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The supreme principle of morality 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 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. I will begin the discussion with
criterion viii and work my way to v.
Much of this chapter has been devoted to the question of whether Kant™s
candidates for the supreme principle of morality should be eliminated on
the basis of a manifest failure to ful¬ll viii. This is, I think, an important
question, since I believe that viii is a criterion that Kant is correct to em-
brace. Given that Kant bases his Groundwork I derivation on re¬‚ective moral
common sense, it would, I think, be unwarranted for him to endorse a can-
didate for the supreme principle of morality that generated prescriptions
totally unacceptable to common sense (and that thus violated viii). After all,
what grounds would Kant have for trusting ordinary moral consciousness
in its endorsement of several criteria for the supreme principle of morality,
yet ignoring its view of which duties would stem from a plausible candidate
for this principle?
Kant suggests two arguments in support of vii (see section 5.7). One
of the arguments turns on a dictum that Kant should abandon, namely
(a particular understanding of) “ought implies can” (see section 8.2). But
the other does not turn on this dictum. According to this argument, denying
vii would amount to holding that the supreme principle of morality must
be such that one™s expectation of the effects of conforming to it necessarily
constitutes (at least part of) his incentive for conforming to it. Now consider
an agent who denied vii and embraced some principle as a viable candidate
for the supreme principle of morality. He would be committed to the view
that the worth of his conforming to the principle necessarily derived (at least
in part) from its results. For if he thought that conforming to the principle
was valuable in itself, then he would not hold that he necessarily needs to
look to the action™s results to ¬nd a suf¬cient incentive to do so. But if
the agent ties inextricably the worth of his conforming to a principle to its
results, then he is rationally compelled to deny that his conforming to it
can have intrinsic worth. He is rationally compelled to deny a basic tenet of
re¬‚ective moral common sense. Therefore, he must agree that we can hold
a principle to be the supreme principle of morality only if we can maintain
that our representing it as a law governing our actions gives us a suf¬cient
incentive to conform to it.
It would be remiss not to acknowledge this argument to be controversial.
(Let me reiterate that the argument is not one Kant explicitly gives but rather
one that I believe he suggests.) One possible dif¬culty with it is the following.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
190

The argument turns on the notion that, rationally speaking, an agent cannot
hold conforming to a certain principle to be intrinsically valuable, yet at the
same time hold that she needs necessarily to rely on the prospect of the
actions™ effects in order to have suf¬cient incentive to conform to it. But
this notion is disputable. Recall the principle EU: “Always perform a right
action, one that you expect will yield as great a sum total of well-being as
would any alternative action available to you.” Suppose that according to
a particular agent, her conforming to EU because she expects that doing
so will maximize aggregate well-being is intrinsically valuable. The agent
holds further that in order to have suf¬cient incentive to conform to EU,
she not only does but must rely on the prospect of maximizing aggregate
well being.40 It is not obvious that there is anything irrational in this agent™s
views. At the very least, the argument in question would need to be bolstered
in order to deal with cases such as this. In any event, if I am correct, Kant
does not have to rely on vii in order to eliminate rivals to his candidates for
the supreme principle of morality.
But he does need to rely on criteria v and vi. It almost goes without saying
that, in my view, v and vi are very plausible criteria for the supreme principle
of morality. I have discussed them in detail. So here I would like merely
to emphasize that v represents a modification of a criterion Kant advocates
in the Groundwork. According to Kant, the supreme principle of morality
must be such that all and only actions conforming to this principle because
the principle requires it (i.e., all and only actions done from duty) have
moral worth. I have advocated two signi¬cant changes to this criterion.
First, Kant must acknowledge that some actions contrary to duty can be
from duty and can thus have moral worth (section 6.6). He needs to hold,
as criterion v contends, that the supreme principle of morality must be
such that every case of willing from duty to conform to it has moral worth.
Second, Kant offers no good reason for holding that only actions done
from duty have moral worth. He does not undermine the view that actions
done with an overriding commitment to morality but from other motives
(e.g., sympathy) have such worth (6.10). (Recall that on the account I have
sketched, an agent has an overriding commitment to morality just in case
he acts against the background of conscientious re¬‚ection, and if after such
re¬‚ection, he determines that an action is contrary to what he takes to be
morally required, he will for this reason refrain from performing it.) In my
view, Kant fails to establish that the supreme principle of morality must be
such that only instances of willing to conform to it because the principle
requires it have moral worth. Yet this failure has no signi¬cant impact on
his derivations. With the help of other criteria, especially v and vi, he can
construct powerful arguments against many rivals to his candidates for the
supreme principle of morality.
It is one thing for Kant to show that rivals founder as candidates for
the supreme principle of morality; it is quite another for him to establish
Conclusion: Kant™s Candidates 191

that his formulas remain a¬‚oat. Ful¬lling criterion viii in particular poses a
formidable challenge. I have offered reasons for thinking that the Formula
of Universal Law fails to generate prescriptions acceptable to re¬‚ective moral
common sense. And I believe it remains an open question whether the For-
mula of Humanity succeeds. It would be irresponsibly optimistic to claim
that Kant has demonstrated that if there is a supreme principle of morality,
then it is the Formula of Humanity.

