. 8
( 10)


the nature and foundation of those judgments by which we determine,
without any possible ambiguity, what we are morally obliged to do.
However, this only partly takes care of the worry that moral evaluation
remains opaque for Kant. For the infallibility of common moral con-
science (as long as it does not let itself be distracted from the voice of
practical reason) concerns only the first of the two aspects of moral
judgment described above: the determination of what we ought to do.
In other words, the infallibility Kant proclaims is that of the agent™s point
of view on the action she is to perform. To the question ˜˜What should I
do?™™ everyone, in any circumstance, is capable of finding the right
answer, and the task Kant assigns himself is only to elucidate the founda-
tions of that answer. In contrast, the second aspect of moral judgment
(evaluating a given action, or the character of the person who performs
it) depends on the spectator™s point of view, and judgment becomes
plagued with insuperable uncertainty.
This primacy, in moral judgment, of the point of view of the agent on
the action he ought to perform, over that of that same agent, as a
spectator of the actions he or another has performed, will perform, or
is performing, is the first originality of Kant™s conception of moral judg-

theoretical use of judgment) applying a concept for the cognition of a given natural event.
And ˜˜reflecting™™ upon an action to find out whether it should be judged good or evil is
looking for the practical rule under which it has been performed, not (as in the theoretical
use of judgment) looking for the concept that would adequately capture its place in a
unified pattern of natural concepts and laws. On ˜˜determining™™ and ˜˜reflecting™™ uses of
the power of judgment according to the third Critique, cf. above, ch. 8, p. 231.

ment. There is no difficulty, Kant maintains, in answering the question:
˜˜What should I do?™™ There is, on the other hand, an insuperable difficulty
in any attempt to answer the question: ˜˜Is this performed action, and the
will that made the decision, morally good?™™ This does not mean that we
should abandon this second question. But if in this case a negative answer
is often clearly decidable, the same is not true of a positive answer. For a
seemingly moral motivation can always be the mask donned by egoistical
interest or the search for other people™s approval.
We can gather from the remarks above, then, that Kant™s project is not
only to establish ˜˜the supreme principle of morality,™™ but also to elucidate
and thus to reinforce our capacity to judge according to this principle.
The first project (to establish the supreme principle of morality) is accom-
plished when Kant, in his Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals and
Critique of Practical Reason, expounds and justifies his various formulations
of the categorical imperative.4 The second project (to explain how we
judge/ought to judge according to this principle) is present throughout
the moral philosophy of the critical period, from the Groundwork of the
Metaphysics of Morals to the Metaphysics of Morals itself, through the second
Critique and Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Thus, even if the
question of judgment occupies only a few pages in the Critique of Practical
Reason, during his critical period Kant subjects to systematic investigation
the (determining) application of the principles of morality as well as the
(reflecting) moral evaluation of actions and agents.
It should thus come as no surprise if for each of the two projects
mentioned above (grounding the supreme principle of morality, eluci-
dating the judgments that we pass under this principle) Kant insistently
appeals to the logical forms of judgment whose table he had established
in the first Critique.5 His having in mind those logical forms is manifest
when he expounds the different kinds of rules that practical reason gives
to itself. Appealing to the first two forms of relation expounded in the
table of the first Critique, Kant calls categorical the ˜˜commands (laws) of
morality,™™ and hypothetical the ˜˜rules of skill™™ and the ˜˜counsels of

Kant insists on the fact that the three main formulations of the categorical imperative
quoted above ˜˜are at bottom only so many formulae of the very same law™™, cf. iv, 436.
Cf. Critique of Pure Reason, A70/B95. As we shall see in a moment, Kant makes explicit use of
the first two titles of relation and the three titles of modality in his characterization of the
imperatives of practical reason. But he also makes systematic use of the table in its entirety
when he formulates, in the Critique of Practical Reason, the ˜˜table of the categories of freedom
with respect to the concepts of the good and evil,™™ which is in fact a table of the different
logical characterizations of the maxims under which a good will acts: cf. AAv, 68. Subjecting
this table to the systematic examination it deserves is beyond the scope of the present work.

