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appeal to his account of ordinary moral reasoning to argue against any such
consequentialist principle™s being the supreme principle of morality. He
would simply invoke steps 1 and 2 as they appear in the arguments against
these two principles. I call this kind of argument “valuational,” since it turns
on the question of an action™s moral value or worth.


7.7 Kantian Consequentialism?
According to David Cummiskey, Kant™s ¬rst and second propositions do not
con¬‚ict with consequentialism.15 The argument of Groundwork I does not
really threaten the notion that the supreme principle of morality is conse-
quentialist. Contrary to Cummiskey, I have found in these propositions the
basis for a Kantian argument against three forms of consequentialism: act
utilitarianism, expectabilist utilitarianism (in one version), and perfection-
ism. Cummiskey proposes a different “Kantian” form of consequentialism.
In this section, I try to show that the Kantian argument also applies to Cum-
miskey™s Kantian consequentialist candidate for the supreme principle of
morality.
Cummiskey™s detailed statement of his candidate is very lengthy. In the
end, though, he suggests that the candidate amounts to (roughly) the fol-
lowing:
KC: Maximally promote two tiers of value: rational nature and happiness,
where rational nature is lexically prior to happiness.16
In a nutshell, KC enjoins ¬rst that we must maximally promote the condi-
tions necessary for the rational choice of ends, conditions such as liberty
and life.17 The principle thus entails that if we ¬nd that the only way to save
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
154

two rational agents is to kill one innocent agent, then we are required to
kill him.18 Second, KC enjoins that we must maximally promote the effec-
tive realization of rationally chosen ends.19 The ¬rst requirement is lexically
prior to the second requirement in the Rawlsian sense that we are to ful¬ll
the second only if we have completely ful¬lled the ¬rst: we are to promote
happiness maximally only if we have done all we can to promote rational
nature.20 The principle thus entails that we must not kill one person in
order to make others happy.
I do not offer a thorough discussion of KC but rather focus only on fea-
tures of it that are directly relevant to my present aim. First, Cummiskey
presents KC as a categorical imperative with a scope extending to all ra-
tional agents.21 It requires all rational agents, regardless of their particular
inclinations or desires, to promote maximally two tiers of value. Second,
Cummiskey holds KC to be a consequentialist principle in the following
sense. It sets out a requirement to promote the good (the two tiers of value),
and it does not set limits on the acceptable means that an agent may em-
ploy to promote the good.22 It does not, for example, specify a duty not to
sacri¬ce one innocent person to save two others. Third, Cummiskey holds
that KC has a Kantian foundation. A proponent of KC as the supreme prin-
ciple of morality would, he suggests, defend it in part by arguing as follows.
If an agent holds there to be a categorical imperative, then he must hold
there to be something unconditionally valuable. Upon re¬‚ection, he must
¬nd that this unconditionally valuable thing is rational nature (humanity).
For he must hold rational nature to be the source (i.e., the unconditioned
condition) of value, and thus to be unconditionally valuable.23 We exam-
ined (and criticized) this argument in Chapter 3.24 Whereas Korsgaard and,
presumably, other Kantians hold that this argument supports the Formula
of Humanity (interpreted as a nonconsequentialist principle), Cummiskey
claims that it is better suited to supporting a consequentialist principle such
as KC. I do not address the issue of whether, when taken in isolation, the
argument is better suited to supporting KC. However, I defend the view that
there are Kantian grounds, manifest in Groundwork I, for rejecting KC as a
candidate for the supreme principle of morality.
KC is subject to basically the same valuational argument as the other prin-
ciples we have examined. It runs afoul of the argument™s ¬rst step, according
to which every case of willing from duty to conform to the supreme principle
of morality (whatever it turns out to be) has moral worth. A defender of KC
as the supreme principle of morality has adopted a two-tiered conception
of the good. On the higher tier is rational nature; on the lower is happi-
ness. There is, says Cummiskey, “a normative hierarchy in the theory of the
good.”25 The goodness of rational nature is such that we are never to refrain
from maximally promoting it for the sake of promoting happiness. Imagine
a scenario in which a defender of KC as the supreme principle of morality
reasonably believes that she has not done all she can to promote rational
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 155