A down-to-earth approach to the Kantian project in ethics emerges from
this book. To advance toward the ideal of showing that if there is a supreme
principle of morality, then it is some particular principle, it does not suf¬ce
to rely merely on abstract premises such as that we are transcendentally free
rational agents or that a categorical imperative requires an unconditionally
good “ground.” We need to enter concrete controversies regarding which
duties the principle would generate and whether these duties would be
acceptable to re¬‚ective moral common sense. In searching for the supreme
principle of morality, we need to follow the twists and turns of everyday
moral experience. There is no royal road to a successful derivation.
Notes




Introduction: Derivation, Deduction, and the Supreme Principle of Morality
1. By Kant™s “critical writings” in ethics, I mean simply the works in the ¬eld he
published after the appearance of the Critique of Pure Reason.
2. In Groundwork II, Kant says that the “the categorical imperative,” the principle
he takes to be the supreme principle of morality, is “the canon of moral appraisal
of action in general” (GMS 424). On the next page (GMS 425), Kant says: “we
have . . . set forth distinctively and as determined for every use the content of the
categorical imperative, which must contain the principle of all duty (if there is
such a thing at all).”
3. As Schopenhauer notes with irritation, Kant never seems to tire of reminding
us of this feature. See Arthur Schopenhauer, On the Basis of Morality, tr. E. F. J.
Payne (1841; Providence: Berghahn Books, 1995), 63.
4. Evidence that Kant holds this can be found in his Metaphysics of Morals discussion
of ends that are also duties (e.g., MS 386). Kant argues that an agent cannot
have an obligation to promote the end of his own happiness, since each agent
unavoidably has this end.
5. I discuss Kant™s notions of the will and its determining grounds in Chapter 1.
6. “Common rational moral cognition” or, translated slightly differently, “ordi-
nary rational knowledge of morals” is Kant™s starting point in the Groundwork.
He entitles Section I “Transition from common rational to philosophic moral
cognition” (GMS 393).
7. In the cited passage, Kant moves seemingly without argument from the no-
tion that a moral law must be absolutely necessary to the notion that it must
have wide universal validity. I think this move is problematic, as I explain in
section 2.4.
8. Allison appears to employ this usage of “derivation.” See Henry E. Allison,
Idealism and Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 143“144.
9. See Henry E. Allison, Kant™s Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1990), 214.
10. I have adapted this notion of moral particularism from O™Neill™s helpful dis-
cussion. See Onora O™Neill, Towards Justice and Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996), 11“13.

