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possible exception we ought to conform to it. The dif¬culty is not with the
possibility of the Categorical Imperative™s ful¬lling ii, but with something
that would result if it did ful¬ll ii.
The dif¬culty arises against the background of Chapter 6. There I argued
that Kant needs to acknowledge that even with the best intentions and effort
an agent might not only fail to apply the Categorical Imperative correctly
but might even embrace a rival as the supreme principle of morality. Take
someone who has done the latter, Stram the utilitarian from section 6.6.
For the Categorical Imperative to be a viable candidate for the supreme
principle of morality, it must be at least possible that Stram ought always to
abide by it, even though he often fails to do so. Yet, and here the dif¬culty
emerges, it seems that Kant must deny this. Kant embraces as an axiom that
ought implies can. According to him, I believe, this axiom entails that if an
agent is obligated to conform to a principle, then he must have an incentive
to conform to it. If an agent does not have an incentive to conform to
a principle, then she will not be able to do so, since for Kant all action
requires an incentive (Rel 35, English ed. 30).
However, it appears that at some points Stram might not have an incentive
to conform to the Categorical Imperative. He has done his best to determine
what his duty is, yet has adopted a principle that in particular cases in his
life clashes with the Categorical Imperative. In accordance with a Kantian
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 163

theory of agency, let us suppose that Stram always has an incentive to do
what he takes to be morally required. (Of course, his having an incentive to
do something does not, on this Kantian theory, entail that he will do it. For
no incentive can determine an agent™s will unless he has incorporated it into
his maxim. And instead of the moral incentive, he might choose to incorpo-
rate into his maxim some inclination.) Even if we suppose that Stram always
has this incentive, he would, it seems, sometimes fail to have an incentive to
do what the Categorical Imperative requires, since doing what this imper-
ative requires would sometimes amount to doing just the opposite of what
he thinks he is morally obligated to do. For example, he takes himself to
be required to lie in certain circumstances, but the Categorical Imperative
entails that he has a duty not to lie in these circumstances. If we want to
maintain that Stram nevertheless ought to (has a duty to) abide by the Cate-
gorical Imperative, then we must deny Kant™s notion that ought implies can.
In light of Chapter 6, it seems that for Kant maintaining that the Categorical
Imperative is absolutely necessary would require him to abandon a notion
he holds near and dear. What might make matters seem even worse is that,
on my reading, Kant appeals to this very notion in his defense of criterion
vii (see section 5.7).
In response, I do not see any great harm in Kant™s abandoning the notion
that if an agent has a moral duty to do something, he must have an incentive
to do it. First, it does not strike me as implausible to maintain the following.
A morally re¬‚ective agent who, since he did not believe it to be his duty
to do something, did not have an incentive to do it nevertheless morally
ought to have done it. (It might, however, be implausible to blame the
person for failing to do what he ought to have done.) Second, though it is
true that one argument for criterion vii appeals to the “ought implies can”
notion in question, Kant has another argument at his disposal that does not
(see section 5.7).1 Third, Kant™s moving away from the notion in question
would actually be a far less radical departure for him than it might seem. In
Chapter 6, we came across the following passage:
[W]hile I can indeed be mistaken at times in my objective judgment as to whether
something is a duty or not, I cannot be mistaken in my subjective judgment as to
whether I have submitted it to my practical reason (here in its role as judge) for
such a judgment. . . .[I]f someone is aware that he has acted in accordance with his
conscience, then as far as guilt or innocence is concerned nothing more can be
required of him. It is incumbent on him only to enlighten his understanding in the
matter of what is or is not duty. (MS 401)

Here Kant seems to acknowledge that without being led astray by her in-
clinations, an agent can make an error in determining whether she has a
duty to do something. But in order for the notion of her making such a mis-
take to make sense, there must be a correct answer to the question of what
her duties are. It must be possible that though an agent does not believe
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
164

