accede to
those demands.
• Any person’s motivation to follow what
morality demands of them is contingent upon
their having properly moral reasons for acting.
Where does this leave morality?
• Foot contends that we can preserve the important
facts about morality even in the face of morality as a
hypothetical imperative. Examples:
– A person who is charitable because they happen to care
about the well-being of others has a morally good motive,
while someone who is charitable to build a repuation does
not have a morally good motive. Though each may know
what morality demands of them, the second is moral by
accident, while the first is moral on purpose, and this is
more worthy.
– Someone who is honest out of a desire to live openly and
trust others is more worthy than one who is honest only
because it is good for business.
Morality as a system of hypothetical
imperatives is still deontological:
• Even if morality is not a categorical imperative,
it still seems that the right-making
characteristics of an action are contained in
the action itself, and not in the consequences.
Examination of morally proper motives
is value pluralistic:
• Many motives that people can have could be
distinct from one another and still be
justifiably called ‘moral’.
• This mirrors what Ross argued in saying that
we have many duties, and that they may
• This also mirrors what Feinberg points out in
saying that we have many rights, and those
may sometimes conflict as well.
Consolidating some vocabulary:
• Foot’s “Acting from morally good motives” might
as well be equivalent to Ross’s “Acting from one
duty or another”.
• Since duties imply rights (and vice versa), any talk
of duties must be, ipso facto, talk of rights. Since
acting from duty is equivalent to acting from
morally appropriate motives, all of the
deontologists we have read and discussed are up
to essentially the same thing, though each goes
about it in a different way.

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