<< . .

. 17
( : 27)



. . >>

worth. The ethnic cleanser™s action of trying, from sympathy alone, to help
a “blood brother” steal from the home of an ethnic minority is such an
action. Yet in light of section 6.9 it might seem suspicious to appeal to such
examples here. After all, have I not defended the view that if the ethnic
cleanser™s action is done from duty, then it has moral worth? Some might
hold this view to be every bit as implausible as the view that done from
sympathy, his action has such worth. I do not believe that it is, but I must
leave it to the reader to decide.
Perhaps the following consideration can help tip the scale in favor of
Kantian conscientiousness over sympathy. Given the conditions that must
be met for an action to be done from Kantian duty, it seems unlikely that
the ethnic cleanser™s action would be. It seems not very likely, for example,
that the one soldier™s incentive for picking the lock on the doll case for his
comrade would stem from his notion that a universally and unconditionally
binding principle required this action. Yet it seems more likely that such
an action would be done from sympathy. Why would it be unusual for an
ethnic cleanser to think that his fellow soldier is suffering (he really wants
those dolls for his girlfriend), feel distress at his suffering, and try to help
him for his own sake?33 In short, there are possible cases of acting from
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
136

duty (in Kant™s precise sense) that make it dif¬cult for us to maintain that
all acting from duty has moral worth, and there are possible cases of acting
from sympathy that make it hard for us to hold that all acting from sympathy
has moral worth. However, I believe that possible cases of the latter sort are
much more likely to be actual.
If we hold moral commitment and the conscientious re¬‚ection that goes
along with it to be a necessary ingredient in morally valuable action, then
we must reject not only the notion that being done from sympathy alone is
a suf¬cient condition of an action™s having moral worth, but also a second,
different speci¬cation of the critics™ view. On this speci¬cation, only some
actions done from sympathy alone have moral value, namely the ones that
are actually in accordance with what we take moral requirements (or moral
virtue) to involve. On this speci¬cation, acting from sympathy alone to aid a
fellow ethnic cleanser to burn down a village mosque would presumably not
count as having moral value. But many other actions done from sympathy
alone “ for example, giving water to a thirsty old man “ would count as
having it. Kant would acknowledge that such an action “deserves praise and
encouragement” but not “esteem” (see GMS 398). For Kantians, if an action
is not done against the background of commitment to morality, then it does
not have moral worth “ regardless of whether it is in accordance with what
morality requires.
A third version of the sympathy objection poses a greater challenge to
Kant™s position. According to it, an action™s being done from sympathy does
not itself give it moral worth. Yet if, against the background of an overriding
commitment to morality, an action is done from sympathy, then it has such
worth. An agent has an overriding commitment to morality just in case he
acts against the background of conscientious re¬‚ection, and if after such
re¬‚ection he determines that an action is contrary to what he takes to be
morally required, he will for this reason refrain from performing it. A couple
of points regarding this objection warrant immediate attention. First, it does
not deny that actions from duty have moral worth. The objection does not
embrace the conclusion that moral worth is to be found only in (some)
actions from sympathy. Actually, and this is the second point, acting from
sympathy and with an overriding commitment to morality will involve the
possibility of reliance on the motive of duty. Suppose, for example, that
someone feels sympathy for a relative in need and is inclined to help him.
An overriding commitment to morality would require that if aiding him “ for
example, by falsely testifying to his whereabouts on the night of a robbery “
would be contrary to (his understanding of) duty, he must for this reason
refrain from doing so. In the absence of any inclination to refrain, he would
need to rely on the motive of duty to have suf¬cient incentive to conform
to (his understanding of)morality.
Kant himself denies moral worth to any action done from a motive other
than duty. Yet does he have good grounds for denying it to actions done from
Duty and Moral Worth 137

