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has the following implication. Suppose an agent is pursuing an end in a
competition. If his competitor cannot, rationally speaking, both pursue the
agent™s end and strive to secure his own end, the agent™s action is morally
impermissible.
One might respond that, although this implication initially seems to dis-
credit the Formula of Humanity, re¬‚ection reveals otherwise. Granted, it
would be worrisome if the Formula of Humanity entailed that pursuing an
end in competitive sports (or some other competitive endeavor) is always
wrong. But on the reading in question, the formula does not entail this. If
Pete™s end were not to be number one but to develop his capacities as a
tennis player, then he would not be disrespecting Andre™s agency. For this
is an end that Andre can share. (Of course, if Andre perseveres in pursuing
the end of being number one, then he is presumably violating the Formula
of Humanity by disrespecting the rational agency of some other player who
himself aims to be number one.) This reply has some force. According to
re¬‚ective moral common sense, it seems, Pete and Andre would in some
sense be more virtuous if each could share the other™s end. Many of us do
¬nd the character of competitors who each have as an end to develop their
own capacities morally more attractive than ones who each have as an end
to defeat their rivals. There is something admirable in holding that, ulti-
mately, one is “competing against” oneself. However, I think that ordinary
moral reason would ¬nd unacceptably strong the judgment that it is morally
wrong to act as Andre and Pete do in the example.
There is a second dif¬culty with the view that an agent™s doing something
to another expresses disrespect for the other (thus violating the Formula of
Humanity), unless the other could, without practical irrationality, share the
agent™s end. Suppose a police of¬cer has the end of preventing race-based
attacks on law-abiding citizens. In pursuing this end, she arrests a white
supremacist, someone she believes (correctly) to be planning an attack on a
preschool frequented by Asian Americans. The dif¬culty is that in arresting
the white supremacist she might be pursuing an end that he cannot share.
Suppose, as the of¬cer is aware, his end in planning the attack was to get
revenge on a racial group that he thinks to be inferior to whites and thus
undeserving of the rights and liberties its members possess. It would be
practically irrational for him to pursue his end of revenge and at the same
time to will the of¬cer™s end of preventing race-based attacks on law-abiding
citizens. For, in willing the former, he would be thwarting his pursuit of the
latter. Therefore, the view at issue forces us to embrace the counterintuitive
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 181

conclusion that, in making the arrest, the of¬cer is expressing disrespect for
the white supremacist™s rational agency and thereby acting wrongly.
A natural reply to cases such as this is to ¬ne-tune the view in question,
perhaps by claiming the following. According to the Formula of Humanity,
a person whom an agent is treating in a certain way must be able to share
the agent™s end, unless what would prevent his sharing the end is his acting
in a morally impermissible way. On this modi¬ed view, it seems that the
of¬cer™s arresting the white supremacist would conform to the Formula of
Humanity. For what would prevent the white supremacist from sharing her
end would be his (obviously immoral) attempt to get revenge.
But what is the standard by which we are supposed to determine whether
the other is acting in a morally impermissible way? Perhaps Kant would
appeal to the Formula of Universal Law, holding that a person whom an
agent is treating in a certain way must be able to share the agent™s end,
unless what would prevent his sharing the end is his acting contrary to
the Formula of Universal Law. But this appeal would be problematic. First,
if in some cases such an appeal were necessary to make the Formula of
Humanity work, then would it really be a viable candidate for the supreme
principle of morality? The supreme principle is supposed to be such that all
moral duties are derived ultimately from it, not from it in combination with
some other moral principle. Of course, this dif¬culty would dissolve if, as
Kant suggests, the two principles were equivalent. But as we have seen, it is
very doubtful whether they are. Second, and more important, the Formula
of Universal Law does not appear to be a reliable indicator of an action™s
moral permissibility. Indeed, the formula seems particularly ineffective in
generating results that cohere with the ordinary conviction that actions such
as that of the white supremacist are wrong. A maxim of attacking a racial
minority to get revenge would seem to pass the Formula of Universal Law
test. We proposed a modi¬cation in our understanding of when someone
whom an agent treats in a certain way must (morally speaking) be able to
share the agent™s end. This modi¬cation is ineffective.
Perhaps the modi¬cation we need is not in our understanding of when
someone must be able to share an end, but in our understanding of what
it would mean to share an end. We have been employing an interpretation
according to which someone shares an agent™s end just in case he (actually)
pursues the end. But this interpretation might be misguided. After all, in
the false promising example, Kant says: “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, emphasis
added). Perhaps another™s containing the end of an agent™s action toward
him (i.e., sharing this end) amounts to the other™s being able to consent
to the agent™s pursuing his end in the way he does. (This strikes me as a
rather tenuous sense of sharing an end, but so be it.) On this reading, the
Formula of Humanity would escape the (in my view unwelcome) implication
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
182

