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Kant suggests the following claim: if we begin in ethics with a concept of the
good and then construct a moral principle that requires the promotion of
this good, we must acknowledge that an agent will have suf¬cient grounds to
conform to the principle only if she expects doing so will have some hedonic
bene¬t. In effect, we must acknowledge that the principle is material. If Kant
successfully defended this claim, then he might indeed have good grounds
for asserting that the rival principles we mentioned earlier were material.
An advocate of MP™ or U™ would likely begin his moral theorizing with the
concept of an object as the good: in the former case, perfection; in the latter,
the general happiness. However, as the cited passage illustrates, Kant does
not really argue for the claim in question. He leaves it strikingly unclear why
a principle based on the concept of some object as the good must be such
that an agent could have suf¬cient grounds for conforming to it only if he
expected a hedonic payoff from doing so. To insist that such a principle
must have this feature seems unfounded.
Perhaps Kant is correct that no material principle could cohere with his
basic concept of the supreme principle of morality. However, this claim does
not give him a quick route to the elimination of all rivals to the Categori-
cal Imperative. For Kant does not show that all rivals actually are material
practical principles.
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 145

7.3 The Structure of Act Utilitarianism
In light of the shortcomings of Kant™s sweeping attempt to dismiss all rivals
to the Categorical Imperative on the basis that they are material practical
principles, it makes sense to look for other arguments he might offer against
particular competitors.
Let us begin with consequentialist principles, speci¬cally utilitarian ones.
In his critical writings in ethics, Kant does not explicitly consider utilitarian-
ism. He mentions “the principle of sympathy for the happiness of others,”
(GMS 442, note), which he attributes to Hutcheson. And he discusses brie¬‚y
the possibility that the happiness of others is the object of the will of a ra-
tional being (KpV 34). So Kant does seem to entertain the notion that the
supreme principle of morality is one that requires us to promote the happi-
ness of others. Against this quasi-utilitarian notion, however, Kant employs
the suspicious argument we discussed in section 7.2, one according to which
such a principle must be material.4
Kant might argue against a utilitarian principle with the help of an appeal
to his view that only the good will is unconditionally good. Whatever the
supreme principle of morality is, he might claim, it must have something
unconditionally good as its “ground.” The utilitarian would have to take
everyone™s being happy as the unconditionally good ground of her principle.
But everyone™s being happy is not unconditionally good. Since it is not,
Kant might conclude, the utilitarian principle could not be the supreme
principle of morality. This argument does not seem promising, for Kant
fails to establish that everyone™s being happy is not unconditionally good
(see section 3.7). Does he have any better argument available to him with
which to eliminate utilitarianism as a rival?
To answer this question, it is helpful to have a particular utilitarian prin-
ciple in view.

U: An action is right if and only if it yields as great a sum total of individual
well-being as would any alternative action available.

Amartya Sen has shown that U follows from two separate views:, one is an
account of goodness; the other, an account of the connection between good-
ness and rightness. According to “Outcome Utilitarianism,” the goodness of
a state of affairs is solely a function of the sum total of individual well-being in
it. More precisely, any state of affairs is at least as good as an alternative state
of affairs if and only if the sum total of individual well-being in the one is at
least as large as the sum total of individual well-being in the other.5 According
to “Act Consequentialism,” the rightness of an action is solely a function of
the goodness of its consequences. More precisely, an action is right if and
only if the state of affairs resulting from the action is at least as good as each
of the alternative states of affairs that would have resulted respectively from
the alternative feasible acts.6 In discussing U, we assume that its defender
grounds it in Act Consequentialism and Outcome Utilitarianism.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
146

