Morality and the Human Condition, #14–Kant’s Ethics of Persons & Principles: Ten Basic Ideas.
By Robert Hanna
Table of Contents
V.3 Kant’s Ethics of Persons and Principles
V.3.1 Ten Basic Ideas
V.3.2 Three Classical Worries about Kant’s Ethics
V.4 All-Things-Considered Conclusion of This Section
VI. Pascal’s Optimism and Schopenhauer’s Pessimism
VI.1 Pascal’s Optimism About the Meaning of Life
VI.2 Schopenhauer’s Pessimism About the Meaning of Life
VI.3 Pascal or Schopenhauer? Optimism or Pessimism?
VII. Existentialism, the Absurd, and Affirmation
VII.1 Two Kinds of Existentialism
VII.2 Nagel and the Absurd
VII.3 Camus and Affirmation
VIII. The Ethics of Authenticity
VIII.1 Existential Ethics and the Concept of Authenticity
VIII.1.1 What is Authenticity?
VIII.1.2 Authenticity and Radical Freedom
VIII.1.3 Inauthenticity, Freedom-Refusers, and Freedom Deniers
VIII.2 Two Important Problems for Existential Ethics
VIII.3 Sartre on Principled Authenticity
IX. The Nature of Death
IX.1 The Ambiguity of “Death”
IX.2 The Nature of Our Own Death
IX.2.1 Nagel On the Nature of Our Own Death
IX.2.2 Suits Against the “Deprivation” Account of the Badness of Death
IX.2.3 Some Critical Worries About What Nagel and Suits are Saying About the Nature of Our Own Death
X. The (Im)Possibility of Human Immortality
X.1 Williams on the Tedium of Immortality
X.2 Fischer on How Human Immortality Could Be a Good Thing
X.3 Some Worries About What Williams and Fischer are Saying About Human Immortality
X.4 Human Life Without Immortality
This installment contains section V.3.1.
But you can also read or download a .pdf version of the complete short course HERE.
V.3 Kant’s Ethics of Persons and Principles[i]
V.3.1 Ten Basic Ideas
Kant’s ethics — or more accurately speaking, in view of what I argued in section II.2, his moral theory — is often cited as a paradigm of deontology.
But that’s a sloppy conceptual mistake.
“Deontology” means the theory of duty, and a moral duty is just a moral obligation, but Aristotelian virtue ethics and Millian utilitarianism both entail moral duties in that sense too: duties entailed by moral virtue in view of the highest human good of happiness, and duties entailed by maximizing utility.
So Kant’s moral theory is neither more nor less focused on duties, aka “deontological,” than any other classical moral theory.
Indeed, every actual and possible moral theory that falls under the standard conception of morality entails moral duties and is a “deontology” in that sense.
Therefore, it’s far more accurate, discriminating, and illuminating to describe Kant’s moral theory as centrally focused on persons and principles.
Correspondingly, Kant’s moral theory of persons and principles can be compactly expressed as a set of ten basic ideas.
1. The highest or supreme good is a person’s good (autonomous) will.
Kant says that the highest or supreme good is a good will.
Here, willing is the same as a person’s intention (i.e., a desire, which targets some end + a belief, about the means that would bring about that end) to do some act X, together with self-conscious deliberation about doing X, together with a self-conscious decision to do X, together with self-consciously trying to do X.
Notice especially the crucial role of self-conscious awareness in this conception of willing.
Otherwise put, for Kant, willing X is the same as practical reasoning about X.
So human persons are human animals that are innately capable of willing, self-consciousness, and practical reasoning.
As such, every human person has dignity, that is, absolute, non-denumerably (i.e., uncountably) infinite, non-fungible, intrinsic moral value.
In number theory, non-denumerable infinities are those infinite quantities that can’t be put into a one-to-one correspondence with the set of integers or natural numbers.
E.g., the value of pi is a non-denumerably infinite (non-repeating, non-terminating) decimal value: 3.14159265358323897946264338….,[ii] and more generally, the sets of real numbers, complex numbers, and transcendental numbers (including pi) are all non-denumerably infinite.
