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we have some incentive for performing them. (The typical sneeze or slip on
a banana peel does not count as an action in the relevant sense.) Therefore,
Kant™s claim in the Religion implies that whenever we act, we do so on some
maxim that, if fully speci¬ed, would include a description of our incentive
for acting.12 A fully expressed maxim would include not only a description
of a kind of action to be performed in a kind of situation, but also a spec-
i¬cation of the agent™s end and of his incentive in performing it. A fully
Kant™s Theory of Agency 19

expressed maxim would take the form of a rule that includes each of these
elements. Of course, when we act, we might not have each of these elements
in mind.13

1.3 Maxims and Other Rules of the Same Form
Before ending our discussion of maxims, we need to address one more issue,
namely that of how to distinguish them from other rules of the same form.
This issue is important. Suppose that someone in taking a karate lesson acts
on the rule: “From self-love, every Monday at 3 p.m. I take live karate lessons
in order to improve my endurance and ¬‚exibility.” It seems reasonable to
assume that, at the same time, she might also be acting on a different, more
general rule: “From self-love, during my free time I exercise in order to stay
in shape.” If we took both rules to be maxims on which the agent acted,
then Kant would face a serious problem. At least on one common reading,
acting on the ¬rst rule would violate the Formula of Universal Law, whereas
acting on the second would not. I take it to be obvious that acting on the rule
of exercising during one™s free time is in accordance with this formula. But
consider the rule of taking karate lessons with a live instructor on Monday at
3:00 p.m. Not every agent could take live karate lessons Monday at 3:00 p.m.
An agent cannot take a live lesson without a live instructor. But if all agents
were taking live karate lessons Monday at 3:00, then there would be no
instructor available to give lessons at this time. Given that not every agent
could take live karate lessons every Monday at 3:00 p.m., it is not possible (as
a rational being) to will that it become a universal law that every agent does
so.14 If both rules count as maxims, then it seems that our agent™s action of
taking a karate lesson is morally impermissible. For she is acting on a maxim
such that she cannot, at the same time, will that it become a universal law.
To avoid the dif¬culty suggested by this example, we must have a means of
deciding which of the rules an agent acts on counts as the maxim of his
Unfortunately, Kant does not explain how to do this. The best way in
my view is to specify that the maxim of an agent™s action is the fundamental
rule, of the form required of a maxim, on which he acts.15 (Recall that, at
least implicitly, a maxim must have the form of a subjective rule according
to which, from a speci¬ed incentive, an action is to be taken in designated
circumstances in order to realize some end.) More speci¬cally, a practical
rule Q of the requisite form has status as the fundamental rule of this form
on which an agent performs an action when it ful¬lls either one of the
following two conditions: Q is the only such practical rule on which he
performs the action; or Q is not the only such rule on which the agent
performs the action but is rather the most general rule of this form on
which he does so. If Q ful¬lls this second condition, it governs the agent™s
selection of a more speci¬c rule of the same form, that is, a rule ancillary to
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality

Q, through which rule he implements Q ( performs an action). The practical
rule “From self-love, every Monday at 3:00 p.m. I take live karate lessons in
order to improve my endurance and ¬‚exibility” is an example of one that
might be ancillary to the maxim “From self-love, whenever I have free time,
I exercise in order to stay in shape.” An agent who adopted the latter might
take up the former as a rule for implementing it. She would presumably do
so because, as it happens, she has Monday afternoons free, wants to improve
her endurance and ¬‚exibility, and judges that training in a martial art would
be a good way of doing so. Given her circumstances, she would choose to
act on her maxim by acting on this more speci¬c rule. Of course, another
agent who had adopted this maxim might choose a different rule through
which to act on it.
In sum, a maxim is a subjective principle of acting. It is a subjective prin-
ciple in that it is held by some agent, it can be freely adopted or discarded by
her, and it applies only to her own actions. An agent™s maxims are principles
of acting in that they play a role in the generation of her actions. When
fully expressed, a maxim includes a description of a kind of action to be
performed in a kind of situation, as well as a speci¬cation of the agent™s end
and incentive in performing it. Not all rules of this form count as maxims,
however. An agent™s maxim is the fundamental rule of this form on which
she acts. This reading of Kant™s views regarding maxims is by no means thor-
ough (or thoroughly defended), but it will, I hope, serve to ¬x ideas for
discussions to come.