Against the possibility that U could be the supreme principle of morality,
Kant has available to him a simple, straightforward argument. U runs afoul
of Kant™s basic concept of this principle. On this concept, the supreme
principle of morality would manifest itself to us (human rational agents) as
a categorical imperative. It would be absolutely necessary, prescribing that we
ought to act in a certain way, no matter what our particular inclinations might
be. However, U just tells us which actions are right. It does not prescribe to us
that we ought to do right actions. Strictly speaking, it does not prescribe how
we ought to act at all. U does not have the form of a categorical imperative. Of
course, U™s advocate might simply reject Kant™s basic concept of the supreme
principle of morality. She might insist that such a principle need not take the
form of a categorical imperative, or even that it need not be practical (i.e.,
something on account of which we can act). The utilitarian might conceive
of her principle as a fundamental description of right action and nothing
more. Doing this would, however, not threaten the Kantian claim we are
considering “ namely, that if there is a supreme principle of morality, in
the basic sense of such a principle that Kant employs, then it is the Categorical
Imperative.
Rather than responding to Kant™s argument against U by rejecting his
basic concept of the supreme principle of morality, the utilitarian can simply
give U the form of a categorical imperative:
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.
Here the utilitarian has added a further principle to the two from which U
was constructed “ namely, what we might call the principle of imperative
rightness: Always act rightly. The resulting principle U™ appears to conform
to Kant™s basic concept of the supreme principle of morality. It could be a
practical, absolutely necessary, universally binding, fundamental norm for
moral evaluation of action. How might Kant exclude the possibility that it is
the supreme principle of morality?


7.4 Against Act Utilitarianism
To eliminate rivals to the Categorical Imperative, Kant has at his disposal not
only the criteria contained in his basic concept of the supreme principle of
morality but also the further ones he develops in Groundwork I. Using some
of these further criteria, it is fairly simple to construct an argument to block
the possibility that U™ is the supreme principle of morality:

1. Whatever the supreme principle of morality is, your willing from duty
to conform to it has moral worth.
2. This moral worth does not stem from any effect of what you do, but
rather solely from your willing from duty to conform to this principle.
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 147

3. Suppose you held that U™ were the supreme principle of morality.
4. You would then have to hold that whether your willing from duty to
conform to U™ had moral worth depended solely on its effects.

5. Since (according to 1 and 2) the moral worth of your willing from
duty to conform to the supreme principle of morality does not stem
from its effects, you must conclude that U™ cannot be this principle.

Although Kant does not make this argument explicitly, its steps are famil-
iar to us from our exploration of his criteria for the supreme principle of
morality.
The argument™s ¬rst step stems, of course, from a criterion Kant develops
in Groundwork I in his “¬rst proposition.” This principle, he claims, must be
such that all and only actions conforming to it because the principle requires
it (i.e., all and only actions done from duty) have moral worth. However,
step 1 differs from Kant™s criterion in two signi¬cant ways. Obviously, it in-
vokes not at all Kant™s view that only actions from duty have moral worth.
Moreover, embracing the premise involves rejecting the idea that only ac-
tions in conformity with duty can have moral worth. According to step 1,
whatever the supreme principle of morality is, your willing, from duty, to con-
form to it has moral worth “ even if, as it turns out, you fail to conform to it.
The second step is closely related to a further criterion for the supreme
principle of morality that Kant develops in Groundwork I (in his “second
proposition”). It follows from this criterion that we cannot af¬rm a principle
to be the supreme principle of morality unless we can hold that the moral
worth of any actions conforming to it from duty does not stem from the
actions™ effects. The main thrust of step 2 is the same as that of this criterion,
namely that the moral worth of an action does not stem from its effects or
results. However, in line with 1, step 2 does not restrict moral goodness
to actions that actually conform to the supreme principle of morality. It
(implicitly) grants that attempts to conform to the supreme principle of
morality, even if they fail, can have moral worth.
Step 4 also requires attention. In considering 4 it is important to put
ourselves in the position of someone who has, as 3 speci¬es, accepted U™
as the supreme principle of morality. We are assuming, let us recall, that
a person who accepts U™ as the supreme principle of morality grounds it
in Act Consequentialism and Outcome Utilitarianism. Such a person holds
that the goodness of a state of the universe is solely a function of the sum
total of individual well-being in it: the greater the sum, the better the state of
the universe. Now the question arises: according to a defender of U™, when
would an action done on account of U™ have moral value? A defender of
U™ sees all value (goodness) in terms of individual well-being. Therefore,
he must see the value of an action in terms of its effects on individual well-
being. It is unclear precisely where he will draw the line between an action
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
148