nature: to promote the conditions necessary for rational agency. KC, which
she considers to be the supreme principle of morality, requires that she
maximally promote these conditions. One of the conditions necessary for
rational agency is life. After much re¬‚ection, the defender concludes that
the only way to save two people is to kill one innocent person. From duty,
the defender conforms to KC and kills the innocent person. Despite the
defender™s efforts, however, the other two are also killed. And there are no
other morally relevant effects “ for example, no one, not even the defender
herself, is inspired by her action to strengthen a commitment to conforming
to KC. In this scenario, the defender would have to deny that her own action
had positive moral value (moral worth), thereby contradicting step 1. For
the action did not at all succeed in promoting the good; it did not secure
the conditions necessary for rational agency.
In response, Cummiskey would, perhaps, insist that the defender may
claim her action to have moral worth even if it does not actually secure the
conditions necessary for rational agency. She may claim that moral worth
is intrinsic to the action. But I do not see how she may do so coherently.
She has identi¬ed the good ¬rst with rational nature and second with the
realization of the objects of rational nature (i.e., happiness). Her action “
her killing from duty one innocent to save others “ has succeeded not at
all in promoting the good in either sense. It has not helped to secure the
conditions necessary for rational agency, and it has not helped to secure the
realization of rationally chosen ends. So the defender ¬nds herself with no
basis on which to conclude her action to have been good.


7.8 Against a Principle Akin to the Ten Commandments
In the preceding sections, we have explored an argument Kant might em-
ploy to eliminate consequentialist candidates for the supreme principle of
morality. Yet not all rivals to his principle are consequentialist. In this section
and the next, we examine how he might eliminate some nonconsequen-
tialist candidates. Kant™s successfully excluding these candidates would not
itself give him warrant to conclude that no nonconsequentialist rival to the
Categorical Imperative remains. In my view, Kant offers no plausible way
of guaranteeing that his arguments would be effective against all possible
nonconsequentialist principles.
Let us begin with a principle somewhat akin to the Ten Commandments.
Why, in Kant™s view, couldn™t the following conjunctive principle be the
supreme principle of morality?

TC: You ought to honor your father and mother; you ought not to kill;
you ought not to commit adultery; you ought not to steal; you ought
not to bear false witness; you ought not to covet anything that is your
neighbor™s.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
156

To simplify matters, let us view TC in a detheologized way, as a conjunctive
prescription “legislated” by individuals to themselves. Let us further suppose
that TC is a categorical imperative in the sense of a principle that sets out a
prescription to all rational agents regarding what they ought to do, regard-
less of what they might be inclined to do.26 Obviously, a proponent of TC
might conceive of morally permissible actions as ones that conform to TC
and morally impermissible actions as ones that do not. Moreover, a propo-
nent of TC might hold that an agent acts from duty when he wills to conform
to TC just because, in his view, TC requires that he do so. She might further
hold that any action done from duty has moral worth, regardless of its ef-
fects. (If from duty someone does his best to honor his parents, his action has
moral worth “ even if, through some unforeseen chain of events, he ends up
dishonoring them.) Mirroring Kant, the proponent of TC might conceive
of willing from duty to obey TC (in her view, a good will) to be good without
quali¬cation. This principle seems to ful¬ll much of Kant™s basic concept of
the supreme principle of morality. TC (or a principle quite like it) could be
practical, absolutely necessary, and binding on all rational agents.
Moreover, several of the further criteria Kant develops for the supreme
principle of morality do not seem to serve as a basis for rejecting TC. The
valuational argument can be successful against a particular principle only
if the principle™s advocate must hold that the moral value of willing from
duty to conform to it depends on the effects of doing so. But an advocate
of TC need not hold this. Equally unpromising as a response to TC would
be to insist that it is a material principle, and, therefore, it could not be
the supreme principle of morality. For Kant has given us no good reason
to think that TC is such a principle “ that an agent has suf¬cient grounds
to conform to it only if he expects doing so will enable him to realize some
object he desires (and/or have a hedonic payoff). One might appeal to
Kant™s notion that the supreme principle of morality must generate a set
of duties endorsed by ordinary moral reason, arguing that TC leaves some
important ones out, for example, that to promote others™ welfare. But this
tactic would be ineffective since the list of duties in TC could simply be
expanded. TC and principles like it seem to pose a particular challenge to
the possibility of a successful derivation of the Categorical Imperative.
Kant does, however, have at his disposal grounds for rejecting TC. It be-
longs to Kant™s basic concept of the supreme principle of morality that it
serve as the justi¬catory basis for all duties (section i.2). The principle must,
therefore, exhibit the reason why we have a duty to do a certain thing, yet we
do not have a duty to do something else. To some extent, TC accomplishes
this task. To the question of why x (e.g., telling the truth) is a duty, a pro-
ponent of TC can respond: because x is among the prescriptions conjoined
in the supreme principle of morality. Yet Kant would, I think, insist that this
is not enough. How, he would ask, would the proponent answer the ques-
tion of why this particular prescription is incorporated into the principle but
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 157