that Pete™s action toward Andre was morally impermissible. For there is
no reason to suppose that Andre cannot consent to Pete™s pursuing the
end of being number one through beating him in the ¬nals of the U.S.
Open.
The obvious dif¬culty presented by this interpretation, however, is that of
pinpointing what it means for a person to be able to consent to being treated
in a certain way. It is clearly not the case that a necessary condition for an
agent™s being able to consent is that he would, upon re¬‚ection, consent if
given the occasion to do so. Would the white supremacist, even if queried
after calm deliberation, consent to the of¬cer™s action of trying to thwart his
plot? Being able to consent in the requisite sense to being treated in a certain
way must amount to being able, rationally speaking, to consent to it. But
what does rational consent amount to? Echoing the preceding discussion,
one might claim that a person can rationally consent to an agent™s pursuit of
his end just in case this pursuit would not in itself prevent the person from
attaining his ends. Pete™s pursuit of the number-one ranking would not itself
block Andre from gaining this ranking. Yet the of¬cer™s pursuing his aim
of preventing race-based attacks on law-abiding citizens through arresting
the white supremacist may well preclude the latter from attaining his goal of
revenge. So that strategy does not seem promising. One might instead claim
that a person can rationally consent to an agent™s pursuit of an end just in
case this pursuit is morally permissible. Once again, however, we need to
know what the standard of moral permissibility is supposed to be. If it is
the Formula of Universal Law, then familiar dif¬culties arise. First, if we
need to invoke this formula, then it is questionable whether the Formula of
Humanity is really a candidate for the supreme principle of morality. Second,
the Formula of Universal Law generates counterintuitive results. The white
supremacist™s maxim seems to pass its test, and thus we seem to arrive at the
odious conclusion that his victims can rationally consent to being attacked.
There is, I think, something philosophically attractive in the notion that
an agent does not respect another™s rational nature unless the other can
rationally consent to the way he treats him. But specifying what is meant
here by rational consent is a dif¬cult task “ one that I do not undertake
here.
In the end, perhaps we need not focus at all on some inability of the
recipient of a false promise to consent to or to share the promisor™s end to
explain why the promisor™s action violates the Formula of Humanity. Here
is a sketch of how one might proceed. To conform with this principle, the
promisor™s action must be compatible with his valuing the recipient™s hu-
manity as something absolutely and incomparably good. But in typical cases,
making a promise to another that one has no intention of keeping is not
compatible with so valuing the recipient™s humanity. To value another™s hu-
manity is to value his capacity to set and to pursue ends. But if one values his
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 183

capacity to pursue ends, then, other things being equal, one must also value
his capacity to pursue them successfully. (This move, which we discussed
brie¬‚y in connection with Kant™s derivation of a duty of bene¬cence, is ad-
mittedly controversial.) In a typical case, however, someone making a false
promise realizes that he will thwart (or at least runs a signi¬cant risk of
thwarting) the promisee in her pursuit of her ends. For example, the false
promisor would realize that, because he obtains a loan from a person on the
basis of a promise to her that he has no intention of keeping, the person will
not have that money at hand to do what she wills with it. In short, making
a false promise to someone expresses disrespect for the person™s rational
agency since it expresses indifference (or even contempt) for the agent™s
own projects.


8.9 Formula of Humanity: Further Challenges
The preceding section illustrated some of the challenges we face in de-
riving from the Formula of Humanity duties we take ourselves to have.36
Although the details need to be worked out, it seems that the formula is
capable of generating duties of bene¬cence and sincerity in promising. I
will close my brief discussion of the Formula of Humanity by pointing out
a few further hurdles defenders of it need to overcome if they are to es-
tablish that it ful¬lls Kant™s eighth criterion for the supreme principle of
morality.
First, a cluster of questions arise around Kant™s claim that humanity has
dignity and must be treated as such. As something with dignity, humanity has
incomparable worth. According to Kant, it appears, this implies that it is never
legitimate to treat humanity as a value to be exchanged for or compensated
by either anything with mere price or anything with dignity. One fails to treat
humanity as an end in itself in any situation in which one destroys the
humanity in one person on the grounds that doing so is necessary to secure
the “greater value” inherent in the humanity of two or more other persons.
But what if the number of these other persons is 10, 1,000, or even 1 million,
as it might be in some emergency? Even in extreme circumstances is it
morally impermissible to treat humanity as a value to be sacri¬ced in order
to secure more (even vastly more) of this very same value? It is not obvious
that we would morally condemn the leader of a counterterrorist force for
treating one innocent hostage held at the front of a plane as a value to
be sacri¬ced (along with the value inherent in the terrorist) in order to
preserve the greater value of the 350 remaining passengers and crew on
board. Some emergency situations threaten to bring out disagreement with
Kant™s apparent view that the value of the humanity is not only incomparable
to the value of things, but also to the value of other instances of humanity
itself.37
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
184

