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It is worth pointing out that even if these two steps succeed, the derivation
might falter in its third step. If humanity is unconditionally good, then must
we always treat it not merely as a means but also as an end? In Chapter 8,
we explore what it means to treat humanity as an end or, equivalently, as an
end in itself. It seems that in Kant™s view treating humanity as an end in itself
involves treating it not only as something of unconditional worth, but also
as something of incomparable worth. Something has incomparable worth if
it cannot be legitimately sacri¬ced for or replaced by anything else. Now
let us assume that we hold humanity to be unconditionally valuable and
that, since we do, we are rationally compelled to treat it as such. Are we also
rationally compelled to treat humanity as incomparably valuable? That is not
at all clear. Take a case of an individual who, to preserve the humanity in
twenty innocent hostages, sacri¬ces the humanity in one person, a terrorist,
by killing him. It seems that the individual might reasonably contend that
he treated humanity as unconditionally valuable, though he did not treat it
as incomparably valuable. He treated humanity as unconditionally valuable
in that he attempted to preserve as much of it as possible, the individual
might maintain. But he did not treat it as incomparably valuable, since
in his own view he sacri¬ced the humanity in one person to preserve the
greater value inherent in the humanity of twenty people. In short, even if
Kant™s derivation showed that we are rationally compelled to treat humanity
as unconditionally valuable, he would need a further argument to show in
addition that we must treat it as incomparably valuable. So, in effect, Kant
would need an additional argument to show that we must treat humanity as
an end in itself.53
4

The Derivation of the Formula of Universal Law:
A Criterial Reading




4.1 Main Steps of the Derivation on the Criterial Reading
According to the traditional reading, Kant™s Groundwork derivation of the
Formula of Universal Law has an obvious ¬‚aw. It thus makes sense to look
elsewhere for more promising derivations of a Kantian principle. Allison
reconstructs Kant™s second Critique derivation of the Formula of Universal
Law, Korsgaard his Groundwork derivation of the Formula of Humanity. Yet
we have found that neither of these reconstructed derivations succeeds. The
prospects for a derivation of a Kantian principle seem very dim. The rest of
this book aims to show that they are brighter than these results suggest.
I challenge the traditional reading of Kant™s Groundwork derivation of the
Formula of Universal Law. According to the “criterial reading” I defend,
Kant™s Groundwork I derivation of this formula can be broken down into
three main steps. First, Kant tries to pinpoint criteria that we, on re¬‚ection,
believe that the supreme principle of morality must ful¬ll. Second, Kant
attempts to establish that no possible rival to the Formula of Universal Law
ful¬lls all of these criteria. Third, at least implicitly Kant argues that the
Formula of Universal Law remains as a viable candidate for a principle that
ful¬lls all of them. With these three steps, Kant strives to prove that if there is
a supreme principle of morality, then it is this formula. In short, Kant argues
by elimination. When we have before us a clear notion of the characteristics
the supreme principle of morality must possess, Kant suggests, we are able to
eliminate every candidate for this principle except the Formula of Universal
Law (or equivalent principles).
This chapter aims to make room for the criterial reading of Kant™s
derivation.1 It starts by examining a reading of the Groundwork I derivation
that has been offered by Christine Korsgaard. Korsgaard does not explicitly
confront the traditional interpretation of this derivation. Nevertheless, if her
reading were successful, then it would constitute an alternative to the tra-
ditional interpretation that might render the criterial reading unnecessary.

73
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
74

However, I argue against Korsgaard™s reading on textual as well as philo-
sophical grounds (section 4.2). I then turn to the traditional interpretation
itself. A brief examination of the structure of Groundwork I (4.3) helps us to
see the serious ¬‚aws in one version of the traditional interpretation, that is,
a version discussed by Allison (4.4). But the bulk of the chapter is devoted to
developing the criterial reading as an alternative to the other version of the
traditional interpretation, the version offered by Aune (4.5“11). We must
acknowledge that Aune™s version has considerable force. However, I try to
show that despite initial appearances to the contrary, the criterial reading
is compatible with Kant™s Groundwork I (and even his Groundwork II) deriva-
tions of the Formula of Universal Law. Later, by the end of Chapter 7, I hope
it will be clear that the criterial reading renders Kant™s argument far more
philosophically powerful and interesting than it is under the guise of Aune™s
interpretation.


