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and Pogge™s reading, I call the latter the Universal Availability Interpreta-
tion. According to the Universal Availability Interpretation of the Formula
of Universal Law, an agent is to ask herself whether she can act on a maxim
and at the same time will (in short) that everyone hold the maxim to be
available, in the sense of morally acceptable.
The Universal Availability Interpretation saves the Formula of Universal
Law from yielding the result so unwelcome to common sense that it is morally
impermissible to act on the maxim of earning a comfortable living by be-
coming a professor or that of economizing by shopping at this year™s sales for
next year™s gifts. For purposes of illustration, I will just consider once again
the former maxim, held by Jack: “In order to earn a comfortable living, I
will become a professor, rather than do physical labor.” Jack could act on
this maxim and at the same time will that everyone feel (morally) free to act
on it. In willing a world in which everyone did feel this way, Jack would not
be rendering ineffective the means speci¬ed in his maxim for attaining his
end of earning a comfortable living. If the moral availability of this maxim
resulted in a mass rush to graduate school of those aiming at a comfortable
living, then he would be thwarting this means. But surely such a rush would
not occur. For it is not any moral qualms about Jack™s maxim that stand in
the way of masses of people adopting it but rather things like inclinations to
take different means “ for example, ones that require less time in the library
or laboratory “ to the end of earning a comfortable living. The Universal
Availability Interpretation has the advantage over the Practical Contradic-
tion Interpretation of allowing the Formula of Universal Law to grant the
moral permissibility of some maxims that, though they depend for their
effectiveness on being exceptional, are not condemned by ordinary moral
reason.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
172

Perhaps, however, this advantage comes at too high a price. For it is
questionable whether, on the Universal Availability Interpretation, false-
promising maxims turn out to be morally impermissible.
Pogge suggests that his interpretation does generate the desired results
regarding such maxims. The example of a false-promising maxim Pogge
considers is a bit more general than the one we have thus far discussed;
it is “When in need, I will make deceitful promises so as to alleviate my
dif¬culties.”15 On his reading, in the world of the universalized maxim ev-
eryone would feel (morally) free, when in need, to make deceitful promises
so as to alleviate his dif¬culties.16 According to Pogge, the false-promising
maxim would be “pointless” in this world; for acting on it would not alleviate
one™s dif¬culties.17 That it would be pointless, he continues, “leads to the
rejection of that maxim, because . . . its universal availability would block the
agent™s attainment of the material end of his conduct under the maxim.
And with the objective out of reach, the agent cannot will the maxim: If it
cannot satisfy his interest in its material end, the agent loses his only possi-
ble (heteronomous) motive for adopting it.”18 If his acting on a maxim is to
pass the Formula of Universal Law test, an agent must (rationally speaking)
be able to act on it in the world in which the maxim has been universalized,
suggests Pogge. But in the world of the universalized false-promising maxim,
the agent could not act on his maxim. For, as the agent would realize, act-
ing on it would do nothing to enable him to secure his end of getting out
of dif¬culties. Therefore, the agent (insofar as he was rational) would ¬nd
himself with no motive to adopt his maxim. In this sense, he could not act
on it. So the false-promising maxim turns out to be morally impermissible.
On the Universal Availability Interpretation, the maxim™s turning out
this way depends on its being the case that in a world where everyone felt
(morally) free to act on the maxim, it would be “pointless” for a particular
individual to act on it. But is this really the case? According to Pogge, “people
in need would (be known to) have no reason not to make deceitful promises”
and “potential promisees would (be known to) have good reason to reject
promises made by persons in need.”19 I think the ¬rst point is questionable.
Granted, in the world in which everyone feels morally free to act on the
maxim of false promising, people in need would (be known to) have no
moral reason not to make deceitful promises. However, this does not entail
that they would (be known to) have no reason at all not to make such
promises. For there are prudential reasons not to make deceitful promises,
even when one is in dif¬culties. For example, an agent might judge that
the sanctions he would incur if it were to become known that he made a
deceitful promise would be worse than his present dif¬culties and that the
chances of its becoming known are great enough to render it not worth
the risk for him to make the deceitful promise. The penalties in question
might range from prison time if, for example, the deceitful promise was
that his home remedy would cure cancer, to an inability without collateral
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 173

