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§6. A Note on True Human Needs
needs is that, while the phrase occurs in the text, the problem that this conception addresses—the problem of how the agent at step () is to assess
alternative adjusted social worlds—is not. Kant does not discuss it in the
form in which we have considered it, so we seem to have little to guide us.
If this were not bad enough, there is also the fact that the meaning of
the phrase “true human needs” is not very exact and cannot be gathered
from the few places that Kant uses it. In view of all this, I offer the conception of true human needs with some hesitation and recognize that other
ways of dealing with the problem may be preferable.
. What clues have we to guide us in specifying this problematic conception? One clue is clearly the following: in Kant II:§, we assumed that Kant
is concerned in the ﬁrst instance with ideally reasonable and rational human
agents. He wants ﬁrst to work out what practical reason requires of agents
who are, as we are, ﬁnite beings in the order of nature. Human beings also
animate pure and empirical practical reason; it is in reference to their powers of practical reason that their humanity is deﬁned. Keep in mind that to
commit suicide is, as far as any one person can do it, to root out the basis
of morality in the world, and so is permissible only for the strongest of
reasons and never for reasons relating solely to our happiness.
Another clue seems equally clear. This is that Kant thinks of the agent
who is working through the CI-procedure as primarily concerned with that
agent’s own interests. We should emphatically not say that those working
through the procedure are selﬁsh, that is, have interests only in themselves—in their own wealth and power, in their own prestige and wellbeing—and consider other people only as they affect their own interests.
Of course, all their interests belonging to them as agents are interests of a
self, as it were. But this last is a truism. Interests in a self and interests of
a self are two very different kinds of things and should never be confused.
So let’s say that in working through the CI-procedure, agents are owninterested. That is, they are concerned with their own interests, which may
be of all kinds as long as those interests are compatible with their being
reasonable, rational, and sincere.
. We can take a further step and say that certain needs are particularly
basic. For example, Kant thinks that the state of nature is a state of injustice.
There is no security and order of law for anyone, and this makes it a state
of war even if there are no actual hostilities (MdS :). We have a primary
duty to leave a state of nature and to join with others in a civil society
regulated by law. Of course, we can’t make this duty a presupposition of
the CI-procedure, as any such duty must come later, but it does indicate
that Kant thinks that we always need security and order in our relations
with others, and thus need the basic social conditions that ensure this. Call
these needs for certain basic social conditions required for a viable society.
Another kind of basic needs are those necessary to develop and exercise
our capacity for rationality: that is, to form, revise, and rationally advance
a scheme of ordered ends, which speciﬁes what Kant considers as our happiness. Here I am not, for the moment, counting those ends themselves as
basic; rather, what is basic is the need to develop and exercise the capacity
of rationality itself as it forms and orders those ends. Whatever an agent’s
idea of happiness may be, it is essential in all normal cases to develop and
preserve the capacity of rationality.
. Thus we obtain two basic needs: the need for security and order in
society, required to remove the state of war, and the need for those conditions necessary to develop and exercise our capacity for rationality in order
to advance our happiness. These two needs sufﬁce, I assume, to reject any
maxim of indifference and to endorse an acceptable maxim of mutual aid.
Note that we have not relied on anyone’s particular idea of happiness (for
reasons discussed in §. above), nor have we mentioned our capacity to
be reasonable or our moral sensibility. Whether they, and other things as
well, can also be relied on, I leave aside here. My aim is simply to illustrate
how the idea of true human needs can be ﬁlled out relying only on truly
basic—even universal—needs of human beings conceived as ﬁnite rational
agents in the order of nature. Here a certain idea of rational agents and
their needs plays a guiding role.
How much, if anything, Kant’s view requires beyond this I leave here
as an open question. I have only tried to show that given the structure of
his view, and what he says at various places, we have a number of clues
as to how to proceed.5
5. Two instructive discussions of this general question are found in Paul Dietrichson, “Kant’s
Criteria of Universalizability,” in Kant: Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals, ed. R. P. Wolff (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, ), esp. pp. –; and in Barbara Herman, “Mutual Aid and Respect for
Persons,” Ethics (), pp. – (reprinted in The Practice of Moral Judgment, pp. –), who has a
valuable discussion of true human needs (see esp. pp. ff.). My very brief account is closest to hers.
§. Rational Intuitionism: A Final Look
. In several of the preceding lectures, we have contrasted Kant’s moral
doctrine with the metaphysical perfectionism of Leibniz construed as a variant of rational intuitionism. I begin today by mentioning this contrast one
last time. I do this because, as I noted previously, it is not sufﬁciently appreciated that Kant would reject rational intuitionism as a form of heteronomy just as ﬁrmly (or so I think) as he would reject Hume’s psychological
Last time, I said that part of the explanation for the failure to appreciate
this fact about Kant’s view may lie in Kant’s own exposition: he nowhere
clearly describes rational intuitionism and then shows why he thinks that
it is heteronomous. Possibly he lacks a clear conception of it. Whether or
not this is so, the fullest discussions are those against perfectionism (Gr II:
– [–]; and KP :), and as we have seen, these discussions do
not state the deeper grounds of his rejection of intuitionism.
One main weakness is that Kant supposes there to be only two possibilities: either the moral law is founded on an object given to it, in which case
it depends on our susceptibility and the pleasure we anticipate from realizing that object, or the moral law as pure practical reason determines (constructs) its own object out of itself. That these are the only alternatives
Kant envisages is seen in this passage, which is one of several (KP :):
Either: a principle of reason is thought of as already the determining
ground of the will without reference to possible objects of the faculty of
desire . . . [and] then that principle is a practical law a priori, and pure
reason is assumed to be in itself practical; . . . [o]r a determining ground of
the faculty of desire precedes the maxim of the will, and this determining
ground presupposes an object of pleasure or displeasure and consequently something that pleases or displeases . . . [and so] determines
actions which are good only with reference to our inclinations.
What is missing here is the recognition that intuitionism says that
knowledge of the order of values can arouse moral feelings and the desire
to act accordingly. Here the relation of the object of thought to feeling
seems quite similar to the way in which Kant says knowledge of the moral
law gives rise to the feelings of moral shame and self-reproach in Analytic
III (KP :–). Of course, the difference is that the principles of practical
reason are principles of our own reason, principles we give to ourselves as
reasonable and rational. But the full force of the contrast with intuitionism
is not made.
. Yet one is tempted to ask: even though Kant fails to present his deeper
objections to intuitionism, why isn’t it just obvious anyway that for him it
is a form of heteronomy?
One reason may be that in the rational intuitionism of Clarke and Leibniz, basic moral concepts are unanalyzable, and so are conceptually independent of natural concepts. Some might think that this gives a certain autonomy to practical reason. Another reason is that ﬁrst principles as grasped
by rational intuition are viewed as synthetic a priori and thus as independent
of any particular order of nature. It is tempting to think that such principles
could not be heteronomous. After all, they are synthetic a priori, they are
known by reason alone, and they are independent of and prior to any order
of nature. Doesn’t all this sound rather like Kant?
Yet in Kant’s moral constructivism, it sufﬁces for heteronomy that ﬁrst
principles are founded on relations among objects the nature of which is
not affected or determined by our conception of ourselves as reasonable
and rational persons (possessing the powers of practical reason) and by our
conception of the public role of moral principles in a possible realm of ends.
Kant’s idea of autonomy requires that there exists no moral order prior to