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good.
His dismissal of rival candidates for unconditional goodness seems pre-
cipitous. For example, regarding inclinations, Kant merely says: “But the in-
clinations themselves, as sources of needs, are so far from having an absolute
The Formula of Humanity 55

worth, so as to make one wish to have them, that it must instead be the uni-
versal wish of every rational being to be altogether free from them” (GMS
428). Most of us, I venture, are not tempted to the view that our desires
themselves (as opposed, perhaps, to their objects) have an absolute value.
It seems strange, however, to dismiss this view on the grounds that all of us
wish to be altogether free from our desires.
Even if the remarks Kant here makes do eliminate these candidates for
absolute goodness, the question arises as to whether he is entitled to con-
clude that it is humanity he is looking for. After all, might not Kant have
overlooked some other candidate for absolute goodness? What about the
state of affairs of all rational agents being happy? How does Kant dismiss
this possibility? This candidate is not itself an inclination. It need not be
considered an object of an inclination. (We can easily envisage a world in
which no one desires everyone “ including his enemies “ to be happy.) And
everyone™s happiness is not obviously something the existence of which
would rest on nature rather than on our will.
In sum, Kant™s argument that only humanity could be the absolutely
valuable thing required if there is to be a categorical imperative (supreme
principle of morality) appears to suffer from two shortcomings. First, his
arguments against other candidates seem too quick; second, he offers no
grounds for the conclusion that he has considered all other candidates.
On the face of it, Kant™s argument that if we take there to be a categorical
imperative, then we must take humanity to be unconditionally good does
not seem very promising.


3.4 Korsgaard™s Reconstruction: Preliminaries
In suggesting an opposing view, Christine Korsgaard offers an ambitious
and in¬‚uential account of Kant™s argument.8 Since this account is the most
forceful one I am familiar with, I consider it in detail.9 But I do not explore
the extent (if any) to which Korsgaard™s account departs from the letter of
Kant™s text in the Groundwork. My view, which I do not here try to defend, is
that, though the argument Korsgaard presents is available to Kant, it is not in
all of its details one that Kant actually gives.10 It is, I think, a reconstruction
of Groundwork 428“429.
The key concept in Korsgaard™s reconstruction is that of a good end.11
The reconstruction can be divided into two claims, both of which invoke
this concept. First, if we (rational agents) take there to be a categorical
imperative and thus something unconditionally good, then we must hold
ourselves to have good ends. Second, if we take ourselves to have good ends,
then we must hold humanity to be unconditionally good. If these two claims
are successful, then, in effect, a big part of Kant™s argument goes through.
He manages to establish that if we take there to be a categorical imperative,
then we must hold that humanity is unconditionally good.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
56

To evaluate the ¬rst claim, we need to have in view what Korsgaard means
by a good end. She attributes to Kant a robust conception of one. To count as
good, an end must meet the following criteria. First, it must be the object of
rational choice. By this, Korsgaard apparently means that reason must play a
role in the process through which the agent comes to have the end.12 A good
end is not one simply laid down by instinct. It is, rather, one an agent sets
himself after some re¬‚ection on whether it is worthy of pursuit.13 Second,
a good end must provide “reasons for action that apply to every rational
being.”14 This is Korsgaard™s gloss on Kant™s claim that the good “must be
an object of the capacity of desire in the judgment of every rational human
being.” According to Korsgaard, the claim entails that, for Kant, to be good
an end must be one that we can share.15 Third, a good end must be fully
justi¬ed.16 It appears that, for Korsgaard, a fully justi¬ed end would be one
that was either itself unconditionally good or that derived its goodness from
something unconditionally good.
Since the notion of a fully justi¬ed end is crucial to the argument, let us
view in detail Korsgaard™s explication of it:
An end provides the justi¬cation of the means; the means are good if the end is good.
If the end is only conditionally good, it in turn must be justi¬ed. Justi¬cation, like
explanation, seems to give rise to an inde¬nite regress; for any reason offered, we can
always ask why. If complete justi¬cation of an end is to be possible, something must
bring this regress to a stop; there must be something about which it is impossible or
unnecessary to ask why. This will be something unconditionally good. Since what is
unconditionally good will serve as the condition of the value of other good things,
it will be the source of value.17
Justifying a claim that an end is good involves answering the question of
why it is good. Suppose someone asserts that his jogging is good. To justify
this assertion, the person would need to explain why it is good, perhaps by
pointing out that it keeps him in shape. Yet then the question arises: why is it
good for him to be in shape? Perhaps he answers that he feels better when he
is ¬t, an assertion that might, in turn, give rise to a question of why his feeling
better is good, and so forth. In Korsgaard™s view, a full justi¬cation of the
goodness of an end would bring this sort of regress to a close. It would show
us that the goodness of the end depended on the goodness of something
regarding which it would be either impossible or unnecessary to pose the
question: why is this good? In Korsgaard™s view, this special something will
be unconditionally good.
In sum, for an agent to count his end as good, the end must be the object
of his rational choice; provide reasons for action to every rational agent; and
be fully justi¬ed.

