Immanuel Kant and T.H. Green on Emotions, Sympathy, and Morality
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In this work I investigate the role of emotion in the moral philosophies of Immanuel Kant and T.H. Green. Noting Kant's reputation as a rationalist holding a predominately negative view toward emotions, I studied the works of Kant with this two-fold question in mind: Why did Kant allegedly find emotions as hindrances to moral actions, and what exactly would such a view entail if it were indeed his perspective? Based on Kant's writings regarding duties to others in Doctrine of Virtues, I show that in his discussion on sympathetic actions there appears to be a reliance on emotions in the construction of a moral response to another's fate. I place Kant's theory in juxtaposition with T.H. Green's moral philosophy because Green, a lesser-known British Idealist, is commonly presented as a theorist within the Kantian tradition. However, working exclusively with Green's major work, Prolegomena to Ethics, there are notable differences between Kant and Green. Green does not hold a negative view of emotions as Kant did, and more fundamentally, the distinction between Kant and Green stems from their differing perspectives of human nature. Whereas Kant presented human nature as comprised of two coexisting, and conflicting, natures - the animal nature and the moral nature - Green dissolved this dualism by making reason that which unifies the human being's animal nature and moral nature. Hence, it is my purpose to study Green's moral philosophy against the backdrop of Kant's moral theory, with particular focus on the role of emotions and sympathy in human behavior. In this comparative analysis, I show how Green's theory, although heavily indebted to Kant, works to correct some problematic issues that arise from Kant's denigration of emotions inherent in his dualism. Furthermore, in this discussion that begins as an examination of two views on the relationship between emotions and morality, one is pressed to entertain a deeper question concerning how these thinkers arrived at their views of human nature. This progression is indeed appropriate, at least when considering Kant and Green, because their regard for emotions is directly dependent upon their views of human nature as distinct from animal nature. In the end, it is suggested that Green's theory not only serves to correct Kant's work, but by rectifying Kant's problematic dualistic view of human nature, Green created a philosophy all his own that may more accurately represent the true nature of humankind.
Downs, Wayne J. (2009). Immanuel Kant and T.H. Green on Emotions, Sympathy, and Morality. Master's thesis, Texas A&M University. Available electronically from