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her own, someone else™s acting on it would be morally permissible as well.
And the notion that RU entails the Categorical Imperative has little, if any,
more plausibility than the notion that the two principles are equivalent.
Kant gives us no reason to think that someone who embraced RU would
be rationally compelled also to endorse the Categorical Imperative. Once
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
10

again, it turns out that Kant™s argument suffers from a glaring gap. Whether
the practically uninformative principle is RU or L, Kant cannot legitimately
move directly from it to the Categorical Imperative.


i.5 Terminological and Thematic Clari¬cations
This book explores responses to the common view, just elaborated, that Kant
fails miserably at defending a foundational claim in this ethics, namely the
claim that if there is a supreme principle of morality, then it is the Categorical
Imperative.
Before sketching the book™s structure, I need to make a few clari¬cations,
some terminological, some thematic. I have used the term “the Categorical
Imperative” to refer to the principle Kant states at Groundwork 421 (cited
in i.4) and variant expressions of this principle, such as the one he gives at
Groundwork 402 (also cited in i.4). Kant himself refers to this principle as the
“categorical imperative,” without capitalization (GMS 421). I have adopted
the capitalization in order to emphasize that the term “categorical impera-
tive” need not be used to refer to the particular principle Kant sets forth at
Groundwork 421. In another, broader, Kantian usage, the term “categorical
imperative” refers to any principle that is absolutely necessary and binding
on all rational agents.27 A categorical imperative in this sense is a “practical
law” (GMS 420, 425, 428, 432; KpV 41). A burden of Kant™s discussion in
Groundwork I“II is to show that if there is a categorical imperative (that is
also the supreme, practical norm for the moral assessment of action), then it
is the Categorical Imperative. For the sake of clarity, I sometimes substitute
the term “Formula of Universal Law” for the “Categorical Imperative.”
In Groundwork II, Kant tells us that he has represented the supreme prin-
ciple of morality in “three ways” (GMS 436). He has represented it in the
Formula of Universal Law, as well as in two other formulas. These other two
are often referred to in the Kant literature as the Formula of Humanity and
the Formula of the Kingdom of Ends. The Formula of Humanity is this: “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). The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends seems
to run as follows: “[A]ll maxims from one™s own lawgiving are to harmo-
nize with a possible kingdom of ends as with a kingdom of nature” (GMS
436).28 According to Kant, these “three ways of representing the principle
of morality are at bottom only so many formulas of the very same law, and
any one of them of itself unites the other two in it” (GMS 436). So it seems
that for Kant these three formulas are, in a practical sense, equivalent “ for
example, any action that is morally impermissible according to one is also
morally impermissible according to each of the others.
In this book I discuss only the Formula of Universal Law and the Formula
of Humanity, leaving aside the Formula of the Kingdom of Ends.29 I focus
Introduction 11

on the ¬rst two formulas because they are the most familiar and, I think,
the most forceful Kantian candidates for the supreme principle of moral-
ity. Kant™s claim that all three are formulas of the “very same law” appears
to imply that the Formula of Universal Law and the Formula of Humanity
generate the same results regarding the moral status of actions.30 I do not
believe that they do, but an account of why will have to wait until Chapter 8.
Since I hold that the Formula of Universal Law (the Categorical Impera-
tive) and the Formula of Humanity differ in their implications regarding
the moral status of actions, I view them ultimately as competitors (albeit from
the same stable) for status as the only viable candidate for the supreme prin-
ciple of morality. This book considers derivations of two different Kantian
candidates for the supreme principle of morality: the Formula of Universal
Law and the Formula of Humanity.


i.6 Outline of the Book
Let me now explain brie¬‚y how the book unfolds and what it aims to show.
According to a traditional and widely accepted reading, there is a conspic-
uous gap in Kant™s Groundwork derivation of the Formula of Universal Law.
The book is composed of two main parts. In the ¬rst, I criticize contem-
porary responses to the traditional interpretation; in the second, I con-
struct a response of my own “ a response that leads to a new approach to
Kant™s derivations of both the Formula of Universal Law and the Formula
of Humanity.
If one accepts the traditional view that Kant™s Groundwork derivation of
the Formula of Universal Law plainly fails, it makes sense to look outside the
Groundwork for a derivation of this principle. Henry Allison does just this.
Appealing to the Critique of Practical Reason, Allison constructs an argument
(available to Kant if not explicitly made by him) that, in Allison™s view, estab-
lishes that if there is a supreme principle of morality, then it is the Formula
of Universal Law. According to Allison, this argument succeeds whereas that
of the Groundwork fails, since, unlike the latter, it relies on the assumption
that rational agents have what Kant calls “transcendental freedom” “ that
is, “independence from everything empirical and so from nature generally”
(KpV 97). I maintain in Chapter 2 that even if we accept Allison™s use of
the controversial notion of transcendental freedom, this derivation fails.
In short, Allison claims that as transcendentally free, rational agents, we
require a nonsensuously based justi¬cation of our maxims. Moreover, this
justi¬cation must be the maxims™ conformity to some practical law. But, con-
cludes Allison, this law could only be the Formula of Universal Law. I argue
that Allison does not successfully eliminate the possibility that conformity
to some different law justi¬es our maxims.
Of course, the Formula of Universal Law is not the only principle Kant
advocates. Among the others we ¬nd the Formula of Humanity, a principle
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
12