ever to again obtain money from his family if, for example, the deceitful
promise was that he would pay back a loan from his uncle. (The notion that,
if found out, the agent would incur these penalties is compatible with no
one™s holding it to be morally wrong to make deceitful promises in order
to alleviate one™s dif¬culties. Members of the agent™s family, for example,
might refuse to lend him any more money [in the absence of collateral]
not at all on the basis that his behavior was morally bankrupt but simply
because they do not want to lose any more money.) Contrary to Pogge™s
¬rst point, in the world of the universalized maxim, people in need would
sometimes have reason to refrain from making deceitful promises; it would
be prudential rather than moral reason.
If the ¬rst point is questionable, then so is the second. In the world of the
universalized maxim, would potential promisees always (or even the great
majority of the time) have good reason to reject promises made by persons
in need? Let™s say that in the imagined world someone asks you to loan him
money on the basis of a promise that he will pay it back. You would have good
reason to reject his proposal if you (reasonably) believed that, in his view,
his breaking the promise would not result in any signi¬cant penalty for him.
(You might reasonably believe this if he is a stranger who probably does not
think he will ever see you again). But you would have good reason to accept
it if you (reasonably) thought that in his view his breaking the promise would
hurt him a great deal. (You might reasonably believe this if he were a young
business associate who depended on you for his climb up the corporate
latter.) In the imagined world, it is not clear that in acting on the maxim of
deceitful promising, an agent would be employing an obviously ineffective
means to an end. Whether he would be depends (among other things) on
others™ perceptions of his prudential reasons for keeping his promise. In short,
it seems that sometimes an agent acting on the deceitful-promising maxim
could attain his end of alleviating his dif¬culties in a world in which everyone
felt morally free to act on this very maxim. So it is questionable whether on
the Universal Availability Interpretation the false-promising maxim actually
turns out to be morally impermissible.
There is another problem with the Universal Availability Interpretation.
Ordinary moral reason would, I venture, condemn as contrary to duty acting
on the maxim “If anyone commits adultery with my spouse, I will kill the
person in order to get revenge.” On the reading in question, however, the
Formula of Universal Law would not. An agent (insofar as she was rational)
could act on this maxim in a world in which everyone felt morally permitted
to do so as well. In this imagined world, perhaps those who did commit
adultery would take greater precautions than they do now to avoid contact
with the betrayed husband or wife. But that would not, for example, preclude
an agent in the imagined world from attaining her goal of getting revenge
through killing the woman who seduced her spouse; it would just make the
killing more dif¬cult.20 Perhaps it is partly because (on his interpretation)
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
174

the Formula of Universal Law licenses such maxims that Pogge does not
believe that on its own it constitutes a viable candidate for the supreme
principle of morality.21
In sum, on neither the Universal Availability Interpretation nor the Prac-
tical Contradiction Interpretation would the Formula of Universal Law, if it
were binding on us, generate duties that cohere with the dictates of ordi-
nary moral thinking. On the former interpretation, it would turn out that,
contrary to ordinary conviction, we have no duty to refrain from acting on
(certain) maxims of false promising and violence. On the latter, it would
turn out that, contrary to ordinary conviction, we have a duty to refrain
from acting on (certain) maxims of taking advantage of predictable regu-
larities in others™ behavior, maxims such as that of earning a comfortable
living by becoming a professor rather than by doing physical labor. At least
on two readings, the Formula of Universal Law does not ful¬ll criterion viii
for the supreme principle of morality.
It would, of course, be unwarranted to take this to show that the Formula
of Universal Law fails to ful¬ll criterion viii. Our discussion has not been
thorough enough to establish this conclusion. However, I do think that it
helps to con¬rm a suspicion expressed recently by several Kantians that
despite some ingenious efforts, no one has been able to make this formula
work.22 Perhaps someone will, but as Herman says, “past experience suggests
a permanent ¬x-it situation: the correction of one dif¬culty or apparent
oversight creates space for new problems to emerge.”23


8.7 Fundamentals of the Formula of Humanity
The prospects for the Formula of Universal Law™s generating a set of duties
acceptable to ordinary moral reason do not appear to be good. Are the
prospects for the Formula of Humanity any better? Kant himself seems to
favor the Formula of Humanity as a basis on which to derive duties. For
in the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant relies (at least implicitly) on this formula
to derive the vast majority of the ethical duties he sets out.24 But given
Kant™s suggestion that the two formulas are equivalent (GMS 436), perhaps
he favors the Formula of Humanity simply because in his view it is less
cumbersome to work with than the other formula. At any rate, I do not offer
anything approaching an exhaustive treatment of the issue of whether the
Formula of Humanity would generate a plausible set of duties relative to
ordinary moral thinking. However, I do hope to say enough to suggest that,
although the Formula of Humanity holds signi¬cant promise, defenders of
it must confront some troubling issues.
Before we can discuss the question of which duties would stem from this
formula (if it was valid), we need to understand the terms it employs. Unfor-
tunately, like the Formula of Universal Law, it is not easy to interpret. The
Formula of Humanity commands: “So act that you treat humanity, whether
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 175

