Two accounts of motives for working in a shelter for down and outs are given. One from Mary who works there ‘not for the fun of it’ but because she feels that she ‘ought to do something to help those whose lives are in a mess’ and thinks that she has a duty to help those worse off. The other account is from John who volunteers due to the fact that he enjoys the work there so much. He loves ‘to see the gratitude in their faces’ and says that he feels ‘a sort of love’ for them. In this essay I am going to assess whose reason is more morally praiseworthy – John’s or Mary’s or if there isn’t anything morally speaking to choose between them.One way of looking at this question is by assessing whether the motive from which you act contains moral worth. Kant distinguishes between 3 different types of motives which he considers to be sufficient, these are: i.
For ones own interest; for example a person who is tempted to steal but then sees a security camera and decides not to steal in case they get caught. They may have done the morally right thing by not stealing but they have only acted out of self interest not because it was the morally right thing to do. ii.Immediate inclination; this kind of motive could be for example someone feeling guilt when they commit a morally wrong act. Or a person helping someone in need due to the compassion they feel.
iii. The third is somebody acting morally just because it’s the morally right thing to do, which Kant calls ‘The Motive of Duty’ Kant states that the only motive to have moral worth is acting from the motive of duty. He says there is no moral worth if one carries out a moral act just to advance ones own interests, and no moral worth if one acts out an act due to some feeling that one may have.Therefore from Kant’s theory Mary’s motive is the only one that has any moral worth, as she acts purely from a sense of duty. In John’s case it may be ‘a mere coincidence or accident’1 that what his inclination and natural feelings lead him to do what was a morally right act and so he ‘can’t be morally praise worthy for an accident’1 This logically follows from these premises but there are some arguments against this view. One objection to Kant’s view is that ‘someone who acts from duty does not really care about others, but fulfils his duties towards them in order to meet a minimum requirement.
‘2 This demonstrates that a person who acts only from the motive of duty has no love towards fellow human beings, for example a mother who cares for a child, not out of the maternal feelings she may have but from a sense of duty that she ought to look after the child to somehow meet her minimum moral requirements. The same thing can be said with respect to Mary in that she seems to have no love for fellow human beings, is just trying to carry out her minimum moral requirements. Although does this actually detract from the moral worth of her action as it could just undesirable because she seems to act in a cold way.Another object arises from an example given by Michael Stoker of visiting a patient in hospital: ‘You are very bored and restless and at a loose ends when Smith comes in once again. You are now convinced more than ever that he is a fine fellow and a real friend-taking so much time to cheer you, up travelling all the way across town, and so on. You are so effusive with your praise and thanks that he protests that he always tries to do his duty, what he thinks will be best. You at first think he is engaging in a polite form of self-deprecation, relieving moral burden.