4.2 Korsgaard™s Reading of the Derivation
It seems that according to Korsgaard Kant™s Groundwork derivation not only
suffers from no obvious gaps, but actually succeeds.2 If her interpretation
yielded a compelling, textually grounded argument, then there would be
little reason to develop the criterial reading. In my view, however, it does not.
Korsgaard™s interpretation seems to go as follows:3

i. Kant is engaged in “motivational analysis of the notion of duty or
rightness. Kant is analyzing the good will, characterized as one that
does what is right because it is right, in order to discover the principle
of unconditionally good action,” and he assumes that “the reason why
a good-willed person does an action, and the reason why the action is
right, are the same.”4
ii. The reason in both cases is constituted by what Korsgaard calls the
“legal character” of the good-willed person™s maxim “ that is, the
maxim™s capacity to express a demand on us, its normative force.5
iii. Kant holds that the legal character (normative force) of the agent™s
maxim must not derive from any external source, such as God™s com-
mands. The reason is that “if there were an outside source of legal
character, then that source, rather than legal character itself, would
be what makes the action right.”6
iv. And if that were so, by the equivalence mentioned in step i, the agent
would not be acting on the maxim because of the maxim™s normative
force, but because of the normative force of the outside source. For
example, the agent would not be acting on the maxim because it was
right to do so, but because God commanded that she act on it. So,
given step i, the normative force of the maxim of the action cannot
derive from any external source.
The Formula of Universal Law 75

v. What then constitutes the maxim™s normative force? The only alter-
native to dependence on an external source is that the maxim™s nor-
mative force is constituted by the fact that the maxim has “intrinsic
lawlike form.”7 (Apparently, a maxim has an intrinsic lawlike form
when acting on it is required by some law that does not owe its validity
to anything external to the will [e.g., to God].)
vi. This lawlike form must be speci¬ed by the universalizability test, that
is, by the Formula of Universal Law. If acting on a particular maxim is
required by the universalizability test, the maxim is one of duty; it
is “one that you must will as universal law. And this means that the
maxim is a law to which your own will commits you. But a maxim to
which your own will commits you is normative for you.”8
vii. Hence only the Formula of Universal Law (and, presumably, equiva-
lent principles) can confer lawlike form on the maxims of duty, and
hence only it can be the supreme principle of morality. And that is
the conclusion of the derivation.

Korsgaard™s interpretation is correct in laying stress on the importance
of motivational analysis and the good will in the derivation. But her inter-
pretation has little textual support where it is most innovative, and it also
yields an extremely problematic argument.
First, crucial to the interpretation is that Kant sets up a sharp dichotomy
between intrinsic lawlike form and an external source of normative force
(a dichotomy deployed in steps iii“vi). But there is no ¬rm textual evidence
that he exploits this dichotomy in the Groundwork I derivation. The only
textual evidence for deployment of the dichotomy that Korsgaard cites is
GMS 402:

Since I have deprived the will of every impulse that could arise for it from obeying
some law, nothing is left but the conformity of actions to universal law as such, which
alone is to serve the will as its principle, that is, I ought never to act except in such a way
that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. Here mere conformity
to law as such, without having as its basis some law determined for certain actions, is
what serves the will as its principle, and must so serve it, if duty is not to be everywhere
an empty delusion and a chimerical concept.

She asserts that with the words “without having as its basis some law de-
termined for certain actions” (or “without assuming any particular law ap-
plicable to certain actions” in the translation she employs), Kant means to
block the claim that the law could be an independent one “ that is, could
derive its validity from any external source.9 But this is not what Kant says;
there is no mention of independence or externality here. Why should we
take “some law determined for certain actions” to refer to an external law?
Surely some explanation is needed, especially since Korsgaard does not
provide any other textual evidence that Kant is in this passage concerned
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
76

