The "Highest Good" - Essay Sample

Paper Type:  Essay
Pages:  4
Wordcount:  976 Words
Date:  2022-12-16


Kant's moral viewpoint features two notions of the good: the moral good and the highest good. These are the supreme good and the highest good. The supreme good is action concerning the formal nature of the moral law which would consist of our perfect moral virtue, and the highest good is a rich conception of the good tailored to the human condition. Described as the union of complete virtue and complete happiness by such virtue, the highest good draws together the supreme good with unique features of humans: our need for joy and hopes for justice (Howing, 2016). The supreme good fits with Kant's explanation of the moral law, and thus is fundamental to Kant's explanation of morality. The highest good is scrutinized less meticulously and less often in the texts.

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The highest good is described as having particular features: i) that it incorporates virtue with proportional-and thus deserved-happiness, ii) that is used as a ground for moral faith, and iii) it has the role of an end of human striving. The second feature-the transition between Kant's moral philosophy and his moral religion-could easily spin off into a discussion of unmanageable proportions. The highest good is importantly related to the moral law, yet also sets out a vision for a possible moral world (Howing, 2016). Thus, the third mentioned feature-the highest good as an end of human striving-must, if Kant's argument is not to be inconsistent or incomplete, rely on a distinction between Kant's account of moral motivation and what Kant notes is an unrelated, but very human, concern with consequences.

The argument for moral faith in the existence of God depends on the whole concept of the highest good. The way we should think of the highest good as part of everyday moral action is not that it should be taken into account in every action, but instead, we should use it to resolve worries about the futility of moral action and any resulting moral despair (Howing, 2016). What this would mean is that the highest good not only serves as a transition to the moral religion but also has an undeniably central role in Kant's ethics itself.

Kant seems to be concerned with the coordination issues of free agents. A first issue is that of one's ends: from experience, it is known that a single person's myriad ends and purposes cannot be simultaneously satisfied. Another issue is about the coordination of multiple free agents. Kant takes the systematic unity to be the satisfaction of all those ends consistent with morality in a single, complete end-a harmonisation of one's own will with itself and with others. Kant presents the idea of God as necessary to bring about this kind of unity (Howing, 2016). The highest good for human beings is a complete virtue (that is, acting upon the moral law), and perfect happiness in proportion to that virtue. Given the perceived rigour of Kant's ethics, this description counters a possible misconception of what the good is in his moral philosophy: the highest good for human beings is not moral virtue alone. Acting upon the moral law is fundamental to the right action, but morality is the 'supreme good', rather than the highest good.

The highest good, given its description, contains the supreme good. Whatever the concept of the highest good does, it does not allow us to dispose of the supreme good as a freestanding concept, but neither is the supreme good a sufficient idea of the good to serve all of Kant's purposes. Both, in some sense, are definitive concepts of the good even though the highest good is defined concerning the supreme good. Kant responded that the ultimate end is neither human morality nor happiness, but "the highest good possible on earth, the union and harmony of them both" necessary for morality for human beings.

In the context of this work, Kant noted that these concepts are at the heart of the fundamental questions of metaphysics, yet we can't know, just by reasoning, that they are right. Kant indicates that when we consider 'the supreme end', we are concerned only with moral interests (Howing, 2016). Reason can serve us in two ways: it can lead us to our happiness (when one acts on rules of prudence), and it can lead us to what we must do to be worthy of happiness (by working upon the law of morality). Kant has spent much time asserting the importance of the latter for us as rational beings, and that as a result moral virtue is the supreme good.

Kant is interested in a possible 'systematic unity': a unity of the moral law and the happiness compatible with the moral law so as not to undermine the importance of the supreme good. As a result, Kant develops a conception of the moral world: the world as it ought to be. The moral world refers to the world but then idealises it into what we might think of a perfect vision (Howing, 2016). That way, we get the best of what human experience has to offer. Such an idea also would prove to harmonise our experience as both free and as members of an empirical world. This moral world must be accepted as an end, Kant asserts. And if one takes it as a necessary end, it is equally imperative that one take the conditions of its attainment, since one cannot give it up as an end.


Kant's theory depends on reason. He claims that no end result can have deep-seated moral worth. He holds that good will is the only good thing in and of itself. Moral duty is freely chosen by the good will. The responsibility is dictated upon by reason. An individual's free will inspired entirely by reason makes up good will.


Howing, T. (Ed.). (2016). The Highest Good in Kant's Philosophy. Walter de Gruyter GmbH & Co KG.

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