In my view, though admittedly not in everyone™s, it would be particularly
damaging to the Formula of Humanity if it followed from it that it would
never be permissible to kill one agent, where killing this agent would have the
effect of saving (many) others. However, that it is wrong to treat the humanity
in one individual as a value to be sacri¬ced for the sake of preserving the
“greater value” inherent in the humanity of many others does not entail that
it is morally impermissible to kill the one and thereby preserve the humanity
in the many. It simply entails that one™s grounds for killing the one cannot
be that the humanity in him does not add up to a value as great as that
of the humanity in the many others.38 But the challenge then is to locate
other grounds consistent with the Formula of Humanity™s being the supreme
principle of morality for killing in circumstances in which, according to
common sense, this is appropriate.39
Another cluster of issues that must be addressed, if we are to see that
the Formula of Humanity generates results acceptable to ordinary moral
reason, concerns the formula™s implications regarding how we must treat
existing beings who do not have humanity (e.g., animals), as well as beings
who do not yet exist but who will have humanity (future generations). This
cluster of issues concerns the scope of humanity. In the Groundwork Kant
contends that only persons, that is, beings who have humanity, are ends in
themselves, and that all other beings “have only a relative worth, as means,
and are therefore called things” (GMS 428). In the Metaphysics of Morals,
he asserts that “a human being has duties only to human beings (himself
and others), since his duty to any subject is moral constraint by that sub-
ject™s will” (MS 442). Kant goes on to make clear that the term “human
beings” here refers to “persons,” beings who have humanity, and that all
the persons of which we have experience are human beings. So, in effect,
Kant is claiming here that a person has duties only to himself and to other
persons; he has no duties to beings who do not possess the set of capaci-
ties that make up humanity. There seems to be no tension at all between
this claim and the Formula of Humanity itself. After all, this formula com-
mands us merely so to act that we treat humanity as an end in itself; it says
nothing concerning how we must act toward beings without humanity. In
light of Kant™s suggestion that beings without humanity are valuable merely
as means and that we have no duties to such beings, it might seem to fol-
low that according to the Formula of Humanity, it is morally permissible
to treat them as we will. Does the Formula of Humanity forbid, as ordinary
moral reason (arguably) does, our causing tremendous pain to animals or
to severely disabled human beings for the sake of making our lives a bit
easier?
As readers of the Metaphysics of Morals are aware, Kant argues that, al-
though we have no duty to beings without humanity, we do have duties with
regard to such beings. More precisely, we have duties to ourselves that require us
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 185