1.4 The Will
Another key concept in Kant™s theory of agency is that of the will. Unfortu-
nately, Kant™s account of the will is a terminological mire. In the Groundwork
and the second Critique, he typically uses Wille to refer to an agent™s capacity
to act on rules, for example, maxims or imperatives (see, e.g., KpV 32).16 But
he also uses Wille to refer in addition to an agent™s capacity to give herself
the rules on which she has the capacity to act, for example, to legislate for
herself maxims or imperatives (e.g., GMS 431 and KpV 33). Later, in the
Metaphysics of Morals, Kant typically employs Wille to refer only to the latter
capacity (e.g., MS 213). We might call an agent™s capacity to act on rules the
“executive Wille” and his capacity to give himself these rules the “legislative
Wille.”17 In the Metaphysics of Morals (and elsewhere) Kant employs another
term, Willk¨ r, that is sometimes translated as “will.”18 For our purposes, it
will be safe to consider Willk¨ r as the same capacity as executive Wille, that
is, the capacity to act on rules.19
Fortunately, we need to focus only on Kant™s notion of the executive Wille,
to which I refer here simply as the will. According to Kant, to exercise the
capacity of will “ that is, to will “ is to act. That is why Kant de¬nes the
(executive) Wille as the capacity to act on principles (GMS 412). Willing is
Kant™s Theory of Agency 21

more than wishing or even deciding to do something. Someone might wish
or decide to realize some object (e.g., to get away for a weekend at a bed and
breakfast) yet change his mind and never actually make any effort to realize
this object (e.g., never do any planning for the getaway). Willing involves
making some effort to realize what one wills. In this sense, it is a kind of
acting. In what follows, I alternate between speaking in terms of willing and
in terms of acting. For our purposes, the two amount to the same thing:
trying (on the basis of some rule[s]) to secure some objective.

1.5 Determining Grounds of the Will
The will is a capacity to act on rules. But what is a “determining ground”
of the will? As determining grounds of the will, Kant mentions (at least)
ends, inclinations, the expectation of pleasure, the principle of one™s own
happiness, and the moral law (see respectively MS 381; KpV 81, 22, 35, 72).
I assume that each of the determining grounds (Bestimmungsgr¨ nde) of the
will he mentions counts as such by standing in some particular relation
to willing. But, to my knowledge, Kant never says explicitly just what this
relation is. It seems to me plausible to interpret determining grounds of the
will as motivating reasons or, more simply, motives for willing. They are what
bring about willing. In Kant™s view, however, each item on the list actually
brings about an agent™s willing only if she has taken account of it in her
maxim, that is, made it part of a rule on which she acts. In other words, each
of these items on its own might count as an incentive for an agent™s acting,
but the items actually motivate her to act only if she has incorporated them
into some self-given rule.20 For example, an agent might have an inclination
to eat ice cream. But, according to Kant, this inclination determines her will
(i.e., actually motivates her) only if she has taken account of it in some
maxim “ for example, one of allowing herself small pleasures to promote
her happiness.21
One might wonder whether determining grounds of the will count not
only as motivating but also as “justifying” reasons for acting. That depends
on the sense of justifying reason one employs. Let us consider one particular
kind of determining ground of the will, namely inclinations. Obviously, that
someone has a particular inclination as a motive does not entail that, from
an impartial perspective, her acting on this motive is justi¬ed. (Acting from
the inclination to be the richest person in the county, a businessperson
might hire someone to kill her competitor.) Determining grounds of the
will are not justifying reasons in the sense of reasons that, from an impartial
perspective, always do in fact justify an agent™s action. Moreover, that an
agent has a particular inclination as a motive does not even entail that,
from her own perspective, her acting on this motive actually justi¬es her
action. If a particular inclination serves as an agent™s motive in acting, then
she has incorporated this motive into one of his maxims. But she might
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality

hold that her acting on this maxim is itself ultimately unjusti¬ed because
it is morally unjusti¬ed. For example, if the agent has Kantian leanings, she
might believe that her indulging her inclination to be the richest person
in the county by acting on a maxim of ordering a hit on her competitors is
contrary to Kantian duty and therefore ultimately unjusti¬ed.
However, Kantians have recently emphasized that, as a rational being,
an agent must believe that acting on her maxim is in some sense good or
rationally justi¬able.22 If she does not meet this “justi¬cation requirement”
by holding that acting on the maxim is good morally, she must meet it by
holding that acting on it is good prudentially. She would, for example, meet
the requirement by virtue of believing that, given her end (e.g., to be the
richest person), taking the means to it speci¬ed in the maxim (e.g., killing
her competitor) is good in that it will likely be effective. In short, although
a given determining ground of the will need not constitute a reason that
actually justi¬es what an agent does, either from an impartial or from even
her own perspective, she must hold that it is good, in some sense, for her to
act on the maxim in which this determining ground has been incorporated.

