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derivation: one perhaps just as wide as that in Kant™s Groundwork I derivation
(traditionally interpreted).
3

The Derivation of the Formula of Humanity




3.1 Outline of the Derivation
On the received view, Kant™s derivation of the Formula of Universal Law
fails, and, if I am correct, Allison™s attempt to rescue it also falls short. But
the Formula of Universal Law is not the only principle Kant defends. He
also advocates the Formula of Humanity: “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).
Perhaps the Groundwork derivation of this principle is a success. This chapter
explores whether Kant shows that if there is a supreme principle of morality,
then it is the Formula of Humanity.
From the outset, we should keep in mind that Kant employs “humanity”
in a somewhat technical sense. The term does not refer to the class of human
beings but rather to a set of capacities. In the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant tells
us that “the capacity to set oneself an end “ any end whatsoever “ is what
characterizes humanity (as distinguished from animality)” (MS 392). So
at the very least, to have humanity involves having the capacity to set ends.
Kant, it seems, uses “humanity” interchangeably with “rational nature” (e.g.,
GMS 439). In doing so, he suggests that to have humanity is to have certain
rational capacities. Indeed, for Kant the capacity to set ends is a rational
capacity. An agent sets herself an end through adopting a rule that speci¬es
the end, as well as means to take to it in certain circumstances; and adopting
such a rule is an exercise of reason (see MS 395). Unfortunately, Kant does
not offer a list of precisely which rational capacities belong to humanity
(rational nature). But we will, I believe, not go astray if we take the central
ones to be the capacity to set oneself ends and the capacity to adopt and act
on rules, including rules of prudence (hypothetical imperatives) and rules
of morality (categorical imperatives).1 This set of capacities is neither one
that is (necessarily) possessed only by human beings, nor is it one that is
possessed by all human beings. Nonhuman beings (e.g., extraterrestrials)

46
The Formula of Humanity 47

could have humanity and some human beings (e.g., ones in a persistent
vegetative state) presumably lack it.
Let me now offer a brief sketch of Kant™s derivation of the Formula of
Humanity (GMS 428“429). On Kant™s basic concept, the supreme principle
of morality would have to be a categorical imperative, that is, a principle
binding on us no matter what our particular inclinations might be. The
derivation takes shape against the background of this fundamental tenet.
First, Kant contends 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, Kant claims that this unconditionally good
thing would have to be humanity. In his view, therefore, if there is a supreme
principle of morality, then humanity is unconditionally good. But, third, if
humanity is unconditionally good, then we must always treat it not merely
as a means but also as an end. Therefore, if there is a supreme principle of
morality, then we ought to do just what the Formula of Humanity says. So
the supreme principle of morality, if there is one, must be this formula, or
at least something equivalent to it.
This chapter focuses on the derivation™s ¬rst two steps. The chapter begins
(section 3.2) by examining (and criticizing) Kant™s attempt to show that
assuming there to be a categorical imperative requires us to take something
to be unconditionally good. Next (3.3) it explores Kant™s discussion of the
claim that this something must be humanity. Since, I suggest, this discussion
is not an adequate basis for embracing the claim, we need to reconstruct
Kant™s argument for it. The most forceful reconstruction has been offered
by Christine Korsgaard, and the bulk of this chapter (3.4“6) concerns it.
In my view, Korsgaard™s reconstruction does not succeed. I explain why in
section 3.7.
Since I argue that the ¬rst two steps of the derivation fail, I do not here
examine the third. I do not criticize the claim that if humanity is uncondi-
tionally good, then we must always treat it not merely as a means but also as
an end. Yet I do not wish to suggest that this claim is unproblematic. In 3.8,
I mention a possible dif¬culty concerning it.
As I understand it, Kant™s derivation of the Formula of Humanity is not in
any obvious way predicated on the success of his derivation of the Formula
of Universal Law. However, I argue that the ¬rst step of the former derivation
falls prey to a serious objection unless the success of the latter is assumed.