3.5 The Supreme Principle of Morality and Good Ends
If an agent holds there to be a categorical imperative, must he hold that he
has at least one end that meets all three criteria? Korsgaard herself explains
The Formula of Humanity 57

what she (and presumably Kant) mean by a good end, and she suggests
that the notion that we have good ends serves as an assumption in Kant™s
derivation of the Formula of Humanity.18 But she does not focus on the
question of whether taking there to be a categorical imperative rationally
compels one to believe that he has some good end(s): at least one end that
meets all of the criteria.
So let us consider this question. Clearly, an agent must have at least one
end that ful¬lls the ¬rst criterion. In Kant™s view, being a rational agent
involves setting ends for oneself. And any end an agent sets for himself
would be an object of his rational choice. For the power of rational choice
(humanity) is the power to set ends (MS 392). Any rational agent, let alone
any agent who holds there to be a categorical imperative, would have to
hold that he has ends that are objects of his rational choice.
Next, does assuming there to be a categorical imperative rationally com-
pel an agent to hold that he has an end that everyone has a reason to
promote? If holding there to be such an imperative required each of us to
maintain that some particular object was unconditionally good, then the
answer would be yes. For in this case, all of us would be rationally compelled
to promote (or perhaps preserve) this unconditionally good thing. Sup-
pose this unconditionally good thing were everyone™s happiness. I would
have reason to further your end of promoting the general welfare, and you
would have reason to further my end of promoting the general welfare and
so forth. However, I have argued that maintaining there to be a categorical
imperative is consistent with denying that there is anything unconditionally
good. By virtue of holding PW to be a categorical imperative, Fred does not
rationally commit himself to the view that everyone has a reason to promote
his (Fred™s) having maximum power over rational beings. But Fred is com-
mitted to the view that everyone has a reason to promote his own power
over such beings. An agent™s assuming that there is an unconditionally and
universally binding practical principle does not entail that he must af¬rm
that there is something unconditionally good that everyone has reason to
promote.
What about the third criterion: must an agent who holds there to be a
categorical imperative also hold that he has some fully justi¬ed end? A fully
justi¬ed end would be one that was either itself unconditionally good or
that derived its goodness from something unconditionally good. Since an
agent who maintains there to be a categorical imperative does not have to
profess there to be anything unconditionally good at all, I see no reason why
she would need to hold that she had any fully justi¬ed end (in Korsgaard™s
sense).
In short, an agent™s assuming that there is a categorical imperative does
not require her to agree that she has any ends that meet the second and
third criteria Korsgaard sets out. It seems that an agent can at the same time
hold there to be a categorical imperative yet deny that she has any good
ends.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
58