that has a positive value and one that does not. He might, for example,
claim that an action has positive value if, on balance, it raises the sum total
of individual well-being (rather than diminishing it or having no impact on
it). Or he might claim that to have positive value an action must be right “
that is, produce just as much well-being as any alternative action. Whatever
his particular view might be, for him the value (and thus moral value) of an
action is solely a function of its effects.
The proponent of U™ might respond that in his view any (positive) value of
an agent™s conforming to U™ “from duty” stems not from the effects the action
actually has but from the agent™s motive in conforming to U™. The value
derives from her willing to conform to U™ because, she believes, conforming
to it is morally required. So, for example, suppose someone tries to save a
stranger who is choking because she believes that morality (in the guise of
U™) demands it. The value of this action, the proponent of U™ might say, is
just a function of her motive in doing it, not its effects, for example, not
whether she indeed succeeds.
But this response lacks force. Granted, the proponent of U™ is not com-
mitted to holding that aiding a choking victim has moral value only if it
results in the victim™s being saved. (Although the victim might die, the ex-
ample provided to others by the attempt to save him might inspire others
to actions of the same sort, and thereby increase the sum of individual well-
being.) Yet it is not open to the proponent to derive the value of someone™s
willing to save the victim solely from his being motivated by U™ to do so.
The proponent has de¬ned the good in terms of well-being. Given that he
has, any value possessed by acting on U™ as a motive would stem from its
(somehow) promoting the general welfare. It would stem ultimately from
its effects.


7.5 Against Expectabilist Utilitarianism
Of course, even if the Kantian argument I have sketched is effective against
an act utilitarian principle such as U™, it might not work against other
varieties of utilitarianism. For example, what about an expectabilist prin-
ciple? This kind of utilitarian principle some might ¬nd most plausible.
Would Kant™s argument, if we assume that all actions from duty have moral
worth, eliminate such a principle as a candidate for the supreme principle
of morality? Consider
EU: Always perform a right action: one that you expect will yield as great
a sum total of well-being as would any alternative action available to
you.
Now let us suppose that a defender of this principle embraces it partly
because, like the defender of U™, he endorses Outcome Utilitarianism: he
holds that the goodness of a state of affairs is solely a function of the amount
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 149

of individual well-being in it. At ¬rst it might seem that a defender of EU
could easily escape the Kantian argument. For unlike U™, it might appear
that EU would not run afoul of step 2. The defender of EU would, it seems,
not be committed to the view that the value of conforming to this principle
depended on its effects. He might coherently claim, for example, that an
agent™s action has moral value just in case she does what she expects would
maximize well-being because she takes that to be the right thing to do. To
have moral value, her action need not have the result of actually maximizing,
or even promoting, well-being. Therefore, it seems, the defender of EU is
not forced to reject step 2 and thus does not fall prey to the argument.
In response to this challenge, I want to argue that, actually, this defender
of EU cannot coherently hold that the moral value of conforming to EU
from duty does not depend on its effects. The most ef¬cient way to make this
argument is with the help of a thought experiment. Imagine an agent who
has always conformed to EU because he has taken it to be morally required
that he do so. Nevertheless, each of the agent™s actions has diminished the
sum of individual well-being, even though there have always been actions
available to him that would have promoted it. Various factors are responsi-
ble for this phenomenon. Sometimes, his best efforts notwithstanding, the
agent, who is no expert in psychology, economics, or probability theory, de-
veloped irrational expectations of the effects of a proposed course of action
on the general welfare, and, as luck would have it, things went just as an ex-
pert would predict. At other times, the agent™s expectations corresponded
with those of the experts, but the world simply failed to cooperate. He ex-
pected that praising his colleague would make him feel better, but it actually
plunged the colleague deeper into depression. He expected that his giving
to a famine relief fund would reduce the suffering caused by starvation, but
it actually ended up providing food for a paramilitary unit who ransacked a
peaceful village. Not even the example the agent set for others by his unwa-
vering conformity to EU had a positive effect on the sum of individual well-
being. Taken individually and taken as a whole, his actions neither directly
nor indirectly increased the sum total of individual well-being but actually
decreased it (though actions available to him would have increased it).
Our defender of EU as the supreme principle of morality would not be
justi¬ed in holding that the agent™s actions had moral value. The defender
embraces Outcome Utilitarianism. He holds that the goodness of a state of
affairs is solely a function of the sum of individual well-being in it. Ultimately,
his only basis for judging that an action is good is that it have a positive
effect on this sum (perhaps relative to other available actions). However,
the agent™s actions do not have a positive effect on this sum (even relative
to other available actions). Since they do not, the defender has no basis for
saying that they are good. Despite initial appearances, the defender of EU
is committed to the view that, contrary to step 2, the value (including the
moral value) of an agent™s actions does depend on their effects. Therefore,
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
150