to treat these beings in certain ways. For example, Kant argues that “violent
and cruel treatment of animals” is opposed to “a human being™s duty to
himself . . . for it dulls his shared feeling of their suffering and so weakens
and gradually uproots a natural predisposition that is very serviceable to
morality in one™s relations with other people” (MS 443). Kant™s point here
seems to be that by treating animals (and presumably severely disabled hu-
man beings) violently and cruelly, we desensitize ourselves to the suffering
of persons, thus making it more dif¬cult for us to ful¬ll our duties to them.
As Kant himself suggests (MS 456“457), if we do not cultivate our capacity
to recognize suffering in persons, then we might be less effective than we
otherwise would be in ful¬lling our duty of bene¬cence toward them. To
help others effectively, we need to recognize when (and how) they need
help. Training ourselves to share in their feelings of suffering can aid us in
doing so. At any rate, Kant appears to base a prohibition on cruel treatment
of animals on an agent™s duties to other persons, so it is odd that he says it
is based on an agent™s duty to himself. Perhaps Kant has in mind that, by
diminishing an agent™s ability to ful¬ll his duty of bene¬cence, cruelty to
animals would hinder his ability to ful¬ll a duty he discusses just a few pages
later, namely his duty to himself to increase his moral perfection (MS 446).
This duty requires one to strive to ful¬ll all of his duties, including, of course,
that of bene¬cence.
Kant™s claim that an agent must not be cruel to beings devoid of humanity,
since doing so hinders her from ful¬lling duties to the humanity in herself,
may not satisfy re¬‚ective moral common sense. First, it seems to be a ques-
tionable thesis concerning human psychology that cruelty to animals (or, for
that matter, to the severely disabled) always “weakens and gradually uproots”
an agent™s ability to feel the suffering of other persons. Is the equestrian who
whips her horse in a competition necessarily diminishing her capacity to em-
pathize with her fellow persons? Second, and more important, some might
question whether the reason we should avoid treating nonpersons cruelly
is really that (or just that) we thereby make it more dif¬cult for us to ful¬ll
our duties to ourselves, rather than that (or also that) we make them suffer
unnecessarily. Unnecessary suffering, they might say, is a bad thing, whether
it be the suffering of a horse or of a man in the late stages of Alzheimer™s
disease. Kant writes that “agonizing physical experiments [on animals] for
the sake of mere speculation, when the end could also be achieved without
these, are to be abhorred” (MS 443). But are they to be abhorred, as he
suggests, simply because they diminish the experimenter™s capacity to ful¬ll
his duties to himself, or (also) because they cause needless pain to sentient
beings?
The passage in the Metaphysics of Morals we have brie¬‚y discussed raises
questions not only regarding the Formula of Humanity™s implications
concerning the treatment of existing beings devoid of humanity but also
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
186

concerning obligations we (might) take ourselves to have to future genera-
tions. Cited more fully, the passage reads:

[A] human being has duties only to human beings (himself and others), since his
duty to any subject is moral constraint by that subject™s will. Hence the constraining
(binding) subject must, ¬rst, be a person; and this person must, secondly, be given
as an object of experience, since the human being is to strive for the end of this
person™s will and this can happen only in a relation to each other of two beings that
exist (for a mere thought-entity cannot be the cause of any result in terms of ends).
(MS 442)

We might get the impression here that according to Kant an agent has duties
only to existing persons, not to any persons who will exist in the future. For
the latter beings seem merely to be “thought-entities.” This impression is
not dissipated by the Formula of Humanity itself, which seems compatible
with the view that we have no duties to future generations. For it merely
commands that we so act that we treat the humanity in ourselves and in any
other as an end in itself. But, arguably, since future generations do not yet
exist, there is no humanity in them. If Kant™s theory, speci¬cally his advocacy
of the Formula of Humanity as the supreme principle of morality, implies
that we have no duties to future generations (of persons), then it might
clash with re¬‚ective moral common sense. For many of us do hold that we
have such duties “ for example, a duty not to pollute the environment to
such an extent that our descendants (none of whom now exist) will live in
a quagmire of disease and malnutrition, and thus be unable to effectively
pursue their happiness.
A ¬rst step toward meeting this challenge, which seems to pose fewer
dif¬culties than Kant™s views toward animals, the severely disabled, and so
forth, might be to examine the dialectical context in which Kant™s remarks
occur. Kant™s suggestion that persons do not have duties to mere “thought-
entities” appears merely to be a premise in an argument he aims against
the notion that we have duties to God. Shortly after making this suggestion,
Kant claims that “we do not have before us, in [the idea of God], a given
being to whom we would be under obligation; for in that case its reality
would ¬rst have to be shown (disclosed) through experience” (MS 444).
We can have obligations only to beings belonging to a kind which is such
that we can experience its members™ reality, Kant seems to be arguing. God
is not such a being; therefore we cannot have obligations to God. Whatever
the merits of this argument, it might be compatible with the notion that we
have duties to future generations. For the future generations in question
do belong to a kind, that of persons, which is such that we can experience
its members™ reality; we experience the reality of persons every day. The
Formula of Humanity commands that we treat the humanity in ourselves and
in others as an end in itself. I see no reason why a defender of the Formula
of Humanity could not suggest that the scope of “others” include the future
generations of persons whom we can reasonably be assumed to affect.
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 187

In sum, to ful¬ll Kant™s eighth criterion, a candidate for the supreme
principle of morality must generate moral prescriptions that square with
those uncontroversially embraced by re¬‚ective moral common sense. The
Formula of Humanity faces some dif¬culties on this score. But the prospects
for it seem much brighter than those for the Formula of Universal Law.