sympathy against the background of an overriding commitment to morality?
The two arguments of his that we have discussed do not seem to threaten this
view. Acting from sympathy against the background of such a commitment
no more contingently leads to action in accordance with duty than does
acting from duty. In both cases, an agent tries but might fail to conform to
morality™s demands. Perhaps Kant would claim that actions from sympathy
fail to express the high degree of independence from sensuous drives that
actions from duty do and, on that basis, deny the former moral worth. As we
have noted, however, this claim rests on the premises that all actions from
sympathy are conditional on the prospect of a hedonic payoff and that the
lesser independence from sensuous drives expressed in such actions itself
disquali¬es them from having moral worth. The prospect of successfully
defending either of these premises seems dim, and I will not try to do so
here. Of course, one might be able to develop other Kantian arguments
against the view that moral worth accrues to actions from sympathy done
against the background of an overriding commitment to morality. But unless
one does, it seems that Kant is left with no convincing rebuttal to this view.
I believe that many will be attracted to this view, as am I. Although the
view does not here get the detailed attention it perhaps deserves, I would
like to discuss one question regarding it. Suppose that someone, against the
background of an overriding commitment to morality, acts simply from a
desire to relax: he sees a ¬lm. At some point, the person re¬‚ected on the
moral status of this sort of action. If through this re¬‚ection he had found
that actions like it were morally impermissible, he would, motivated by this
¬nding, have refrained from seeing the ¬lm. Although the agent™s man-
ner of acting in some sense re¬‚ects a good character, it would be odd and,
I think, unacceptable to hold that it had moral worth. But is there a basis on
which a Kantian could deny that his action had moral worth, yet af¬rm that
some actions from sympathy have such worth, namely those done against
the background of the sort of commitment we have been discussing? Of
course, it would not do for a Kantian to locate the basis for this in the no-
tion that acting from a desire to relax lacks something that acting from the
motive of sympathy has, namely unconditional value. The Kantian denies
(correctly, I believe) that acting from sympathy has such value. (At issue
is the suggestion that perhaps the Kantian should, nevertheless, allow that
an action done against the background of an overriding commitment to
morality and [at the same time] from sympathy, has moral, and thus un-
conditional, worth.) There is, I think, a way for the Kantian to distinguish
those actions, done against this background, which do have moral worth,
from those, also done against it, which lack it. She might simply appeal to
ordinary rational knowledge of morals to support the notion that different
motives have different value characteristics. It is a feature of sympathy that
when an agent acts from it, as well as against the background of an overrid-
ing commitment to morality, his action has moral worth. However, it is not,
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
138

for example, a feature of greed that when an agent acts from it, as well as
against this background, his action has moral worth.
At this point, some further questions might come to mind. Why limit
moral worth to all actions done from duty and some actions done from
sympathy? Might not ordinary moral consciousness take it as a feature of
other motives (e.g., love of God) that when an agent acts from them, as
well as against the background of an overriding commitment to morality,
his action has moral worth? I would like to acknowledge this possibility. A
detailed exploration of re¬‚ective moral common sense would be necessary
to develop a full list of those motives that, against the requisite background,
would produce actions that have moral worth. I do not try to construct such
a list here.


6.11 Summary
Kant claims that an action has moral worth if and only if it is done from duty.
The logic of Kant™s own position, I have found, compels him to af¬rm that
some actions contrary to duty can be from duty, and can thus have moral
worth. Against the background of this ¬nding, I have defended one-half
of Kant™s claim, namely that being done from duty is a suf¬cient condition
for an action™s having moral worth. (An agent acts from duty just in case
her incentive for acting stems from the notion that a principle, represented
by her as a law, requires the action; this notion itself provides suf¬cient
incentive for her acting; she acts against the background of conscientious
re¬‚ection; and she does her best to realize her action™s end.) The other half
of Kant™s claim I ¬nd far less compelling. In my view, Kant does not establish
that being done from duty is a necessary condition for an action™s having
moral worth. Although an action™s being performed against the background
of a commitment to morality is requisite for its having such worth, its being
done from duty might not be. Kant does not successfully rule out the view
that actions from sympathy, when performed against this background, also
have such worth.
Since he does not, it will not be open to us to appeal in the derivation
of the Categorical Imperative to the notion that only actions from duty
have moral worth. That it will not be might seem to place the derivation
in jeopardy, since this notion is so entrenched as a central Kantian dictum.
As I try to show in the following chapters, however, rejecting this notion
lessens little if at all the force of the derivation. Key to the derivation is not
the notion that only actions from duty have moral worth but that all such
actions have it.
7