prudence™™ (iv, 415“16). Appealing to the three divisions of modality, he
calls the categorical imperative apodictic, the counsels of prudence
assertoric, and the rules of skill problematic (ibid.). I intend to show
that this reference to the logical forms of judgment helps elucidate the
fundamental structures of moral reasoning according to Kant. For it
helps us understand how the categorical imperative functions as a
principle for testing the rules (initially instrumental and prudential,
not moral) under which we determine our actions.
The relevance, in this context, of the logical functions elucidated in the
first Critique is due to the fact that the implicit inferences that ground
common moral conscience are rooted in the elementary forms of judg-
ment brought to light in the first Critique. But here those elementary forms
do not serve to order the information we receive through our sensations
(as was the case in their theoretical use). Rather, they serve to order the
desires and inclinations that drive us to act. In what follows, I will analyze a
few aspects of this new role Kant assigns to the forms of discursive think-
ing. First, I will consider the use Kant makes of those forms in analyzing
the rules of practical reason in its instrumental and prudential use
(hypothetical imperatives). Second, I will consider the use Kant makes
of them in founding the supreme principle of morality (categorical
imperative). I will then show how this distinction between the two kinds
of imperatives sheds light on the role of the categorical imperative in our
deliberations and evaluations, that is, in our moral judgments.
The two aspects of Kant™s examination of moral judgment (first, his
attempt to formulate the ˜˜supreme principle of morality™™ and second,
his attempt to analyze the application of the principle in moral decisions
and evaluations) do not exhaust what is specific to moral judgment.
Passing moral judgment is also holding someone responsible for her
actions, which thus call for praise or blame, deserving reward or punish-
ment. In the final part of this chapter, I will ask how this third aspect of
moral judgment is related to the first two, according to Kant. I will
suggest that in Kant™s analysis, this third aspect is linked (perhaps
more essentially than Kant himself would admit) to the context of
juridical laws Kant considers in the first part of the Metaphysics of
Morals (the Doctrine of Right).6 I will suggest that Kant™s hesitations
about the relation between right (juridical law) and morality is perhaps

Cf. The Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Mary Gregor (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1996), AAvi, pp. 205“372 (henceforth cited in the main text by volume and page number in
AA, e.g. vi, 205“372).

one of the main keys to his view of moral judgment, and an important
element for evaluating its place in the history of moral philosophy.

Hypothetical imperatives
As mentioned above, Kant distinguishes between two main kinds of
imperatives or principles of action prescribed to itself by a rational will.
The first are the hypothetical imperatives, whose universal principle
might be formulated thus: ˜˜If I will an end X, then I ought to will all
the means Y available to me and necessary for achieving this end.™™7 The
second is the categorical imperative, whose initial formulation is the
following: ˜˜I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also
will that my maxim should become a universal law™™ (iv, 402).8 Only the
˜˜I ought™™ of the categorical imperative expresses a moral obligation. By
contrast, the ˜˜I ought™™ expressed in the consequent of the hypothetical
imperative (˜˜then I ought to will the means Y™™) expresses a mere norm of
practical consistency: if I will a certain end, I ought to will the means

To my knowledge, Kant nowhere proposes this formulation for the universal principle of
hypothetical imperatives. He does offer the following principle: ˜˜Whoever wills the end also
wills (insofar as reason has decisive influence on his actions) the indispensably necessary
means to it that are within his power™™ (iv, 417). This formulation is not satisfactory because
it dispenses with the idea of practical commitment (if I will a certain end, I thereby commit
myself [insofar as I am rational] to employ all the means available to me that are necessary to
achieve this end; if it turns out I cannot endorse, or cannot obtain, the necessary means,
then I must renounce the corresponding end). Kant comes closer to the formulation I
propose when he says that the hypothetical imperatives ˜˜command the means to what it is
presupposed one wills as an end™™ (iv, 419) and he talks of the hypothetical imperative
(namely, what I have called the principle of all hypothetical imperatives) as the imperative
that ˜˜commands willing the means for him who wills the end™™ (ibid.). On the relation
between the principle of hypothetical imperatives (itself formulated as a hypothetical
imperative) and the various kinds of hypothetical imperatives, see Thomas E. Hill, ˜˜The
hypothetical imperative,™™ ch. 2 of Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant™s Moral Theory (Ithaca,
NY: Cornell University Press, 1992), pp. 17“37.
˜˜Ich soll niemals anders verfahren als so, daß ich auch wollen konne, meine Maxime solle
ein allgemeines Gesetz werden.™™ This formulation is given at the end of section one of
Groundwork. The formulations in the grammatical imperative quoted at the beginning of
this essay (˜˜Act . . . ™™) are given in section two. The formulation in the first person (˜˜I ought
never to act except in such a way™™) has the advantage of making clear that the moral
imperative is an imperative that the agent assigns to herself, and that there is no other
ground for the obligation than being the subject who thinks ˜˜I.™™ It also makes clear that the
role of the categorical imperative is mainly negative, and comes in after maxims have
already been adopted: it asks me to check whether the maxim I have always already set
for my actions from hypothetically formulated ends, is permissible or not (˜˜never act except in
such a way that you could also will . . . ™™). I will return to both points below.