8.10 Where We End Up
The argument of this book has taken shape against the background of the
traditional reading of Kant™s Groundwork derivation of the Formula of Uni-
versal Law. Kant™s derivation fails miserably, according to this reading, since
it involves a leap from a practically uninformative principle to the Formula
of Universal Law. Kant is left with embarrassingly inadequate support for
one of the foundational claims in his ethics. I have argued that we respond ef-
fectively to the traditional reading neither by appealing to the second Critique
derivation of the Formula of Universal Law, as reconstructed by Allison,
nor by focusing solely on Kant™s derivation of the Formula of Humanity,
as reconstructed by Korsgaard. Both of these reconstructed derivations suf-
fer from fundamental ¬‚aws. We should instead challenge the traditional
interpretation itself.
The central thesis of the book can be crystallized into a few sentences:
There is a textually plausible reading of Kant™s Groundwork derivation of
the Formula of Universal Law, namely the criterial reading, that shows this
argument to be far more philosophically engaging and forceful than does
the traditional reading. With the help of this argument, Kant makes a con-
vincing case against some key rivals to the Formula of Universal Law (e.g.,
some consequentialist principles). Even though in the end the Formula of
Universal Law has serious and probably fatal shortcomings as a candidate
for the supreme principle of morality, an argument of the sort Kant employs
in deriving it (a criterial argument) holds substantial promise as a way of
defending his Formula of Humanity “ a principle that many philosophers,
including me, ¬nd especially attractive.
Kant™s criteria for the supreme principle of morality have been at the
core of the discussion. By appealing to them Kant shows several rivals to his
formulas not to be viable candidates for status as the supreme principle. So it
might be helpful to summarize some main ¬ndings regarding Kant™s criteria.
Four of them belong to Kant™s basic concept of the supreme principle
of morality. According to this concept, the supreme principle of morality
must be (i) practical, (ii) absolutely necessary, (iii) binding on all rational
agents, and (iv) the supreme norm for the moral evaluation of action. These
criteria, which are all at least implicit in the Groundwork Preface, have not
received nearly as much attention as the ones Kant develops in the course of
Groundwork I. That is because the focus of the book has been the claim 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.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
188

Although I do not pretend to have defended criteria i and ii here, I agree
with Kant that according to re¬‚ective moral common sense, the supreme
principle of morality would have to be both practical and absolutely nec-
essary. It would have to be something on account of which agents might
actually act “ not, for example, merely a theoretical tool to be used by ex-
perts to determine the rightness of actions after they occur. It would also
have to be a principle that each agent ought to obey no matter what she
desired.
However, I have made a couple of critical points in connection with the
criteria implicit in Kant™s basic concept of the supreme principle of moral-
ity. First, and very brie¬‚y, Kant implies that if we embrace criterion ii, then
we must embrace criterion iii. In other words, if we agree that the supreme
principle of morality must be absolutely necessary “ that is, unconditionally
binding on the agents within its scope “ then we are compelled to agree that
the principle must have a scope that extends to all rational agents, including
any nonhuman ones such as angels. Apparently, Kant believes this point to
be obvious. In section 2.4 (in connection with Henry Allison™s reconstruc-
tion of Kant™s second Critique derivation of the Formula of Universal Law)
I protested that it is not. Kant owes us an explanation of why a principle
could not be unconditionally binding on all human rational agents “ that is,
one that each of us ought to obey no matter what her inclinations might be,
yet not binding on some other type of rational agent, for example, a type
that is necessarily incapable of conforming to it. I do not have any particular
reason for rejecting iii; it is just that, contrary to Kant, I do not believe that
it follows quickly and easily from ii.
More important, I have argued that unless Kant modi¬es criterion iv,
his own candidates for the supreme principle of morality face elimination
on the grounds that they manifestly fail to meet it (section 8.2). At least
in the Groundwork, Kant suggests that a principle is the supreme norm for
the moral evaluation of action only if just those actions done in accordance
with the principle can have moral worth. But as I have contended, Kant is
rationally compelled to hold that actions done in accordance with an in-
de¬nite number of different principles can have moral worth, as long as
the actions are done from duty. (An agent acts from duty just in case her
[in itself suf¬cient] incentive for acting stems from the notion that a prin-
ciple, represented by her as a law, requires the action; she acts against the
background of conscientious re¬‚ection; and she does her best to realize
her action™s end.) Kant needs to modify criterion iv so that it demands that
the supreme principle of morality be such that actions™ moral permissibility
and requiredness, but not their moral worth, be de¬ned in terms of this
principle.
Let me now turn to the criteria for the supreme principle of morality that
go beyond those contained in Kant™s basic concept of this principle. Since
the end of Chapter 6, we have been operating with four further criteria.
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 189

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