Historically, it’s no accident that the mathematical use of the term “transcendental” and Kant’s use of the term “transcendental” emerged simultaneously.
So according to Kant’s moral theory, since economic value is always denumerable or countable value, it follows that human persons have a value that transcends all economic value, and that in turn makes the moral value of human persons non-fungible.
A good will is volition from, or for the sake of, duty, which is strict moral obligation, and more specifically, our duty is to obey The Categorical Imperative.
The Categorical Imperative is the absolutely universal objective moral law, aka The Moral Law: hence we are strictly morally obligated to obey the Categorical Imperative, aka The Moral Law.
Otherwise put, then, to have a good will is to choose and act from, or for the sake of, the Categorical Imperative, aka The Moral Law.
A good will, for Kant, is also necessarily a free will.
According to Kant, as persons, we possess not only “negative freedom” or freedom-from being compelled, forced, or prevented from choosing or doing what we intend, but more importantly, we also possess “positive freedom” or freedom-to choose or do what we intend.
The highest or supreme kind of freedom-to for Kant is autonomy, that is, a person’s capacity for self-legislating The Categorical Imperative.
2. What The Categorical Imperative is and what categorical imperatives are.
It’s crucially important to distinguish between The Categorical Imperative and a categorical imperative.
The Categorical Imperative is actually a holistic set of four (or five, depending on how you count them) significantly different (in the sense of having non-synonymous meanings) but still necessarily conceptually interlinked, categorical imperatives, each of which is a categorical imperative.
In order to distinguish terminologically between The Categorical Imperative, and one or another of the four (or five) categorical imperatives, it’s convenient to refer to the latter as different “formulations” of The Categorical Imperative.
According Kant, The Categorical Imperative — hence also each one of the four (or five) categorical imperatives — is innately specified in persons’ minds, hence in that sense The Categorical Imperative is in us, not outside us.
Generally speaking, a moral imperative is a moral command, a moral principle that tells us that we morally ought to choose and do something, i.e., that we’re morally obligated to choose and do something.
But a specifically categorical imperative is a moral principle that tells us that we ought to choose and do something period, or unconditionally, which is to say that we must choose and do it no matter what the consequences, whether or not it is in our own self-interest, and whether or not it makes us happy (e.g., by experiencing pleasure).
So a categorical imperative is a non-consequentialistic (and in particular, non-utilitarian), non-egoistic, non-eudaimonistic (and in particular, non-hedonistic) moral command.
A categorical imperative is therefore not grounded on instrumental (i.e., egoistic or non-egoistic benefits-based, means-ends) reasons for choice and action.
Hence a categorical imperative is also a non-instrumental reason for choice and action.
This is to be sharply contrasted with what Kant calls a hypothetical imperative, which says:
If I desire X, then I ought to do Y (= the sufficient means to getting X) in order to get X.
Thus a hypothetical imperative is also an instrumental reason for choice and action.
To sum up so far, then,
every categorical imperative is a non-consequentialistic (and in particular, non-utilitarian), non-egoistic, non-eudaimonistic (and in particular, non-hedonistic) absolutely universal objective moral principle that provides a non-instrumental reason for autonomous choice and action, and is innately specified in us.
(3) Duty is the necessity of an act done from moral respect for persons and The Categorical Imperative, aka The Moral Law.
This Kantian thesis says that duty is the moral obligation that’s binding on any act which is such that only the feeling of moral respect will suffice to move us no matter what our first-order desires and feelings might happen to be.
Moral respect is the special moral pro-attitude we take towards all persons, including ourselves, and our/their dignity, especially in view of our/their autonomous will, which in turn is inherently capable of choosing and acting according to categorical imperatives and The Categorical Imperative.
In other words, when we do our moral duty, then what’s ultimately motivating us is respect for persons and our/their dignity, and for The Categorical Imperative, aka The Moral Law, that’s innately specified in all persons.
4. The highest or supreme human good, and the complete good.
For Kant, “moral worth” is something’s or someone’s intrinsic moral value, as opposed to its or their extrinsic moral value, which is something’s or someone’s instrumental moral value, i.e., its or their ability or tendency to provide benefits for people.
