Monday, October 15, 2018

A Note on "Ought Implies Can" - Kant Did Not Maintain This

It is not correct to attribute to Kant the notion that ought implies can, at least if by this is meant that we can only experience obligations for things that are within our own power to perform. I think the attribution of this sentiment to Kant is based on a misunderstanding, and has simply just been repeated enough to become standard.
I am aware of nowhere in Kant's work that argues for this in particular. Additionally, there are arguments that he gives that seem to require that this must not be a position he holds. For examples, we ought to will the Highest Good, yet we are not capable of bringing it about.
More anecdotally, I think that we can all find in our own experience of duty or guilt (respect for law generally) in cases where we are not capable of fulfilling the obligation through some action of our own; it is plausible that this is the same for Kant.
Kant does say that we can have no obligation for something that is not possible under natural conditions, but this is to say that if we cannot even cognize the state of affairs then we could not even understand any obligation to bring them about.

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