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Kant™s Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality

At the core of Kant™s ethics lies the claim that if there is a supreme prin-
ciple of morality, then it is not a utilitarian or Aristotelian perfectionist
principle, or even a principle resembling the Ten Commandments.
The only viable candidate for the supreme principle of morality is
the Categorical Imperative.
This book is the most detailed investigation of this claim. It con-
structs a new, criterial reading of Kant™s derivation of one version of
the Categorical Imperative: the Formula of Universal Law. This read-
ing shows this derivation to be far more compelling than contempo-
rary philosophers tend to believe. It also reveals a novel approach to
deriving another version of the Categorical Imperative, the Formula
of Humanity, a principle widely considered to be the most attractive
Kantian candidate for the supreme principle of morality.
Lucidly written and dealing with a foundational topic in the history
of ethics, this book will be important not just for Kant scholars but
for a broad swath of students of philosophy.

Samuel J. Kerstein is Associate Professor of Philosophy at the Univer-
sity of Maryland, College Park.
Kant™s Search for the Supreme
Principle of Morality

University of Maryland, College Park
published by the press syndicate of the university of cambridge
The Pitt Building, Trumpington Street, Cambridge, United Kingdom

cambridge university press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge cb2 2ru, uk
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Samuel J. Kerstein 2002

This book is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception
and to the provisions of relevant collective licensing agreements,
no reproduction of any part may take place without
the written permission of Cambridge University Press.

First published 2002

Printed in the United Kingdom at the University Press, Cambridge

Typeface itc New Baskerville 10/12 pt. System LTEX 2µ [tb]

A catalog record for this book is available from the British Library.

Library of Congress Cataloging in Publication data
Kerstein, Samuel J., 1965“
Kant™s search for the supreme principle of morality / Samuel J. Kerstein.
p. cm.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
isbn 0-521-81089-2
1. Kant, Immanuel, 1724“1804 “ Ethics. I. Title.
b2799.e8 k45 2002
170“dc21 2001043918

isbn 0 521 81089 2 hardback

page xi
Key to Abbreviations and Translations

Introduction: Derivation, Deduction, and the Supreme
Principle of Morality
i.1 No Modest Claim 1
i.2 The Basic Concept of the Supreme Principle of Morality 1
i.3 Derivation and Deduction of the Categorical Imperative 4
i.4 The (Alleged) Gap in the Derivation of the Formula
of Universal Law
i.5 Terminological and Thematic Clari¬cations 10
i.6 Outline of the Book 11
1 16
Fundamental Concepts in Kant™s Theory of Agency
1.1 Aims and Limits of the Discussion 16
1.2 Maxims: A Basic Account 16
1.3 Maxims and Other Rules of the Same Form 19
1.4 The Will 20
1.5 Determining Grounds of the Will 21
1.6 Acting from Inclination: Three Interpretations
and Their Importance
1.7 Acting from Inclination in the Groundwork and in the
Metaphysics of Morals
1.8 Material Practical Principles: Acting from Inclination
in the Critique of Practical Reason
2 Transcendental Freedom and the Derivation of the Formula
of Universal Law
2.1 Derivation in the Critique of Practical Reason: Allison™s


2.2 34
A Thick Account of Kantian Rational Agency
2.3 36
Desire and Justi¬cation of Action
2.4 39
Practical Law and Justi¬cation of Action
2.5 42
Practical Law and the Formula of Universal Law
3 46
The Derivation of the Formula of Humanity
3.1 46
Outline of the Derivation
3.2 The Supreme Principle of Morality and Unconditional
3.3 The Unconditional Value of Humanity:
Kant™s Argument
3.4 55
Korsgaard™s Reconstruction: Preliminaries
3.5 56
The Supreme Principle of Morality and Good Ends
3.6 From Good Ends to the Unconditional Value
of Humanity: The Regressive Argument
3.7 65
The Failure of the Regressive Argument
3.8 Shortcomings in the Derivation of the Formula
of Humanity
4 The Derivation of the Formula of Universal Law:
A Criterial Reading
4.1 73
Main Steps of the Derivation on the Criterial Reading
4.2 74
Korsgaard™s Reading of the Derivation
4.3 77
The Structure of Groundwork I
4.4 The Failure of One Version of the Traditional Reading
of the Derivation
4.5 The Challenge Posed by Aune™s Version of the
Traditional Reading
4.6 From Duty and Moral Worth to Two Criteria for the
Supreme Principle of Morality
4.7 Law as Motive: A Third Criterion for the Supreme
Principle of Morality
4.8 86
The Criterial Reading and Groundwork II
4.9 Coherence with Ordinary Moral Reason:
A Fourth Criterion
4.10 The Apriority of the Supreme Principle of Morality 89
4.11 Rejecting the Traditional Interpretation of the
Groundwork II Derivation
4.12 Summary 93
5 95
Criteria for the Supreme Principle of Morality
5.1 95
Plan of Discussion: Focus on First Criterion
5.2 96
Moral Worth and Actions Contrary to Duty
5.3 98
Two Conditions on Acting from Duty
5.4 104
All Actions from Duty Have Moral Worth
Contents ix

