Obligation and Emendation



According to A. E. Taylor,1 Spinoza is “precluded from having any moral doctrine at all” by his “exclusion of the notion of moral value,” which is “explicitly accomplished in the famous Preface to Part III.” of the Ethics; and he notes with scarcely suppressed indignation that “the very word duty or obligation hardly occurs anywhere in the Ethics.” “Though Spinoza had fine things to say about the virtue of benevolence, he is curiously silent about the great virtue in which the concept of a debitum is most markedly prominent, the virtue of justice” “I should say that there must clearly be something wrong,” he continues, “with the very foundations of a moral theory which can be worked out without reference to justice and obligation.”2 I venture to think that this facile iconoclasm has polemical rather than serious critical value.3 Doubtless, in some sense and form, action from moral obligation, as distinct from ‘action’ from mere passive inclination, is essential to the conception of morality, but though the simple moralist may rest content with the distinction, the philosopher is bound to inquire into its sources and ontological signification - very difficult metaphysical problems, the solution of which is not likely to leave the original moralistic distinction wholly unmodified. Even Kant, who above all philosophers emphasized the distinction of duty and inclination, failed so to expound his theoretical philosophy as to clarify its relation to the principle of practice; nor have succeeding generations of commentators succeeded in elucidating this relation on recognizably kantian lines.


Moral Agent Moral Life Civic Life Moral Perfection Moral Doctrine 
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© Martinus Nijhoff, The Hague, Netherlands 1962

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.UK

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