However, that does not preclude the possibility that there are other
grounds for holding that one has good ends. In The Sources of Normativity,
Korsgaard suggests that unless one holds that one does, one is committed
to complete practical skepticism “ that is, to the view that one has no reason
to do anything at all.19
Yet I do not see why one would be committed to this. Suppose that some-
one takes himself to have good ends, though not in Korsgaard™s sense accord-
ing to which such ends must be “fully justi¬ed.” He holds that the goodness
of his good ends derives from his re¬‚ectively, as opposed to impulsively,
choosing them as ends. He believes that his good ends are good because
they are objects of his re¬‚ective choice “ that is, his choice to preserve, pro-
mote, or realize them. Yet this person is committed to the view that there is
nothing unconditionally good from which the goodness of things derives.
In particular, he denies that his power of re¬‚ective choice is uncondition-
ally good. The agent thinks that the goodness of a thing is conditional on
its being an object of his re¬‚ective choice. Therefore, according to him,
the goodness of his power of re¬‚ective choice is itself conditional on his
exercise of this power. In his view, his power of re¬‚ective choice does not
count as good unless he at least makes a re¬‚ective choice to preserve it,
for example, to keep himself alive. Yet he can easily envisage a context in
which he would not choose to preserve his power of re¬‚ective choice. For
example, he imagines that he will die in a matter of months unless he takes
steps to procure an experimental medication. The medication is expensive
and would consume resources desperately needed right now to preserve the
lives of his loved ones. In this situation, he concludes, he would not choose
to preserve his power of re¬‚ective choice. Since the agent can conceive of
circumstances such as this, he can conceive of contexts in which his power
of re¬‚ective choice would not be good. Korsgaard apparently thinks that
such a person would be condemned to complete normative skepticism. But
the question is: why would he be? It seems that he would have reasons to do
certain things “ for example, to preserve, promote, or realize objects of his
re¬‚ective, as opposed to his impulsive, choice.
Perhaps Korsgaard would respond to this example by agreeing that in
light of the agent™s account of the conditions of value, he is not compelled to
embrace normative skepticism. Nevertheless, she might claim, the example
does not realize its aim: it does not show that one who is committed to
denying there to be anything unconditionally good from which the goodness
of his good ends derives can avoid normative skepticism. For though the
agent might not have re¬‚ected deeply enough to realize it, he is, by virtue of
his account of the conditions of value, committed to af¬rming that there is
something unconditionally good from which the goodness of his good ends
derives. This something is not the power of re¬‚ective choice, but the exercise
of this power: his re¬‚ective choice (i.e., choosing) itself. After all, the agent
takes his good ends to be good because they are objects of his re¬‚ective
The Formula of Humanity 59

choice. And, Korsgaard might conclude, if he holds re¬‚ective choice to
have this status, he must also hold it to be unconditionally good.
This response seems inadequate. For Korsgaard does not explain what
would be irrational in the agent™s holding that though his re¬‚ective choice
of an object is what confers value on it, re¬‚ective choice is not itself un-
conditionally valuable. In general, that one thing confers a property on a
second thing does not entail that the ¬rst thing possesses the property at
all, let alone unconditionally. Some university presidents confer the Ph.D.
on graduate students. That does not entail that these presidents themselves
possess a Ph.D.20 Of course, Korsgaard might insist that value is a special
property; unlike many other properties, it is such that whatever confers it
must possess it. But it is highly questionable whether this is the case. Sup-
pose I hold that what confers badness on something is that it be an object
of rational disapproval. I would not thereby have to hold that rational dis-
approval is bad at all, let alone unconditionally bad.21 Korsgaard has given
us inadequate grounds for thinking that, upon re¬‚ection, the agent does
take there to be something unconditionally good from which the goodness
of good ends derives. Therefore, she fails to rescue her claim that unless
we are committed to there being such a thing, we push ourselves into utter
normative skepticism.
In short, it is questionable both whether assuming there to be a categorical
imperative itself compels one to hold that he has good ends (in the robust
sense in question) and whether the only way to deny that one has such ends
is to embrace complete normative skepticism.


3.6 From Good Ends to the Unconditional Value of Humanity:
The Regressive Argument
Nevertheless, it would obviously be very signi¬cant if, on Korsgaard™s recon-
struction, it turned out that if we take ourselves to have good ends, then we
must hold humanity to be unconditionally good. In this section I set out the
argument; in the next I criticize it.22
Korsgaard characterizes the argument as “regressive,” which means that
“something is taken as given or actual and the conditions of its possibility are
explored.”23 In this case, what a person engaged in the argument takes as
given is that she has good ends. The burden of (what I call) the “regressive
argument” is to show the following: if an agent takes as given that she has
good ends, then she must (is rationally compelled to) hold that humanity is
unconditionally valuable. She must hold this because, upon re¬‚ection, she
will ¬nd that these ends ultimately derive their goodness from something
unconditionally good, namely from humanity.
Korsgaard™s interpretation of “humanity” coheres with that offered at
the beginning of this chapter (3.1). Korsgaard embraces the view that the
“characteristic feature” of humanity is the capacity to set ends.24 It is through
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
60