with blocking the possibility that the principle of a good will could have an
outside source.10
Second, moving from a concern regarding the textual basis of the ar-
gument to one regarding its substance, steps iii and iv do not succeed in
ruling out an external source of normativity. Take Korsgaard™s example of
an external source: acting on some maxim because God has commanded
it. The dutiful agent who believes in the divine command view of morality
holds, just as the Kantian agent does, that he is acting on a maxim of duty
because it is right to do so; but what its rightness consists in, according to the
divine command moralist, is its being commanded by God. That addition
does not affect his motivation to do what is right; it merely tells him what
the property of rightness is. Korsgaard replies to this kind of objection that
the maxim™s “conformity to divine law can only make a maxim extrinsically,
not intrinsically, legal.”11 But given that an intrinsic property is one that
is necessarily possessed, the divine command moralist can simply deny the
quoted claim. It is not a contingent fact according to him that God wills what
is right; on the contrary, it is precisely because God wills something that it
is right. One may of course dispute this view, but then the objection is to
the substance of the divine command moralist™s analysis, not to its making
normative character extrinsic.
Finally and most importantly, Korsgaard™s interpretation fails to give Kant
a reasonable justi¬cation for the introduction of the Formula of Universal
Law. For the argument in step vi would at best show that this formula is
one principle that could test for the intrinsic lawlike form of a maxim. It
does not show that it is the only principle that could do this. (The dif¬-
culty with establishing the uniqueness of the Formula of Universal Law as
a viable candidate for the supreme principle of morality is familiar to us
from our discussion of Allison in section 2.5.) In fact, there are many prin-
ciples that would not derive their normative force from an external source,
yet are not equivalent with the Formula of Universal Law. For example,
consider two principles we have already recognized not to be equivalent
to this formula (2.5): the weaker principle WU, “Act only on that maxim
which, when generalized, could be a universal law,” and the bizarre prin-
ciple BP, “Act only on that maxim that you cannot, at the same time, will
that it become a universal law.” Why could not a maxim™s being required
by one of these principles signal that the maxim has intrinsic lawlike form?
We have been given no explanation for how Kant can rule out these other
principles. In short, there is a gap in Korsgaard™s argument between the
notion that a maxim of duty must have an intrinsic lawlike form and the
notion that it has this form only if it is required by the Formula of Uni-
versal Law. And to me this gap seems almost as large as the one the tra-
ditional interpretation ¬nds in the derivation.12 Korsgaard™s reading of
the Groundwork I derivation does not constitute a viable alternative to the
traditional interpretation.
The Formula of Universal Law 77

4.3 The Structure of Groundwork I
In his preface to the Groundwork, Kant sets out his goals: to locate and to
establish the supreme principle of morality (GMS 392). In Section I Kant
attempts to locate the supreme principle of morality in the sense of specify-
ing what it is, if there is one.13 Appealing to (what he takes to be) ordinary
moral views, Kant tries to ¬nd the principle that, on re¬‚ection, we hold to
be at work in our moral practice. It is easy to overlook that this is what Kant is
attempting to do. Philosophers have focused so much on Kant™s discussion
of the value of acting from duty “ as opposed to acting from sympathy, for
example “ that one gets lulled into assuming that Kant™s foremost interest
is in specifying necessary and suf¬cient conditions for an action™s having
moral worth.14 Near the end of Groundwork I, Kant proclaims success at iso-
lating the principle we hold to be at work in our moral practice: “Thus, then,
we have arrived, within the moral cognition of common human reason, at
its principle, which it admittedly does not think so abstractly in a universal
form, but which it actually has always before its eyes and uses as the norm for
its appraisals” (GMS 403“404).15 This principle is the Formula of Universal
Law.16 In Groundwork I, Kant™s main concern is to show that if there is a
supreme principle of morality, then it is this formula.
What, in broad outline, is Kant™s route to the Formula of Universal Law?
Before arriving at it, Kant discusses at length the good will, duty, and moral
worth. Since his primary aim in Groundwork I is to construct an effective
derivation of this formula, it is reasonable to suppose that he thinks this
discussion to be necessary if he is to do so. The discussion includes the
claims (roughly) that only a good will is good without quali¬cation (GMS
393); that all and only actions from duty have moral worth (GMS 397“399);
that the moral worth of actions from duty stems not from their effects, but
from their maxim (GMS 399“400); and that duty is the necessity of an
action done from respect for the law (GMS 400). A plausible interpretation
of Groundwork I must explain why in Kant™s view at least some such claims
must turn out to be true if he is to succeed in his derivation of the Formula
of Universal Law.