1.6 Acting from Inclination: Three Interpretations
and Their Importance
This brief examination of maxims, the will, and determining grounds of the
will puts us in position to do some ¬nal stage setting for the main arguments
of this book. In sections 1.6“8, we focus on Kant™s account of actions that
are not done from duty.23
Since these sections involve painstaking textual analysis, it is helpful be-
fore proceeding to have some idea of how they further the main aims of this
book. In Chapter 4, I begin to defend a criterial reading of Kant™s derivation
of the Categorical Imperative. According to this reading, Kant develops cri-
teria for the supreme principle of morality. He then tries to show that no rival
to the Categorical Imperative for status as this principle can ful¬ll the full set
of criteria. Finally, Kant suggests that the Categorical Imperative remains as
a viable candidate for ful¬lling the full set. So Kant™s criteria for the supreme
principle of morality are obviously crucial to my reading of his derivation.
One criterion he develops is the following: the supreme principle of morality
must be such that all and only actions done because the principle requires
it “ that is, all and only actions done from duty “ have moral worth. It is
not possible to comprehend this criterion, let alone to gauge its plausibility,
without grasping what, according to Kant, it means to act from duty. But
in order to grasp this we need to understand Kant™s account of actions not
done from duty. For example, only by understanding this account can we
see that for Kant all actions done from duty are done from duty alone. For
Kant there simply are no “overdetermined” actions, ones done (at the same
time) from both duty and inclination (section 5.3). Since Kant™s criterion
Kant™s Theory of Agency 23

does not allow that an action can be done from both duty and inclination,
it implies the view that absolutely no actions have moral worth other than
those done exclusively from the incentive of conforming to moral principle.
(In Chapter 6 I argue that this view is implausible. Kant should drop it from
his criterion and maintain instead merely that all actions from duty have
moral worth.)
In the spirit of Kant™s practical philosophy, though not in its idiom, we
might call actions not done from duty “nonmoral” actions. For Kant, of
course, not all nonmoral actions are immoral. A nonmoral action can be
morally permissible: even though it is not done from duty, it can be in accor-
dance with it “ for example, the action of a shopkeeper not overcharging
an inexperienced customer (GMS 397). According to Kant, all nonmoral
actions “ that is, all actions not done from duty “ are done from inclination
(GMS 413, note).
Many philosophers believe that Kant defends a radically hedonistic ac-
count of non moral action. According to the traditional interpretation, Kant
holds that whenever an agent acts nonmorally, she is motivated solely by the
desire for pleasure.24 Pointed criticisms of Kant have arisen from the no-
tion that he embraces this account, with one philosopher going so far as to
charge that Kant™s account is not only false, but “utterly repugnant, deroga-
tory, and degrading.”25 The most obvious objection to the account is that it
fails to square with the phenomena. Agents seem to be motivated by more
than a desire for pleasure, even when they are not acting from duty. Con-
sider a serious pianist who in practicing a sonata is acting solely from her
inclination to master the piece. Depending on the circumstances, many of
us would ¬nd plausible her opinion that her motivation for practicing in-
cludes a desire to play the piece beautifully: a desire that she does not aim to
satisfy for the sake of the pleasure its satisfaction promises. If the traditional
reading is correct, then Kant defends a suspect account of nonmoral action.
Recently Andrews Reath has offered an innovative and in¬‚uential argu-
ment against the traditional construal of Kant™s account.26 Philosophers
have misinterpreted the relations Kant believes to hold between pleasure
and inclinations, says Reath. Contrary to the traditional reading, Kant does
not claim that in trying to satisfy an inclination, an agent is always motivated
by the prospect of gaining pleasure for herself. He claims rather that plea-
sure plays a role in the development of inclinations.27 An agent would not
develop an inclination for an object, say, mastering a piano sonata, unless
she expected that she would gain pleasure from realizing it. Once an agent
has an inclination for an object, however, in pursuing it she need have no
hedonic motivation at all. Once she has an inclination to master a sonata,
the agent™s motives in practicing it need not include her own pleasure.
I trust that the appeal of Reath™s interpretation is evident. Unfortunately,
the interpretation fails to cohere with Kant™s doctrine, or so I contend. Exam-
ination of Kant™s de¬nitions of inclination, as well as some of his remarks on
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality

material practical principles, suggests that he did indeed hold each action
from inclination to have hedonic motivation. Nevertheless, for philosophers
sympathetic to Kant but not to a radically hedonistic account of nonmoral
action, all might not be lost. In my view, although Kant™s assertions permit a
reading on which an agent™s own pleasure constitutes her only motive in act-
ing nonmorally, they do not require it. They also permit the interpretation
that, whenever an agent acts from inclination, she has her own pleasure
as one, but not necessarily as her only, motive. I call this the “alternative
The alternative interpretation seems more attractive than the traditional
one. According to the former, if, from inclination, an agent writes a short
story or practices the piano, one of her motives must be her own pleasure.
Yet at the same time she might have other motives: the desire to exercise her
creativity or to play beautifully: desires the agent does not strive to satisfy for
the sake of pleasure. On the alternative, Kant avoids the suspect reduction of
all nonmoral motives to one. He can acknowledge some of the complexity of
acting in ways other than from duty. As we will see, however, the traditional
interpretation ¬ts more naturally with some of Kant™s claims in the second
Critique than does the alternative.

1.7 Acting from Inclination in the Groundwork
and in the Metaphysics of Morals
To construct an interpretation of Kant on nonmoral action, we must engage
in close reading of some dif¬cult passages. To begin, in an often overlooked
footnote in the Groundwork Kant offers a dense de¬nition of inclination:
The dependence of the capacity of desire on sensations is called inclination, and
inclination always indicates a need. The dependence of a contingently determinable
will on principles of reason, however, is called an interest. An interest is present only
in a dependent will, which is not of itself always in conformity with reason; in the
divine will we cannot conceive of an interest. But even the human will can take an
interest in something without therefore acting from interest. The former signi¬es the
practical interest in the action; the latter, the pathological interest in the object of the
action. The former indicates only the dependence of the will on principles of reason
in themselves, while the latter indicates the dependence of the will on principles of
reason for the sake of inclination, since reason gives only the practical rule by which
the needs of inclination are to be aided. In the former case the action interests me,
and in the latter the object of the action (so far as [sofern] it is agreeable to me)
interests me. (GMS 413, note)

We need to go carefully in order to understand the note™s main points.
As a ¬rst step, let us focus on Kant™s notion of the capacity of desire
(Begehrungsverm¨gen ). Although it has largely been neglected, this notion is
one of the most fundamental in Kant™s theory of agency.29 An agent™s capac-
ity of desire, says Kant, is her capacity to cause, through her representations
Kant™s Theory of Agency 25

of objects, the reality of these objects (KpV 9, note; KU 177, note; MS 211).
The term “representation” (Vorstellung) refers here to a mental representa-
tion, that is, an idea; “object” refers to a state of affairs or to an event. An agent
who had an idea of an object and who brought about the object through
this idea would count as having exercised her capacity of desire with respect
to this object. For example, a person who had an idea of catching a butter¬‚y
and who, guided by this idea, caught one would count as having exercised
her capacity of desire with respect to catching the butter¬‚y.30 It is crucial to
recognize that by Kant™s de¬nition the capacity of desire is not a capacity to
have or to acquire a desire. Rather, it is a capacity to try to realize a desired
object. It is a capacity to act on a desire.
In the Groundwork footnote, Kant says that inclination is the dependence
of the capacity of desire on sensations. When an agent acts from inclination,
suggests Kant, his capacity to realize an object through his idea of it is de-
pendent on sensations. Kant gives only an indirect answer to the question of
how this capacity is dependent on sensations, an answer that emerges from
his discussion of the concept of interest. Kant de¬nes an interest as the de-
pendence of a contingently determinable will “ for example, the human
will “ on principles of reason. The human will is by de¬nition dependent on
principles of reason. For whenever an agent exercises her will, she does so
on at least one such principle (GMS 412). Thus, whenever an agent acts, she
has some interest. Kant distinguishes practical from pathological interest. He
identi¬es a practical interest as an interest in an action itself. An agent, he
says, takes a practical interest in an action when she acts from duty. A patho-
logical interest is an interest in the object (i.e., end or aim) of an action,
rather than in the action itself.31
Kant claims that when an agent acts from a pathological interest in the end
of an action, the end interests him “so far [sofern] as it is agreeable” to him. In
other words, to act from pathological interest is to act to realize an end that
one is interested in realizing so far as he expects that its realization would
give him pleasure.32 Yet what does it mean to be interested in realizing an
end, so far as one believes that its realization would give him pleasure? On my
view, Kant™s text permits two different readings of this notion: the ¬rst leads
us to the traditional interpretation of acting from inclination; the second,
to the alternative interpretation. According to the ¬rst, to be interested in
realizing an end so far as one believes that its realization would give him
pleasure amounts to being interested in the end to the extent that one expects
to gain pleasure from its realization. The more pleasure one expects to gain
from realizing the end, the more interested one is. Since, according to this
reading, one™s pathological interest in an end is directly proportional to the
pleasure one expects from it, it is natural to assume that when one acts from
pathological interest in the end, pleasure from it is one™s only motive.
According to the second reading “ the one that leads to the alternative
interpretation “ Kant holds that a necessary condition for the agent™s interest
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality

in the end is that he believe that its realization would give him pleasure.33
Kant conceives of acting from pathological interest in an end as trying to
realize the end on condition that one expect pleasure from doing so. For
example, when, from pathological interest, someone attempts to master a
piano sonata, her attempt is conditional on her expectation that mastering
it would give her pleasure (see also GMS 442). As Kant makes clear in the
note, acting from pathological interest amounts to acting “for the sake of
inclination.” In effect, Kant equates acting from pathological interest with
acting from inclination. Therefore, according to our second reading, Kant
conceives of an agent™s acting from inclination as her trying to realize an end
only if she expects the end™s realization would give her pleasure.34 Strictly
speaking, that an agent performs certain actions only on the condition that
she expects pleasure from doing so does not entail that she has hedonic
motivation in performing them. After all, the pleasure the agent necessarily
expects when she acts from inclination might be instrumental to, or serve
merely as a sign for the attainment of, some further end she has. However,
Kant does not seem to have these possibilities in view. He seems to embrace
the notion that in acting from inclination an agent always has some hedonic
motivation. In the second Critique, for example, Kant (as we will see) clearly
suggests that when an agent acts on material practical principles (i.e., from
inclination), his expectation of gaining pleasure constitutes a determining
ground of his acting.
Kant™s account of inclination in the Groundwork note weighs against
Reath™s interpretation. Reath asserts that Kant holds pleasure to play a role
in the development of inclinations. This assertion seems true (see KU 207).
But, as his remarks regarding Kant™s famous example of the “philanthropist”
(or “friend of humanity”) will soon reveal, Reath also suggests that once an
agent has developed a Kantian inclination, it is not the case that he acts from
it only on condition that he expect pleasure from his action. This suggestion
seems misguided. In the note, Kant strongly implies that an agent™s expecta-
tion of experiencing pleasure plays a role each time he acts from inclination:
a role as a motive for acting on the alternative interpretation; a role as the
agent™s only motive for acting on the traditional interpretation.
In his interpretation of Kant™s account of inclination, Reath does not men-
tion the Groundwork note. Nevertheless, he does appeal to the Groundwork
to bolster his rejection of the traditional interpretation of acting from incli-
nation. In particular, Reath appeals to the example of the philanthropist, a
person who helps others not from duty but rather from inclination. Accord-
ing to Reath, Kant holds the following: “The object of [the philanthropist™s]
concern and the motive of his actions is their [others™] happiness.”35 The
philanthropist, Reath unambiguously suggests, does not have the expecta-
tion of his own pleasure as a motive in helping others. On Reath™s inter-
pretation, Kant rejects the notion that an agent™s expectation of his own
pleasure constitutes a motive in all acting from inclination.
Kant™s Theory of Agency 27

But a close look at Kant™s remarks regarding the philanthropist will, I
believe, show this interpretation to be ¬‚awed. Kant says: “To be bene¬cent
where one can is a duty; and besides this, there are many souls so sympathet-
ically constituted that, without any further motive of vanity or self-interest,
they ¬nd an inner pleasure in spreading joy around them and can rejoice
in the satisfaction of others, so far as it is their own work” (GMS 398). Here
Kant speaks of sympathetically constituted persons, of whom the philan-
thropist is one, who ¬nd an “inner pleasure” (inneres Vergn¨ gen) in spread-
ing joy around them. According to Reath, Kant holds that, in their helping
actions, such persons have improving the lot of others as their only mo-
tive. The “inner pleasure” they experience stems from their belief that they
have actually managed to spread joy to others. The attractiveness of this
interpretation is evident. It suggests that Kant understood the motives of
sympathetically constituted persons much as many of us do. But I ¬nd this
interpretation questionable. Kant does not state here that these persons fail
to have their own pleasure as a motive. He does not say that without any
motive of vanity or self-interest they try to help others. If Kant did assert
this, then Reath™s interpretation would obviously gain support. What Kant
does say here is that without any further (anderen) motive of vanity or self-
interest, the sympathetically constituted ¬nd pleasure in spreading joy to
others. This statement leaves open the possibility that, on Kant™s view, these
persons do have a motive of self-interest: the pleasure they expect to gain
from spreading joy to others. But they have no further motive of self-interest:

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