3.2 The Supreme Principle of Morality and Unconditional Value
In his initial step in the derivation of the Formula of Humanity, Kant claims
that if there is a supreme principle of morality (and thus a categorical imper-
ative), then there is something of absolute worth. In something of absolute
worth alone “would lie the ground of a possible categorical imperative”
(GMS 428), and “if all worth were conditional and therefore contingent,
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
48

then no supreme practical principle for reason could be found anywhere”
(GMS 428). But why couldn™t a principle be unconditionally binding on
us if nothing was unconditionally good? How does Kant tie the notion of
unconditional bindingness to that of absolute goodness?
This question is not easy to answer, but this much seems clear. According
to Kant, an agent sets himself to do something “ that is, he determines his will,
on the basis of his idea that doing this thing will enable him to secure some
end. In Kant™s view, all acting has an end (see, e.g., KpV 34). This should
come as no surprise since Kant holds that all acting is acting on a maxim
and that, when fully described, a maxim will contain a description of an
end (see section 1.2). Kant distinguishes between subjective and objective
ends. Objective ends, if there are any, would hold for all rational beings.
The idea of securing them would make available to all rational beings a
suf¬cient ground (motive) for acting. But subjective ends do not give all
rational beings grounds for securing them. These ends are such that their
“mere relation to a specially constituted capacity of desire on the part of the
subject gives them their worth” (GMS 428). Suppose a particular object is
a subjective end. If an agent does not value this object, either in itself or as
a means to something else, then it has no worth to him. And if the object
has no worth to him, intimates Kant, then he does not have a ground to
secure it. For him, it is not an end. Apparently, Kant has the following view:
an agent has a suf¬cient ground to secure an object only if he values it “ or
at least is rationally compelled to value it. In the latter case, the agent is
presumably able, through rational re¬‚ection, to come to value the object,
thereby gaining a suf¬cient ground to secure it.
Against the background of this view, we can reconstruct the basis of Kant™s
claim that if there is a categorical imperative, then there must be an objec-
tive end “ something absolutely valuable. A categorical imperative would be
necessarily binding on all rational agents. But a principle could not be nec-
essarily binding on all rational agents unless each of them necessarily had
a suf¬cient ground (motive) at his or her disposal for obeying it.2 Take us,
human rational agents. To say that a principle is binding on us is to say that
we ought to (i.e., have an obligation to) conform to it. Kant, of course, holds
that, if an agent ought to do something, then she must be able to do it (e.g.,
KrV A 807/B 835; KpV 125, 159). But if an agent did not have a suf¬cient
ground available to her for conforming to a rule, then she might not be able
to conform to it. Thus, if not all rational agents necessarily have a ground for
obeying a principle, then it cannot be a categorical imperative. For Kant,
as we noted, to have a ground for doing something an agent must hold
(or be rationally compelled to hold) the action or its effects to be valuable.
Therefore, Kant seems to conclude, if there is a categorical imperative, then
there must be something that everyone holds (or must hold) to be valuable:
an objective end. There must be something that everyone, in every context,
is rationally committed to valuing: something that is absolutely valuable or,
equivalently, unconditionally good.
The Formula of Humanity 49

A brief discussion of how Kant conceives of unconditional goodness will
put us in position to see that this argument is problematic. For something to
be unconditionally good, it must (obviously) be good under every possible
condition, in every possible context. Moreover, if something is uncondition-
ally good, then it is good from the perspective of an impartial rational spec-
tator, or so Kant makes clear at the beginning of Groundwork I. He dismisses
the notion that happiness is unconditionally good thus: “[A]n impartial ra-
tional spectator can take no delight in seeing the uninterrupted prosperity
of a being graced with no feature of a pure and good will, so that a good
will seems to constitute the indispensable condition even of worthiness to
be happy” (GMS 393). In contemporary terms, we might say that for Kant
unconditional value is agent-neutral value. But now the question arises: to
hold a principle to be a categorical imperative, must an agent really main-
tain that there is something unconditionally good in Kant™s sense? Suppose
that Fred holds the following to be a categorical imperative: PW, that is,
“Maximize your power over rational beings.” In Fred™s view, PW is binding
on all agents, no matter what they might desire. Given that Fred holds PW
to be a categorical imperative, he must hold that each agent is rationally
committed to the view that obeying PW is always good for her (or necessar-
ily enables her to promote something good for her). Fred might conclude
the following: he always has available a suf¬cient ground for obeying PW by
virtue of being rationally compelled to take his having maximum power over
rational beings to be good for him, whereas another person, b, always has
available a suf¬cient ground for obeying PW by virtue of being rationally
compelled to take b™s having maximum power over rational beings to be
good for b, while yet another, c, always has such a ground by virtue of being
thus compelled to take c™s having such power to be good for c, and so forth.
There does not seem to be anything self-contradictory in Fred™s conception
of PW as a categorical imperative. Yet Fred does not hold his own power
(or anything else) to be unconditionally valuable, at least on Kant™s con-
ception of unconditional value as agent-neutral value. He has no particular
commitment regarding whether an impartial spectator would take his hav-
ing maximum power to be good; for all he knows, such a spectator would
be totally indifferent to this possibility. Although a categorical imperative
requires a ground, it does not seem as if this ground must be something
unconditionally good.
Perhaps this objection would not worry Kant. At the point in the Ground-
work at which Kant derives the Formula of Humanity, he has already com-
pleted his derivation of the Formula of Universal Law. He has, he believes,
proved that, if there is a supreme principle of morality, then it is the Formula
of Universal Law (or something equivalent to it). So, from his perspective,
any principle conformity to which would require violating the Formula of
Universal Law is thereby eliminated as a candidate for the supreme principle
of morality. (If conforming to a principle requires violating the Formula of
Universal Law, then the principle is obviously not equivalent to the Formula
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
50