that many consider to be the most attractive Kantian candidate for the
supreme principle of morality. Does Kant establish that if there is such a
principle, then it is the Formula of Humanity? Chapter 3 focuses on this
question. There are two key steps in this derivation, which Kant undertakes
in Groundwork II. First, Kant claims that if there is a supreme principle of
morality (and thus a categorical imperative), then there is an objective end:
something that is unconditionally good. Second, he claims that this uncon-
ditionally good thing must be humanity. (If Kant proves these claims, he
shows that if there is a supreme principle of morality, then humanity is un-
conditionally good. But if humanity is unconditionally good, Kant can go
on to argue, then we are rationally compelled to do what the Formula of
Humanity commands, that is, always to treat it as an end in itself.) Recently
Christine Korsgaard has offered an in¬‚uential reconstruction of Kant™s de-
fense of these two key steps, especially the second. I contend that despite
Korsgaard™s efforts, the defense of neither step is adequate. Kant falls far
short of establishing that if there is a supreme principle of morality, then it
is the Formula of Humanity.
Given the inadequacy of both Kant™s Groundwork derivation of the For-
mula of Humanity and his second Critique derivation of the Formula of
Universal Law (as reconstructed by Allison), the prospects for establishing
that only a Kantian principle could be the supreme principle of morality
seem very grim indeed. The second part of the book aims to show that we
can make more progress toward establishing this than one might think.
Chapter 4 challenges the traditional reading of Kant™s Groundwork deriva-
tion of the Formula of Universal Law, the reading according to which the
derivation contains an unwarranted jump from a practically empty princi-
ple to this formula. The chapter introduces a new, criterial reading of the
derivation, according to which it has three main steps. First, Kant develops
criteria that any viable candidate for the supreme principle of morality must
ful¬ll. These criteria include, but are not limited to, those that belong to
his basic concept of this principle. Second, Kant tries to establish that no
possible rival to the Formula of Universal Law ful¬lls all of these criteria.
Finally, Kant attempts to demonstrate that the Formula of Universal Law
remains as a viable candidate for a principle that ful¬lls all of them. With
these three steps, Kant strives to prove that if there is a supreme principle
of morality, then it is this formula. Defending a rejection of the traditional
interpretation of this derivation in favor of the criterial reading obviously
requires considerable textual analysis. Much of Chapter 4 focuses on dif-
¬cult passages in the Groundwork, including the ones cited in i.4. I aim to
show that the text of Kant™s derivation (in both Groundwork I and II) permits
the criterial reading. At the end of Chapter 4, I offer a preliminary list of
criteria, in addition to the ones contained in his basic concept, that Kant
develops for the supreme principle of morality.
Chapter 5 focuses on this list of four criteria. How are we to interpret
the criteria, and how does Kant defend them? The criterion that demands
Introduction 13

