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§3. The Four-Step CI-Procedure

§3. The Four-Step CI-Procedure

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   

would truthfully describe them. The CI-procedure applies, then, to maxims

that lucid and rational agents have arrived at in view of what they regard

as the relevant features of their circumstances. We should add that the

procedure applies equally well to maxims that rational and sincere agents

might arrive at (but have not), given the normal circumstances of human


To conclude: the agent’s maxim at the first step is both sincere and

rational. It is a particular hypothetical imperative (to be distinguished from

the hypothetical imperative); and since it uses the first-person pronoun, let’s

say that it expresses the agent’s personal intention to act from the maxim.

It has this standard form:

() I am to do X in circumstances C in order to bring about Y

unless Z. (Here X is an action and Y is an end, a state of


Note that the maxim has an “in order to” clause and so refers to an end.

For Kant, all actions have ends (MdS, Intro :f.). The nature of the clause

is important in distinguishing between duties of justice and other kinds of

duties, but I leave this aside here.

. The second step generalizes the maxim of the first step; the result is

what we may call a universal precept (not Kant’s terminology) that applies

to everyone. When this precept passes the test of the CI-procedure, it is a

practical law, an objective principle valid for every rational being (Gr II:

n. []). So we have:

() Everyone is to do X in circumstances C in order to bring

about Y unless Z.

At the third step we are to transform the universal precept at () into

a law of nature to obtain:

() Everyone always does X in circumstances C in order to bring

about Y, as if by a law of nature (as if such a law was implanted in us by natural instinct) (II: [–]).

The fourth step is the most complicated; it raises questions which we

cannot thoroughly discuss here. The intuitive idea is this:

[  ]

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

() We are to adjoin the as-if law of nature at step () to the

existing laws of nature (as these are understood by us) and

then think through as best we can what the order of nature

would be once the effects of the newly adjoined law of nature

have had sufficient time to work themselves out.

It is assumed that a new order of nature results from the addition of

the law at step () to the other laws of nature, and that this new order of

nature has a settled equilibrium state the relevant features of which we are

able to figure out. Let us call this new order of nature an “adjusted social

world.” Let’s also think of this social world as associated with the maxim

at step (), and impute to the agent a legislative intention, an intention as

it were to legislate such a world. Here the thought is that an ideal reasonable

agent considering whether to act from the maxim at step () implicitly accepts the requirements of pure practical reason represented in the steps

leading up to and including step ().

. Kant’s categorical imperative can now be stated as follows: We are

permitted to act from our rational and sincere maxim at step () only if

two conditions are satisfied:

First, we must be able to intend, as sincere, reasonable, and rational

agents, to act from that maxim when we regard ourselves as a member of

the adjusted social world associated with it, and thus as acting within that

world and subject to its conditions; and

Second, we must be able to will this adjusted social world itself and

affirm it should we belong to it.

Hence, if we cannot at the same time both will this adjusted social world

and intend to act from that maxim as a member of it, we cannot now act

from the maxim, even though it is, by assumption, fully rational in our

present circumstances. The categorical imperative, as represented by the

CI-procedure, applies to us no matter what the consequences of our compliance with it may be for our natural desires and needs. This reflects the

priority of pure practical reason over empirical practical reason.

Finally, it should be kept in mind that this rendering of the CI-procedure

draws on the law of nature formulation, which reads (II: []):

Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will

a universal law of nature.

[  ]

   

We have interpreted this formulation as an imputed legislative intention:

it’s as if we had the power of legislative reason and must exercise it as

a condition of acting on our maxim. We must check whether we can

do what we now intend in the adjusted social world as well as will that


§. Kant’s Second Example: The Deceitful Promise

. The second and fourth of Kant’s four examples are, at first sight at least,

more plausible than the other two. So I illustrate briefly how the four steps

of the CI-procedure apply in these cases. I begin with the second, that of

the deceitful promise (Gr II: []).

Step (): I am to make a deceitful promise in circumstances C (that is,

when I am in embarrassing straits and need money, even though I know

that I cannot repay the debt, and have no intention of doing so) in order

to further my own personal advantage.

Step (): Everyone is to make a deceitful promise in circumstances C,

etc., as above.

Step (): Everyone makes (or tries to make) a deceitful promise in circumstances C, etc. (as if by a law of nature).

Step (): Adjoin the law of nature at step () to other laws of nature (as

known by us) and figure out the equilibrium state that would result. This

adjusted social world is one in which no one can make a deceitful promise

in circumstances C, as much as they would like to do so.

Now, the law of nature at () is psychological: we try to make a deceitful promise, as if by a law of nature. But since other laws in certain

circumstances may inhibit this law’s operation, we don’t say flatly that

everyone does make a deceitful promise. The readiness of everyone to try

in those circumstances may hold as a psychological law, even though it

may be that other laws entail that deceitful promises cannot actually be


The contradiction in conception test rejects the deceitful promise maxim

because a rational agent cannot intend to act from that maxim in the social

world of the legislative intention. This follows from the fact that if rational

agents intend to do something, they must believe with reason that they can

[  ]

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

do it and that, in their circumstances, it is within their power. An intention is

a plan of some kind: it is not rational to plan to do what we know we

cannot do.

. The point of introducing the two intentions that may prove incompatible is to find a place for Kant’s speaking of the agent’s maxim as contradicting itself, of its not being self-consistent. But why does Kant think that in

the adjusted social world no one can make a false promise? His remarks

are brief: he says that the universality of the law at () “would make promising, and the very purpose of promising, itself impossible; since no one

would believe they were being promised anything, but would laugh at utterances of this kind as empty shams” (Gr II: []).

Now, plainly Kant assumes as a law of nature that people learn from

experience and remember the past; hence once it becomes, as it were, a

law of nature that everyone tries to make a false promise (in certain circumstances), the existence of the law becomes public knowledge. Everyone

knows of it, and knows that others know of it, and so on. We need not

suppose that all laws of nature are public knowledge; obviously they are

not. But as a way of interpreting the requirements of the CI-procedure in

terms of the law of nature formulation, it is not inappropriate to assume

the public recognition of the as-it-were laws of nature generated by people

acting from certain maxims.

We make this explicit by saying that in the equilibrium state of the

adjusted social world, the as-it-were laws of nature at step () are publicly

recognized as laws of nature, and we are to apply the CI-procedure accordingly. Let’s refer to this public recognition of the as-it-were laws of nature

issuing from maxims at step () as the publicity condition on universal moral

precepts. Kant views acceptable precepts of this kind as belonging to the

public moral legislation, so to speak, of a moral community.

. A further condition is this: we are to think of the adjusted social world

as if it has long since reached its conjectured equilibrium state. It is as if it

always has existed, exists now, and always will exist. Call this the perpetuity


It is not as if the agent working through the CI-procedure says, “I will

that my maxim be a law of nature from now on.” This would allow time

for the equilibrium state to be reached, in which interval the agent might

gain a considerable fortune by deceit. But clearly Kant asks us to regard

[  ]

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§3. The Four-Step CI-Procedure

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