as the thought experiment illustrates, the defender is committed to the view
that an agent™s action of conforming to EU because he thinks it to be the
right thing to do can fail to have moral value, thus contradicting step 1.
Some philosophers will not be satis¬ed with this response, insisting that it
neglects an important distinction between evaluation of actions and that of
states of affairs. While the defender™s embracing of Outcome Utilitarianism
requires him to judge the goodness of a state of affairs solely in terms of the
sum of individual well-being in it, his embracing of it does not require him
to judge actions solely in these terms, they will say. He is free to judge the
goodness of actions independently of their effects, in agreement with step 2
and thus ultimately with step 1. That the defender de¬nes the goodness of a
state of affairs solely in terms of well-being does not entail that he must de¬ne
the goodness of actions simply in terms of their production of well-being.
This reply does not seem convincing, as a further thought experiment
may show. Imagine two worlds. World I is that of our unfortunate agent from
the previous example “ the one who, “from duty,” always conforms to EU, but
whose actions never have a positive effect on the sum of individual well-being
(though actions available to him would have such an effect). Let us suppose
that in this world at a particular time (t), the sum of individual well-being is
ten units. In World II, the sum of individual well-being at t is also ten units.
World II is just like World I except that in it our agent™s motive for conform-
ing to EU has never been that he takes it to be morally required to do so.
Now let us return to the defender of EU as the supreme principle of
morality. The proposal on the table is that the defender hold the following.
Although the value of a state of affairs is solely a function of the sum total
of individual well-being in it (Outcome Utilitarianism), the value of actions
is not. But I do not see how the defender can coherently hold this. On
a straightforward understanding, a state of affairs is simply a state of the
universe at some particular time. The defender would have to hold that the
state of affairs (World I at t) has greater value than the state of affairs (World
II at t), since more good actions have been performed in the former than
in the latter. But in holding this, he would be betraying his commitment
to Outcome Utilitarianism. For, according to this doctrine, the value of a
state of affairs is solely a function of the sum total of individual well-being
in it. Therefore, according to Outcome Utilitarianism, the value of World
I and World II would be identical. This reply depends on the observation
that the actions that have been performed at t constitute a part of the state
of the universe at t.7 Actions that have been performed are an element in a
state of the universe. In order to rebut my reply, a philosopher would have
to deny this “ in my view, very plausible “ account of states of affairs.
With help from two of the criteria he develops for the supreme principle
of morality, Kant can construct a strong argument against one version of
expectabilist utilitarianism. But another version of expectabilism seems not
to be vulnerable to this argument.8 Suppose someone defends the principle
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 151

EU as the supreme principle of morality but does not embrace Outcome
Utilitarianism. She holds that an agent performs a right action just in case he
does something that he expects will yield as great a sum total of well-being
as would any alternative action available to him. Moreover, the defender
af¬rms that an action is good if and only if it is right. (She acknowledges,
of course, that under certain circumstances an action that she calls good
diminishes well-being relative to other available actions.) The defender can
coherently claim that the moral worth of an action does not depend on its
(actual) effects. She can also coherently claim that each instance of willing,
from duty, to conform to EU has moral worth. In her view, an action has
moral worth just in case it conforms to EU (or, equivalently, just in case it
is right). And presumably every case of willing from duty to conform to EU
will be a case of conforming to it.9
An argument advanced in Chapter 6 supplies the basis for a Kantian re-
sponse to this version of expectabilist utilitarianism. This response, which I
merely sketch, emerges from discussion of, but does not appeal to, Kant™s
criteria for the supreme principle of morality.10 In Chapter 6, I defended
the view that Kant should acknowledge that some actions contrary to the
Categorical Imperative have moral worth. Suppose an agent has done his
best to ¬gure out what the supreme principle of morality is but has become
convinced that it is something other than the Categorical Imperative. If,
from duty, he wills to conform to this other principle but violates the Cat-
egorical Imperative, Kant should nevertheless acknowledge that his action
has moral worth. He should acknowledge this (roughly) because, intuitively
speaking, the factors that are requisite for moral worth are present. The
agent™s incentive for the action stems from the notion that it is required
by an unconditionally and universally binding principle; he holds that the
action™s being morally required itself gives him suf¬cient incentive for the
action, and so forth. The same sort of argument applies to the version of
expectabilism in question. Its defender is committed to the following view.
The only actions that are good (and thus the only ones that have moral
worth) are those that conform to EU. But having done his best to discover
the supreme principle of morality, someone might conclude that it is some-
thing other than EU. If, from duty, this person wills to conform to this other
principle but violates EU, then the defender of this version of expectabilism
must hold that the person™s action is devoid of moral worth. But, intuitively,
I think we would want to attribute moral worth to his action. And that is a
reason for rejecting this version of expectabilist utilitarianism. The supreme
principle of morality must be such that its defender can coherently claim
that all instances of willing from duty to conform to it have moral worth,
suggests Kant. The defender of this version of expectabilist utilitarianism
can coherently claim this. However, she cannot hold something that many
of us take to be intuitively clear “ namely, that some actions done from duty
do not conform to EU, and that these actions have moral worth.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
152