of Universal Law.) In response to the objection, Kant might say that, even if
he granted that the ground of a categorical imperative need not be some-
thing unconditionally good, it would be the burden of his opponent to show
that a principle that had a different ground could be compatible with the
Formula of Universal Law. Perhaps one could successfully assume this bur-
den, but I have yet to discover how. In acting on PW as Fred would do, one
obviously might be violating the Formula of Universal Law, for example, by
making a false promise. Given the context of the derivation of the Formula
of Humanity, it makes sense that Kant would not address the objection we
have raised.
However, we need to take the objection seriously. The response that, I
have suggested, he might offer turns on the assumption that the derivation of
the Formula of Universal Law has been successful. But this is obviously not an
assumption that we are in a position to make. Does Kant have the resources
to meet the objection without relying on such a robust assumption?
To reply to this objection, one might appeal to some of Kant™s remarks
in the second Critique. Kant distinguishes between well-being (das Wohl )
and good (das Gute), and ill-being and evil. Well-being and ill-being refer
to a person™s “state of feeling” (KpV 60). A scoundrel who provokes an
innocent person and gets a thrashing for it experiences an ill. But, says
Kant, “everyone would approve of it and take it as good in itself even if
nothing further resulted from it” (KpV 61). He goes on to say: “What we
are to call good must be an object of the capacity of desire in the judgment
of every rational human being, and evil an object of aversion in the eyes of
everyone; hence for this appraisal reason is needed, in addition to sense”
(KpV 60“61). For us legitimately to hold an object to be good (as opposed to
conducive to our own well-being), it must be something that each rational
agent judges, or at least should judge, to be worth bringing about “ to be
desirable. If this is correct, then Fred™s conception of the “ground” of PW
is ¬‚awed. According to Fred, each agent is rationally compelled to take her
own power to be good for her, and thereby always has available to her a
suf¬cient motive to conform to PW. However, there is obviously no reason
to assume that each agent does in fact judge other agents™ having maximum
power over rational agents to be desirable. Nor does it seem that each agent
should judge this to be desirable. After all, another agent™s maximizing her
power might prevent him from maximizing his own power, that is, from
securing what he must (in his view) take to be valuable. From this we can
see that Fred cannot, rationally speaking, take his maximum power over
rational beings to be good. Since he cannot, he is obviously not rationally
compelled always to take it to be good. Therefore, Fred does not necessarily
have a motive available to him for conforming to PW. (Although Fred might
have an inclination to maximize his power now, there is no guarantee that he
will want to do so at other times.) Despite initial appearances, Fred cannot
really hold PW to be a categorical imperative.
The Formula of Humanity 51