Eliminating Rivals to the Categorical Imperative




7.1 Aims of the Discussion
On the criterial reading, Kant™s derivation of the Formula of Universal Law
has three main steps. First, Kant tries to pinpoint the features that we, on
re¬‚ection, believe that the supreme principle of morality must possess. Next,
Kant attempts to establish that no possible rival to the Formula of Universal
Law ful¬lls all of these criteria. Third, Kant tries to demonstrate that the
Formula of Universal Law remains as a viable candidate for a principle that
ful¬lls all of them. The third step is discussed in Chapter 8.
The current chapter concentrates on the second: how does (or might)
Kant try to eliminate all possible rivals to the Formula of Universal Law?
To succeed, Kant would need to prove that no possible rival possesses all
of the necessary features of the supreme principle of morality that he has
identi¬ed. It is doubtful that Kant could do so de¬nitively, for it is hard to see
how he could demonstrate that he had actually considered every alternative
to the Formula of Universal Law. Nevertheless, if we accept Kant™s view of the
features that the supreme principle of morality would have to possess, then
his argument by elimination has some force. For it does show that certain
rivals to the Formula of Universal Law fail to be viable candidates for the
supreme principle of morality.
Since in trying to eliminate rivals we will be appealing to criteria Kant
develops for the supreme principle of morality, it is helpful to have the
criteria in view. According to Kant™s basic concept, the supreme principle of
morality would have to be (i) practical, (ii) absolutely necessary, (iii) binding
on all rational agents, and (iv) the supreme norm for the moral evaluation of
action. Moreover, (taking into account the modi¬cations we made to Kant™s
further criteria in Chapter 6) this principle must be such that: (v) every
case of willing to conform to it because the principle requires it has moral
worth; (vi) the moral worth of willing to conform to the principle because the
principle requires it stems from its motive, not from its effects; (vii) an agent™s

139
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
140

representing the principle as a law “ that is, a universally and unconditionally
binding principle “ provides him with suf¬cient incentive to conform to it;
and, ¬nally, (viii) a plausible set of duties (relative to ordinary rational moral
cognition) can be derived from the principle. Regarding criterion v, let me
make explicit that, on my understanding, willing to conform to a principle
because the principle requires it amounts to willing, from duty, to conform to
it. It amounts to ful¬lling each of the four conditions speci¬ed in Chapter 6
for acting from duty (see section 6.9).
As it happens, the rivals to the Formula of Universal Law we discuss
(e.g., utilitarian principles) are also rivals to the Formula of Humanity.
Even though, as I argued in Chapter 3, Kant™s derivation of the Formula of
Humanity is unsuccessful, we need not give up on this formula as a candidate
for the supreme principle of morality. Kant conducts a criterial derivation
of the Formula of Universal Law. But the same technique might be used
to good effect with regard to the Formula of Humanity. In this chapter I
use the term “the Categorical Imperative” loosely to refer to either formula
(even though I do not hold the two to be equivalent), since no differences
between the two formulas will come into play.
Among the Categorical Imperative™s most pressing contemporary rivals
are consequentialist principles. I try to show that some of the criteria for the
supreme principle of morality that we have discussed at length serve as the
basis for premises in a Kantian argument against consequentialist rivals.1
This argument applies not only to familiar utilitarian forms of consequen-
tialism (sections 7.3“5), but to less familiar forms of it including “Aristotelian
perfectionism” (7.6) and “Kantian consequentialism” (7.7). Moreover, if we
share some of Kant™s views regarding the moral worth of actions, the Kantian
argument against certain consequentialist principles succeeds.
Of course, not all challengers to the Categorical Imperative as the supreme
principle of morality are consequentialist principles. With no pretension to
exhaustiveness, I consider three that are not: a principle (somewhat similar
to the Ten Commandments) in which several prescriptions are conjoined
(7.8), and two variations on the Formula of Universal Law (7.9). I argue that
if we accept Kant™s criteria for the supreme principle of morality, then his
arguments against these principles also have considerable force.
Before turning to arguments aimed at speci¬c rivals to the Categorical
Imperative, however, we consider an argument through which, with one
broad stroke, Kant tries to eliminate all rivals. As I try to show in section 7.2,
this sweeping argument is a failure.


7.2 A Sweeping Argument against All Rivals
Kant suggests this sweeping argument in both the Groundwork and the second
Critique (GMS 444, KpV 21“41), albeit in slightly different terminology. First,
he contends that all candidates for the supreme principle of morality are
material, except for the Categorical Imperative, which is formal. Second, he
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 141