most of our attention can be stated thus: the supreme principle of morality
must be such that all and only actions conforming to this principle because
the principle requires it “ that is, all and only actions done from duty “
have moral worth. An advocate of a particular principle as the only viable
candidate for the supreme principle of morality must, according to Kant,
be able (rationally speaking) to maintain that an agent™s action has moral
worth if and only if she does it from duty, that is, because this principle
requires it. Chapter 5 probes both the meaning of this criterion and Kant™s
arguments for it.
It is one thing to understand this criterion and Kant™s defense of it; it
is quite another to embrace the criterion. Chapter 6 poses the question of
whether we should do so. I argue that we should accept one part of the crite-
rion (modi¬ed slightly) but reject another part. We should accept the idea
that the supreme principle of morality must be such that all instances of
willing to conform to it because the principle requires it have moral worth;
but we should reject the notion that the supreme principle must be such
that only instances of willing to conform to it because the principle requires
it have moral worth. An advocate of a certain candidate for the supreme
principle of morality, say the Formula of Universal Law, must acknowledge
that an agent™s action can have moral worth even if she does not do it be-
cause this principle requires it. Indeed, I argue that Kantian considerations
rationally compel the advocate to acknowledge that actions forbidden by the
Formula of Universal Law can have moral worth.
By the end of Chapter 6 we will have a complete list of Kant™s criteria
for the supreme principle of morality. In addition to the four that belong
to Kant™s basic concept of this principle, there are four others, modi¬ed in
accord with the argument of the chapter. According to these, 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 princi-
ple as a law, that is, as a universally and unconditionally binding principle,
provides him with suf¬cient incentive to conform to it; and, ¬nally, (viii) a
plausible set of duties (relative to ordinary rational moral cognition) can be
derived from the principle.
The ¬rst step of Kant™s derivation is to establish criteria for the supreme
principle of morality; the second is to show that no possible rival to the For-
mula of Universal Law ful¬lls all of them. Chapter 7 focuses on this second
step. In the ¬rst instance, the criterial reading I defend is a reading of Kant™s
derivation of the Formula of Universal Law. It is, however, open to Kant to
employ the same steps in deriving the Formula of Humanity. In any case, the
chapter tries to show that with the help of some of these criteria “ ones the
plausibility of which I defend “ Kant can eliminate key competitors to both
of these principles. For example, relying on criteria v and vi, Kant is able
to construct a kind of argument, which I call a “valuational argument,” that
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
14

succeeds in eliminating many consequentialist candidates for the supreme
principle of morality, including a utilitarian principle such as: “Always per-
form a right action: one that yields just as great a sum total of well-being
as would any alternative action available to you.” However, the valuational
type of argument does not apply to nonconsequentialist principles, such
as this detheologized imperative based on the Ten Commandments: “You
ought to honor your father and mother; you ought not to kill; you ought
not to commit adultery; you ought not to steal; you ought not to bear false
witness; you ought not to covet anything that is your neighbor™s.” But, as
Chapter 7 also tries to show, Kant is not without effective recourse against
such principles.
To complete the second step of his derivation of the Formula of Universal
Law, Kant must demonstrate that no possible rival to this principle ful¬lls
all of the criteria he develops. He must eliminate not just a few familiar
rivals but all possible principles other than the Formula of Universal Law
as contenders for the supreme principle of morality. Yet, from the outset,
it is hard to see how Kant could eliminate all possible contenders, if only
because it is unclear how he could prove that he had even taken all of them
into account. In my view, Kant does not prove this. I do not claim that Kant
successfully dismisses all rivals to the Formula of Universal Law (or that
he could successfully dismiss all rivals to the Formula of Humanity). I do,
however, defend the view that he presents compelling arguments against
some main rivals, including many consequentialist principles.
On the criterial reading, the third step of Kant™s derivation of the Formula
of Universal Law is to show that, unlike its rivals, this principle remains as
a viable candidate for one that ful¬lls the whole set of criteria Kant has
developed for the supreme principle of morality. (Showing that this formula
actually does ful¬ll the whole set of criteria would involve giving a deduction
of it. One of the criteria, one that belongs to Kant™s basic concept, is that
the supreme principle of morality be binding on all rational agents. No
derivation could show even that the Formula of Universal Law is binding
on all human rational agents, that is, that all of us are genuinely obligated
to conform to it. A deduction, not a derivation, of the Formula of Universal
Law would be needed for this.) In Chapter 8 I argue that the Formula of
Universal Law stands as a viable candidate for ful¬lling Kant™s basic concept
of the supreme principle, if we are willing to modify this concept slightly
to accommodate my criticisms in Chapter 6 of how Kant views the relations
between the supreme principle of morality and moral worth. The Formula
of Universal Law is also not disquali¬ed by three of Kant™s further criteria.
However, a serious problem arises regarding the fourth additional criterion,
namely the one according to which the supreme principle of morality must
be such that a plausible set of duties (relative to ordinary rational knowledge
of morals) can be derived from the principle. The Formula of Universal Law
is dif¬cult to interpret; there is much debate about how, precisely, to apply it
Introduction 15