193
Notes to pp. 5“10
194

11. For some interesting arguments against moral particularism, see ibid., especially
chap. 3.
12. Rudiger Bittner, What Reason Demands (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
¨
1989), 89.
13. See also KpV 93 on this point in particular.
14. In my view, Groundwork III is one of the most enigmatic texts Kant published.
The argument is hard to follow, and philosophers differ signi¬cantly in how they
interpret it. For reconstruction and criticism of Kant™s argument (or crucial as-
pects of it), see Allison, Kant™s Theory of Freedom, 214“229; Karl Ameriks, “Kant™s
Deduction of Freedom and Morality,” Journal of the History of Philosophy 19 (1981):
45“65; R¨ udiger Bittner, “Wer frei ist, ist gebunden,” in Philosophiegeschichte und
Logische Analyse, ed. U. Meixner and A. Newen (Paderborn: Mentis, 2000), 209“
221; Dieter Henrich, “Die Deduktion des Sittengesetzes,” in Denken im Schatten
des Nihilismus, ed. Alexander Schwan (Darmstadt: Wissentschaftliche Buchge-
sellschaft, 1975), 55“112; Allen W. Wood, Kant™s Ethical Thought (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1999), 171“182.
15. For Aune™s discussion of a gap in the Groundwork II derivation, see Bruce Aune,
Kant™s Theory of Morals (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979), 42“43.
16. Ibid., 28“29.
17. Ibid., 30.
18. Ibid., 31.
19. As Aune acknowledges (29), this statement of the Categorical Imperative, which
stems from Groundwork II (GMS 421), differs a bit from the one Kant actually
offers in Groundwork I. The statement Kant gives there is this: “I ought never to
act except in such a way that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal
law.” The differences between the two statements are not important here.
20. Aune, Kant™s Theory of Morals, 30; see also 32 and 86“87.
21. Ibid., 34.
22. See, for example, Allison, Idealism and Freedom, 144, 150; David Cummiskey,
Kantian Consequentialism (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1996), 57; Thomas
E. Hill Jr., “The Rationality of Moral Conduct,” in Dignity and Practical Reason
in Kant™s Moral Theory (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992), 121“122; Allen
W. Wood, Hegel™s Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990),
164“166; and Wood, Kant™s Ethical Thought, 47“49, 81“82.
23. Wood, Kant™s Ethical Thought, 81.
24. See Allison, Idealism and Freedom, 146, for a slightly more complex version of this
principle.
25. Ibid., 145.
26. I discuss the moral impermissibility of acting on this maxim of false promising
in Chapter 8.
27. I take it that this is the sense (or at least one of the senses) in which Kant em-
ploys the notion of a categorical imperative in Groundwork II before he of¬cially
introduces “the categorical imperative.” See GMS 416. A principle that was a
categorical imperative in this sense, that is, an unconditionally and universally
binding principle, would presumably not manifest itself as an imperative to beings
incapable of violating it (e.g., God and angels).
28. In taking this to be a statement of the Formula of the Kingdom of Ends, I
am following O™Neill. See Onora O™Neill, Constructions of Reason (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1989), 127.
Notes to pp. 11“18 195

29. I will also leave aside another formula Kant introduces, namely what has been
referred to as the Formula of Autonomy: “[C]hoose only in such a way that the
maxims of your choice are also included as universal law in the same volition”
(GMS 440). See O™Neill, Constructions of Reason, 53. According to Allen Wood,
Kant presents the Formula of the Kingdom of Ends as a “more intuitive version”
of the Formula of Autonomy. See Wood, Kant™s Ethical Thought, 163“166.
30. Of course, Kant holds at the very least that both the Formula of Universal Law
and the Formula of Humanity each generate the duties (roughly) not to commit
suicide, not to make false promises, to develop one™s natural talents, and to help
others in need. See GMS 421“424, 429“430.


Chapter 1: Fundamental Concepts in Kant™s Theory of Agency
1. MS 211“213 gives one a taste of just how challenging Kant™s discussions of agency
can be.
2. “Maxime ist das subjective Prinzip zu handeln” (GMS 421, note). See also GMS
400, note.
3. The discussion of maxims in this section has been heavily in¬‚uenced by Bittner.
Bittner disagrees, however, with the view I set out that, when fully described,
maxims incorporate descriptions of an agent™s end and incentive in acting.
See Rudiger Bittner, Doing Things for Reasons (Oxford: Oxford University Press,
¨
2001), chap. 3.
4. This maxim is, of course, a slight variant of one that Kant employs in the Ground-
work. See, for example, GMS 422.
5. If nobody held M, then it would be a possible or potential maxim.
6. I am assuming here that Kant is justi¬ed in his view that acting on M is forbidden
by the Categorical Imperative. See GMS 421“422.
7. See, for example, Onora O™Neill, Constructions of Reason (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1989), 151.
8. Of course, on Kant™s view all morally obligatory actions also count as morally
permissible ones. That Kant held all of an agent™s actions to be either morally
permissible or impermissible becomes clear in the Religion. In the main text,
Kant says: “It is . . . of great consequence to ethics in general to avoid admitting,
so long as it is possible, of anything morally intermediate, whether in actions
(adiaphora) or in human characters” (Rel 22, English ed. 18). This suggests
that Kant does not want to admit there to be actions that are neither morally
permissible nor impermissible. And, as a matter of fact, central claims he makes
in the Religion (and elsewhere in his practical philosophy) prevent him from
admitting it. Kant holds that all human action is free and that free action is
action that does not result merely from natural laws (Rel. 41, English ed. 36).
But if there were human actions that were neither morally permissible nor
impermissible, claims Kant, then they would result merely from natural laws
(Rel 23, note; English ed. 18, note): they would not be free. Therefore, according
to him, there are no human actions that are neither morally permissible nor
impermissible.
9. On this point, see Nelson Potter, “Maxims in Kant™s Moral Philosophy,”
Philosophia 23 (1994): 62, 71.
10. The term “incentive” translates the German term Triebfeder. Translated literally
Triebfeder means something like “push spring.” (A Triebfeder in a clock would be
Notes to p. 19
196