claims that no material practical principle could be the supreme principle
of morality. Therefore, he concludes, the only viable candidate remaining
is the Categorical Imperative. I begin by considering Kant™s argument for
the second premise, then move to the ¬rst.
We have already explored Kant™s basis for the second premise of his argu-
ment, that is, for the claim that no material principle could be the supreme
principle of morality. A material principle, let us recall, is one that an agent
has suf¬cient motive to conform to only if he expects that doing so will re-
sult in the realization of some object he desires and that realizing this object
will have a hedonic payoff for himself (section 1.8). A formal principle is
(in one sense) a principle such that an agent™s representing it as a law itself
gives him suf¬cient motive to conform to it (section 4.7). Kant contends
that a viable candidate for the supreme principle of morality must be a for-
mal principle. To establish this, Kant must obviously show that the supreme
principle of morality could not be a material principle. He tries to do so
with the arguments we examined in section 5.7.
Although Kant has a (at least moderately) hedonistic view of material
practical principles (section 1.8), we can summarize one of these arguments
without appealing to this view. In the summary (which is based on GMS
444), we can see that another way Kant has of putting the claim that the
supreme principle of morality must not be a material principle is to say that
it must not be a heteronomous one.2 The starting point of this argument
is familiar “ namely the notion that, according to the supreme principle of
morality™s basic concept, it must be unconditionally binding on all of us. It
must be a categorical imperative for all rational beings who, like us but unlike
perfectly rational beings such as God, do not necessarily conform to it. A
material principle is a rule such that an agent has suf¬cient motive to adhere
to it only on condition that, in her view, doing so will enable her to realize
some object she desires. (For present purposes let us stop there, without
invoking Kant™s notion that such principles are hedonically conditioned.)
In order for a material principle to be a categorical imperative, each agent
must have suf¬cient motive available to her to abide by it. If each did not,
then in some circumstances it would be impossible for her to abide by it,
and, therefore, in Kant™s view, it would not be binding on her. (An agent
cannot have a duty to do something that it is impossible for her to do.)
But now suppose that a material principle speci¬es the means to realize
some object that a particular agent does not desire, for example, greater
perfection de¬ned as the development of physical and rational capacities.
(Maybe the agent thinks that she is mentally and physically ¬t enough to
lead a rewarding life.) In this case, the agent might ¬nd herself without
suf¬cient motive available to her to conform to the principle and thus un-
able to conform to it. If she did, then the principle would not be binding
on her. But principles that, in light of a particular agent™s desires, might
not be binding on her (i.e., material principles) are obviously not categor-
ical imperatives. Since they are not, they are not viable candidates for the
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
142

supreme principle of morality. In the Groundwork, Kant crystallizes this ar-
gument thus: “Whenever an object of the will has to be laid down as the
basis for prescribing the rule that determines the will, there the rule is none
other than heteronomy; the imperative is conditional, namely: if or because
one wills this object, one ought to act in such or such a way; hence it can
never command morally, that is categorically” (GMS 444). Material practical
principles are heteronomous in the sense that their motivational force stems
from something outside of the will, something that each rational being does
not necessarily have: a desire for some particular object.
However compelling this argument may be, it is not enough to insure the
success of Kant™s attempt to sweep away rivals to the Categorical Imperative.
Even if Kant establishes that the supreme principle of morality must not be
material (i.e., the second premise in this attempt), he needs to convince us
of the ¬rst, namely that all rivals to the Categorical Imperative are indeed
material principles. Unfortunately, he does not do so.
In the second Critique (KpV 40) Kant sets out a table in which he cat-
egorizes rivals to the Categorical Imperative. He distinguishes “subjective”
from “objective” principles, and “internal” from “external” ones. Subjec-
tive principles are empirical; their content stems from experience. Among
such principles Kant mentions that “of education,” which, Kant asserts, was
advocated by Montaigne. Apparently, this principle derives the content of
morality solely from custom. Objective principles are based on reason, or at
least purported to be so. Wolff, for example, claimed to base his principle
of perfection not on experience but on rational concepts alone. In Kant™s
scheme, some subjective principles are internal, some external. Montaigne™s
principle is external in that education stems from outside of the agent, while
another subjective principle, that of moral feeling defended by Hutcheson,
Kant classi¬es as internal, apparently since this feeling is internal to the
agent. Kant also distinguishes between an objective principle that is exter-
nal, namely that of the will of God, and one that is internal, that of perfec-
tion. In sum, Kant categorizes six rivals to the Categorical Imperative. Of
the three whose content stems from within the agent (internal principles),
two of these are subjective, the principles of “physical feeling” and of “moral
feeling,” and one objective, the principle of “perfection.” Of the three whose
content stems from outside the agent (external principles), two of these are
subjective, the principles of “education” and “the civil constitution,” and
one objective, the principle of “the will of God.”
Referring to this table, Kant makes several claims: “all the principles ex-
hibited here are material ” (KpV 41), “they include all possible material prin-
ciples” (KpV 41), and “all possible cases are actually exhausted, except the
one formal principle” (KpV 39), namely the Categorical Imperative. Each of
these claims is controversial. Regarding the ¬rst, one might wonder whether
a theologian would or need acknowledge that a principle of obeying God™s
will is necessarily material. Why should he accept the view that an agent has
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 143