another one (e.g., worship Amon) is not? Of course, from Kant™s perspective
it wouldn™t suf¬ce for her to say that the list is a product of present social
conditions “ merely the re¬‚ection of the values of a particular place and
time. To say this would be to offer an explanation but not a justi¬cation of
particular duties contained in TC. Kant implies that the supreme principle
of morality must provide a justi¬catory rationale for the duties derived from
it. As we will see in the next chapter, Kant™s own candidates do (though one
might disagree with this rationale). TC, it appears, does not really provide a
justi¬catory rationale for the duties derived from it. Therefore, TC cannot
be the supreme principle of morality.
Of course, this response would not give an answer to someone who re-
jected the notion that the supreme principle of morality need provide a
principled method (in Kant™s sense) of enumerating duties. One brand of
rational intuitionism, for example, might hold that we immediately grasp
TC, incorporating just these duties, and that is all there is to it.
There is another reason Kant might give for rejecting TC as a viable can-
didate for the supreme principle. For Kant if one can rule out the possibility
that a candidate for the supreme principle is knowable a priori, then this
candidate is not viable. As we saw earlier (section 4.10), Kant holds that only
if we can plausibly hold that a candidate is justi¬able a priori could we have
good reason to hold that it conforms to the basic concept of the supreme
principle, according to which this principle must be absolutely necessary.
Kant maintains that it is plausible to hold that the Categorical Imperative
is justi¬able a priori. In Groundwork III, he attempts to provide an a priori
justi¬cation of the Formula of Universal Law (or something quite like it),
appealing to the essential character of freedom, causality, rational willing,
and so forth, rather than to the experiences of particular individuals or cul-
tures. Kant might claim that it would be hopeless from the outset to attempt
to provide an a priori justi¬cation of TC. How, he might ask, could one
make a sincere attempt to justify TC as the supreme principle of morality
without appealing to the notion that, in the past, human beings have found
committing adultery to be wrong, honoring their parents to be required,
and so forth?
It would, I think, be misguided to react to this question by making the fol-
lowing claim: “Kant™s situation is no better, for he also relies on experience
to justify the Categorical Imperative, since for him a condition of success
for this principle™s derivation is that the duties the principle generates co-
here with ordinary moral reason.” For this claim neglects the distinction
between the derivation of the Categorical Imperative and its deduction. As
I suggested earlier (section 4.10), that a successful derivation of the Cate-
gorical Imperative must be grounded in experience does not entail that a
deduction of it must be as well.
Once again, though, an opponent might respond to Kant™s question by
asserting that we know TC through rational intuition. Our reason enables
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
158

us to recognize immediately that TC is the supreme principle of morality,
she might say. To me this response seems implausible, but I do not think
that Kant demonstrates it to be indefensible.


