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§4. What Is Humanity?

§4. What Is Humanity?

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  :   



(b) In section XII of the Preface to the Doctrine of Virtue, Kant considers the psychological basis of our receptiveness to the thought of duty

as such. He believes that there are certain moral dispositions—moral feeling

and conscience, love of one’s neighbor and respect for oneself—that are

natural dispositions of the mind to be affected by concepts of duty. No

one has a duty to acquire these natural dispositions, as they are antecedent

dispositions on the side of feeling. Our awareness of these dispositions is

not of empirical origin, but is known to us only from a knowledge of the

moral law and of its effect on our sensibility. Kant goes on to say (MdS :

): “No man is entirely without moral feeling, for were he completely

lacking in the capacity for it, he would be morally dead. And if . . . the

moral life-force could no longer excite this feeling, then humanity would

dissolve (by chemical laws, as it were) into mere animality.” Thus we might

say that humanity is animated pure practical reason. Kant goes on to say

that we no more have a special sense for moral good and evil than we

do for truth and falsehood; rather, our power of choice (Willkuăr) has a

susceptibility to be moved by pure practical reason and its principles, and

this is moral feeling.

(c) In §, Kant says that nature has implanted in man susceptibility to

the feelings of sympathetic joy and sorrow, and that to use these feelings

as a means of promoting active and rational benevolence is a particular,

though only conditioned, duty. He goes on to say (MdS :): “It is called

the duty of humanity (humanitas) because it regards man not merely as a

rational being but also as an animal endowed with reason.”

He proceeds to distinguish between humanity as located in the power

and will to share in others’ feelings, which is free because based on practical

reason, and mere susceptibility to the joy and sadness of others, which is

unfree, merely imparted feeling (as in Hume’s Treatise) (MdS :). Kant

thinks that we have an indirect duty to cultivate the sympathetic natural

feelings as feelings appropriate to our moral duties and to find in them

means to participate in the fate of others, as those duties require. This active

“benevolence is required for its own sake in order to present the world in

its full perfection as a beautiful moral whole” (MdS :; see –). From

these typical passages we can read the second formulation as follows: We

are always to act so as to treat the powers that constitute our humanity,

both in our own person and in the persons of others, never solely as a

[  ]



   



means, but at the same time as an end: that is, as powers the realization

and exercise of which is good in itself, and in case of the moral powers of

a good will, the one thing absolutely good in itself in all the world. A check

of the other uses of the term “humanity” (II: [],  [],  [–],

 [],  [–]) all fit this interpretation.



§. The Negative Interpretation

. We are now in a position to explain the positive and negative interpretations, which can be paired respectively with the first and second pair of

examples. The positive interpretation is quite easy to understand, so I begin

with the more difficult negative interpretation. This says, if our conjecture

is correct, that the CI-procedure accepts only maxims action on which respects the limits set by reasonable and rational persons who are to be treated

as ends-in-themselves (II: [–]). What are we to make of this suggestion?

Consider once again the example of promising (discussed in Kant II),

only this time as illustrating the second formulation (II: [–]). If we

assume that the knowledge and working beliefs of people, and also their

circumstances, are sufficiently similar so that they would all assess any proposed (rational) maxim in the same way, then we obtain a plausible interpretation as follows.

Kant is saying that, in the case of a deceitful promise, the promisee (the

person to whom the deceitful promise is made) cannot possibly endorse

the promisor’s way of acting. When I am the promisee, I cannot, as a reasonable being, hold or contain in my person the promisor’s end. Kant’s text

is: “ohne daß dieser [the promisee] zugleich den Zweck in sich enthalte.”

Now, the phrase “in sich enthalte” sounds as stilted in German as the

parallel phrase does in English: it is not natural in either language to speak

of containing in our person other people’s ends. We are tempted to render

Kant’s text into English more idiomatically, for example, by saying that the

promisee “shares” the end of the promisor’s action, but this has misleading

connotations of agreeing or consenting. We must guess what Kant has in

mind, recalling that in the fourth formulation above, Kant uses the same

phrase, “in sich enthalten.”

[  ]



  :   



. I interpret the text as follows: if the promisee were to apply the CIprocedure to the maxim from which the deceitful promisor acts, the promisee would reject it, just as the promisor would also reject it were the promisor to follow that procedure. When Kant speaks of lack of agreement (in

the second sentence of II: [–]), he means that the promisor’s maxim

cannot be endorsed by the promisee. Thus if promisor and promisee both

act from maxims that pass the CI-procedure, they would accept and reject

the same maxims, and both would contain in their persons (and in this

sense endorse) each other’s (permissible) ends.

If this reading is correct, we can see why in II: (–) Kant says

that:

So act in relation to every reasonable and rational being (both yourself

and others) that that being may at the same time count in your maxim

as an end in itself



is fundamentally the same as:

Act on a maxim which at the same time contains in itself its own

universal validity for every reasonable and rational being.



Here it is the maxim that contains in itself (in sich enhaălt) its own validity,

which must mean that every reasonable and rational person who applies

the CI-procedure correctly will see that the maxim passes, and therefore

that all can endorse it.

. This interpretation may seem a bit thin, even disappointing. Surely

Kant means more than this! Indeed he does in the positive interpretation

for the duties of virtue. But the negative interpretation fits the important

case of the duties of justice. That Kant has these duties in mind in the

promising example is shown by his saying that the requirement that others

must be able to contain in their person the end of our action is even

more plainly violated in attempts on the freedom and property of others

(the rights of man). For in these cases, it is clear that we intend to treat

others merely as means: we know perfectly well that they cannot endorse

our end; we clearly fail to treat them as ends against which we should

never act.

[  ]



   



Of course, the duties of virtue also satisfy this interpretation, since others

can endorse the maxims of ends from which we act when we fulfill our

duties of virtue. The difference is that with those duties we also promote

the ends enjoined by those maxims: stated in a summary way, we cultivate

our own moral and natural perfection and further the happiness of others.

Whereas the duties of justice can be met simply by acting within the limits

established by a just system of law, and even though we pursue only our

own interests and are indifferent to those of others. The duties of justice

require no more than the mutual endorsability of the maxims governing

our outer actions.

To conclude: humanity in us is simply our powers of reason and

thought, and of moral judgment and sensibility. To treat persons as ends

in matters of justice—to treat humanity in them as an end—and never as

means only is to conduct ourselves in ways that are publicly justifiable to

their and our common human reason, and of offering such justifications as

the occasion demands. If, further, we care for justice (we count respecting

the right of persons as our end and widen our concept of duty beyond what

is due [MdS :f.]), then we act from what Kant calls the obligation of

virtue (MdS :). We take a pure practical interest in associating with

others in ways that they can publicly endorse. That is a very important

idea.2

. We have yet to consider the first example of suicide (II: []). Does

the negative interpretation apply to it? Let’s look at the fuller statement

Kant gives in MdS :f. There he writes:

Man cannot renounce his personality as long as he is a subject of

duty, and hence so long as he lives. It is a contradiction that he should

have the moral title to withdraw from all obligation, that is freely to

act as if he needed no moral title for this action. To destroy the subject

of morality in one’s own person is to root out the existence of morality

2. The motivation of our desiring to associate with others in ways that they can publicly

endorse, or in ways that can be mutually justified, both to them and to us, is taken as a basic

assumption of T. M. Scanlon’s contractualism. See his “Contractualism and Utilitarianism,” in Utilitarianism and Beyond, ed. A. Sen and B. Williams (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, ),

pp. –.



[  ]



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§4. What Is Humanity?

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