she has a duty to do something, she actually does. Let us suppose that the
following is such a case. An agent is convinced that being truthful to the
police and telling them the whereabouts of an innocent person they intend
to jail is morally forbidden, when it is actually morally required. Kant must
admit that the agent might not have an incentive to abide by what is morally
required, that is, to abide by her duty. After all, why should she have one?
She thinks that in this case being truthful to the police is morally forbidden.
If Kant here invoked the notion that an agent does not have a duty to do
something unless she has an incentive to do it, he would have to conclude
that, actually, the agent does not have a duty to be truthful to the police. But
this would contradict the assumption with which we began, namely that, as
a matter of fact, she does have such a duty. In short, it would be dif¬cult for
Kant to cling to the notion that if an agent has a duty to do something, he
must have an incentive to do it, all the while acknowledging, as he seems
to in the Metaphysics of Morals, that an agent can be mistaken about what
her duties really are. It appears that in making this acknowledgment, Kant
himself is, at least implicitly, moving away from the view that ought implies
can (interpreted in the particular way in question).
At any rate, returning to the essential point at hand, the Formula of
Universal Law and the Formula of Humanity remain as viable candidates
for principles that ful¬ll criteria i“iii. However, the last criterion in Kant™s
basic concept of the supreme principle of morality, iv, poses a problem. For a
principle to be in Kant™s sense the supreme norm for the moral evaluation of
action, every action™s moral permissibility, moral requiredness, and moral
worth must be de¬ned in terms of it. It is possible to de¬ne the moral
permissibility or moral requiredness of any action ultimately in terms of the
Formula of Humanity or the Formula of Universal Law. To focus on the
former, if in performing an action an agent treats humanity in herself and
others as an end, the action is morally permissible. If in refraining from
performing an available action the agent would not be treating humanity
in herself and others as an end, then the action is morally required. There
seem to be no actions the moral permissibility or requiredness of which
could not be “covered” by either one of these principles, although it might
not be a simple matter to determine how the action is covered “ that is,
whether it is permissible or required.
But what about moral worth? Granted, there is nothing within either
principle itself that would preclude our de¬ning moral worth with refer-
ence to it. We might, for example, hold that a necessary condition for an
action™s having moral worth is that it not con¬‚ict with what the Formula of
Universal Law requires. In effect, this seems to be Kant™s own position. If the
argument of Chapter 6 has been successful, however, we can see that this is
a problematic view for Kant to hold. He needs to acknowledge that some
actions not in accordance with this formula, namely those done from duty,
have moral worth. In my view, neither the Formula of Universal Law nor the
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 165

Formula of Humanity, nor, for that matter any other principle, is suited to
be the (sole) principle in reference to which all morally valuable action is
de¬ned. In acting from duty (and thereby ful¬lling the four Kantian condi-
tions on such action speci¬ed in section 6.9), agents can be acting on various
different principles, ones that clash with Kant™s as well as with one another.
Nevertheless, all of these actions have moral worth, or so Kant should grant.
If this is correct, then Kant must either conclude that neither of his own
candidates for the supreme principle of morality satis¬es his basic concept
of this principle, or alter his basic concept. The latter course clearly seems
preferable. From now on, we will understand Kant to hold that the supreme
principle of morality must be the supreme norm for the evaluation of the
moral permissibility and requiredness of an action, but not of its moral value.
Kant™s Formula of Universal Law and Formula of Humanity remain viable
candidates for principles that satisfy criterion iv understood in this way.
Of course, we are in no position to contend that Kant™s formulas actu-
ally do meet his basic concept of the supreme principle of morality. For we
have not shown (nor will we show) that either one is binding on all rational
agents. However, we can see that Kant™s formulas remain as viable candi-
dates for principles that realize this basic concept (if we modify the concept
slightly).


8.3 Two Formulas and Further Criteria
Do Kant™s formulas also stand as ones that we can reasonably maintain might
ful¬ll the other four criteria he develops?
According to criteria v and vi, the supreme principle of morality must
be such that each case of willing from duty to conform to it has moral
worth “ worth that does not stem from the willing™s results. The Formula
of Universal Law stands as a viable candidate for ful¬lling these criteria,
since its defender can coherently claim that each case of willing from duty
to conform to it has moral worth, regardless of its results. For the defender
of this formula obviously need not identify the good with anything external
to willing, such as the general happiness, and thus need not hold the value
of willing to depend on anything external, such as its effects on the general
happiness. In Chapter 6 I defended the claim that all acting from duty has
moral worth “ worth that does not stem from the willing™s effects. So in my
view, Kant™s Formula of Universal Law actually does ful¬ll criteria v and vi.
Whether the Formula of Humanity stands as a viable candidate for ful¬ll-
ing (let alone ful¬lls) v and vi might seem to be more questionable. Recall
that this formula reads: “So act that you treat humanity, whether in your
own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end,
never merely as a means” (GMS 429, emphasis omitted). As we will discuss,
an advocate of this principle holds rational nature to be unconditionally
and incomparably valuable. He judges the moral permissibility of an agent™s
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
166