7.9 Further Nonconsequentialist Rivals
Chapter 2 focused on Henry Allison™s claim that if we grant Kant the as-
sumption that rational agents have transcendental freedom, then Kant can
offer a successful derivation of the Formula of Universal Law. Allison recon-
structs a derivation of this formula that in his view achieves its aim “ that
is, establishes that if there is a supreme principle of morality, then it is this
formula. Key to Allison™s reconstruction is the notion that only the Formula
of Universal Law (or, presumably, equivalent principles) is capable of justi-
fying the maxims of transcendentally free rational agents. I challenged this
notion, arguing that Kant fails to eliminate the possibility that some other
principle plays this role. In effect, I contended that Allison™s reconstructed
derivation does not eliminate certain rival candidates for the supreme prin-
ciple of morality. One rival was the “bizarre principle” BP: “Act only on that
maxim that you cannot, at the same time, will that it become a universal law”;
the other rival was WU: “Act only on that maxim which, when generalized,
could be a universal law.” On the criterial reading I have advocated, does
Kant have the resources to eliminate these candidates?
According to criterion viii, the supreme principle of morality must be such
that a plausible set of duties (relative to ordinary rational moral cognition)
can be derived from it. BP clearly fails to ful¬ll this criterion. According to
it, an agent™s acting on the following maxim would be morally impermissible :
“From self-love, during my free time, I will exercise in order to stay in
shape.” According to BP, let us specify, willing the universalization of a maxim
amounts to willing a world in which each agent adopts the maxim and if
the circumstances described in the maxim arise, he or she acts on it. It is
(rationally speaking) possible for an agent to act on this maxim and will its
universalization. First, there is nothing incoherent in the agent™s imagining
the world of the universalized maxim, so it is not the case that it is irrational
to will it on the grounds that it is irrational to will the impossible. Second,
in willing that each agent adopt the maxim, and if he has any free time, acts
on it, the agent would not be exhibiting the practical irrationality of under-
mining her own capacity to attain her end of staying in shape. All others™
exercising during their free time to stay in shape would not preclude her
from exercising in her free time and thereby staying in shape herself. BP
entails not only that we must not act on this (apparently innocuous) exercis-
ing maxim, but that we are forbidden from acting on a maxim such as this:
“From duty, unless I am incapacitated I will devote time and/or money to
charity work in order to better the condition of fellow human beings.” For
Rivals to the Categorical Imperative 159

this maxim also fails the test implicit in BP. Clearly, BP does not generate a
set of duties amenable to ordinary moral reason.
Although WU does not have quite the counterintuitive implications of BP,
it also seems to fail to generate a set of duties acceptable to ordinary moral
reason. WU commands that we act only on maxims that, when generalized,
can be a universal law. Consider the maxim: “In order to promote my own
happiness, I will never help a stranger or mere acquaintance in need.” This
maxim would be generalized, let us specify, if in order to promote his or her
own happiness, each agent never helped a stranger or mere acquaintance
in need. But it could be a universal law that this occur. There is nothing
incoherent or self-contradictory in imagining it. Therefore, according to
WU, it would be morally permissible to act on the maxim in question. Yet
this result seems to clash with our ordinary moral consciousness, which
embraces at least a minimal duty of bene¬cence.
Of course, we cannot take it for granted that the Categorical Imperative
itself satis¬es Kant™s eighth criterion for the supreme principle of morality.
As we will see in the next chapter, it is doubtful whether the Formula of
Universal Law generates a set of duties acceptable to commonsense morality.


7.10 Summary
Kant has the materials at hand to argue (plausibly, in my view) that cer-
tain rivals to the Categorical Imperative are not viable candidates for the
supreme principle of morality. Each of these rivals, he can show, fails to ful-
¬ll the criteria he has developed for the supreme principle. Nevertheless, the
derivation remains incomplete. First, a full derivation would require Kant
to eliminate all (possible) rivals to the Categorical Imperative. But as far as
I can tell, Kant does not provide us with an effective method for insuring
that we have considered all rivals. (As we have seen, the method Kant suggests,
namely that of categorizing all possible rivals as material principles, is not
promising.) Therefore, I do not see how even those very well disposed to
Kant™s arguments could claim that he had actually proved there to be no
rival to the Categorical Imperative that could ful¬ll each of the criteria he
develops for the supreme principle.
However, it would be no small achievement for Kant to show that, un-
like the rivals we have discussed in this chapter, the Categorical Imperative
(either in the Formula of Humanity or the Formula of Universal Law) re-
mains as a viable candidate for the supreme principle of morality. To show
this, Kant must demonstrate that his candidate could ful¬ll all of his criteria
for this principle. His attempt to do this is the topic of Chapter 8.
8

Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates for the Supreme
Principle of Morality




8.1 Kant™s Candidates and Criteria for the Supreme
Principle of Morality
Kant™s derivation as I have interpreted it is in the ¬rst instance a derivation
of the Formula of Universal Law. Yet it is open to Kant to offer a derivation
of the Formula of Humanity using the same basic steps. After all, the rivals to
the latter formula (e.g., utilitarian principles) are also rivals to the former.
If, based on an appeal to criteria he develops for the supreme principle,
Kant succeeds in disqualifying the rivals we discussed in Chapter 7 to the
Formula of Universal Law, then, in effect, he also succeeds in eliminating
rivals to the Formula of Humanity.
Now an opponent might grant that Kant, through appeals to his crite-
ria, eliminates many rivals to his candidates for the supreme principle of
morality. But, the opponent might claim, this is a Pyrrhic victory; appeals
to Kant™s criteria would also dispose of Kant™s own formulas. Does Kant
have the resources to rebut this claim? Does each of his formulas remain
a viable candidate for the supreme principle of morality? This is the ques-
tion that this chapter addresses, although it does not attempt to answer it
thoroughly.
At the outset, it is once again helpful to have in view the criteria Kant
embraces for the supreme principle of morality. There are eight main ones;
four Kant incorporates into his basic concept of the supreme principle, the
other four he develops through analysis of ordinary moral thinking. Accord-
ing 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, 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 representing the principle as a