practical reason that we set ends. Whenever we act, we do so on some self-
given principle of practical reason, that is, some maxim. In giving ourselves
maxims of acting, we set ourselves ends; for each maxim contains (a de-
scription of) an end (see section 1.2).25 “Human beings are distinguished
from animals,” says Korsgaard, “by the fact that practical reason rather than
instinct is the determinant of our actions.”26 According to Korsgaard each
and every one of an agent™s ends is set by reason, though only his morally
obligatory ends are set entirely by reason.27 Korsgaard insists that we should
not understand humanity merely as a capacity to set moral ends, but, more
generally, as a capacity to set ends for our actions, as opposed to behaving
on instinct as do other animals. To value humanity is to value the capac-
ity to set ends, wherever it manifests itself. In the context of the regres-
sive argument, Korsgaard sometimes substitutes for “humanity” the terms
“rational nature” or “the power of rational choice.” She employs these terms
as equivalent.28
Although Korsgaard summarizes the regressive argument in various
works, she offers her most thorough account of it in “Kant™s Formula of
Humanity.”29 I believe that the regressive argument unfolds as follows:

i. You take it that some of your ends are good.

Therefore,

ii. You hold there to be a suf¬cient condition of their goodness: some-
thing that is either itself unconditionally good or that derives its good-
ness from something unconditionally good.
iii. The suf¬cient condition of the ends™ goodness does not lie in the
ends themselves.
iv. It does not lie in your having an inclination for them.
v. The suf¬cient condition of the ends™ goodness is not that they con-
tribute to your happiness, or even to everyone™s happiness.

On re¬‚ection,

vi. You hold that the suf¬cient condition of the goodness of the ends you
take to be good is that they be objects of your rational choice.

So,

vii. You must hold your power of rational choice (humanity) to be un-
conditionally good.

On re¬‚ection,

viii. You must hold that the suf¬cient condition of the goodness of each
agent™s good ends is that they be objects of the agent™s rational choice.
The Formula of Humanity 61

Therefore,

ix. You must hold everyone™s power of rational choice (humanity) to be
unconditionally good.

In embracing step i, an agent sets out his assumption that he has good
ends. According to the argument, given this assumption, he is compelled
to embrace ii, namely the idea that there is a suf¬cient condition of the
ends™ goodness “ something that is either itself unconditionally good or
that derives goodness from something unconditionally good. Steps iii“v are
supposed to eliminate various candidates the agent might consider for the
suf¬cient condition of the goodness of the ends he takes to be good. Step vi
represents what Korsgaard calls the crucial step of the argument “ that is, the
notion that, upon re¬‚ection, an agent takes the suf¬cient condition of the
goodness of these ends to be their status as objects of his rational choice. To
allay possible misunderstanding, let me emphasize from the outset that the
notion of suf¬ciency Korsgaard employs appears to be what we might (rather
awkwardly) call “becausal” suf¬ciency. To af¬rm that A is the “becausally”
suf¬cient condition of B is to af¬rm that if A, then B because A. So it appears
that we might paraphrase vi as follows. Suppose you have an end and you
take it to be a good one. You hold that if this end is an object of your rational
choice (as, according to Kant, all of your ends are), the end is good because
it is an object of your rational choice. In effect, you hold that what confers
value on any end of yours that you take to be good is its being an object of
your rational choice.30 Moving forward in the argument, the combination
of vi and ii is supposed to yield vii, namely that an agent must take his power
of rational choice (humanity) to be unconditionally good. Moreover, since
an agent embraces vi, suggests Korsgaard, he must also accept viii, namely
that the suf¬cient condition of the goodness of each agent™s good ends is
that they be objects of the agent™s rational choice. The move from viii to ix,
the conclusion, parallels that from vi to vii. According to Korsgaard (who
is, of course, following Kant), if an agent embraces the conclusion of the
regressive argument, he must recognize moral obligations to himself and
others. It is debatable precisely what these obligations are, but I do not focus
on this issue until Chapter 8.
Turning to the details of the regressive argument, we ¬nd that ii follows
from i. In i, we assume that we have good ends. Good ends are, on the
conception we are employing here, fully justi¬ed. That they are yields ii. To
hold an end to be fully justi¬ed is, says Korsgaard, to hold there to be some
(“becausally”) suf¬cient condition of its goodness that is itself uncondition-
ally good or which derives its goodness from something unconditionally
good. The question is: what is this suf¬cient condition? Steps iii“vi arise
from efforts to answer this question.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
62