suf¬cient motive to obey God™s will only if she thinks that doing so will en-
able her to satisfy some desire she has? Might he not instead maintain that
an agent™s notion that God wills that she do something itself can give her
suf¬cient motive to do it? Regarding Kant™s second claim, one might won-
der whether his table actually does include all possible material principles.
What about a (loosely) Nietzschean principle, something such as “In order
to ¬‚ourish, you ought to maximize your power”? Although this principle is
not among the six Kant lists, he might contend that it does ¬t into his gen-
eral schema as, for example, a subjective and internal principle. In any case,
Kant™s ¬nal claim, which amounts to the ¬rst step of his sweeping attempt
to eliminate all rivals, is the one most obviously vulnerable to criticism.
It is not hard to imagine rivals to the Categorical Imperative that, at least
on the surface, are not material principles. Suppose someone defends the
following perfectionist principle, MP™: “Develop your physical and rational
capacities.” According to the defender, MP™ commands categorically. It does
not say: develop your physical and rational capacities, if you want or given
that you want to perfect yourself or be happy or attain some other object.
It prescribes that you develop these capacities no matter what you want. In
reply, Kant might insist that though the defender does not take MP™ to be a
material principle, it is indeed one. For an agent could have suf¬cient mo-
tive to conform to MP™ only on condition that he expected doing so would
enable him to realize some object he desired. Yet, as far as I can tell, Kant of-
fers no argument for this contention. Why couldn™t an agent be motivated to
conform to MP™ simply by representing MP™ to himself as an unconditionally
and universally binding principle? If an agent™s representing the Categorical
Imperative to himself as a practical law gives him suf¬cient incentive to con-
form to this principle, why couldn™t an agent™s representing MP to himself
as a practical law give him suf¬cient incentive to conform to that principle?
In the next section, we discuss in detail how Kant might try to eliminate
consequentialist principles as candidates for the supreme principle of moral-
ity. But we can already see that it will not do to sweep them away on the basis
that they are all material principles. Take the utilitarian principle U™: “Always
perform a right action, one that yields just as great a sum total of well-being
as would any alternative action available to you.” As far as I can tell, Kant
does not establish that an advocate of this principle must acknowledge that
an agent™s having suf¬cient grounds to conform to it is conditional on her
wanting to maximize well-being or to gain pleasure for herself or anything
else. The possibility persists that she ¬nds suf¬cient grounds for complying
with U™ in the notion that doing so is morally required.3 Defenders of a
variety of candidates for the supreme principle of morality might refuse to
acknowledge their principles to be “material.” And Kant, it seems, has no
good argument with which to discredit such a refusal.
Yet perhaps we have not looked hard enough. In a chapter entitled “On
the Concept of an Object of Pure Practical Reason,” Kant describes his
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
144

method in the second Critique: “[I]instead of the concept of the good as an
object determining and making possible the moral law, it is on the contrary
the moral law that ¬rst determines and makes possible the concept of the
good, insofar as it deserves this name absolutely” (KpV 64). Kant claims that
other philosophers failed to adopt this method, a failure that led them
into error regarding the supreme principle of morality. They began with an
object that they considered to be good (e.g., the perfection of our capacities)
and tried to derive a practical principle from that object (e.g., the principle
that we are required to perfect our capacities). But by beginning with a
concept of the good and then trying to derive a practical principle from
it, they condemned themselves to advancing material practical principles “
ones that are not suited to be the supreme principle of morality. In Kant™s
words, other philosophers

sought an object of the will in order to make it into the matter and the ground of a
law (which was thus to be the determining ground of the will not immediately but
rather by means of that object referred to the feeling of pleasure or displeasure),
whereas they should ¬rst have searched for a law that determined the will a priori
and immediately, and only then determined the object conformable to the will.
Now, whether they placed this object of pleasure, which was to yield the supreme
concept of good, in happiness, in perfection, in moral feeling, or in the will of God,
their principle was in every case heteronomy and they had to come unavoidably
upon empirical conditions for a moral law, since they could call their object, as
the immediate determining ground of the will, good or evil only by its immediate
relation to feeling, which is always empirical. (KpV 64)

<< . .

. 17
( : 27)



. . >>