in determining whether acting on a particular maxim is morally permissible.
So the question remains: which duties stem from it? I do not offer anything
approaching a thorough discussion of this question. But I try to show that on
some leading interpretations of the Formula of Universal Law, this principle
fails to generate moral prescriptions that square with common sense.
As I mentioned earlier, the criterial reading applies in the ¬rst instance
to Kant™s Groundwork derivation of the Formula of Universal Law. Yet there
seems to be no reason why Kant could not take the same steps in a deriva-
tion of the Formula of Humanity that, according to this reading, he goes
through in his derivation of the Formula of Universal Law. (If, as I hold, the
two formulas are not equivalent, then a successful derivation of the latter
would actually preclude a successful derivation of the former.) I argue in
Chapter 8 that, like the Formula of Universal Law, the Formula of Human-
ity remains as a viable candidate for a principle that satis¬es Kant™s basic
concept of the supreme principle of morality (if we modify this concept
slightly), as well as three of the four further criteria Kant develops. But does
the Formula of Humanity generate a plausible set of moral prescriptions?
This question is dif¬cult, since the Formula of Humanity itself poses inter-
pretive challenges. Without pretending to give a full treatment of the issue,
I argue that the Formula of Humanity holds more promise on this score
than does the Formula of Universal Law, although it too has some troubling
aspects.
This is where the book ends. It begins in Chapter 1 with a brief examina-
tion (too brief, I am afraid, to be entirely satisfactory) of some basic concepts
in Kant™s theory of agency. We have already invoked the notions of a maxim,
the will, acting from inclination, and so forth. We need to clarify them in
order to proceed without confusion.
As is already apparent, the book focuses mainly on arguments Kant makes
in the Groundwork and the second Critique, since these are the works in
which Kant is concerned with deriving the supreme principle of morality.
Of course, I invoke discussions in Kant™s other works in ethics, for example,
the Metaphysics of Morals. However, the book does not in any way aim to give
a comprehensive account of Kant™s ethical doctrine.
In sum, the book sets out a new reading of Kant™s Groundwork derivation
of the Formula of Universal Law. It tries to show that this argument is philo-
sophically far richer than the traditional interpretation suggests. No, Kant
does not succeed in proving his strikingly ambitious claim that if there is a
supreme principle of morality, then it is the Formula of Universal Law. But
he does offer some strong reasons for rejecting rivals to this principle. What
is more, Kant™s derivation of the Formula of Universal Law opens the door
to a heretofore unexplored way of defending the Formula of Humanity, a
principle that many of us ¬nd especially attractive as a candidate for the
supreme principle of morality.
1

Fundamental Concepts in Kant™s Theory of Agency




1.1 Aims and Limits of the Discussion
Kant peppers each of his major works in practical philosophy with comments
pertaining to what it means for us, rational agents, to act. Philosophers
disagree on how best to interpret these comments, which are often dif¬cult
and sometimes obscure.1 I offer some readings here that, I believe, cohere
with Kant™s texts, but they are surely not the only defensible readings. My
aim in this chapter is to set out a plausible interpretation of (part of ) Kant™s
theory of agency, an interpretation that will be useful as a reference point
in discussions to come. Important issues regarding Kant™s theory of agency,
such as whether Kant does or should conceive of acting on a maxim on the
model of Aristotle™s practical syllogism, are not addressed here. A thorough
reading of Kant™s theory of agency, let alone a defense of it, would require
a book in itself.
The chapter is divided into two main parts. The ¬rst focuses on a few
key concepts in Kant™s theory. In 1.2“3, I offer an account of Kant™s notion
of a maxim; then I turn very brie¬‚y to Kant™s conceptions of the will (1.4)
and of the will™s “determining grounds” (1.5). The second main part of the
chapter concerns Kant™s account of actions not done from duty, that is, ones
done on “material practical principles” (1.6“8). Understanding this account
requires some painstaking textual analysis. I explain in section 1.6 why, in
light of the main aims of this book, it is important to grasp Kant™s account
of actions not done from duty.


1.2 Maxims: A Basic Account
Let us begin, then, with the concept of a maxim. Kant tells us that a maxim
is a subjective principle of acting (GMS 421, note).2 By following R¨ diger
u
Bittner and considering the sense in which a maxim is a subjective principle
and that in which it is a principle of acting, we can develop a basic account
16
Kant™s Theory of Agency 17