the spring that makes it run.) Of course, in contemporary English “incentive”
can mean something like object to be gained, as when we say that the child™s
incentive to clean her room is a trip to the amusement park.
11. At Rel 35 (English ed. 30), Kant says that “in the absence of all incentives the
will [Willk¨ r] cannot be determined.”
u
12. For discussion of this point, see Potter, “Maxims in Kant™s Moral Philosophy,”
63.
13. Suppose that, after much re¬‚ection, an agent comes to believe that her incentive
in performing a particular action was the notion that it was morally required.
In the Groundwork, Kant claims that it is impossible for an agent to know that her
incentive in performing the action was the notion that it was morally required
(was “duty”), rather than some “covert impulse of self-love” (GMS 407). When
coupled with the reading of maxims I have suggested, this claim implies that, in
cases where it appears to an agent that she has acted from duty, the agent cannot
know which maxim she acted on. For if the maxim were fully speci¬ed, it would
include a description of her incentive. This implication would be problematic
if it turned out that in some cases, since an agent could not fully specify the
maxim of her action, she would not be able by using the Categorical Imperative
to determine whether her action was morally permissible. For if such cases
might arise, then it is hard to see how Kant could maintain as he does that the
Categorical Imperative is the canon of the moral estimation of all of our action
(GMS 423). Perhaps Kant holds that an agent is always capable of specifying
each of the elements in her maxim besides her incentive and that, through
specifying these elements, she would always get a suf¬cient grasp on her maxim
to gain a reliable indication of its moral permissibility from the Categorical
Imperative test.
14. As I indicated, the conclusion that acting on the maxim in question would be
impermissible is based on a traditional reading of the Categorical Imperative.
For a different reading of it, according to which acting on this maxim would not
turn out to be morally impermissible, see Thomas W. Pogge “The Categorical
Imperative,” in Kant™s “Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals”: Critical Essays, ed.
Paul Guyer (Lanham, Md.: Rowman & Little¬eld, 1998), 189“196. As I argue
in Chapter 8, this reading has problems of its own.
15. This account of what differentiates maxims from other rules of the same form
has been heavily in¬‚uenced by O™Neill who says: “The maxim of an act is the
principle that governs the selection of ancillary principles of action that express
or implement the maxim in a way that is adjusted to the agent™s (perceived)
circumstances.” O™Neill, Constructions of Reason, 129; see also 151“152. Another
proposal regarding what distinguishes maxims from other rules of the same
form has been made by Bittner. He suggests that maxims are “rules of life”
(Lebensregeln), whereas the others are not. (See R¨ diger Bittner, “Maximen,” in
u
Akten des 4. Internationalen Kant-Kongresses, ed. G. Funke and J. Kopper [Berlin:
De Gruyter, 1974], 489.) An agent™s maxims express the kind of life he wants
to lead, the course that he intends his life as a whole to take. If Kant did indeed
hold maxims to be Lebensregeln, it is clear that he would deny status as a maxim
to the rule “From self-love, every Monday at 3 p.m. I take live karate lessons in
order to improve my endurance and ¬‚exibility.” For surely this rule does not
express an agent™s conception of the direction he wants his life as a whole to
Notes to p. 20 197