For Kant, the highest or supreme good for a human person is not shallow happiness in the utilitarian sense, because happiness has moral worth only if it has been inherently guided and secured by a good will, that is, only if it’s deep happiness, i.e., human happiness that’s guided and secured by a good will.
Furthermore, a deeply happy human life that’s inherently guided and secured by a good will is what Kant calls the complete good, which is the all-around best life for a human person.
Yet happiness, whether shallow or deep, even though it belongs to the complete good when it’s deep, always requires some good luck.
But if, sadly, we’re unlucky — if shit happens — and then unlucky push comes to unhappy shove, a good will necessarily outranks happiness.
That’s why a good will is the highest or supreme good, even though the complete good necessarily includes deep happiness.
But this doesn’t in any way imply that happiness is a bad thing, since, again, for Kant the best all-around life for a human person is a deeply happy human life that’s inherently guided and secured by a good will.
It’s just that, morally speaking, happiness isn’t either the only thing or the primary thing, so Kant’s moral theory isn’t a version of eudaimonism.
(5) We know The Categorical Imperative and categorical imperatives by means of practical reason.
The Categorical Imperative — and thus also each categorical imperative that belongs to the set of four (or five) different formulations of The Categorical Imperative — is known by our faculty of practical reason, which for Kant (perhaps surprisingly, for those who mistakenly believe the classical caricature of Kant which says that he’s an enemy of feelings, pleasures, desires, and passions; and a nasty covert Pietist Protestant to boot; not to mention short; and really, really boring and mechanical, because he walked around Königsburg, aka Kaliningrad, at the same time every day) is also the same as the faculty of desire.
For Kant, the faculty of practical reason or desire has two proper parts:
(i) a legislative part, which issues practical commands or imperatives, also called
the will (Wille), and
(ii) an executive part, which executes practical commands or imperatives, also called the power of choice (Willkür).
In turn, the will or legislative part has two levels:
(ia) a higher level, which is our pure will, i.e., our capacity for autonomy and choosing and acting according to The Categorical Imperative and categorical imperatives (aka pure practical reason), and
(ib) a lower level, which is our impure will, i.e., or our capacity for prudence and choosing and acting according to hypothetical imperatives.
The executive part of the faculty of practical reason or desire, i.e., our power of choice, is our faculty of effective desires, which are desires that do, would, or will move us all the way to choice and action.
A psychological faculty for Kant is an innate specialized spontaneous capacity or a psychological power, which means that it can be properly used, not necessarily that it is always (or ever, for that matter) properly used.
So you can possess the psychological faculty of pure practical reason, but still choose and do the wrong thing, for which you therefore have moral responsibility.
Another way of defining human personhood is to say that human persons are animals that possess a faculty of pure practical reason.
So human persons have dignity whether or not they actually (ever) choose or do the right thing.
Therefore, dignity isn’t a moral achievement: it’s a moral endowment.
It’s crucially important to note that being a human person isn’t the same as being a human animal, because some human animals (e.g., the unfortunate Baby Theresa) are human animals, but not human persons, i.e., human non-persons.
Moreover, if there were gods, angels, or aliens that possessed a faculty of pure practical reason (say, Klaatu in Robert Wise’s 1951 science fiction classic The Day the Earth Stood Still, or ET in Steven Spielberg’s 1982 equally sci-fi-classic ET the Extra-Terrestrial), then they’d all be non-human persons.
And many or most non-human animals manifestly don’t possess a faculty of pure practical reason, hence they’re not persons, i.e., they’re non-human non-persons.
But if there actually are (or were to be) non-human animals that possess a faculty of pure practical reason (e.g., Great apes, dolphins, or the occasional parrot?), then they’re (or would be) non-human persons too.
Nevertheless, either human or non-human animals that aren’t persons, aka that are non-persons, don’t have dignity and hence they can be permissibly used by persons (e.g., for food, clothing, or labor, as per many non-human animals, or for harvesting their organs, as per Baby Theresa), but only if The Categorical Imperative is otherwise obeyed.
This includes, e.g., a moral obligation binding on us never to torture human or non-human non-persons, that is, never intentionally to cause them unnecessary and excessive pain.