160
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 161

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.
The main issue before us is whether either the Formula of Universal Law
or the Formula of Humanity remains as a viable candidate for a principle
that ful¬lls the full set of criteria. A derivation of a principle does not aim
to show that it actually ful¬lls the entire set of criteria. For showing this
would require proving that the principle ful¬lls criteria ii and iii “ that it
is absolutely necessary and binding on all rational agents. It would involve
giving a deduction of the principle, an endeavor that is not our concern
here.
Here is how the chapter unfolds. In section 8.2, I argue that each for-
mula remains a viable candidate for ful¬lling criteria i“iii, and that, if we
are willing to modify iv slightly, each one also remains a viable candidate
for ful¬lling it. Neither of the formulas fails as a candidate for the supreme
principle of morality on the grounds that it could not satisfy Kant™s basic
concept of the supreme principle of morality (if we modify this concept
a bit). The next section (8.3) attempts to show that criteria v“vii are also
unproblematic. The bulk of the chapter concerns criterion viii. Is either
the Formula of Universal Law or the Formula of Humanity such that, if
it was actually binding, from it would stem duties acceptable to ordinary
moral consciousness? Sections 8.4“6 focus mainly on the Formula of Uni-
versal Law, 8.7“9 on the Formula of Humanity. A lengthy book could eas-
ily be devoted to the question of whether, if valid, these formulas would
generate duties that square with those we take ourselves to have. As stu-
dents of Kant are well aware, each formula presents thorny dif¬culties of
interpretation. So I am not able here to answer this question thoroughly.
I argue, however, that we have good reason to doubt whether the Formula
of Universal Law ful¬lls criterion viii. Therefore, we have good reason to
doubt whether this formula remains as a viable candidate for the supreme
principle of morality. The Formula of Humanity, I suggest, seems more
promising regarding criterion viii, although it leaves us with some troubling
concerns.
The two formulas, claims Kant, are representations of “the very same
law” (GMS 436). If, as it seems reasonable to assume, this claim implies that
the two would give rise to the same moral requirements, then this chapter
offers some evidence that it is incorrect. Unfortunately for its defenders, the
Formula of Universal Law does not seem to forbid acts of violence committed
for revenge, whereas the Formula of Humanity does. It is open to a champion
of the Formula of Humanity to take the Formula of Universal Law as a rival
and to try to eliminate it as a candidate for the supreme principle of morality
on the grounds that it would clearly fail to yield duties acceptable to ordinary
moral thinking.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
162

8.2 Two Formulas and the Basic Concept of the Supreme
Principle of Morality
Neither the Formula of Universal Law nor the Formula of Humanity should
be eliminated as a candidate for the supreme principle of morality on the
basis of a discernible inability to ful¬ll criteria i“iii. We could act on account
of each one “ each is practical “ though, as we have noted regarding the
Formula of Universal Law, it is harder than Kant acknowledges to determine
which actions the principles require. Each formula could also be absolutely
necessary, that is, binding on all the agents within its scope, regardless of the
agents™ particular inclinations. Moreover, the scope of each could extend to
all rational agents. Despite its use of the term “humanity,” the Formula of
Humanity is not limited in scope to human beings. For, as we have noted,
“humanity” there refers to rational nature, that is, the capacity for rational
choice, a capacity inherent in all rational agents.
There is, however, a dif¬culty that arises in connection with criterion ii.
For the sake of simplicity, in explaining it I focus on us, human agents,
bracketing other rational agents, and I use the generic term “Categorical
Imperative” to refer to both the Formula of Universal Law and the Formula
of Humanity, since no differences between the two formulas will come into
play. To say that the supreme principle of morality is absolutely necessary
is to say that without possible exception we ought to conform to it. And it
indeed does seem that the Categorical Imperative could be such that without

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