necessary for achieving that end; if, for one reason or another, I do not
endorse or obtain those means, then I ought to renounce willing the end.
The form of the hypothetical imperative (˜˜if . . . then™™) conveys pre-
cisely the fact that the injunction expressed in the consequent (˜˜then I
ought to will the means™™) is conditioned by the preliminary position of an
end, expressed in the antecedent. Such a conditioning relation is just what
the hypothetical form of a judgment generally conveys. In a hypothetical
judgment, Kant said in the first Critique, only the Konsequenz, that is, the
relation between the antecedent (here, the statement of the end to achieve
or obtain) and the consequent (here, the statement of obligation one sets
to oneself, to will the means necessary to achieve the end), is asserted.
Indeed, in the case of the hypothetical imperative, the Konsequenz is not
only asserted, but apodictically asserted, since the relation between willing
the end (antecedent) and being thereby committed to willing the means
(consequent) is, according to Kant, analytic (see again iv, 419). This does
not mean of course that whoever wills the end does will the means
necessary to that end. Such would be the case only if our will were purely
rational. But in the case of our sensibly conditioned wills, all we can say is
that whoever wills the end is thereby committed to (i.e. ought to, or
should, or must: Kant says soll) either will the means or, if it turns out
the means are unavailable or unacceptable, renounce the end. Because
our wills are not purely rational, whether we will indeed clearly adopt one
or the other of these options is often a matter of no less struggle than
whether we will act according to what the categorical imperative com-
mands (a point considered below). This is precisely why there is room for
a hypothetical imperative.9

On the form of hypothetical judgments for Kant, see above, ch. 4, pp. 98“9 and ch. 6,
pp. 150“5. Note that Kant certainly does not mean to say that any imperative expressed in
the form of a hypothetical judgment would thereby be a hypothetical imperative. Rather,
the hypothetical form here captures a specific content: the relation between willing an end
and being committed to willing the means necessary to achieve that end. In other words,
Kant is making use of the forms of relation set up in the table of logical functions in the first
Critique (in this case, the relation between antecedent and consequent in hypothetical
judgments) to clarify the relation between ˜˜added condition™™ (willing an end) and con-
ditioned (being thereby rationally obliged to willing the means) at work in the particular
imperatives he therefore calls ˜˜hypothetical imperatives.™™ Note also that Kant sometimes
describes what one is committed to by willing the end as ˜˜willing the means™™ and sometimes
as simply ˜˜the means.™™ In other words, ˜˜If I will the end X, I ought to will Y,™™ or ˜˜If I will the
end X, I ought to Y.™™ The difference is minimal, since as we shall see below, willing is for
Kant one of the ways of ˜˜being by one™s representation the cause of the existence of an
object™™ (see v , 9n and below, pp. 249“50). Willing and acting to make the object of one™s
willing come about, are inseparable. Accordingly, in what follows I shall sometimes

Among the hypothetical imperatives, Kant distinguishes two main
kinds: the counsels of prudence and the rules of skill. In the counsels
of prudence, he claims, the antecedent expresses an end that all beings
which are both rational and sensible have: their own happiness. The
consequent expresses the injunction to will the means necessary to
obtain that end. The general expression of counsels of prudence could
thus be: ˜˜If I want happiness, then I ought to will all the means available
to me that are necessary to achieve happiness.™™10 The rules of skill, for
their part, have for their antecedent the expression of a particular end
that some, and not all, are apt to give themselves. They have as con-
sequent the injunction to employ the means to arrive at this possible end.
For example: ˜˜If I want to become a violinist, then I ought to practice
violin several hours a day.™™
Kant describes the counsels of prudence as assertoric and the rules of
skill as problematic. This is perplexing. Just what is being described
In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant says that the antecedent and the
consequent of hypothetical judgments are both problematic (neither
of them is asserted), and only the relation (Konsequenz) is affirmed,
assertorically or apodictically (cf. A75/B100). As we just saw, when com-
menting on the nature of hypothetical imperatives Kant maintains that
the connection between willing the end and the ˜˜command™™ to will the
means is always analytic: this makes the connection apodictic (necessarily
true). Thus whether one considers the components of the hypothetical
imperative (the antecedent and the consequent), or the connection
between them, the modality seems to be the same: problematic for the

formulate the principle of hypothetical imperatives: ˜˜If I will X, I ought to will Y™™ and
sometimes: ˜˜If I will X, I ought to Y.™™
Kant defines happiness as ˜˜an absolute whole, a maximum of well-being in my present
condition and in every future condition™™ (iv, 418). As Allen Wood emphasizes, the repre-
sentation of such a goal is available only to rational beings. For it involves representing the
idea of a whole well-being, not just the satisfaction of particular desires and needs; and it
involves relating (comparing and connecting) present and future goods. See Allen Wood,
Kant™s Ethical Thought (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p. 66. I agree with
Wood that in Kant™s view, even though happiness is a goal of all rational and sensible
beings, one can fail to act according to the goal of happiness, for instance when one lets a
momentary pleasure take precedence over the goal of the ˜˜maximum of well-being.™™ This
only puts the agent in a situation of practical irrationality; it does not amount to denying
that happiness is an ongoing purpose of human beings. More difficult for Kant™s point is
the case of the neurotic who nurses his own misery and just does not want to be happy. But
I suggest such a case would be, for Kant, similar to losing the use of ˜˜I think™™ in cognition.
When it happens, it means that something deeply pathological has befallen a particular
human being in the (practical) use of ˜˜I™™ that essentially characterizes humanity.