in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time
as an end, never merely as a means.” An agent™s acting so that she treats
humanity (in herself or any other) as an end is a necessary and suf¬cient
condition for her conforming to the formula. It is a necessary condition
since the formula commands that an agent so act that she always treat hu-
manity as an end. It is a suf¬cient condition since even if the agent acts so
that she treats humanity in herself or another as a means, as long as she at
the same time acts so that she treats it as an end, she has conformed to the
formula.25 So, at bottom, the Formula of Humanity amounts to a command
so to act that we always treat humanity as an end.26 “Humanity,” let us recall,
does not refer to the class of human beings but rather to a set of capacities:
the capacities to set oneself ends and to adopt and act on rules, including
rules of prudence (hypothetical imperatives) and rules of morality (categor-
ical imperatives), often in pursuit of these ends. Would duties acceptable to
ordinary moral reason stem from the command always to treat humanity so
understood as an end?
An initial step toward answering this question is to examine the sense of
“end” or, equivalently, “end in itself” at work in the Formula of Humanity.27
Kant holds that humanity exists as an end in itself. But what does it mean for
humanity to exist in this way? First, as we know from our discussion of Kant™s
derivation of this formula, an end in itself is something that has absolute or
unconditional worth (GMS 428). It would be judged by an impartial rational
spectator to be good in every possible context, even in ones in which it
brought about undesired results. For Kant that an end in itself has absolute
worth implies that all rational agents must (are rationally compelled to)
value it and to act in ways that express their valuing it, regardless of whether
they are inclined to do so (section 3.2).
Second, to say that humanity exists as an end in itself is to say that it
has dignity (GMS 435; MS 434“435, 462). To have dignity, Kant suggests, is
to have “unconditional and incomparable worth” (GMS 436). We have just
noted what it means to have the ¬rst aspect of dignity, namely unconditional
worth. Kant explains the second aspect of dignity, namely incomparable
worth, by contrasting it with price: “What has a price can be replaced by
something else as its equivalent ; what on the other hand is raised above all
price and therefore admits of no equivalent has a dignity” (GMS 434; see
also MS 462). The value of something with dignity, then, is incomparable in
the sense that it has no equivalent for which it can be exchanged. As Thomas
Hill has argued, that it is seems to have two implications.28 First (and quite
clearly), something with dignity can never be legitimately sacri¬ced for or
replaced by something with price. Not even all the gold in Fort Knox would
compensate for the killing of one rational agent. Second (and not quite so
clearly), something with dignity cannot even be legitimately sacri¬ced for
or replaced by something else with dignity. Beings with dignity, says Kant,
admit of “no equivalent.” If, therefore, it is ever legitimate to kill one being
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
176

with dignity, thereby saving several other such beings, it will not, it seems, be
because it is legitimate to make an exchange of the (lesser) value inherent
in the former with the (greater) value inherent in the latter. An end in itself
(and thus humanity) has dignity in that it has an unconditional value that
admits of no equivalent, not in terms of price, nor, it appears, even in terms
of other beings with dignity.
We have found that to say that humanity is an end in itself is to imply that it
is something that has an absolute and incomparable worth. But presumably
if Kant calls humanity an end in itself, then in some sense he thinks of it
as an end. In what sense, precisely? This question is puzzling if one takes
as a point of departure Kant™s de¬nition of an end in the Metaphysics of
Morals. “An end,” he says, “is an object of the will [Willk¨ r] (of a rational
u
being), through the representation of which the will is determined to an
action to bring this object about” (MS 381; see also MS 384“385). In other
words, an end is a state of affairs or event such that an agent, through her
idea of it, is determined to will to realize it. An agent might, for example,
have as an end to maintain his weight under two hundred pounds for the
next six months or to win a tennis tournament. An end on this account is
a goal, aim, or target “ an object to be produced.29 Yet Kant suggests that
humanity is not an “end to be effected,” but rather an “independently existing
[selbstst¨ ndiger] end” (GMS 437; see also MS 442). So in calling humanity an
a
end in itself, he must have a broader notion of an end in view. Indeed, in the
Groundwork, immediately before his derivation of the Formula of Humanity,
Kant says that “an end is what serves the will as the objective ground of its
self-determination” (GMS 427). An end is an objective ground of an agent™s
determining his will to an action. An end is a ground in that it is a reason
that an agent has (or at least ought to have) for acting; an end is an objective
ground in that it is an object such that, through representing it to himself, the
agent gives himself (or at least ought to give himself) a reason for acting.30
On this broader conception, ends are not limited to objects to be produced.
They include any object the idea of which does (or ought to) give an agent
a reason to act in a certain way. Someone™s aim or goal of winning a tennis
tournament might count as such an object, but so might an existent object
such as her humanity. And Kant, of course, thinks that humanity, wherever
and whenever it manifests itself, counts as an end in this broad sense. It does
so by virtue of its being absolutely and incomparably valuable.
For Kant humanity exists as an end in itself, an unconditionally and in-
comparably valuable object the idea of which gives (or at least ought to give)
all rational agents a reason for acting. What does it mean to act so that one
always treats humanity as an end in itself, as the Formula of Humanity com-
mands? Presumably one acts so that one treats humanity as an end in itself
just in case what one wills to do is consistent with holding humanity to be
of absolute and incomparable value. In the Groundwork, Kant calls rational
nature (i.e., humanity) an “object of respect.” In the Metaphysics of Morals,
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 177