action in terms of whether she treats rational nature as such. One might
think that he is thereby committed to denying v and vi. After all, would he
not be required to acknowledge that some actions from duty would fail to
have moral worth, speci¬cally those that had the effect of harming rational
nature?
I do not see why the advocate of the Formula of Humanity would be
required to acknowledge this. I have defended the view that every case of
acting from duty has moral worth. If an agent™s (in itself suf¬cient) incentive
for acting stems from the notion that the Formula of Humanity requires
the action (and she meets the other requirements for acting from duty
discussed in section 6.9), her action has moral worth. That worth is not at
all a function of her action™s results or even of its actually conforming to
what the Formula of Humanity requires. There is nothing incoherent in
holding this and, at the same time, holding humanity to be unconditionally
and incomparably valuable. That one takes humanity to be unconditionally
and incomparably good does not rationally compel him to take it to be
the only thing that is unconditionally good. An advocate of the Formula of
Humanity can consistently maintain, in accordance with criteria v and vi,
that every case of willing, from duty, to conform to this principle has moral
worth, regardless of what results from it.
(In fairness to [potential] opponents of Kant, I should remark that a par-
allel point could be made with regard to maintaining everyone™s happiness
to be unconditionally valuable. In Chapter 7 we discussed the 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. Now suppose
that an advocate of U™ holds everyone™s happiness to be unconditionally
valuable. That he holds this does not itself entail that he must hold it to be
the only thing that is unconditionally valuable. Without contradiction, he
can also claim that acting from duty is unconditionally valuable. It is possible
that an advocate of U™ could coherently maintain, in accordance with v and
vi, that every case of willing, from duty, to conform to U™ has moral worth,
regardless of what results from it. What I tried to show in section 7.4 is that
a typical advocate of U™ cannot coherently maintain this; for a typical advo-
cate embraces Outcome Utilitarianism, the view [roughly] that goodness is
solely a function of well being.)
According to criterion vii, the supreme principle of morality must be such
that an agent™s representing it as a law provides him with suf¬cient incentive
to conform to it. Should the Formula of Universal Law and the Formula
of Humanity be disquali¬ed based on an inability to ful¬ll this criterion?
Opponents of Kant (e.g., Humeans) would be quick to suggest that no
principle could ful¬ll it, since the criterion itself rests on a mistaken theory
of agency. Sensuously based desire is a necessary ingredient in any incentive
for action, the opponents might say. And your representing a principle as
a law is not itself going to generate any desire to conform to the principle.
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 167

In this book, however, we have in effect assumed that the Kantian view of
agency is the correct one. This assumption would be question-begging if it
had been employed to eliminate non-Kantian candidates for the supreme
principle of morality. Yet it has not been used in this way. Not one rival
candidate has been dismissed on the basis of its failure to meet this criterion.
Actually, I have argued against Kant™s claim that all rival principles must be
understood to be material, and thus unable to ful¬ll (vii) (see section 7.2).
Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether Kant™s candidates could
ful¬ll this criterion. Assuming that sensuously based desire is not a necessary
ingredient in all incentives for action, I ¬nd no good reason to suppose that
Kant™s principles could not do so.2
The ¬nal criterion for the supreme principle of morality might pose
the greatest dif¬culty for Kant™s candidates. According to criterion viii, the
supreme principle must be such that, if it were binding on us, a plausi-
ble set of duties would stem from it, where “plausible” means in accord with
re¬‚ective moral common sense. Unless Kant™s formulas meet this criterion,
we must eliminate them as candidates for the supreme principle of moral-
ity. Much of the rest of the chapter is devoted to the question of whether
they do.


8.4 Two Formulas and Ordinary Moral Consciousness
A couple of observations will be helpful before we examine whether the
Formula of Universal Law and the Formula of Humanity would generate
prescriptions in accord with re¬‚ective moral common sense.
First, the project of examining whether these formulas ful¬ll criterion
viii faces a dif¬culty from the start. Contrary to what Kant implies, ordinary
moral thinking is not of a piece. Sincere, re¬‚ective people disagree about
what a person morally ought to do “ for example, when a gravely ill person™s
committing suicide would end her suffering and diminish that of her family.
My criticism of Kant™s notion that all actions from duty conform to it turns
on there being such disagreement. However, there seems to be widespread
agreement on some issues. The commonsense view, for example, seems to
be that making a false promise from the motive of ¬nancial gain is morally
wrong “ we have a duty to refrain from doing so. It is when a principle would,
if valid, fail to generate duties of this sort, ones that ordinary rational moral
cognition seems clearly to endorse, that we should reject the principle, or
at least that is how I interpret criterion viii.
Second, thorough assessment of whether Kant™s formulas would gener-
ate duties that accord with re¬‚ective moral common sense would require
thorough examination of precisely how best to interpret the formulas. The
latter task alone might call for a book-length treatment. For as anyone who
has taught the Groundwork is all too aware, Kant himself suggests various
different readings of these formulas, especially of the Formula of Universal
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
168

Law. In offering a brief assessment of the formulas, which does not aim to
be de¬nitive, I often rely on the interpretive work of others.