4.4 The Failure of One Version of the Traditional
Reading of the Derivation
This brief re¬‚ection alone leads us to a ground for rejecting one version
of the traditional interpretation of Groundwork I, namely the one according
to which Kant invokes the “principle of rightness universalism.” According
to this version (section i.4), Kant presents the Formula of Universal Law
in a parenthetical clause aimed at elucidating the prescription that the will
conform its actions to universal law as such. This prescription is interpreted
to be the principle of rightness universalism RU, namely: “If a maxim or
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
78

action is judged permissible for a rational agent in given circumstances, it
must also be judged permissible for any other rational agent in relevantly
similar circumstances.” Kant tries to reach the Formula of Universal Law by
embracing RU, then claiming (without argument) that RU entails the For-
mula of Universal Law. Does this interpretation of Kant™s argument explain
how his discussion of the good will, duty, and moral worth are necessary to
his locating the Formula of Universal Law? Since, according to the inter-
pretation, Kant moves directly from RU to the Formula of Universal Law,
an advocate of the interpretation might hope to ¬nd these discussions nec-
essary for a Kantian defense of RU. However, the discussions seem totally
irrelevant to the issue of whether we should embrace RU. For example, two
of the central claims Kant makes in them are that all actions from duty have
moral worth and that the moral worth of actions done from duty does not at
all depend on the actions™ effects. Without in the least threatening RU™s le-
gitimacy, we can deny these claims. We can maintain instead that only some
actions done from duty have moral worth and that these actions have such
worth because they bring about good effects “ for example, an increase in
the general welfare. In short, this version of the traditional interpretation
is to be rejected on the ground that it does not account for the role Kant™s
complex discussion of ordinary moral views plays in his route to the Formula
of Universal Law.
Two additional reasons support rejection of this version. First, according
to it, Kant suggests that the supreme principle of morality (whatever it is)
must require “the conformity of actions to universal law as such” (GMS 402).
In this suggestion we are supposed to ¬nd an endorsement of RU. But is
Kant really endorsing it there? It is far from obvious that for Kant the re-
quirement to conform one™s actions to universal law as such amounts to RU.
After all, Kant makes no mention here of the concept of relevantly similar
circumstances. The issue is not whether Kant would accept RU. There is no
reason to doubt he would. But there is a gap between what Kant actually says
and the interpretation of it as an endorsement of RU. Second, it is clearly fal-
lacious to identify RU with the Formula of Universal Law, or to hold that the
latter is entailed by the former. We have no dif¬culty at all in demonstrating
that this is a fallacy (section i.4). Given Kant™s status as a philosopher, to ac-
cuse him of what is a simpleminded error de¬es credibility here, especially
when there is no compelling textual reason to attribute the error to him.
One version of the traditional interpretation is relatively easy to dismiss.


4.5 The Challenge Posed by Aune™s Version
of the Traditional Reading
The other version we sketched (section i.4), however, poses a greater chal-
lenge. According to this version, which has been developed by Aune (and
recently reaf¬rmed in its essentials by Allen Wood, among others), Kant
The Formula of Universal Law 79

argues for the principle L: “Conform your actions to universal law.” Kant
then jumps without argument to the Formula of Universal Law. He simply
assumes that an agent abides by L just when he abides by the Formula of
Universal Law “ that is, he conforms to universal law just when he acts on
a maxim that he can at the same time will to be a universal law. But this
assumption is highly questionable. In this context, a universal law is a prac-
tical principle that is binding on all of us. Why would this universal law have
to be the Formula of Universal Law, instead of, say, a principle prescribing
us to maximally promote the general welfare or the perfection of rational
beings? According to Aune, Kant™s argument contains a crucial gap.
Earlier I suggested that a plausible interpretation of Groundwork I must
show why in Kant™s view at least some main points in his discussion of the
good will, duty, and moral worth are necessary if he is to succeed in his
derivation of the Formula of Universal Law. Aune seems to be cognizant of
this requirement. For he attempts to show how L emerges from a central line
of argument in Groundwork I. Here is a slightly simpli¬ed sketch of Aune™s
account. Groundwork I contains an argument that L is the principle of a good
will “ the one that motivates morally valuable actions. In his ¬rst and second
“propositions,” Kant contends that all and only actions from duty have moral
worth and that their worth does not stem from their effects but rather from
their motive. Then, in his discussion of his third proposition, Kant suggests
that all actions from duty are done from (the motive of) respect for law.
In effect, he suggests that to act from duty is to be motivated to act by the
notion that one™s action conforms to universal law. So for Kant all morally
worthy actions are motivated by the principle L, “Conform your actions to
universal law.” Kant is embracing L when, right before stating the Formula
of Universal Law, he says, “nothing is left but the conformity of actions to
universal law as such, which alone is to serve the will as its principle” (GMS
402). Since L is what motivates all morally worthy actions, L is the basic
moral requirement.17 In this defense of L, Kant™s propositions seem to be
necessary. If, for example, contrary to the second proposition, the moral
worth of actions was merely a function of their effects, then Kant would
not be able to claim with any credibility that L is what motivates all actions
having moral worth. Actions done from other motives (e.g., sympathy) could
presumably bring about good effects, and thus have moral worth. In sum, it
would be unfair to dismiss Aune™s version of the traditional interpretation
on the grounds that it fails to show the relevance of key claims in Groundwork
I to the derivation of the Formula of Universal Law.
But there are good reasons for rejecting Aune™s reading of Groundwork I.
As a ¬rst step to showing this, let me contrast the basic structure of Aune™s
reading with that of the one I propose, the criterial reading. According
to Aune, Kant employs his discussion of the good will, duty, and moral
worth to establish that, upon re¬‚ection, we recognize L as the basic moral
requirement. Once L has been located, Kant makes no further appeal to
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
80