he suggests that any being with humanity must not only respect himself
but “exacts respect for himself from all other rational beings in the world”
(MS 435; see also MS 462). These comments suggest that an agent™s action
is consistent with his holding humanity to be of absolute and incomparable
value only if it manifests respect for humanity. Humanity is not an end to be
effected (produced), but it is an end to be respected. However, the question
remains: which actions are consistent with an agent™s holding humanity to
be an end in itself ? Might the Formula of Humanity be more effective than
the Formula of Universal Law at generating duties acceptable to ordinary
moral reason?


8.8 Deriving Duties from the Formula of Humanity
The Formula of Humanity would (if it was binding on us) seem to be effective
at engendering certain duties we take ourselves to have (e.g., a duty not to
kill for revenge). From the Formula of Humanity (unlike from the Formula
of Universal Law) it clearly follows that one must not act on a maxim of
killing an adulterer to get revenge; for murdering an adulterer, and thus
destroying his humanity, is obviously not consistent with respecting it as
something absolutely and incomparably valuable. In general, destroying
humanity would rarely, if ever, seem to express respect for it. And that is one
reason why philosophers ¬nd puzzling Kant™s strong advocacy of capital
punishment (see, e.g., MS 334). In any case, that killing to get revenge
is morally impermissible according to the Formula of Humanity, but not
according to the Formula of Universal Law (at least on the readings of it we
have discussed), suggests that, contrary to Kant™s view, the one formula is
not equivalent to the other.
A duty of bene¬cence would also seem to follow from the Formula of
Humanity, although its derivation is not without dif¬culties. How does Kant
arrive at this duty in the Groundwork (GMS 430)?31 Humanity as Kant un-
derstands it is a set of capacities, including the capacity to set ends and
pursue them. According to Kant, one end that each of us (i.e., each human
agent) sets and pursues is that of his own happiness.32 So, in concrete terms,
valuing our humanity (as opposed to that of other rational agents, such as
angels, who might not have their own happiness as an end) involves valuing
our capacity to pursue happiness. To conform to the Formula of Humanity,
then, an agent™s actions must be consistent with his valuing this capacity.
But it seems that one does not really value a capacity unless one values its
successful exercise. We would, for example, doubt whether someone truly
valued the capacity of an acorn to grow if she denied that, other things being
equal, it would be a good thing if it matured into an oak tree. However, this
is a tricky point. It does not seem to be self-contradictory to value a capacity
but not the “successful” exercise of it. Would there be anything irrational in
valuing an acorn™s capacity to grow but remaining indifferent as to whether it
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
178

