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§7. Conclusion:Remarks on Groundwork II:46–49(427–429)
which precede the formulation, have not been mentioned. But, then, how
does Kant see their point?
They are, I believe, a preliminary commentary that prepares the way
for the idea of humanity. This is borne out by their content. Thus II:
(–) gives a deﬁnition of the will of a reasonable being and reviews
various distinctions required in giving an account of actions, such as: objective ends versus subjective ends; subjective grounds of desires, or impulsions (Triebfeder) versus objective grounds of volition, or motives (Bewegungsgruănde); subjective ends based on impulsions versus objective ends based
on motives valid for all reasonable beings. After distinguishing formal and
material practical principles, Kant states the main point, namely, that material ends have only relative value and can ground only hypothetical imperatives. Whereas, II: () goes on to say, something whose existence has
in itself an absolute value can be the ground of a categorical imperative
and so of universal practical laws.
Next, II: () explains the idea that reasonable beings are persons
because their moral powers of reason and moral sensibility already mark
them out as ends in themselves—that is, as things that ought not to be
used merely as means—and consequently to that extent imposes a limit
on how they may be treated. Persons, then, do not have merely relative
value for us; they are also objective ends, that is, things the existence of
which is an end in itself. In this paragraph, Kant wants to distinguish between our moral powers on the one hand and our inclinations as sources
of needs on the other, even going so far (indeed, too far!) as to say that it
is the universal wish of a reasonable being to be without inclinations altogether. His point is that we are ends in ourselves, not as subjects of inclinations—of needs and desires—but in virtue of our moral powers of reason
and moral sensibility, and thus of our capability to have a good will. This
refers us back to I:– (–), to the special role of reason and the idea
of a good will as the only thing absolutely good in itself.
. With this in mind, how are we to understand the apparent argument
in II: (–) preceding the statement of the second formulation and
grounded on the principle that reasonable nature exists as an end-in-itself ?
The argument is tedious, but let’s persevere. It aims to establish that reasonable nature is an end-in-itself, and therefore that it is an objective principle—
valid for all reasonable beings—that reasonable nature, whether that nature
belongs to the agent or to another, is to be regarded as an end-in-itself.
Kant’s reasoning seems to go as follows (asterisks denote Kant’s premises):
() Let A be any (arbitrarily chosen) reasonable (human) being.
*() Then A necessarily conceives of A’s reasonable nature as an
() Thus A’s reasonable nature is a subjective end for A. (Deﬁnition of subjective end, II: [–].)
() But since A is any reasonable being (from ), all reasonable
beings necessarily conceive of their own nature as an endin-itself. (Generalization of .)
*() Furthermore, A conceives of A’s reasonable nature as an
end-in-itself for reasons equally valid for all reasonable beings likewise to conceive of A’s nature as an end-in-itself.
() Now, let B be any reasonable being different from A. Then
(from ) the reasons for which A regards A’s reasonable
nature as an end-in-itself are equally valid for B to regard
A’s nature as an end-in-itself; and vice versa.
() Therefore (from ) all reasonable beings necessarily conceive of one another’s reasonable nature as an end-in-itself.
(Generalization of .)
() Thus reasonable nature is necessarily viewed as an end-initself by all reasonable beings, and so it is an objective principle that all reasonable beings are so to conceive of it. (Deﬁnition of objective principle, II: [–].)
. Several comments on this argument. Contained in the two premises
() and () is a basic point:
The reasons on the basis of which A conceives of, or regards, A’s reasonable nature as an end-in-itself are not facts about this nature that include
an essential reference to A. It is not that it is A’s reasonable nature rather
than B’s that makes it an end-in-itself for A, but that it is the reasonable
nature of some reasonable being. To illustrate: the fact that A is hungry
yields a reason for A to get something to eat, but not because it is A that
is hungry, but because some reasonable being is hungry, and A is in a good
position to secure food for that reasonable being, namely, A.
This point just explained may suggest an argument Kant cannot have
intended. Consider the following reasoning (I shorten the presentation a
() Each reasonable being necessarily conceives its own reasonable nature as an end-in-itself in the sense that it necessarily
regards itself as a subject of inclinations and desires, the satisfaction of which is good, and so as providing reasons why it
should act in one way rather than another.
() The satisfaction of its own inclinations is good because they
are the inclinations of some reasonable being as an end-initself.
() But since this consideration holds for any reasonable being,
it holds for all; so the inclinations of all reasonable beings
specify reasons equally valid for any other reasonable being.