The third step of the regressive argument rejects a form of realism re-
garding the good “ the notion that goodness is simply inherent in certain
ends themselves. It is easy to sketch an example of the kind of position iii
disclaims. An environmentalist who has the end of preserving the maxi-
mum number of living species on earth might hold that this end not only
meets each of Korsgaard™s criteria for goodness but is itself unconditionally
good. It is, he thinks, good in every context that a maximum number of
(currently existing) species be preserved. In “Kant™s Formula of Humanity,”
Korsgaard brie¬‚y underscores a Kantian reply to this kind of position. The
environmentalist, goes the reply, is confused about the source of his end™s
goodness. He believes that he wants to maximize species preservation be-
cause such preservation is intrinsically good. Yet upon re¬‚ection he would
¬nd that any goodness had by species preservation would actually stem from
his desiring it. Korsgaard says: “[I]t looks as if the things you want, if they are
good at all, are good because you want them “ rather than your wanting them
because they are good.”31 But, the Kantian reply continues, if the goodness
of species preservation derives from the agent™s desire for it, then it is not
unconditionally good. Korsgaard cites approvingly Kant™s claim that: “All ob-
jects of the inclinations have only a conditional worth; for if there were not
inclinations and the needs based on them, their object would be without
worth” (GMS 428). Since, if some rational being did not want maximum
species preservation, it would be devoid of worth, it is not unconditionally
good. Of course, Korsgaard has at her disposal another means of showing
that maximum species preservation fails to be unconditionally good: Kant™s
famous (and much criticized) Groundwork I argument that nothing except
a good will can even be conceived as unconditionally good.32
Having assumed that we have good ends, we are inquiring into what
constitutes the suf¬cient condition of their goodness. In accepting step iii,
we have endorsed the notion that their goodness must derive somehow from
the nature or concerns of rational beings. A natural proposal for an agent
to make at this point is that his good ends are good simply because they
are objects of his desire. In other words, a suf¬cient condition of his ends™
goodness is that he have an inclination for them. In step iv Korsgaard denies
that this is the case. Her denial seems very plausible. That an agent has an
inclination for an object does not entail that the object is good. Someone
might have a craving to smoke cigarettes, but her having it might not, even
in her own view, make smoking good. For she might herself acknowledge
that though smoking gives her a momentary pleasure, it ultimately fails to
promote her happiness and is therefore not good.33
Yet what about happiness itself? Could it not be the case that a good end
is good because it contributes to happiness? There are two possibilities here,
both of which are addressed in step v. According to the ¬rst, an agent™s end
is good by virtue of its contributing to his own happiness. Korsgaard rejects
this possibility mainly by appealing to Kant™s claim that “we do not believe
The Formula of Humanity 63

that happiness is good in the possession of one who does not have a good
will.”34 Recall that in Korsgaard™s view a good end must be fully justi¬ed.
For her this means that it must derive its goodness from something that
is unconditionally good. If contributing to an agent™s own happiness is to
justify the goodness of his end, then, she thinks, the agent™s happiness must
be unconditionally good. Yet, according to Kant, an agent™s happiness is not
unconditionally good. There is a context in which his happiness is not good,
namely when it is not accompanied by a good will. A rational egoist might
object to this contention, arguing in what Korsgaard calls “a remarkable feat
of egocentrism” that his own happiness is unconditionally good, but I do
not pursue this point here.35
According to the second way of trying to use happiness to bring the
regress to a close, an end is good by virtue of its contributing to everyone™s
happiness. We might claim that everyone™s happiness “ that is, the state of
affairs in which every individual is happy “ is unconditionally good. A good
end is good because it contributes to the realization of this unconditionally
good state of affairs.
Against this suggestion, Korsgaard appeals to Kant™s notion that the good
must provide reasons for action that apply to every rational being. In partic-
ular, she emphasizes something that she takes to follow from this require-
ment, namely that if an end is good, then all rational agents must be able
to share it. The end must be a “consistent, harmonious object.”36 What is
a “consistent, harmonious object”? This much is clear. In Korsgaard™s view,
we cannot say that in pursuing his own happiness, each agent would be pur-
suing a consistent, harmonious object. Suppose each agent were pursuing
his own happiness. Korsgaard endorses Kant™s view that what would result
is a harmony like that suggested in the pledge of King Francis I to Emperor
Charles V: “What my brother Charles would have [Milan], that I would also
have” (KpV 28). The brothers do not really have a consistent object “ the one
wants to get Milan for himself, which would prevent his brother from getting

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