just barely sprouted out of the ground or grew into a gigantic tree? Somewhat
analogously, would there be anything irrational in valuing a person™s capacity
to pursue happiness but remaining indifferent as to whether he made little
or much progress toward it?
Supposing that we grant that there would be something irrational in this,
we see that an agent™s actions are not consistent with his valuing humans™
capacity to pursue their happiness unless they are consistent with his valuing
their actually making progress toward happiness. Now an agent™s actions
are not consistent with this if he acts toward the goal of thwarting someone
else in his pursuit of happiness, if we assume the other™s pursuit is itself
consistent with the other™s appropriately valuing humanity. So an agent must
refrain from acting toward this goal. If he thus refrains, then, in Kant™s terms,
his actions express “negative agreement” with humanity as an end in itself
(GMS 430). According to Kant, however, the Formula of Humanity also
requires “positive agreement” with humanity as an end in itself. An agent
must also promote others™ happiness. The idea here is that an agent™s actions
are not really consistent with his valuing others™ progress toward happiness
unless he aids them in making it.
Of course, this account of how a duty of bene¬cence would derive from
the Formula of Humanity leaves important questions unanswered. For ex-
ample, how robust a duty of bene¬cence would follow from the formula?
Kant suggests that the formula requires that everyone try “as far as he can,
to further the ends of others. For, the ends of a subject who is an end in
itself must as far as possible be also my ends, if that representation is to have
its full effect in me” (GMS 430). However, Kant considers bene¬cence to be
an imperfect duty; and earlier in the Groundwork he characterizes a perfect
duty as “one that admits no exception in favor of inclination,” (GMS 421,
note) apparently implying that an imperfect duty does admit of such an
exception. If we must do all we can (morally permissibly do) to further the
ends of others, how can we ever justi¬ably choose to satisfy our own inclina-
tions (e.g., by watching a movie) instead of trying to promote the welfare of
others (e.g., by working a few hours at a soup kitchen)?33
Our brief discussion of the duty of bene¬cence has illustrated that deriv-
ing duties from the Formula of Humanity is not a cut-and-dried business.
Its dif¬culties will become more evident, I think, if we take a look at Kant™s
derivation of a duty of sincerity in promising.
According to Kant, the Formula of Humanity forbids an agent from mak-
ing promises that he has no intention of trying to keep. “[H]e who has it
in mind to make a false promise to others,” says Kant, “sees at once that
he wants to make use of another human being merely as a means, without
the other at the same time containing in himself the end. For, he whom I
want to use for my purposes by such a promise cannot possibly agree to my
way of behaving toward him, and so himself contain the end of this action”
(GMS 429“430). How are we to interpret this passage? According to Allen
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 179

Wood, Kant is arguing here that making a false promise would violate the
Formula of Humanity since it would express disrespect for rational nature.
“A false promise, because its end cannot be shared by the person to whom the promise
is made, frustrates or circumvents that person™s rational agency, and thereby
shows disrespect for it.”34 Apparently, according to Wood, when Kant says
that a promisee cannot “himself contain the end” of a false promisor™s ac-
tion, he is intimating that the latter cannot share the promisor™s end. (Here
“end” refers to an end to be produced.) That interpretation seems reason-
able enough.
But what, precisely, does it mean to say that the promisee cannot share
the promisor™s end? Wood is not very helpful on this point. The end that the
promisee cannot share is apparently the false promisor™s end to deceive him
into doing something (e.g., into giving him money), rather than the end for
the sake of which the false promisor tries to deceive him into doing this thing.
For the latter end might be that of diminishing world hunger, and there
seems to be no reason why it would be impossible for the two to share that
end. Perhaps in Kant™s view the promisee cannot share the promisor™s end of
deceiving him into doing something in the sense that it would be irrational
for him to share this end. Agents presumably share an end just in case each of
them pursues the end. But, in ordinary circumstances, it would be irrational
for the promisee to pursue the end of being deceived into doing something
such as lending someone money. For this end™s being brought about would
prevent him from attaining other ends he is pursuing “ for example, that of
eventually buying himself a car.35 The notion of irrationality at work here is
familiar to us from our discussion of the Formula of Universal Law. In effect,
if the promisee shared the false promisor™s end, then the former would be
willing that he be thwarted in attaining ends he is pursuing. In a practical
sense, he would be irrational.
We might, then, take from Kant™s discussion of false promising (GMS
429“430) that if an agent™s action involves another, it expresses disrespect
for the other™s agency (and thus violates the Formula of Humanity) unless
the other can share the agent™s end. And the other can share the agent™s
end only if the other can pursue it without practical irrationality of the kind
we have just described. To put the view brie¬‚y, a necessary condition for the
moral permissibility of actions affecting others is that they be done to attain
ends that others can share.
Unfortunately, there are dif¬culties with this view. First, suppose that Pete
acts on the maxim: “In order to be the number-one ranked men™s tennis
player of the year, I will win every major tournament I enter.” At ¬rst glance,
it does not seem to be morally impermissible to act on this maxim. However,
doing so might violate the Formula of Humanity as just interpreted. Acting
on this maxim might frustrate some rival player™s rational agency, thereby
showing disrespect for it. For presumably some rival players cannot share
Pete™s end. Imagine that Pete and Andre are competing in the ¬nal of the
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
180

U.S. Open and that at stake is the number-one ranking for the year, which
each player has as his goal. In pursuing the end of Pete™s being number
one “ for example, by purposefully throwing the match “ Andre would be
willing to be thwarted in attaining his end of being number one. Andre
cannot share Pete™s end in the sense that it would be practically irrational
for him to do so. In general terms, this reading of the Formula of Humanity

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