5.5 106
Only Actions from Duty Have Moral Worth
5.6 109
The Second Criterion and Its Grounds
5.7 110
The Third Criterion and Its Grounds
5.8 112
Relations between the Criteria
6 114
Duty and Moral Worth
6.1 114
Aims of the Discussion
6.2 116
Moral Worth and Helping a Friend from Duty
6.3 118
One Thought Too Many?
6.4 119
The Moral Worth of Actions Contrary to Duty
6.5 A Disturbing Asymmetry in Kant™s View
of Moral Worth
6.6 121
Failure of Will or Unfortunate Event?
6.7 Moral Permissibility and Moral Worth in the
Metaphysics of Morals
6.8 127
The (Alleged) Transparency of Moral Requirements
6.9 129
Odious Actions and Moral Worth
6.10 Sympathy and Moral Worth 132
6.11 Summary 138
7 139
Eliminating Rivals to the Categorical Imperative
7.1 139
Aims of the Discussion
7.2 140
A Sweeping Argument against All Rivals
7.3 145
The Structure of Act Utilitarianism
7.4 146
Against Act Utilitarianism
7.5 148
Against Expectabilist Utilitarianism
7.6 152
Against Perfectionism
7.7 153
Kantian Consequentialism?
7.8 155
Against a Principle Akin to the Ten Commandments
7.9 158
Further Nonconsequentialist Rivals
7.10 Summary 159
8 Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates for the Supreme Principle
of Morality
8.1 Kant™s Candidates and Criteria for the Supreme
Principle of Morality
8.2 Two Formulas and the Basic Concept of the Supreme
Principle of Morality
8.3 165
Two Formulas and Further Criteria
8.4 167
Two Formulas and Ordinary Moral Consciousness
8.5 Formula of Universal Law: Practical Contradiction
8.6 Formula of Universal Law: Universal Availability
8.7 174
Fundamentals of the Formula of Humanity

This book would not have been completed without help and support from
a variety of sources.
I would like to thank Terence Moore and Brian R. MacDonald of
Cambridge University Press for their patience and expertise in guiding me
through the publication process.
Material from four of my papers has been reworked into the book.
Chapter 1 incorporates “Kant™s (Not So Radical) Hedonism,” in Kant und
die Berliner Aufkl¨ rung. Akten des IX. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses, vol. 3,
ed. V. Gerhardt, R.-P. Horstmann, and R. Schumacher (Berlin: Walter de
Gruyter, 2001), pp. 245“253. Part of Chapter 3 stems from “Korsgaard™s
Kantian Arguments for the Value of Humanity,” Canadian Journal of
Philosophy 31 (March 2001): 23“52. Sections of Chapters 4 and 7 have been
adapted from a paper I coauthored with Berys Gaut: “The Derivation with-
out the Gap: Rethinking Groundwork I,” Kantian Review 3 (1999): 18“40.
Finally, parts of Chapters 5 and 6 were published in “The Kantian Moral
Worth of Actions Contrary to Duty,” Zeitschrift f¨ r Philosophische Forschung 53
(1999): 530“551. I acknowledge with appreciation the permission of the
publishers to use material from these papers.
Most of the book was written during the academic year 1999“2000, which
I spent as a Fellow at the National Humanities Center in Triangle Park, North
Carolina. I would like to thank the National Endowment for the Humanities
for supporting my stay there. The administrators and staff at the National
Humanities Center could not have been more encouraging and helpful. In
particular I would like to thank Karen Carroll, who edited an early version
of my manuscript. (I would also like to thank Jane Strong for editing a later
version.) Preliminary work on the manuscript was made possible by support
from the University of Maryland, College Park, in the form of a General
Research Board grant that relieved me from my teaching duties during the
fall of 1996. I would like to thank the University of Maryland for this support,
as well as for granting me leave to work at the National Humanities Center.