components, apodictic for the connection. Why then does Kant disting-
uish the counsels of prudence and the rules of skill as being, respectively,
assertoric and problematic?
According to Kant™s explanation, the distinction in modality refers to
the status of the antecedent. In the counsels of prudence, the antecedent
is in fact true of any human being. All human beings, in fact, want to be
happy. Although the antecedent in the expression of the imperative has
the status of a problematic proposition, we must therefore assume the
implicit minor of a hypothetical syllogism that posits it as assertoric (˜˜I
[and everyone else] want to be happy™™) and thus warrants the con-
clusion: ˜˜So I (and everyone else) ought to will all means available to me
(to one) that are necessary to achieve happiness.™™ The antecedent becomes
assertorically stated in the minor premise. It is not apodictic, however.
All human beings seek happiness. But it is not impossible to renounce
this quest if a higher end compels one to do so. And it is all too often
abandoned in favor of lower, particular ends (being rich, say; or being
famous; or being powerful).
The hypothetical imperative that grounds the rules of skill is
described as a ˜˜problematically practical principle™™ because ˜˜it says
only that the action is good for some possible purpose™™ (iv, 415). We
might understand this in two ways. One way is to say that in the rules
of skill, all one needs is the statement of the hypothetical imperative itself
(where both antecedent and consequent are merely problematic) to
derive a maxim for action. This is what Kant seems to have in mind
when he writes:

Principles of action in which the latter is represented as necessary for
attaining some possible purpose to be brought about by it, are in fact
innumerable. All sciences have some practical part, consisting of prob-
lems which suppose that some end is possible for us and of imperatives as
to how it can be attained. These can be called, in general, imperatives of

There is no need here that the purpose expressed in the antecedent
should actually be posited in the minor premise of a hypothetical
syllogism for the precept expressed in the consequent to be binding.
The mere possibility that the antecedent might actually become a purpose
to be achieved is sufficient to ground the necessity of the ˜˜ought™™ expres-
sed in the consequent.
A second, and more complete, way to account for the ˜˜problematic™™
nature of a rule of skill is to actually formulate a practical inference

where the positing of the consequent (the detached ˜˜ought™™) follows
from the positing of the antecedent of the hypothetical major premise.
What one posits in the minor premise, however, is the mere possibility of
the antecedent™s obtaining. Kant expresses this most effectively when he
takes the example of the various learning processes to which parents
subject their offspring:
Since in early youth it is not known what ends might occur to us in the
course of life, parents seek above all to have their children learn a
great many things and to provide for skill in the use of means to
all sorts of discretionary ends, about none of which can they determine
whether it might in the future actually become their pupil™s
purpose, though it is always possible that he might at some time have
it. (iv, 416)

Consider the possibility that my child might have it in her to become a
talented violinist. We might formulate the corresponding practical infer-
ence in the following way: ˜˜If it is possible that my child should want to
become a professional violinist, she ought to practice her scales. It is
possible that she should want to become a professional violinist. So she
ought to practice her scales.™™ To be sure, the force of the imperative
(˜˜she ought to practice™™) depends on the degree of probability of the end
stated in the antecedent. If the end becomes assertorically affirmed (it
turns out my child does want to become a professional violinist), the
force of the imperative becomes as strong as that of the assertoric
imperative of prudence (˜˜I [and everyone else] ought to will the means
necessary to achieve happiness™™), while being much more determined:
my child knows exactly what she wants to achieve, and thus what she
ought to do. However, both the end and the means would be open to
challenge if it turned out that they jeopardized the overall goal of
happiness (say, my child™s wish to have a star™s career threatened her
mental or physical health, or her relations to loved ones). In this sense
the ˜˜oughts™™ of the rules of skill remain always problematic in the face of
the assertoric ˜˜ought™™ of the counsel of prudence (grounding its ˜˜ought™™
on an assertoric, although indeterminate goal, that of happiness).11 And

Note that a few years after writing Groundwork, in the First Introduction to the Critique of the
Power of Judgment Kant expresses doubts about the wisdom of calling the rules of skill
˜˜problematic imperatives.™™ The expression, he remarks, is self-contradictory: how could
an imperative be merely problematic (see AAxx, 200)? I should rather, he continues, have
called them ˜˜technical imperatives™™ or ˜˜imperatives of art.™™ The explanation he gives for
having called them ˜˜problematic™™ confirms the suggestions I have been making: rather

both hypothetical ˜˜oughts™™ are trumped if an imperative of apodictic
force comes to oppose them.