6. Ends vs. means, and ends-in-themselves.
For Kant, all ends have intrinsic value, that is, they’ve got value for their own sake, i.e., inherent value.
Means, by contrast, are things that are valued only for the sake of ends, hence means have only extrinsic value, that is, they’ve got value for the sake of something else, namely ends.
Ends, in turn, can have either a price or a dignity.
For an end to have a price means that it has some equivalent that can be systematically substituted for it, i.e., it’s fungible.
Price can either be market price (in terms of the satisfaction of self-interest or public interest, e.g., economic price) or fancy price (in terms of disinterested satisfaction).
Dignity, as we saw above, is absolute, non-denumerably infinite, non-fungible, intrinsic moral value, which transcends all price, and indeed transcends all economics.
Only ends-in-themselves, which are the same as persons, that is, possessors of the faculty of pure practical reason, have dignity.
So all and only persons (and more specifically, all and only those human animals that are persons) are ends-in-themselves.
Notice especially, as I mentioned above, that Kant’s moral theory allows for non-human persons and also for human non-persons, none of whom, therefore, are ends-in-themselves.
But if any non-human animals are also persons (by virtue of possessing a faculty of pure practical reason), then they also possess dignity and also are ends-in-themselves.
So even despite what you may have seen written on washroom walls, Kant’s moral theory is not in any way “speciesist.”
7. The moral worth of a choice or act.
Associated feelings (or other conscious mental states) and consequences don’t determine the moral rightness of a choice or act, which is the same as its moral worth.
Instead, only the choice or intention and its relation to The Categorical Imperative, aka The Moral Law, and its four (or five) formulations, can determine this.
A choice can be made or an act can be done merely in conformity with The Moral Law, without its being made or done from or for the sake of The Moral Law.
If and only if a choice is made or an act is done from or for the sake of The Moral Law, does it have moral worth.
But choices or acts done merely in conformity with The Moral Law, which therefore don’t have moral worth, still have moral value.
More explicitly, here’s the distinction between moral worth and moral value:
(i) moral worth is
either (ia) the deep happiness of persons
or (ib) the intrinsic moral goodness or rightness of their choices and acts,
(ii) moral value is
either (iia) moral worth, as per (i),
or (iib) the shallow happiness of persons,
or (iic) the moral good of consequences in terms of their shallow happiness benefits.
Kant provides four famous (or, if you’re either an Aristotelian or contemporary virtue ethicist or a Millian utilitarian ethicist, notorious) examples:
(i) the shopkeeper who doesn’t cheat his customers only because he’s afraid he might be caught and punished, and not because it’s good and right to treat other people fairly (so it’s a case of moral value without moral worth),
(ii) the misanthropic fair-minded man, who treats other people fairly just because it’s good and right to do so, even though, perhaps because he’s depressed, or perhaps just because he’s misanthropic by nature, he’s also feeling cynical and badly disposed towards everyone, including himself (so it’s a case of shallow unhappiness, and also a case of moral worth, and therefore also a case of moral value),
(iii) the happy philanthropist, who provides charity for other less well-off people only because he enjoys and gets pleasure from doing it (so it’s a case of shallow happiness, not deep happiness), not because it’s good and right to be charitable (so it’s also a case of moral value without moral worth), and
(iv) the gouty philanthropist, who provides charity for other less well-off people just because it’s good and right to do so, even though he’s in almost constant pain and gets no enjoyment or pleasure from being charitable (so again it’s a case of shallow unhappiness, and also a case of moral worth, and therefore also a case of moral value).
The cases of the misanthropic fair-minded man and the gouty philanthropist also raise an extremely interesting and important question: is it possible to be deeply happy even if you’re (perhaps even very intensely) unhappy in the shallow sense?
In his 1788 book, the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant says yes, it’s really possible, by virtue of the fact that it’s humanly possible (even if very difficult) to achieve, by means of the consistent practice of self-controlled good willing, a first-personal coherence of all one’s beliefs, desires, other feelings, and actions, both at any given time and over time, experienced as such, that constitutes a special and specifically moral kind of human happiness.[iii]
This Kantian deep happiness even in the face of (perhaps even very intense) shallow unhappiness, is essentially the same as what 19th and 20th century existentialists like Kierkegaard, Heidegger, Sartre, Camus, and De Beauvoir call authenticity.
