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§7. The Structure of Motives
Contrary to what is occasionally said, there is no such thing in Kant as an
action from reason alone, if that means an action without a moving interest.
Moreover, for Kant every action has an object, or aim—sometimes an aim
wanted by inclinations, but sometimes an aim falling under an obligatory
end determined by the principles of practical reason.
A second point is that actions of a person with a fully good will—someone whose character is marked by the primary virtues of wisdom, justice,
and benevolence and supported by the secondary virtues—often involves
both kinds of interests: a practical interest taken in the principles of practical
reason and interests in the objects of needs and inclinations. This is so, for
example, whenever persons with a good will act within their rights to secure
their interests; for here what they do is shaped by those interests, but only
after they have conﬁrmed that their interests are compatible with the rights
of others. This means that the interests moving our actions are of different
kinds and arranged in a certain structure, with the practical interest we take
in the moral law itself, so far as we have a good will, always having an
effective regulative priority. The nature of that structure is best seen in how
we work through the categorical imperative procedure.
Suppose that we were the person tempted to make the deceitful promise
of Kant’s second example, reviewed above in §. What tempted us to do
that was our inclinations as arising from our needs in a difﬁcult situation.
What led us to check our maxim by the CI-procedure—I assume we did
this—was not our inclinations but our moral sensibility and the practical
interest we take in the moral law. Without this sensibility and practical
interest, we would not bother to check, by an exercise of elective will,
whether we could incorporate that inclination into a permissible maxim,
one that is acceptable to the CI-procedure.8
The deliberation of working through the CI-procedure, like every other
activity, including reasoning and thought of all kinds, is moved by some
interest. This is as true in Kant as it is in Hume. The contrast with Hume
lies in the nature of the moving interests and a structure that gives practical
interests regulative priority.
8. This accords with what Kant says in the Religion (:): “[F]reedom of the will is of a wholly
unique nature in that an incentive can determine the will to action only insofar as the individual
has incorporated it into his maxim (has made it into the general rule in accordance with which he
will conduct himself).”
. In Gr I:– (–), Kant reviews three examples of actions done
from duty and showing full moral worth in contrast with actions that, while
according with duty, show little or no moral worth. In each case, there is
an immediate inclination to do one’s duty: the duties to preserve one’s life,
to help others in need, and to assure one’s own happiness. This immediate
inclination is so generally present that the moral worth of these actions, if
such there is, is not manifest. Kant is concerned with the cases in which
moral worth is clearly manifest, for it is in such cases that the principles
implicit in our everyday moral judgments are most easily seen.
Kant’s second example of the sympathetic friend of man has aroused
the greatest consternation. It led Schiller to pen these often quoted lines:
Gladly I serve my friends, but alas I do so with pleasure.
Hence I am plagued with doubt that I am not a virtuous person.
To this the answer is given:
Surely your only resource is to try to despise them entirely,
And then with aversion do what your duty enjoins you.
These lines are amusing but rest on the failure to see the difference
between Wolff’s account of willing as such and Kant’s doctrine of a pure
will with its idea of an elective will. They overlook the distinction between
the practical interest from which we act—an interest having regulative priority in determining what is permissible for us to do—and the other inclinations and affections that we have while we act. These affections may show
in our manner of action and in our countenance and expression: we do our
duty cheerfully and gladly. But our doing our duty is not dependent on
these affections. In persons with a good will, they are not needed as assisting
or cooperating psychic forces for them to do their duty.
. Questions of duty are to be settled solely by considerations of practical
reason, and we are to act from inclinations only when we see that the
maxims that they suggest are permissible by the CI-procedure. Only in this
case are they adopted by the elective will of persons of a fully virtuous
character. This does not mean that we are to be without feelings and affections, or that we are not to do our duty cheerfully and gladly. Nor does
it mean that the virtuous character of persons of good will is always manifest and plain for all to see. It does mean that in hard times, when like the
friend of man they are afﬂicted with a deadly insensibility, they can still do
as duty requires. Only then perhaps is their virtuous character clearly evident, but this is not at all to say that it was not there before.
It must be admitted that Kant’s exposition in I:– (–) is not
consistent. His aim is to set out an argument giving the nature of the moral
law as it can be seen in our commonsense judgments of the moral worth
of actions. This he wants to do by focusing on actions that we agree accord
with duty but are not supported by the person’s inclinations. All along the
person may have been of fully virtuous character, yet only now, for the
ﬁrst time, is this fact clear for us to see. The essential contrast is between
being virtuous all along and this virtue’s being made openly manifest in
difﬁcult and trying circumstances.
Yet Kant wavers from this presentation, especially in the second example
of the friend of man, by making the contrast that between someone moved
by natural inclination alone—who enjoys making others happy as his own
work—and who never even appears to consider the moral law at all, and
someone who under great stress does manage to act from duty alone. If,
as it seems, the friend of man is the same person throughout I: (–
), he must have undergone some kind of conversion of character. This
wavering in Kant’s exposition should not be allowed to obscure his main
doctrine of a pure will with its regulative priority of pure practical interest.
I haven’t said that Kant’s doctrine is fully defensible, but it is perfectly compatible with doing our duty cheerfully and gladly, with all the affections
that grace human life. On this, see Kant’s reply to Schiller (Rel :f., n.).
The Categorical Imperative: The Second Formulation
§. The Relation between the Formulations
. One problem in understanding the categorical imperative is to decide
how the three formulations are related. Since Kant states each formulation
in different ways, there are actually three families of formulations. Last time
I set out the categorical imperative in terms of the law of nature formula,
which we called the CI-procedure. Our question today is how the two later
formulations are related to it.
At the end of the central argument of Groundwork (II:– [–]),
Kant gives a review of the formulas and a summary of the main conclusions
(II:– [–]). He starts this review by saying that the three ways of
representing the principle of morality are actually three different formulations of precisely the same law. Each of them contains a combination of
the other two (). Moreover, when Kant introduces the ﬁrst formulation
(in ), he says that there is only a single categorical imperative.
I assume, then, that there is only one categorical imperative with three
formulations that are in some way equivalent. The problem is that those
formulations are not the same. In particular, the second formulation introduces new and quite different concepts. It reads (II: [–]):
Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your
own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means,
but always at the same time as an end.
We need an explanation, surely, of how this formulation, with its three
concepts of a person, of humanity, and of treating humanity as an end (an
end-in-itself ), can be equivalent to the ﬁrst and third formulations.
There is also the further difﬁculty that, taken by itself, the discussion
in II:– (–) preceding the second formulation is quite obscure. I
believe that it is best understood in light of what Kant says elsewhere: in
the Groundwork I:– (–) on the absolute value of a good will and the
role of reason, as well as what comes later in II:– (–); – (–
). Very important also is the Doctrine of Virtue, as we shall see.
. Let’s begin our account of the relations among the three formulations
by looking at what Kant says in his review at II:– (–). There,
besides saying that these formulations represent the same law, he makes
two signiﬁcant remarks.
First, Kant says that there is a difference between the formulations that
is subjectively rather than objectively practical. This suggests that there is
not an objective difference between them. The purpose of having several
formulations (and these formulations in particular) is to bring the idea of reason—that is, the moral law—nearer to intuition (in accordance with a certain analogy) and so nearer to feeling. At the end of this review (II: [–
]), Kant says that if we wish to gain access, or entry, for the moral law, it
is useful to bring one and the same action under all three formulations, and
in this way, so far as we can, to bring “it [the action] nearer to intuition.”
The second signiﬁcant remark Kant makes in this passage is that it is
better when making a moral judgment to proceed always in accordance
with the strict method and take as our basis the universal formula of the
categorical imperative: “Act on the maxim that can at the same time be
made a universal law.” I read this to say that the basis of the strict method
is the categorical imperative itself. Yet since we are ﬁnite beings with needs,
we cannot apply that imperative to our actions directly but can do so only
after we have interpreted it in terms of the law of nature formula by setting
out the CI-procedure. While this procedure is not the categorical imperative
itself, it does provide us with the most usable expression of the strict method
based on it.
Thus, whenever we try to check what the categorical imperative requires of us by testing maxims, we are always to apply the CI-procedure.
The other formulations cannot add to the content of that imperative ascer[ ]