The categorical imperative
In contrast to hypothetical imperatives, the principle of moral obliga-
tion has the form of a categorical judgment.12 This form manifests the
fact that the obligation is not conditioned by any antecedently given
end or motive. According to Kant™s analysis of the forms of relation in
judgment, the condition or reason for the assertion in a categorical
judgment is contained in the subject of the judgment, be it the subject-
concept (in an analytic judgment) or the intuition thought under
the concept (in a synthetic judgment). The categorical form of the
imperative (˜˜I ought never to act except in such a way™™) thus expresses
the fact that by itself the subject ˜˜I™™ of the proposition ˜˜I ought to™™
provides the condition or reason for the obligation. In other
words, being the referent of ˜˜I™™ is a sufficient reason for being thus
The formulation of the moral imperative as a categorical imperative
thus invites us to ask the following question: what, in the nature of the
referent of ˜˜I™™ (the referent of the logical subject of the categorical
proposition ˜˜I ought never to act except in such a way™™) grounds the
assertion of the predicate, i.e. the assignment of obligation? This ques-
tion is inseparable from another, which concerns the predicate itself: on
what grounds does Kant claim that the content of the categorical obliga-
tion is that of ˜˜never acting except in such a way that I could also will that
my maxim should become a universal law™™? Kant offers an answer to the
second question (which is a question for moral philosophy) in the first
and second sections of Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. He offers
an answer to the first question (which is a question for metaphysics) in
the third section of Groundwork, in the Critique of Practical Reason, and in

than the imperative itself, he says; it is the goal expressed in the antecedent that is ˜˜merely
possible,™™ thus ˜˜problematic.™™ In the same footnote Kant also notes that in the rules of
prudence, the goal is ˜˜actual™™ (thus the ˜˜assertoric™™ imperative), and ˜˜subjectively
It is also apodictic: the connection between the logical subject ˜˜I™™ in ˜˜I ought™™ and the
predicate ˜˜ought never to act etc.™™ is a necessary connection, and the obligation thus
grounded is unconditional (it does not depend on any previously stated end). Kant asserts
the point as soon as he introduces the categorical imperative (iv, 415) and attempts to
provide its ground by examining the nature of the referent of ˜˜I™™ in section three of
Groundwork (iv, 446“8). See also below, n. 13.

Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason.13 Since my concern in this
chapter is Kant™s view of moral judgment, the question that is more
relevant to me is the second: what justification does Kant offer for his
claim concerning the content of the moral imperative?
To this question, we find two answers. The first, given in section one of
Groundwork, consists in an examination of common moral conscience.
Kant maintains that such examination leads to the following conclusions:
(1) common conscience accords moral value to the will determined to act
from duty; (2) to act from duty is to be motivated by respect for the law;
(3) the expression of the law is that of the categorical imperative: ˜˜I
ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will that my
maxim become a universal law™™ (cf. iv, 393“402).
Kant gives a second, more extensive answer in section two. Like the
first, this second answer draws on the teachings of common moral
conscience, examined in section one. But it moves from there to a
philosophical interpretation by examining the notion of a will and the
different kinds of prescriptions the human will is capable of assigning to
itself. I shall briefly sketch out the first answer before discussing the
second in more detail.
In section one of Groundwork, the formulation of what is not yet called
a ˜˜categorical imperative™™ (the expression appears only in section two) is
preceded by several examples of supposedly common moral judgments
(iv, 397“400). These examples are supposed to show that neither the
action itself (for example, treating a client with equity), nor the sensible
motive (for example, benevolence or compassion), nor the empirically
determined end (for example, wanting the well-being of another) deter-
mines the moral worth of the action, and even less that of the agent. Only
the universal principle according to which the agent is determined to act,

In section three of Groundwork, Kant explains that it is insofar as it belongs to the intelligible
world, and in that capacity, is free of natural determinism, that the referent of ˜˜I™™ can
ground its own moral obligation (see iv, 452“3). In the Critique of Practical Reason, Kant
develops the thesis (briefly introduced in section three of Groundwork) of the reciprocity
between free will and a will that determines itself under the representation of the moral law
(AAv, 28“30). In Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason, he offers a striking presenta-
tion of the divided moral subject and the three aspects of its ˜˜disposition toward the good.™™
The third aspect is none other than the moral disposition (see Religion within the Boundaries
of Mere Reason, trans. and ed. Allen Wood and George Di Giovanni [Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1998], AAvi, pp. 26“9). The question of the relation between
Kant™s notion of the referent for ˜˜I™™ and his conception of morality would deserve a
detailed study, which I am not undertaking in this book. Nevertheless, see above, ch. 5,
pp. 119, 138“40.