Another passage in the second Critique suggests a related response to the
objection. According to Kant, “a law, as objective, must contain the very same
determining ground of the will in all cases and for all rational beings” (KpV 25).
Kant appeals to this notion in order to show that a principle of happiness
cannot be a practical law. But he might just as well appeal to it to show that
each agent™s notion that his own power is necessarily good could not serve as
a ground for PW to be a practical law. For Kant here suggests that each agent
must have the very same motivating reason available to him for conforming
to a rule, if this rule is to be a practical law. And, on Fred™s own conception,
not every agent has the very same motivating reason available to him for
maximizing his own power. Fred has a ground to maximize his power in
that he is rationally compelled to take his power to be good; another agent
has a ground to maximize her power in that she is rationally compelled to
take her power to be good, and so forth. These are obviously not the very
same grounds. (Fred™s ground for maximizing his power does not lie, for
example, in his being rationally compelled to take someone else™s power to
be good.) If grounds such as these are all the ones agents have available for
conforming to PW, they do not suf¬ce to ground it as a practical law.
These two replies are convincing “ if one accepts their premises. But
I do not think we can credit Kant with proving the premises to be true.
The ¬rst argument rests on the notion that for us legitimately to hold an
object to be good (as opposed to conducive to our own well-being), the
object must be something that each rational agent judges, or at least should
judge, to be desirable. However, consider the stage in Kant™s dialectic at
which he has not successfully derived any of his candidates for the supreme
principle of morality. At this stage, which is after all our stage, I do not ¬nd
in Kant a demonstration of the notion in question. (Kant himself makes
the claim that “what we are to call good must be an object of the capacity
of desire in the judgment of every rational human being” long after he has
completed his second Critique derivation of the Formula of Universal Law.)3
What, precisely, would be irrational in an agent™s calling an object good
(as opposed to conducive to his well-being), even if, in the agent™s view,
not everyone was rationally compelled to judge the object desirable? The
agent might reasonably believe that the object “ for example, her having
maximum power over rational beings “ would actually diminish her well-
being. To put the point in contemporary terms: is it always irrational for an
agent to take an object to be good in an agent-relative sense, that is, good
from her standpoint (though not in terms of her happiness), but not good
in an agent-neutral sense, that is, desirable from an impartial perspective?
On the face of it, this sort of view does not always seem to be irrational.
Suppose that you sacri¬ce your professional ambitions and your ties to your
lover for the sake of your child, who has a painful, though not debilitating,
disease. You take a high-paying job you despise in a new city. Dif¬cult as it is
for you to acknowledge, it turns out that you are even more miserable than
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
52

you would have been had you not made the sacri¬ces and your child re-
mained sick. But your extra income allows you to obtain effective treatment
for him. Your child thrives. As it stands, though, if you had donated to relief
organizations the money it took to treat your child, a dozen other children
would have been saved from intense suffering and death. Now the state of
affairs that results from your action is obviously not good in terms of your
well-being. Moreover, it might not be good from an impartial standpoint,
for example, if the impartial standpoint is a utilitarian one. Nevertheless,
it seems that you might, without irrationality, hold the state of affairs to be
good from your standpoint.
According to Amartya Sen, there would not necessarily be anything ir-
rational in your holding this view. He defends the coherence of “evaluator
relativity,” according to which, ultimately, the goodness of a particular state
of affairs depends intrinsically on the position of the evaluator in relation
to the state.4 For Sen, there need be nothing self-contradictory in saying
that the state of affairs we have been discussing is good from the position
you hold but not good from an impartial standpoint. Of course, much dis-
cussion would be needed to defend the notion of evaluator relativity. But
my aim here is modest. I simply want to point out the following. The ¬rst
Kantian reply relies on the view that for us legitimately to hold an object to
be good (as opposed to conducive to our own well-being), the object must
be something that each rational agent judges (or ought to judge) to be
desirable. However, this view is controversial and, so far as I can tell, not one
that Kant bolsters with arguments.
The second reply rests on the premise that each agent must have the very
same motivating reason available to him for conforming to a rule, if this
rule is to be a practical law. But this is not obvious. Let us grant for now
that no rule could be unconditionally binding (and thus a candidate for the
supreme principle of morality) unless everyone necessarily had a suf¬cient
motive available to him for abiding by it. It does not follow from this that
everyone would have to have the very same motive for abiding by it.
One might construe Kant to be suggesting an argument for this view in
the second Critique (KpV 28): suppose that everyone has a motive, but not
the very same motive, for conforming to a principle. In this case, conformity
to the principle would not produce harmony. Consider what would occur if
each agent was motivated by the notion that his own happiness was good to
conform to the principle that one ought to maximize one™s own happiness.
Everyone™s conforming to this principle would surely result in disharmony,
if only because some agent™s promoting his happiness by securing an object
would preclude others from promoting theirs by securing this object. For
another example, look what would happen if each agent had a motive to
conform to PW, and that motive was the notion that maximizing his own
power was good. Each agent™s conforming to PW would bring about dishar-
mony, a vast competition to gain the upper hand. However, the argument
The Formula of Humanity 53