of maxims.3 Having an example of a maxim at hand helps us to do so.
Suppose that Mary has adopted the maxim M: From self-love, I will shorten
my life when its longer duration threatens more troubles than it promises
agreeableness.4 A maxim is subjective in three respects. First, if there is a
maxim, then there is a subject “ that is, an agent “ who holds it. A maxim
is always some agent™s rule. If neither Mary nor anyone else held M, then
it would not be a maxim.5 Second, an agent chooses his own maxims. Kant
calls maxims “rules imposed upon oneself” (GMS 438). At any time he is
free to discard the maxims he presently holds and to adopt new ones. Mary
may have held M for the past thirty years, but it is up to her whether she
will hold it even for the next thirty seconds. Third, an agent™s maxim is
a subjective principle in that it applies only to her own action (KpV 19).
Mary™s maxim expresses what she requires herself to do if continuing to live
threatens more evil than satisfaction for her. It does not tell anyone else
what he is required to do in these circumstances.
Maxims are not just subjective principles; they are subjective principles
of acting. Agents act on (nach) maxims. This means that maxims play a role
in the generation of their actions. An agent does not merely apply a maxim
in hindsight to his action after it has occurred. If Mary has acted on M by
taking poison, then M, or, more likely, a less precise representation of it,
has contributed to the generation of her action. Of course, that someone
has adopted a maxim “ that is, given herself the requirement of acting in
a certain way under certain circumstances “ does not entail that she will
act on it. The occasion for acting on it may simply never arise. Mary may
never come to believe that her life™s continuing threatens more troubles
than agreeableness. Even if the occasion for acting on a maxim does arise, an
agent is free not to act on it. She may just choose not to abide by the principle
of action that she has given herself. Although faced with the prospect of a
miserable old age, Mary might obey the Categorical Imperative and refrain
from acting on M, that is, refrain from killing herself.6
Philosophers typically hold that for Kant, all acting is acting on a maxim.7
It is not hard to defend this interpretation. According to Kant, all of an
agent™s actions are either morally permissible or morally impermissible.8
The Categorical Imperative “ “Act only on that maxim through which you
can at the same time will that it become a universal law” (GMS 421, emphasis
omitted) “ gives us a procedure for determining whether an action per-
formed on a maxim is morally permissible. A person™s action is morally per-
missible only if she can will the maxim on which she performs it to become a
universal law. If she cannot do so, then the action is morally impermissi-
ble. The principle does not give us a procedure for determining whether
an action performed on no maxim is morally permissible. Kant, of course,
takes the Categorical Imperative to be the supreme principle of morality. He
suggests that it is the canon of the moral estimation of our action as a whole
(GMS 424). If there were questions of moral permissibility to which the test
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
18

embodied in the Categorical Imperative could give no answer, then Kant™s
claim that this imperative is the supreme principle of morality would be hol-
low. With these considerations in mind, it is easy to show that, for Kant, all
acting is acting on a maxim. Suppose that agents could perform actions with-
out doing so on any maxim. The Categorical Imperative procedure would
then yield no answer to the question of their moral permissibility, and the
Categorical Imperative would thus not be the supreme principle of morality.
Since Kant af¬rms it to be the supreme principle of morality, he must hold
that agents perform each and every one of their actions on a maxim.
Kant™s own examples of maxims illustrate that, at a minimum, they are
rules that specify a type of action to be performed in a type of situation,
for example, “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” (GMS 422). When fully speci¬ed, however, it seems that a maxim
also includes a description of the agent™s end in doing what she does. In the
Groundwork and in the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant suggests that all maxims
contain a (description of ) an end (GMS 436, MS 395).9 The end implied in
the maxim of false promising is presumably that of getting money. Moreover,
some of the maxims Kant discusses contain descriptions of an incentive,
for example, the maxim on which Mary™s maxim is based: “From self-love, I
make it my principle to shorten my life when its longer duration threatens
more troubles than it promises agreeableness” (GMS 422, emphasis added).
Here the agent™s end, that is, the state of affairs he would aim to realize if he
acted on the maxim, remains implicit, although it is obviously something like
that of being free from that suffering which is not outweighed by happiness.
The agent™s incentive “ that which would motivate him to act if he acted on
the maxim “ is explicit; it is “self-love.”10
The notion that when fully spelled out, maxims contain descriptions of
an agent™s incentive for acting gains support from Kant™s well-known claim
in the Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone that the “freedom of the will
[Willk¨ r] is of a wholly unique nature in that an incentive can determine the
u
will to an action only so far as the individual has incorporated it into his maxim”
(Rel 23“24, English ed. 19). Later, in connection with Henry Allison™s at-
tempt to ¬ll the (apparent) gap in the Groundwork derivation, we discuss
this claim in detail. For now, note that, in Kant™s view, we have freedom of
the will. Moreover, if our will is determined to an action, some incentive
constitutes a basis for this determination.11 All of our actions are such that

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