For their comments and criticisms of portions of this book, I would like
to thank audiences at the British Kant Society Annual Meeting, the Central
Division Meeting of the American Philosophical Association, the Midwest
Study Group of the North American Kant Society, Duke University, the
University of St. Andrews, and the University of North Carolina, Chapel
From early on I have been fortunate to have had outstanding teachers. I
would like to thank No¨ l Carroll and Victor Gourevitch for their guidance,
both philosophical and personal. I am grateful to Bonnie Kent who took
the time to teach me not only how to work in the history of philosophy but
to appreciate the importance of doing so.
I have learned a great deal about Kantian ethics from discussion and/or
correspondence with many philosophers, including Paul Cohen, Mich` le e
Crampe-Casnabet, Garrett Cullity, David Cummiskey, Raymond Geuss,
St´ phane Haber, Thomas Hill Jr., Dieter Sch¨ necker, Ralf St¨ cker, and
e o o
Allen Wood. I owe a special debt of gratitude to Berys Gaut. Some cen-
tral ideas in the book stem from our collaborative work, and Berys has been
generous in encouraging me to develop them at greater length. Readers for
Cambridge University Press, as well as two others, offered comments that
have, I think, enabled me to strengthen several of my arguments. During my
stay at the National Humanities Center, I pro¬ted from (often ambulatory)
dialogue with many colleagues, including Ruth Grant, Michelle Mass´ , e
Louise McReynolds, Bernard Reginster, Daniel Sherman, Eleonore Stump,
Timothy Taylor, and Marjorie Woods. I was especially fortunate to have been
able to discuss philosophy with Thomas Christiano, who not only provided
intellectual inspiration, but patiently helped me to work out some key points
in the book. My friends and colleagues at the University of Maryland, espe-
cially Judith Lichtenberg and Corey Washington, have aided me at several
points, both intellectually and personally, in carrying out this project.
I am deeply grateful for the help and support I have received from
R¨ diger Bittner, Thomas Pogge, and Michael Slote. From the beginning,
these philosophers have played essential roles in the book™s development.
Each gave me valuable advice on my project as it unfolded, and offered tren-
chant and productive comments on the manuscript as a whole. My approach
to Kantian ethics owes a great deal to each of them.
Finally, I would like to thank my in-laws John and Jane Strong, my
parents Howard and JoAnn Kerstein, and especially my wife Lisa Strong,
for their constant encouragement during the writing of this book.
Key to Abbreviations and Translations

Except for references to the Critique of Pure Reason, all references to Kant
are to the Preussische Akademie der Wissenschaften edition of his works
(Berlin: Walter de Gruyter [and predecessors], 1902). References to the
Critique of Pure Reason are to the standard A and B pagination of the ¬rst and
second editions. I list here the German title, academy edition (Ak.) volume
number, and abbreviation for each of the works I cite. Under each entry,
I specify the English edition I have consulted. The translations I employ
sometimes vary from those of these English editions.
Anthropologie in pragmatischer Hinsicht (Ak. 7)
Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, tr. Victor L. Dowdell.
Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1978.
Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (Ak. 4)
Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, tr. Mary J. Gregor.
In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, 42“108. Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Kritik der praktischen Vernunft (Ak. 5)
Critique of Practical Reason, tr. Mary J. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant:
Practical Philosophy, 138“271. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1996.
Kritik der reinen Vernunft (1st ed. (A) 1781; 2nd ed. (B) 1787;
Ak. 3“4)
Critique of Pure Reason, tr. N. Kemp Smith. New York: St. Martin™s
Press, 1965.
Kritik der Urteilskraft (Ak. 5)
Critique of Judgment, tr. Werner S. Pluhar. Hackett: Indianapolis,
Erste Einleitung in der Kritik der Urteilskraft (Ak. 20)
In Critique of Judgment, tr. Werner S. Pluhar. Hackett: Indianapolis,

Key to Abbreviations and Translations

LE Vorlesungen uber Moralphilosophie, “Moralphilosophie Collins”
(Ak. 27)
Lectures on Ethics, “Moral Philosophy: Collins™s Lecture Notes,”
tr. Peter Heath, 37“222. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
Die Metaphysik der Sitten (Ak. 6)
The Metaphysics of Morals, tr. Mary J. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant:
Practical Philosophy, 363“603. Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1996.
Die Religion innerhalb der Grenzen der blossen Vernunft (Ak. 6)
Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, tr. T. M. Greene and
H. H. Hudson. New York: Harper & Row, 1960.

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