continues, a law, whether it be practical or natural, must produce harmony.
Hence for a practical principle to count as a law, conformity to it must pro-
mote harmony. Yet unless everyone has the very same motive for conforming
to a principle, conformity to it might not promote harmony. Therefore, to
be a practical law, a principle must be such that everyone has the very same
motive for conforming to it.
This argument (whether or not it is really Kant™s) suffers from several
dif¬culties. First, it is questionable whether natural laws necessarily make
everything harmonious. On Kant™s view, such laws presumably govern the
occurrence of earthquakes, droughts, and ¬‚oods. In so doing, are they pro-
moting harmony? From the perspective of those struggling to survive these
events, the answer would seem to be negative. In response, one might claim
that from a god™s-eye view, in governing these events natural laws are promot-
ing (or at least maintaining) harmony, speci¬cally the harmony constituted
by all events being governed by such laws, instead, say, of being random. But
this answer to the ¬rst dif¬culty yields a second one. For it seems that the
scenario in which everyone acted on the principle of maximizing one™s own
happiness (or power) would also produce harmony from a god™s-eye view.
Although, to an individual battling to advance his happiness (or power)
amid others battling to advance theirs, the world might not seem a harmo-
nious place, it would appear as such to someone who stepped back from
the fray to consider that each agent was acting on the same practical prin-
ciple, namely one commanding him always to promote his own happiness
(or power), not on whatever principle he happened to stumble upon.
Let us agree that unless everyone has the very same motive for conform-
ing to a practical principle, universal conformity to it might not, from the
perspective of those doing the conforming, yield harmony. But why should
we accept the notion that to count as a practical law, a principle would have
to yield harmony in this sense? Why isn™t the kind of harmony that would
be manifest from a god™s-eye view enough? One might observe that it would
be unfortunate for us if universal obedience to a practical law failed to yield
harmony from the perspective of those conforming to it. That it would be
unfortunate, however, does not entail that it would be impossible.
Finally, let us grant for the sake of argument that natural laws yield a
kind of harmony that everyone™s obeying the principle of happiness or of
power would fail to yield. For Kant natural laws determine what is; practical
laws determine what ought to be (GMS 387“388, KpV 19“20). Given that
natural laws differ in kind from practical ones, why should we assume that
the latter (when universally obeyed) must share the harmony-promoting
characteristic of the former?5 Kant fails to give us grounds for accepting
his claim that no practical law could promote discord. He fails to prove
the relevance of the question of whether a practical principle, when acted
on universally, would lead to disorder to the question of whether such a
principle has (or could have) status as a practical law.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
54

As far as I can tell, Kant does not offer a convincing argument for the claim
that a practical law (in the sense of a categorical imperative) must be such
that everyone has the very same motive for conforming to it.6 Since he does
not, we are not in position to reject a principle such as PW as a possible
categorical imperative on the basis that it does not “contain the very same
determining ground of the will in all cases and for all rational beings.”
To sum up this section, Kant claims that if there is a categorical impera-
tive, then there is something unconditionally good. His argument for this
claim seems to go as follows. Suppose some principle is a categorical im-
perative. By de¬nition, this principle would be unconditionally binding on
all rational agents. But now suppose that there is nothing unconditionally
good. Some rational agents might ¬nd themselves with insuf¬cient motive
to conform to the principle, and thus might be unable to do so. If some
agents were unable to conform to the principle, then it would not be bind-
ing on them; for an agent does not have a duty to do something that she
cannot do. Contradicting our initial supposition, the principle would not be
a categorical imperative. Kant™s argument turns on the notion that only if an
agent holds there to be something unconditionally good can she maintain
that every agent always has available to her a suf¬cient motive to conform
to a given principle. I have suggested that Kant fails to establish this notion.
He does not successfully block the possibility that an agent can deny there
to be anything unconditionally good (i.e., good in every possible context,
according to an impartial rational spectator), yet at the same time coher-
ently maintain that every agent always has at her disposal a suf¬cient motive
to conform to a given principle.


3.3 The Unconditional Value of Humanity: Kant™s Argument
In the ¬rst step of his argument, Kant tries to show that if there is a categorical
imperative, then there must be some object (or objects) that all rational
agents must hold to be unconditionally good. In the second step, Kant
claims that this something is humanity. If we hold that there is a categorical
imperative, then we must conclude that humanity is unconditionally good.
Kant packs his defense of this claim into one dense and dif¬cult paragraph.7
On its face, the defense seems inadequate. Kant needs to demonstrate
that only humanity could be the “ground” of a categorical imperative. What
Kant does is dismiss three candidates for unconditional goodness: objects
of inclinations; inclinations themselves; and beings “the existence of which
rests not on our will but on nature” (GMS 428), for example, animals. Then,
without further ado, he announces that humanity could be unconditionally

<< . .

. 7
( : 27)



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