this discussion. Kant simply assumes that the only way we can conform to
universal law is to conform to the Formula of Universal Law. On the criterial
reading, Kant™s argument unfolds differently. Kant employs his discussion of
the good will, duty, and moral worth to develop criteria that, upon re¬‚ection,
we see must be ful¬lled by any viable candidate for the supreme principle
of morality. These criteria supplement those with which Kant begins “ the
ones that are contained in his basic concept of the supreme principle of
morality (see section i.2). At least implicitly, Kant relies on the full set of
these criteria to eliminate rivals to the Formula of Universal Law. Only this
formula (and its equivalents), claims Kant, remain as viable candidates for
meeting the full set. Whether or not Kant adequately defends this claim,
the Groundwork I derivation contains no obvious gap between a practically
uninformative principle and the Formula of Universal Law.
Of course, that the criterial reading has a different structure than Aune™s
reading does not entail that the former is superior to the latter. It is fair to
maintain that we would show the criterial reading to be superior if we ac-
complished three tasks. First, we need to meet the requirement introduced
in section 4.3 by explaining why Kant might view his main discussions in
Groundwork I to be necessary for his derivation of the Formula of Universal
Law. Second, we need to offer a plausible alternative interpretation of Kant™s
murky suggestion that “nothing is left but the conformity of actions to uni-
versal law as such, which alone is to serve the will as its principle” “ that
is, an alternative to Aune™s reading of it as an endorsement of L. Finally,
we must show that on the criterial reading, Kant™s argument is philosoph-
ically more powerful and interesting than on Aune™s construal. I hope to
attain each of these aims in the course of this chapter and those which
follow.


4.6 From Duty and Moral Worth to Two Criteria
for the Supreme Principle of Morality
According to the criterial reading, it is through his discussion of the good
will, duty, and moral worth that Kant pinpoints criteria that the supreme
principle of morality must ful¬ll. He then relies on these criteria to eliminate
all candidates for the supreme principle of morality except the Formula of
Universal Law (and its equivalents). Kant™s argument by elimination is the
focus of Chapter 7. Here I would like to defend the view that through his
exploration of ordinary moral views Kant is indeed developing criteria for
the supreme principle of morality.
To begin, let us look back in the text from the point at which Kant initially
formulates the Formula of Universal Law. In the preceding sentence, Kant
asks: “But what kind of law can that be, the representation of which must
determine the will . . . so that the will can be called good absolutely and
without quali¬cation?” (GMS 402). Kant is here supposing that the supreme
The Formula of Universal Law 81

principle of morality (the law) must meet a certain condition, and then
asking which principle could meet it. Here is the condition. The supreme
principle of morality (the law) must be such that the will is good without
quali¬cation if and only if it is determined by this principle. So for Kant we
cannot hold a principle to be the supreme principle of morality (the law)
unless we can hold that a will is good without quali¬cation just in case it is
determined by the principle.
This condition as stated at GMS 402 actually crystallizes criteria for the
supreme principle of morality that Kant implicitly embraces in section I.
Meeting the condition involves meeting at least two criteria, both of which
concern duty and moral worth. To show this, I will make a very brief pass
through Kant™s dif¬cult and controversial account of duty and moral worth.
My aim is not to evaluate the account, or even to clarify its details (these tasks
are left to Chapters 6 and 5 respectively), but merely to show that in it Kant
suggests two criteria that any viable candidate for the supreme principle of
morality must meet.
According to Kant™s condition, the supreme principle of morality (the
law) must be such that the will is good without quali¬cation if and only

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