There are also some important anticipations of this same notion of authentic deep happiness in ancient Greek philosophy, via the Stoic notion of ataraxia, and in the 17th century (as we’ll see in the next section), via what I’ll call Blaise Pascal’s optimism.
In any case, many or even most choices and acts with moral worth are psychologically overdetermined, in the sense that they have two or more motives, each of which, on its own, is psychologically sufficient for getting the agent to choose and do the act.
(E.g., in a non-psychological context, wearing a belt and suspenders overdetermines holding up your trousers.)
But only the motive of respect (for the dignity of persons and The Moral Law innately specified in persons) will suffice to guarantee moral worth, since only that motive is for the sake of what’s intrinsically good and right, and not for the sake of something egoistic, hedonistic, or beneficial for others, even if choosing and/or doing the good and right thing is also accompanied by the satisfaction of self-interest, pleasure, or benefits for others.
This means that in order to tell what’s really motivating a given choice and act, we’ll have to examine, by using our conceptual abilities assisted by the imagination, counterfactual situations in which the non-respect-based motives are substantially changed or altogether removed, in order to determine whether the original overdetermined act was done from the motive of respect and thus for the sake of the dignity of persons and The Moral Law, or not.
Correspondingly, here are the counterfactual tests for moral worth.
First, let’s suppose that X is the good and right thing to choose and do, and that a person P chooses or does X.
If P had (perhaps even very intensely) felt not like choosing or doing X, or had felt like choosing or doing something other than X, or if the consequences of not choosing or not doing X, or choosing or doing something other than X, were beneficial to P or to others, would P still have chosen or done X?
If yes, then P’s choice or act has moral worth; if no, then P’s choice or act might still have moral value, but it does not have moral worth.
Second, let’s suppose X is the bad and wrong thing to choose or do, and that a person P avoids choosing or doing X.
If P had felt (perhaps even very intensely) like choosing or doing X, or if the consequences of choosing or doing X were (perhaps very) beneficial to P or to others, would P still have avoided choosing or doing X?
If yes, then P’s choice or act has moral worth; if no, then P’s choice or act might still have moral value, but it does not have moral worth.
But above all, it’s crucial to notice here that for Kant, it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy choosing and doing the good and right thing, and also that for Kant, it’s perfectly acceptable to bring about beneficial consequences for yourself and others by so choosing or doing, provided that the choice or act also passes the counterfactual test for moral worth.
In particular, for Kant, you don’t have to hate choosing or doing the good and right thing.
On the contrary, not only do you really want to perform your duties, precisely because you’re moved by respect for the dignity of persons and for The Moral Law innately specified in them and yourself, but also it’s perfectly acceptable to enjoy performing your duties.
8. Kantian moral duties.
Officially, Kantian moral duties are of two kinds, namely, using Kant’s own terminology,
(i) strict or perfect moral duties, and
(ii) meritorious or imperfect moral duties.
The “strict” or “perfect” duties are
(ia) the duty to be truthful, not to lie, to be sincere, and not to make false promises ( in order to preserve the foundations of trust between human persons),
(ib) the duty to preserve our faculty for pure practical reason, especially including not killing other persons and not committing suicide, and more generally, the duty to preserve rational human nature in oneself and others.
And the “meritorious” or “imperfect” duties are
(iia) the duty to develop one’s own talents, be happy, and have a successful and
flourishing life (so in essence, it’s the duty to pursue one’s own happiness in sense of Aristotelian virtue ethics), and
(iib) the duty to prevent harm to other persons and bring benefits to other persons (so in essence, it’s the duty to produce as much happiness as possible for as many people as possible in the sense of Millian utilitarianism).
It’s crucially important to note that Kant’s terminology, to put it mildly, isn’t especially helpful — indeed, his terminology here is extremely misleading.