and the agent™s respect for this principle, as the motive for the action
(what Kant calls ˜˜respect for the law™™), are the source of the moral worth
of the action as well as of the agent. The very content of the principle in
question must therefore express this exclusion, from what determines
the moral value of the action and the agent, of any empirical end as well
as any sensible motive. But this leaves only the form of the law itself as a
possible content for the principle: the principle commands to act only
under that maxim (rule for action) that one can also will to become a
universal law.
Here one might object that to exclude from the determination (or
motivation) of a good will all ends dictated by the empirical interest of
the agent as well as all sensible motivation does not necessarily mean to
exclude all mention of an end or even of a motive from the content of the
law. Why would the moral worth of an action not be determined by the
fact that one acts out of respect for the law: ˜˜I should always endeavor to
contribute not only to my own well-being but also to the well-being of
other people™™? Or, if we wanted to formulate the same ideas in terms of
motivation rather than ends, why would the moral worth of an action not
be determined by the fact that one acts out of respect for the law: ˜˜I must
always include compassion in the determining motivations of my
action™™? The imperative would still have a categorical form (indicating
that being the referent of ˜˜I,™™ namely the subject assigning to herself an
obligation, is the reason or sufficient condition for the assignment of
obligation, without any particular end having to function as an added
condition). But it would also have a content, the obligation thus assigned
(the obligation to care about the well-being of others, or the obligation to
include compassion among the determining motives of one™s actions).
By contrast, if the obligation expressed by the categorical imperative is
only the obligation to want a law, no matter what that law is, it seems
suspiciously empty “ a familiar charge against Kant™s categorical
In response it should first be noted that Kant will eventually derive
both of the formulations just proposed from his own formulation of the
categorical imperative: both belong to what the Metaphysics of Morals will
define as duties of virtue.14 So in Kant™s mind, the formulation he
proposes for the categorical imperative provides a principle under

See The Metaphysics of Morals, xx26“30 (˜˜On the Duty of Love to Other Human Beings™™), vi,
450“3; xx45“7 (˜˜On Ethical Duties of Human Beings toward One Another with Regard to
Their Condition™™), vi, 468“72.

which it is possible to unify (and eventually give reasons for) the obliga-
tions that common conscience gives itself, even if the latter does not
explicitly formulate the principle when passing its moral judgments to
determine duties. At the very preliminary stage of Kant™s argument in
section one of Groundwork, Kant™s only claim is that moral judgments (of
the first kind mentioned at the beginning of this chapter: judgments
determining what we ought to do) can, in fact, be unified under the
principle: ˜˜I ought never to act except in such a way that I could also will
that the maxim of my action become a universal law.™™ That is all that the
argument I briefly recapitulated above is meant to show.
That common moral judgments not only can, but must be, so unified,
namely that the principle formulated at the end of section one is indeed
the principle (or one version of the principle) under which we determine
what we are morally obliged to do, is what Kant undertakes to show in
section two of Groundwork. To this end, he no longer rests his argument
merely on the analysis of examples drawn from common moral con-
science. Instead, he leads his reader, step by step, from the initial for-
mulation of the principle of morality (end of section one) to a system of
related formulations (section two), all of which find their starting point in
a philosophical analysis of what it amounts to for a human being to have
a will. Here it will help to say a few words about Kant™s notions of ˜˜will™™
and ˜˜faculty of desire.™™
The faculty of desire is the capacity ˜˜to be by means of one™s representations
the cause of the reality of the objects of these representations™™ (v, 9n, emphasis
Kant™s). Kant also calls it the ˜˜subjective condition of life™™ (ibid.). Animals
typically possess such a capacity. So for example, an animal has the
representation water and associates it with the feeling of pleasure that
would follow from quenching its thirst. The representation causes
the animal™s movement towards the object it covets: it is ˜˜the cause of
the existence of the object of representation,™™ not, of course, in that the
animal produces the water, but at least in that its movement will insure its
proximity to the water. Its faculty of desire is thus indeed the faculty to
be by its representation (here the representation of water associated with
a feeling of pleasure) the cause of the existence of the object of its
representation (here the presence of water).
What is specific to human beings is that concepts, judgments, and
inferences are among the representations that come into play in the
causal relation between the representation of an object and the existence
(or presence) of that object. So for example, in the case of human beings
the representation of water can be accompanied by concepts necessary

