Commanded love: Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard

My current research examines the divergent interpretations of the Biblical commandments to love offered by Immanuel Kant, G. W. F. Hegel, and Søren Kierkegaard. Kant, Hegel, and Kierkegaard each agree that there is something contradictory about the notion of a duty to love, but each supplies a different response to that contradiction. In so doing, each thereby also offers a different account of the foundations of ethics—in particular, of whether and in what respect ethics is in the business of telling us what we ought to do.

immanuel kant

In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant asserts that love is the perfection of the moral disposition wherein one does one's duty gladly, but for precisely that reason one can only have a duty to strive toward love.

G. W. F. Hegel

In “The Spirit of Christianity and Its Fate", Hegel argues that love is the existing reconciliation of duty and inclination, such that the standpoint of the dutiful moral “ought" is overcome in favor of a living, loving “is".

søren kierkegaard

In Works of Love, Kierkegaard affirms that we have a contradictory or paradoxical duty to love, and that it is only through this duty's constitutive paradox that love attains its sought-after eternity.


Images (left to right):
Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) - Johann Gottlieb Becker (1768)
Bildnis des Philosophen Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, Berlin 1831 - Jakob Schlesinger (1831)
Sketch of Søren Kierkegaard - Niels Christian Kierkegaard (c. 1840)
All images are in the Public Domain