And that’s because the so-called “strict” or “perfect” duties are, in fact, neither strict nor perfect, just as the so-called “Holy Roman Empire” was, in fact, neither holy, nor Roman, nor an empire.
Similarly, the so-called “meritorious” or “imperfect” duties are, in fact, neither more meritorious than nor less perfect than the so-called “strict” or “perfect” duties.
In truth, the so-called “strict” or “perfect” duties are
moral principles that we have to consider in every possible situation in which it’s possible for “human, all-too-human” creatures like us to choose and act,
whereas the so-called “meritorious” or “imperfect” duties are
moral principles that we have to consider in all and only the situations in which it’s really possible for “human, all-too-human” creatures like us to choose or act and also there are relevant opportunities for pursuing happiness in the sense of Aristotelian virtue ethics or for producing as much happiness as possible for as many people as possible in the sense of Millian utilitarianism.
Therefore, there’s no implication whatsoever that so-called “strict” or “perfect” duties actually have to be followed in every situation in which it’s really possible for “human, all-too-human” creatures like us to choose and act: on the contrary, they simply have to be considered by us in every such situation.
Nor is there any implication whatsoever that so-called “meritorious” or “imperfect” duties are less binding on us, or less morally obligatory, than so-called “strict” or “perfect” duties.
On the contrary, all the so-called “strict” or “perfect” duties and all the so-called “meritorious” and “imperfect” duties are equally binding, namely, as moral obligations for us to consider them, respectively, in
either (i) every situation in which it’s really possible for human persons to choose and act,
or (ii) every situation in which it’s really possible for human beings to choose and act and also to pursue happiness oneself or produce as much happiness as possible for as many people as possible.
Moreover, in none of these situations is it required that we possess moral or rational powers that transcend what’s really possible for “human, all-too-human” creatures like us: on the contrary, it’s fully built into such situations that they’re all scaled to the human condition, i.e., they’re all anthropocentric.
Therefore, I’ll call these two types of duties, far more accurately, respectively
(i) anthropocentric moral principles for our universal consideration, period (= the so-called “strict” or “perfect” duties), and
(ii) anthropocentric moral principles for our universal consideration, but only insofar as happiness is relevant (= the so-called “meritorious” or “imperfect” duties),
even if that terminology is, admittedly, a bit of a longwinded mouthful.
For convenience, then, I’ll chop those terms down, respectively, to the more easily chewable terms
(i) blah-blah, period duties, and
(ii) blah-blah, happiness-relevant duties.
9. The four (or five) formulations of The Categorical Imperative.
As I mentioned above, The Categorical Imperative is actually a four- (or five-) membered holistic set of necessarily conceptually interlinked categorical imperatives.
Notice, especially, moreover, that the blah-blah, period duties and the blah-blah, happiness-relevant duties, are not categorical imperatives, because
(i) blah-blah, period duties and blah-blah, happiness-relevant duties aren’t principles that apply directly to choices and acts, but instead they apply only to our consideration of principles that apply directly to choices and acts, and
(ii) categorical imperatives are principles that not only apply directly to human choices and acts, but also apply directly to every actual and possible human choice and act.
Against that backdrop, here are the four (or five, depending on how you count them) formulations of The Categorical Imperative, that is, the four (or five) categorical imperatives:
First, The Formula of Universal Law:
Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law.[iv]
And as a variant on that, The Formula of the Universal Law of Nature:
Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a universal law of nature.[v]
Second, The Formula of Humanity as End-in-Itself:
So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means.[vi]
Third, The Formula of Autonomy:
The supreme condition of [the will’s] harmony with universal practical reason [is] the idea of the will of every rational being as a will giving universal law.[vii]
Fourth and finally, The Formula of the Realm of Ends:
A rational being must always regard himself as lawgiving in a realm of ends possible through freedom of the will, whether as a member or as sovereign.[viii]
What do the four (or five) categorical imperatives mean?
A maxim is a first-person-centered principle of volition or act-intention.
So The Formula of Universal Law says that nothing will count as a morally permissible first-person centered principle of volition, or act-intention, unless it consistently generalizes.