to the technical activity of digging a well, the geological knowledge of the
soil, and so on. Here the faculty of desire is a will in that it determines a
deliberate activity, carried out according to rules thought by concepts,
expressed in judgments and connected to each other in inferences. Thus
Kant writes: ˜˜Everything in nature works in accordance with laws. Only a
rational being has the capacity to act in accordance with the representation of
laws, that is, in accordance with principles, or has a will™™ (iv, 412). By
˜˜representation of laws,™™ Kant means two things. First, the representa-
tion of laws is the knowledge of the objective causal connections between
natural events. Our knowledge of these connections is what makes us
capable of representing to ourselves the relations between the ends we are
attempting to bring about by our actions, and the means for achieving
these ends. Second, the representation of laws can be that of laws that are
not descriptive (such as natural laws, which are descriptions of objective
correlations), but prescriptive or normative. When Kant speaks of
imperatives, he is of course talking about the second type of law.
A hypothetical imperative (of the form: ˜˜If I will the end X, then I
ought to will the means necessary to achieve X, insofar as they are
available to me™™) is one of the possible cases of prescriptive laws. But,
as we have seen above, such an imperative does not express a moral
norm. It expresses only a norm of consistency in willing. Since such an
imperative does not command unconditionally, which is what we expect
from a moral imperative, the question is: if there is a categorical impera-
tive (one that commands unconditionally), what is its formulation? Kant
answers this question by providing again, this time in the grammatical
form of the imperative singular (˜˜Act . . . ™™) the very same law that was
expressed, in section one of Groundwork, in the first person of the
indicative (˜˜I ought never to act except in such a way, that . . . [Ich soll
niemals anders verfahren als so, dass . . . ]).™™ The formulation now becomes:
˜˜Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time
will that it become a universal law™™ (iv, 421). Kant endeavors to justify
this formulation by drawing on the contrast between hypothetical and
categorical imperative. He writes:
When I think of a hypothetical imperative in general, I do not know
beforehand what it will contain; I do not know this until I am given the
condition. But when I think of a categorical imperative, I know at once
what it contains. For, since the imperative contains, beyond the law, only
the necessity that the maxim be in conformity with this law, while the law
contains no condition to which it would be limited, nothing is left with
which the maxim of action is to conform but the universality of a law

as such; and this conformity alone is what the imperative properly
represents as necessary.
There is, therefore, only a single categorical imperative, and it is this:
˜˜Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the same time
will that it become a universal law.™™ (iv, 420“1)

If we rehearse what was said earlier about hypothetical imperatives, the
idea seems to be the following. A being endowed with a will is a being
endowed with a faculty of desire that acts not only in accordance with
laws, but in accordance with the representation of laws. Some of these
laws are prescriptive laws, or imperatives. In a hypothetical imperative,
the prescription (˜˜I ought to act™™ or ˜˜Act™™) is conditioned by an end to be
achieved (˜˜If I will X, I ought to Y™™). But a moral imperative is not of this
kind. It commands unconditionally (˜˜I ought to Y™™). Now the faculty of
desire, as the ˜˜subjective condition of life,™™ is always presented with
sensible motives and ends, which determine the antecedent (expressing
a goal to be achieved) and the consequent (expressing the means to
achieve that goal) of a hypothetical imperative. These are the default
conditions, as it were, in which the categorical imperative is called upon
to determine the faculty of desire, because there are, in fact, always ends
that determine what we think we ought to do. Therefore, if there is a
prescription proper to the categorical imperative, it can only be the
prescription that it be possible also to will unconditionally what is willed
under the condition of the particular ends expressed in hypothetical
imperatives. In other words, it can only be the prescription that we allow
ourselves only those ˜˜ought™™ clauses (prescriptions for action) that
remain in place once subjected to the test of the categorical imperative.
If I am correct in the interpretation I propose of Kant™s reasoning, the
interesting result is that the categorical imperative appears to intervene
only in second position as it were, or as a second-order principle: its role
is to evaluate the rules we already have, resulting from the hypothetical
premises expressing prudential and instrumental relations of ends and
means. Evaluating these rules under the categorical imperative can lead
either to prohibit, or to allow, the maxim governing one™s action (˜˜I
ought to Y™™) that follows from hypothetical imperatives. Understanding
the role of the categorical imperative in this way takes care of the objec-
tion of vacuity evoked above. The reason the categorical imperative
appears to be empty is that indeed on its own it provides neither specific
goals to achieve nor specific means to achieve them. These are provided
by the conditions under which human beings act and exercise their will

in determining their actions: the conditions of life. It is in relation to
these conditions that the categorical imperative acquires specific con-
tent, in determining which of the maxims resulting from the application
of hypothetical imperatives we ˜˜can™™ or ˜˜cannot™™ will to remain valid
once they are separated from what conditions them, namely from the
particular ends they serve.

