Lectures Bureau | Goodwill as the only criterion of honest behavior (IMMANUEL KANT)
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Goodwill as the only criterion of honest behavior (IMMANUEL KANT)

Goodwill as the only criterion of honest behavior (IMMANUEL KANT)

There is nothing it is possible to think of anywhere in the world, or indeed anything at all outside it, that can be held to be good without limitation, excepting only a good will. Understanding, wit, the power of judgment, and like talents of the mind, whatever they might be called, or courage, resoluteness, persistence in an intention, as qualities of temperament, are without doubt in some respects good and to be wished for; but they can also become extremely evil and harmful, if the will that is to make use of these gifts of nature, and whose peculiar constitution is therefore called character, is not good. It is the same with gifts of fortune. Power, wealth, honor, even health and that entire well-being and contentment with one’s condition, under the name of happiness, make for courage and thereby often also for arrogance, where there is not a good will to correct their influence on the mind,6 and thereby on the entire principle of action, and make them universally purposive; not to mention that a rational impartial spectator can never take satisfaction even in the sight of the uninterrupted welfare of a being, if it is adorned with no trait of a pure and good will; and so the good will appears to constitute the indispensable condition even of the worthiness to be happy.

Some qualities are even conducive to this good will itself and can make its work much easier, but still have despite this no inner unconditioned worth, yet always presuppose a good will, which limits the esteem that one otherwise rightly has for them, and does not permit them to be held absolutely good. Moderation in affects and passions, self-control, and sober reflection not only are good for many aims, but seem even to constitute a part of the inner worth of a person; yet they lack much in order to be declared good without limitation (however unconditionally they were praised by the ancients). For without the principles of a good will they can become extremely evil, and the cold-bloodedness of a villain makes him not only far more dangerous but also immediately more abominable in our eyes than he would have been held without it.

The good will is good not through what it effects or accomplishes, not through its efficacy for attaining any intended end, but only through its willing, i.e., good in itself, and considered for itself, without comparison, it is to be estimated far higher than anything that could be brought about by it in favor of any inclination, or indeed, if you prefer, of the sum of all inclinations. Even if through the peculiar disfavor of fate, or through the meager endowment of a stepmotherly nature, this will were entirely lacking in the resources to carry out its aim, if with its greatest effort nothing of it were accomplished, and only the good will were left over (to be sure, not a mere wish, but as the summoning up of all the means insofar as they are in our control): then it would shine like a jewel for itself, as something that has its full worth in itself. Utility or fruitlessness can neither add to nor subtract anything from this worth.




Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals