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§4. What Is Humanity?

§4. What Is Humanity?

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   

this meaning is explicable in terms of the maxims accepted by the CIprocedure, once we look at that procedure from the point of view of ourselves and others as affected by the proposed action, and so as passive.

Now, Kant means by humanity those of our powers and capacities that

characterize us as reasonable and rational persons who belong to the natural

world. Our having humanity is our being both vernuănftig and animating a

human body: reasonable and rational persons, situated in nature with other

animals. These powers include, first, those of moral personality, which

make it possible for us to have a good will and a good moral character;

and second, those capacities and skills to be developed by culture: by the

arts and sciences and so forth.

. To confirm this, let’s look at three places in the Doctrine of Virtue.

The term “humanity” (Menschheit) occurs in many passages in this work (I

count twenty [there may be more] where it [or a variant] occurs one or

more times.)1 I believe that all of them confirm the above characterization

of humanity. Two examples:

(a) At MdS :f., Kant explains the concept of qualitative perfection

that is used in stating the various duties we have to perfect ourselves. He

says that we have the duty to take as one of our ends the perfection of

man as such, or “humanity really.” These perfections are found in what

we can realize by our own actions, not in the gifts we receive from nature.

The duty of perfection has two main headings:

(i) the duty to cultivate our natural powers, the highest of which is

understanding, including the power to have and apply concepts, among

which are the concepts that belong with the concept of duty. We have,

then, a duty to raise ourselves from a rough state of animality and to realize

ever more fully that humanity in virtue of which we are capable of setting


(ii) the duty of cultivating our will to the purest attitude of virtue, in

which acting from a pure practical interest taken in the moral law is the

motive, and that law the rule, of our actions.

Thus to realize our humanity is to realize both our moral powers and

our natural capacities as expressed in human culture.

1. In addition to those in Gregor’s index, add these: f. (),  (),  (),  (), 

(),  (),  ().

[  ]

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

(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


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.

[  ]

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§4. What Is Humanity?

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