It is, however, possible to conceive of moral theories, which some might
call utilitarian, that elude even this argument. For example, a philosopher
might defend a principle discussed earlier, U™, yet not advocate it even partly
on the basis of Outcome Utilitarianism (the doctrine according to which
goodness is solely a function of well-being). The philosopher might hold
that each agent ought always to perform a right action: one that yields just
as great a sum total of well-being as would any alternative action available
to him. Yet she might divorce the question of an action™s rightness from its
goodness. She might hold that an action has moral worth just in case an
agent does it solely because he takes it to be morally required, regardless of
whether his action is right. To rebut this sort of theory a Kantian could, of
course, claim that U™ fails to ful¬ll criterion viii for the supreme principle
of morality “ that it fails to generate a set of moral prescriptions that coheres
with ordinary moral thinking.11 But I do not defend this claim here.12


7.6 Against Perfectionism
The two preceding sections focused largely on a type of argument that ap-
peals to Kant™s notions (roughly) that all actions from duty have moral worth
and that this worth does not depend on the actions™ effects. A shortcom-
ing of this type of argument is that, as we just noted, it fails to apply to
some forms of utilitarianism (though I think Kant does have other recourse
against these forms). A strength of this type of argument is that it applies to
some nonutilitarian principles. Recall MP™, “Develop your physical and ratio-
nal capacities.” This is a principle of what Thomas Hurka calls “Aristotelian
perfectionism.”13 A proponent of MP™ as the supreme principle of morality
identi¬es human perfection as the good. He embraces what we might call
“Outcome Perfectionism,” the view that the goodness of a state of affairs
is solely a function of the sum total of individual perfection in it. To will
from duty to conform to MP™ would presumably involve trying one™s best
to develop one™s physical and rational capacities. It is easy to see how the
argument we deployed against utilitarian principles would apply to MP™:

1. Whatever the supreme principle of morality is, your willing from duty
to conform to it has moral worth.
2. This moral worth does not stem from any effect of what you do but
solely from your willing from duty to conform to this principle.
3. Suppose you held that MP™ was the supreme principle of morality.
4. You would then have to hold that whether your willing from duty to
conform to MP™ had moral worth depended solely on its effects.

5. Since (according to 1 and 2) the moral worth of your willing, from
duty, to conform to the supreme principle of morality does not stem
from its effects, you must conclude that MP™ cannot be this principle.
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 153

In light of our exploration of Kant™s argument against utilitarian principles,
the only step we need consider here is 4. Since a proponent of MP™ as
the supreme principle of morality identi¬es the good (including the moral
good) with human perfection, he must judge an action™s moral worth to be a
function of its effects on human perfection. Yet the effects of an action (e.g.,
an increase in an agent™s physical perfection) are obviously not identical with
the action itself (e.g., an agent™s willing to develop his physical capacities).14
Although a person might will, through a strenuous exercise regimen, to
develop his physical capacities, he might injure himself in the process. His
good faith attempt to get himself in shape might do nothing but diminish his
health and vigor. In this case, a proponent of MP™ as the supreme principle of
morality would be committed to denying moral worth to the agent™s attempt.
MP™ falls prey to the same sort of Kantian argument that applies to some
utilitarian principles.
If we conceive of a consequentialist moral principle as one according to
which the moral value of an action depends on its effects, then both U™
and MP™ count as consequentialist. Moreover, it is evident how Kant might

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