8.5 Formula of Universal Law: Practical Contradiction Interpretation
Does the Formula of Universal Law generate prescriptions acceptable to
common sense? To begin, let us suppose, as Kant quite reasonably does,
that according to common sense an agent ought not to make false promises
for his own ¬nancial gain; it is morally impermissible to do so. Since Kant
holds that all acting is acting on a maxim, if the Formula of Universal Law is
to yield results consistent with common sense, a maxim of false promising for
one™s own ¬nancial gain must fail the test contained in this formula. Kant,
of course, holds that such a maxim does fail, and thus that we have a duty
not to act on it (GMS 422).3 Philosophers have offered various accounts of
precisely how the maxim fails the test, but I explore only two of them here.
(As I indicated earlier, I simply assume that each of these two accounts is
permitted by Kant™s texts.)
According to Korsgaard, on the most philosophically plausible reading,
an agent cannot act on the sort of false promising maxim in question and
at the same time will that it become a universal law because doing so would
generate a “practical contradiction.”4 To see how it would, we need ¬rst to
note that, as Kant indicates (GMS 422), the maxim of the action would be
something like FPM, “From self-love, when I believe myself to be in need of
money I shall borrow money on a promise to repay it, even though I know
that this will never happen.” How would we describe a world in which this
maxim would be a universal law, that is, the maxim™s “universalization”? On
the interpretation Korsgaard advocates, the Practical Contradiction Inter-
pretation, we would say that in this world the following obtains: from self
love, when anyone believes himself to be in need of money, he tries to borrow
money on a promise to repay it, even though he knows that this will never
happen.5 What would be contradictory in the agent™s acting on FPM and,
at the same time, willing the world in question? Imagine that she is doing
this. First, since she is acting on FPM, the agent is trying, through the means
of making a false promise, to attain her end of getting money. Second, in
willing the world of FPM™s universalization, she is willing a world in which
taking these means will not enable her to attain her end. For if each person
in ¬nancial need tries to get money on a promise of repayment (and, if she
succeeds, does not in fact repay), then potential lenders will not lend money
simply on a promise to repay. It will not be possible using a promise alone “
in contrast, for example, to some kind of written contract “ for a person
in ¬nancial need to get money.6 So the agent is trying through a particular
means to attain an end and at the same time willing a situation in which
it is impossible through this means to attain the end. In effect, the agent
is willing that he be thwarted in attaining the end he is pursuing. Therein
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 169

lies a practical contradiction.7 Therefore, insofar as he is rational, an agent
cannot act on FPM and at the same time will that it become a universal law.
Kant holds that in acting on FPM an agent would be violating the For-
mula of Universal Law and that, therefore, we have a duty not to act on
this maxim. The Practical Contradiction Interpretation offers a way of un-
derstanding how, precisely, acting on FPM would violate this formula. In
short, the maxim would fail because the agent™s attaining the end it speci-
¬es (getting money) through the means it speci¬es (making a false promise)
depends on most agents™ not taking this means to the end.8 The maxim™s
effectiveness would be a function of its being exceptional. The Practical
Contradiction Interpretation allows us to see that as far as a maxim such
as FPM is concerned, the Formula of Universal Law generates results that
cohere with ordinary moral thinking.
This interpretation, however, also generates results that clash with ordi-
nary moral thinking. Following Barbara Herman, suppose that an agent acts
on the maxim: “From self-love, I will shop in this year™s after-Christmas dis-
counts for next year™s Christmas presents in order to save money.”9 If every-
one acted on this maxim (i.e., if it were universalized), then after-Christmas
discounts would disappear “ they would be too damaging to pre-Christmas
income. In willing the world of his universalized maxim, the agent would be
willing a world in which it would not be possible to save money by means of
shopping in this year™s after-Christmas discounts for next year™s Christmas
presents. It would be irrational for the agent to will this world and at the
same time act on his maxim of saving money through taking this very means.
For in willing this world, he would be willing to be thwarted in his pursuit of
his end. If the maxim of false promising generates a practical contradiction,
then so does this maxim of economical shopping. The effectiveness of acting
on either of them is a function of its being exceptional that people do so. Al-
though common sense would condemn as morally impermissible acting on
the maxim of false promising, it would not condemn as such acting on the
maxim of economical shopping. There just does not seem to be anything
morally wrong with taking advantage of after-Christmas sales in a way that is
effective only against the background of others not trying to take advantage
of them in this way. If the Formula of Universal Law says otherwise, then so
much the worse for it “ in particular for its prospects of ful¬lling criterion
viii for the supreme principle of morality.
The discussion of maxims in section 1.3 laid the groundwork for a possi-
ble reply to this objection. On the view I adopted, the maxim of an agent™s
action is the most general rule of the proper form on which he acts. If this
view is correct, it seems unlikely that the agent™s rule of economical shopping
really counts as his maxim; for this rule seems too speci¬c. Is it not likely that
the rule is ancillary to (i.e., serves as a means of executing) a maxim such
as “From self-love, I will shop at sales in order to save money”? If so, then
(arguably) no practical contradiction is generated by the agent™s acting on
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
170