The Formula of the Universal Law of Nature says that nothing will count as a morally permissible first-person-centered principle of volition or act-intention unless it consistently generalizes in possible worlds that include our laws of material nature, that is, in worlds in which natural causality is really possible.
The Formula of Humanity as an End-in-Itself says that nothing will count as a morally permissible first-person-centered principle of volition or act-intention unless it essentially supports the dignity of persons by never entailing that they are used as mere means to some end or treated as mere things.
The Formula of Autonomy says that nothing will count as a morally permissible first-person-centered principle of volition or act-intention unless it essentially supports the autonomy of persons, where, as per the above, autonomy is a person’s capacity for freely self-legislating The Categorical Imperative.
And finally The Formula of the Realm of Ends says that nothing will count as a morally permissible first-person-centered principle of volition or act-intention unless it essentially supports the self-legislating freedom of persons in a universal intersubjective community, such that each person is considered equally and impartially in the free choices or acts of every other person.
Now if a maxim satisfies one or another of the categorical imperatives, then acting on that maxim is morally permissible, but not necessarily morally obligatory.
If a maxim violates one or another of the categorical imperatives, then it’s morally impermissible and it’s also morally obligatory not to act on that maxim.
10. Kant’s model of practical reasoning.
Notice especially that Kant’s model of practical reasoning is not a decision procedure that could in principle be mechanized — e.g., calculated on a digital computer — as in Millian utilitarianism.
This is because The Categorical Imperative in its four (or five) formulations is an absolutely universal objective moral principle, but neither a logical premise or theorem, nor an empirical thesis, that could count as an input to a mechanical (e.g., digitally computable) process of calculation.
More specifically, for Kant, practical reasoning always requires the use of the power of judgment, which involves
either (i) the context-sensitive application of general concepts to perceived particulars or individual cases (determining judgment),
or (ii) the context-sensitive construction of general concepts starting with perceived particulars or individual cases (reflecting judgment),
together with (iii) the context-sensitive power of imagination, which is always needed to mediate between concepts and perceived objects, but whose use cannot be reduced to rules of any kind and is therefore an art, not a science.
Here, then, is Kant’s model of practical reasoning as a nine-step process of judgment, considered from the first-person point of view.
First, I desire some end or another, X.
Second, I postulate a means to that end, Y.
Third, I figure out whether that means Y is indeed sufficient for that end X in that context, or not.
Fourth, if so, then I use a hypothetical imperative to formulate a maxim of the following form:
If I desire X (as my end), I ought to choose and do Y (as the contextually sufficient means to that end), hence I will (to do) Y.
Fifth, I evaluate my maxim in light of the four (or five) formulations of The Categorical Imperative.
Sixth, if that maxim is morally permissible, then I can will the means Y to my end X and thereby choose and do Y.
Seventh, if that maxim is morally obligatory, then I must will the means Y to my end X and choose and do Y.
Eighth, but if that maxim is morally impermissible, then I must not choose or do Y.
Ninth, repeat the preceding eight steps as needed.
[i] See I. Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. M. Gregor, in I. Kant, Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996), pp. 43–108 (GMM 4: 387–463); J. Rachels and S, Rachels, The Elements of Moral Philosophy (7th edn., New York: McGraw Hill, 2012), chs. 9–10; R. Shafer-Landau, The Fundamentals of Ethics (3rd edn., Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), chs. 11–12; and J. Rachels and S. Rachels, The Right Thing to Do (4th edn., New York: McGraw Hill, 2007), ch. 9.
[ii] When I was in elementary school I memorized the first 26 digits of the decimal expansion of pi as a sort of party-trick. Needless to say, it was a laugh riot and I was really popular.
[iii] See I. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. M. Gregor, in Kant, Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy, pp. 139–271, at pp. 231–235 (CPrR 5: 113–119).
[iv] Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, p. 73 (GMM 4: 421).
[vi] Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, p. 80 (GMM 4: 429).
[vii] Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, p. 81 (GMM 4: 431).
[viii] Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, p. 83 (GMM 4: 433–434), translation modified slightly.
AGAINST PROFESSIONAL PHILOSOPHY REDUX 419
Mr Nemo, W, X, Y, & Z, Saturday 25 April 2020
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