The Relationship Between Happiness and Moral Duty

Lucas Charbonnier

Lucas Charbonnier

Oct 08, 20233 min read


The Relationship Between Happiness and Moral Duty


The concept of happiness has long been intertwined with the notion of moral duty. There is a constant debate about whether happiness can serve as a moral criterion and guide our actions. This article aims to explore different perspectives on this topic and shed light on the complex relationship between happiness and moral obligation.

Happiness as Not a Moral End:

According to Kant, happiness should not be considered a moral end. He argues that morality lies in fulfilling our duties, which should be selfless and devoid of any expectation of reward. Morality does not seek pleasure or happiness but rather aims to make us worthy of happiness. Whether moral actions bring happiness or unhappiness is inconsequential to the uncompromising nature of moral duty. For Kant, happiness is merely a hope and an anthropological need that should be pursued separately from moral duty.

Happiness as a Moral End:

On the other hand, some philosophies associate happiness with virtue and knowledge, arguing that it cannot be separated from moral duty. Eudemonism suggests that happiness and duty are intertwined with virtue and knowledge. Similarly, stoicism emphasizes that true happiness lies in freedom and virtue. The stoics believe that happiness can be achieved by exercising our will to detach ourselves from external goods, which they consider to be mere distractions. Aristotle also views happiness as the ultimate good that should be pursued for its own sake. Although external circumstances play a role, such as health, material comfort, or political freedom, they are not sufficient to attain happiness.

The Nature of Duty:

The question of whether duty is a constraint or an obligation is another crucial aspect of the discourse on happiness and moral duty. Kant argues that duty arises from autonomous choice, representing the autonomy of one's own will. Duty is not imposed externally but is a result of individual free will.

The Resistance to Desire:

Moral duty requires resisting desires and temptations. It is a test of one's willpower and signifies the presence of a moral compass. Humans, unlike animals, possess both reason and desires, creating an internal conflict. This conflict is essential for the experience of duty and the development of moral character. The feeling of shame accompanies the recognition of actions that go against our moral obligations. Conversely, the absence of shame indicates a lack of moral sense, leading to amorality and the absence of boundaries in one's actions.

Duty as Constraint:

Duty can also be perceived as a societal or physical constraint. Social constraints arise from societal norms and expectations, while physical constraints refer to limitations imposed by external factors. However, it is crucial to note that moral duty is not solely driven by these constraints but is deeply rooted in individual autonomy and personal choices.

Actionable Advice:

1. Reflect on the relationship between happiness and moral duty in your own life. Consider how your actions align with your moral obligations and whether they contribute to your overall happiness.

2. Practice self-awareness and introspection to identify any internal conflicts between your desires and moral duties. Strive to develop a strong moral compass that guides your actions and decisions.

3. Cultivate virtues such as self-discipline and integrity to strengthen your ability to resist temptations and uphold your moral obligations.


The relationship between happiness and moral duty is complex and subjective. While some argue that happiness should not be the ultimate moral criterion, others believe that it is intrinsically connected to virtue and knowledge. The nature of duty can be seen as both a constraint and an obligation, highlighting the internal conflicts inherent in moral decision-making. Ultimately, understanding the interplay between happiness and moral duty can lead individuals to make more conscious choices that align with their ethical values and contribute to their overall well-being.

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