() Therefore, the fulﬁllment of inclinations and desires is, in
general, good; and to treat reasonable nature as an end-initself is to consider everyone’s inclinations and desires, one’s
own included, as deﬁning pro tanto reasons equally valid for
Now, utilitarians maintain that the principle of utility, by taking everyone’s desires and inclinations into account on an impartial basis, treats everyone as ends-in-themselves and never as means only. To treat persons
as means only, they say, is to disregard their desires and inclinations, or
not to give them an appropriate weight. I mention this misreading of Kant’s
argument to indicate what we must avoid. For by viewing people as subjects
of desires and inclinations and assigning value to their satisfaction as such,
(classical) utilitarianism is at odds with Kant’s doctrine at a fundamental
level. He cannot have meant the argument of II: (–) in this way;
for him, only permissible desires and inclinations—ones that suggest to us
maxims acceptable to the CI-procedure—can specify good reasons.
I add as an addendum: the footnote to II: (–) deserves notice. Here
Kant repudiates the suggestion that the second formulation comes to the
same thing as the precept “Quod tibi non vis ﬁeri” (don’t do unto others
what you do not want done to yourself ). That he thinks of the negative
statement of the Golden Rule in this connection is perhaps signiﬁcant. More
relevant is his protest that this precept is not acceptable as it stands, as
shown by his last remark: it seems he imagines the convicted criminal to
say to the judge, “If you were me you would not want to be sentenced,
What Kant must mean is that, to be reasonable, the criminal must assess
the judge’s action by reasoning in accordance with the CI-procedure and
not in terms of the criminal’s own situation and desire not to be punished.
What is wrong with the Golden Rule (in both its positive and negative
versions) is that as stated it allows our natural inclinations and the special
circumstances to play an improper role in our deliberations. But in saying
this Kant implies that the CI-procedure speciﬁes their proper role.
The Categorical Imperative: The Third Formulation
§. Gaining Entry for the Moral Law
. Recall our conjecture about how the three formulations of the categorical
imperative are related. The ﬁrst formulation speciﬁes the CI-procedure in
terms of the law of nature formula. This procedure is neither the moral
law nor the categorical imperative, but it is, I have suggested, the most
usable way for us, beginning from the universal formula of the categorical
imperative as the strict method, to work out what the categorical imperative requires of us. The second and third formulations do not add to the
content of the moral requirements speciﬁed by the CI-procedure; rather,
they lay out two further points of view that complement it.
Thus, in the ﬁrst formulation, we look at the moral situation from the
agent’s point of view, and regard ourselves as subject to the moral law. In
the second, we are directed to view ourselves and other persons as affected
by our action, and so as passive. The question is how we are treating humanity both in ourselves and in others. In the third formulation, that of
autonomy, which we discuss today, we come back again to the agent’s
point of view, this time regarding the agent not as someone subject to the
categorical imperative, but as someone who is, as it were, legislating moral
requirements. Here the CI-procedure is seen as that procedure adherence
to which with a full grasp of its meaning enables us to regard ourselves as
making universal law for a possible realm of ends.
. Recall also that Kant says in his review (at II:– [–]) that
there is a difference between the formulations that is subjectively rather
than objectively practical. The reason for having several formulations is to
bring an idea of reason nearer to intuition (in accordance with a certain
analogy) and so nearer to feeling. At the end of the review, 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, as
far as we can, to bring “it [the action] nearer to intuition.”
Here Kant’s text may not convey his full meaning. For while there is
no doubt that the pronoun sie would normally be taken to refer to the
action, earlier in II: () he says that the moral law is an idea of reason
which it is the purpose of the different formulations to bring nearer to
intuition. So “an idea of reason” may be the best reference for the pronoun
(Paton’s “universal formula” is incorrect). In any case, since the moral law
is an idea of reason (II: [–]; ), Kant’s point is that the three
formulations of the categorical imperative are more effective than any one
in bringing that law as an idea of reason nearer to intuition, thus gaining
access, or entry, for it.
. Let’s consider what Kant may mean by gaining entry for the moral
law. Last time, we saw that it is a feature of our humanity that we have
certain moral dispositions, such as moral feeling and conscience, love of
neighbors, and self-respect. It is basic to Kant’s moral psychology that the
more clearly the moral law is presented to us as an idea of reason, and the
more clearly we understand its origins in our person as free, the more
forcefully it arouses our moral sensibility (lacking which we are morally
dead [MdS :]).
Further, Kant thinks that the moral law can move us so strongly as to
outweigh all of our natural inclinations, even the love of life itself (KP :
). So his thought is that the three formulations, when viewed in tandem,
present the moral law more clearly and disclose to us its origins in our
person, all in such a way that we may be strongly moved to act from it.
Somehow they work together to bring an idea of reason nearer to intuition
by a certain analogy. Our task is to look at the third formulation in this
light, to try to understand how an idea of reason (here the moral law) is
brought nearer to intuition, and to identify the analogy Kant has in mind.
. I mention two passages relevant to the preceding. In II: (–),
Kant says that a metaphysics of morals (an account of the laws of freedom