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Inclination (ethics)

Aristotle defined inclination in the first paragraph of Metaphysics with the statement "all men by their nature, desire to know."Thomas Aquinas proposed that humans have four natural inclinations - a natural inclination to preservation (life), an inclination to sexual reproduction (procreation), sociability, and knowledge. Inclination in the modern philosophy of ethics is viewed in the context of morality, or moral worth.

The definition of inclination has varying definitions in philosophy. Aristotle "holds it to be the mark of a good person to take pleasure in moral action," or what one wants to do. Immanuel Kant made a study of whether inclination is of the highest moral worth, and objected to Aristotle's analysis, reasoning that "it is the person who acts from the motive of duty in the teeth of contrary inclination who shows an especially high degree of moral worth."

Kant posits the example of a shopkeeper who continually charges fair prices to customers in order to build good will and repeat business. If the shopkeeper continued that practice due to a mere inclination (to obtain repeat business) rather than sense of duty (higher principles of fairness and justice), though the shopkeeper's keeping the prices fair may conform with duty it has "no true moral worth." If instead the shopkeeper kept the prices fair solely out a duty to justice then he is acting simply from that duty. And in that case, in so doing Kant argues that the act now has "genuine moral worth."

But changing the facts of the example might lead to an altogether different conclusion. If instead the shopkeeper is nearly bankrupt and desperately needs money to feed his family, and still the shopkeeper keeps the prices fair less out of a sense of duty but rather a sense of pride (an inclination), than some may argue that it is more impressive to stay fair under those circumstances.

Kant argues that acting out of pure duty has the highest value, in that the visitor is doing the right thing for the right reason, because it is the right thing to do. It is not always clear whether inclination is morally more worthy than duty, or vice versa. For example, if following one's moral duty to always tell the truth has the highest value, then telling the truth (the location of a person) where it results in the murder of that person may show that following pure duty may not have the highest moral value.

But many criticisms of Kant do not take into account that he did not preclude other acts from having moral worth, instead Kant is said to have only valued acting from pure duty as having "true" or "authentic" moral worth. Philosophers tend to disagree on whether operating solely out of duty is always the most morally worthy thing to do, rather than operating via inclination.



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