take. Yet the more general rule of keeping oneself in shape by exercising during
one™s free time does presumably express such a conception. However, there are,
I believe, fairly good grounds for rejecting the view that for Kant all maxims are
Lebensregeln. Consider, once again, the practical rule of false promising that Kant
discusses in the Groundwork: “When I believe myself to be in need of money, I
shall borrow money and promise to repay it, even though I know that this will
never happen.” This practical rule is not a Lebensregel. Granted, if we knew that an
agent acted on it, we would have a clue as to what his Lebensregeln might be like.
We might, for example, suspect that he has adopted one akin to: “Whenever
my happiness is threatened, if need be I will lie in order to secure it.” But
the false-promising rule does not, in itself, express the direction that an agent
who acts on it wants his life as a whole to take. (Allison makes this point. See
Henry E. Allison, Kant™s Theory of Freedom [Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1990], 92“93.) Kant refers explicitly to this rule as a maxim (GMS 422).
Since it is not a Lebensregel, it appears that Kant does not think of all maxims as
Lebensregeln.
16. At KpV 32 Kant identi¬es the will (Wille) of rational beings with “the ability to
determine their causality by the representation of rules.” See also KpV 45, 55,
58“59, 125. For examples of such usage of Wille in the Groundwork, see GMS
412, 427. Laberge offers an excellent discussion of Kant™s de¬nition of the will
at GMS 412. See Pierre Laberge, “La d´ ¬nition de la volont´ comme facult´
e e e
d™agir selon la repr´ sentation des lois,” in Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten;
e
Ein kooperativer Kommentar, ed. Otfried H¨ ffe (Frankfurt am Main: Klostermann,
o
1989), 83“96.
17. In using the terms “executive Wille” and “legislative Wille,” I am following
(roughly) the suggestion of Beck. See Lewis White Beck, A Commentary on Kant™s
“Critique of Practical Reason” (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), 202.
18. For example, Greene and Hudson use this translation in their edition of the
Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone.
19. Some translators render Willk¨ r as the “[power of] choice,” thus implying that
u
when one chooses to act, one exercises Willk¨ r. (See, e.g., Gregor™s translation
u
of the Metaphysics of Morals, 650.) This rendering is potentially misleading. For
Kant, exercising Willk¨ r involves acting on choice: it involves choosing to realize
u
an object and acting in the sense of trying to realize it. Some readers (myself
included) conceive of choosing to realize an object as distinct from trying to real-
ize it: one might do the former (e.g., choose to see a certain play) without doing
the latter (e.g., making any effort to see it). That Kant takes exercising Willk¨ r to
u
involve trying to realize a chosen object is, I think, suggested in his (admittedly
dense and dif¬cult) de¬nition of Willk¨ r at MS 213. For a detailed discussion of
u
this de¬nition, see Samuel J. Kerstein, “Action, Hedonism, and Practical Law:
An Essay on Kant” (Ph.D. diss., Columbia University, 1995), 30“34. Now I have
suggested that, for our purposes, it is safe to consider exercising Willk¨ r to be
u
the same thing as exercising executive Wille (i.e., acting on self-given rules). But
one might think that it is possible for an agent to exercise Willk¨ r (i.e., to act
u
on choice), without acting on any rule. However, as we have already seen, for
Kant all of our (rational agents™) acting is acting on some rule, that is, some
maxim. Therefore, any time an agent exercises her Willk¨ r, she also exercises
u
her executive Wille.
Notes to pp. 21“25
198

20. I am not here invoking the distinction Kant draws at GMS 427 between an
incentive and a motive (Bewegungsgrund ). Kant there writes: “The subjective
ground of desire is an incentive ; the objective ground of volition is a motive ;
hence the distinction between subjective ends, which rest on incentives, and
objective ends, which depend on motives, which hold for every rational being.”
Kant himself does not appear to maintain this distinction. See, for example,
KpV 72, where he writes at length concerning the moral law as incentive.
21. Here I am following Allison. See Henry E. Allison, Idealism and Freedom
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 131. I discuss this notion fur-
ther in section 2.2.
22. See Allison, Kant™s Theory of Freedom, 204. Also see Barbara Herman, The Practice
of Moral Judgment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993), 217“218.
23. Material in sections 1.6“8 stems from Samuel J. Kerstein, “Kant™s (Not So Radi-
cal) Hedonism,” in Kant und die Berliner Auf kl¨ rung. Akten des IX. Internationalen
a
Kant-Kongresses, vol. 3, ed. V. Gerhardt, R.-P. Horstmann, and R. Schumacher
(Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 2001), 245“253.
24. See, for example, T. H. Green, Lectures on the Philosophy of Kant, in Works of Thomas
Hill Green, vol. 2, ed. R. L. Nettleship (London: Longmans, Green, 1900), 141;
Terence Irwin, “Kant™s Criticisms of Eudaemonism,” in Aristotle, Kant, and the
Stoics, ed. S. Engstrom and J. Whiting (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1997), 74; A. Phillips Grif¬ths, “Kant™s Psychological Hedonism,” Philosophy 66
(1991): 211; Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1985), 15, 64.
25. Grif¬ths, “Kant™s Psychological Hedonism,” 212.
26. See Andrews Reath, “Hedonism, Heteronomy and Kant™s Principle of Happi-
ness,” Paci¬c Philosophical Quarterly 70 (1989): 42“72. Christine Korsgaard seems
to embrace Reath™s reading. See Christine M. Korsgaard Creating the Kingdom of
Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), 56.
27. See Reath, “Hedonism, Heteronomy and Kant™s Principle of Happiness,” 46“49.
28. Perhaps Allison suggests the alternative interpretation in a discussion of Kant™s
“philanthropist” (or “friend of humanity”). See Allison, Kant™s Theory of Free-
dom, 103. Allison says: “Thus, whereas helping others in need provides [the
philanthropist] with satisfaction and he would not act in that way unless it did
so, the end he has in mind is nevertheless the improvement of the lot of oth-
ers and not the satisfaction of his own needs.” I am unsure whether Allison
is indeed urging the alternative interpretation, since the context of his re-

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