his maxim and at the same time willing that it become a universal law. In
willing the universalization of his maxim, the agent would not (arguably)
be preventing himself from attaining his end through the means speci¬ed
in his maxim.
Is this response effective? In acting on the very speci¬c rule of shopping
at this year™s after-Christmas sales for next year™s gifts, the agent might not
actually be implementing a more general rule, which would count as her
maxim. The very speci¬c rule might just be her maxim.10 It would be strange
if it were since it is hard to see how someone would think to adopt the rule
if not in the context of carrying out some general policy of trying to save
money in her shopping. But the strange is far from the impossible. If this
very speci¬c rule were her maxim, it would, I think, be contrary to ordinary
moral consciousness to claim it to be morally impermissible for the agent
to act on it. Yet that is what a defender of the Formula of Universal Law
would have to do, at least on the interpretation of it that we have been
employing.
Moreover, not all rules that, contrary to ordinary moral reason, fail the
Formula of Universal Law test on this interpretation are so speci¬c that we
would question them as examples of maxims. Suppose that Jack, the son
of dock workers, acts on the following rule: “In order to earn a comfort-
able living, I will become a professor, rather than do physical labor.” (For
Jack making a comfortable living amounts to making enough to have his
own house, car, computer, and so forth.) There would be nothing odd if,
in Jack™s case, this rule were not ancillary to a more general one. Let us,
then, assume that the rule is his maxim.11 On the Practical Contradiction
Interpretation of the Formula of Universal Law, this maxim turns out to
be morally impermissible. In willing a world in which everyone acted on
his maxim, Jack would be willing the ineffectiveness of the means he takes
(becoming a professor) to his end (earning a comfortable living). For in
this world the institutional framework for salaried professors would, in all
likelihood, not be in place. Universities do not function without support
from people who earn a living through physical labor.12 Some maxims “
for example, Jack™s as well as the false-promising maxim (FPM) “ specify a
means that is effective for attaining their end only in a context in which it
is exceptional for agents to take this means to the end. These maxims take
advantage of predictable regularities in agents™ behavior. On the Practical
Contradiction Interpretation, the Formula of Universal Law condemns as
morally impermissible all acting on such maxims. But this condemnation
clashes with commonsense morality, according to which acting on some of
these maxims (e.g., Jack™s) is not contrary to duty.
Of course, the Practical Contradiction Interpretation is not the only
reading of how Kant envisages (or might envisage) that a maxim of false
promising would fail the Formula of Universal Law test. Perhaps there is an
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 171

alternative reading according to which FPM would fail, but other maxims,
ones such as Jack™s which we take to be morally permissible, would pass.


8.6 Formula of Universal Law: Universal Availability Interpretation
Thomas Pogge has presented an alternative that might seem to secure these
results.13 The main feature that distinguishes Pogge™s reading from the one
we have already considered is its account of how a maxim is to be univer-
salized. On the Practical Contradiction Interpretation, imagining a maxim
to be a universal law amounts to imagining a world just like ours except
that everyone has actually adopted the maxim (and acts on it when occa-
sions arise). On Pogge™s reading, imagining a maxim to be a universal law
amounts to imagining a world just like ours except that everyone believes
himself to be permitted (i.e., “morally” free) to adopt the maxim, and those
who are inclined to adopt it do so (and act on it when occasions arise).14 In
light of this difference between the Practical Contradiction Interpretation

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