˜˜Can also will™™ and moral judgment
So far I have freely used the terms ˜˜maxim™™ and ˜˜rule™™ to apply to any
self-prescribed rule of action. To better understand the role that the
categorical imperative plays in moral judgments (determining judg-
ments about what we ought to do), it will help to pause for a while and
examine Kant™s distinction between maxims, precepts, and (practical)
In Groundwork, Kant defines a maxim as ˜˜a subjective principle of
action,™™ that is, a rule that the rational agent assigns to herself based on
her particular empirical circumstances and inclinations. By contrast, a
practical law is an objective principle of action, that is, a rule that the
agent ascribes to herself by virtue of being a rational agent, indepen-
dently of any particular empirical circumstances or inclinations: a rule,
therefore, that applies to all rational beings strictly as such. Kant adds
that a maxim is a rule according to which a subject acts, but only a law is a
rule according to which he ought to act (handeln soll), that is, an impera-
tive (iv, 421n).
This addition is surprising. For surely the consequent of hypothetical
imperatives (the ˜˜then . . . ™™ clause in ˜˜If I will the end X, then I ought to
Y™™) expresses a manner in which I ought to act. True, the rule of action
thus expressed is binding only for the subject who wills the end X,
expressed in the antecedent of the hypothetical imperative. It thus
meets the first criterion for being ˜˜a maxim, not a law™™: it is ˜˜subjective,™™
not ˜˜objective,™™ in the sense explained above. But it does not meet the
second criterion (expressing only the way a subject acts, not the way she
ought to act), unless one wants to restrict the expression ˜˜ought™™ to the
moral ought. But this is not how Kant has been using the term, and this
would deprive the idea of hypothetical imperatives of all meaning.
Kant returns to the distinction between ˜˜maxim™™ and ˜˜law™™ in the very
first paragraph of the Critique of Practical Reason. There he begins by
defining practical principles as ˜˜propositions that contain a general
determination of the will on which depend several practical rules.™™

These rules are of two sorts. They are ˜˜subjective, or maxims, when the
condition is regarded by the subject as binding only for his will.™™ They
are ˜˜objective, or practical laws, when the condition is cognized as objec-
tive™™ (v, 19).15 Here the distinction between maxim and law is not a
distinction between ˜˜what we do™™ (maxims) and ˜˜what we ought to do™™
(law). It is a distinction, rather, between a rule that we assign to ourselves
(¼what we ought to do) under a condition particular to ourselves, and a
rule that is binding for all. In both cases, then, there is an ˜˜I ought,™™ a
prescription, but one is subjective (valid only for me), while the other is
objective (valid for all). Let us note, moreover, that strictly speaking the
maxims seem to be not the hypothetical imperatives themselves but
rather the consequent of these imperatives, which are binding only
under the condition that the antecedent be posited or asserted. A law,
by contrast, is valid ˜˜under an objective condition,™™ that is, a condition
valid for all.16 Both maxim and law thus express what we ought to do.
They differ merely in that the former is binding only under a particular
condition, and thus binding for some, not all subjects. The latter, in
contrast, is binding universally, for all. Only the first criterion of the
distinction (subjectivity of the maxim, versus objectivity of the law) seems
thus to be retained.
And yet, even in the Critique of Practical Reason, some of Kant™s indica-
tions seem to bring us back to the second criterion stated in Groundwork
for being a mere maxim (i.e. being an expression of ˜˜what we do™™ rather
than ˜˜what we should do™™). Thus, for example: ˜˜Someone can make it his
maxim to let no insult pass unavenged™™ (v, 19). There is no necessity for
such a maxim to present itself as an ˜˜I ought.™™ It may be only the
recognition of a rule I in fact follow, and will follow: ˜˜I will not tolerate
an insult without avenging myself.™™ Of course, to be followed, this rule
must be endorsed by the subject who follows it: it is relevant to a person,
in Harry Frankfurt™s sense of the term, an individual capable of

The text is ambiguous as to whether it is the ˜˜principles™™ or the ˜˜several practical rules™™
thought under them that are subjective or objective. This ambiguity does not create a
major difficulty, though. For the relevant contrast will be between (objective) law, which
will refer both to the categorical imperative and to the duties determined under it; and
(subjective) precepts, which will refer to (1) the general principle of hypothetical impera-
tives, (2) particular hypothetical imperatives, and even (3) the detached consequents of
those imperatives. More on this below.
This condition is the will itself, ˜˜the will as will™™ (v, 20). This point will be elucidated only in
section three of Groundwork, when Kant maintains that a free will and a will that is
determined under the representation of moral law are one and the same. Moral law is
the law of a free will. Cf. above, nn. 8, 12, 13.

second-order attitudes on its own desires.17 But it does not have the
strongly normative character of a formulation such as: ˜˜I should not
tolerate an insult without avenging myself.™™ Kant does seem to distin-
guish the maxim, understood in that weak sense, from both types of
imperative, hypothetical and categorical. He writes:
Imperatives, therefore, hold objectively and are quite distinct from
maxims, which are subjective principles. But the former either deter-
mine the conditions of the causality of a rational being as an efficient
cause merely with respect to the effect and its adequacy to it, or they
determine only the will, whether or not it is sufficient for the effect. The
first would be hypothetical imperatives and would contain mere pre-
cepts of skill; the second, on the contrary, would be categorical and
would alone be practical laws. Thus maxims are indeed principles but
not imperatives. But imperatives themselves, when they are conditional “
that is, when they do not determine the will simply as will, but only with
respect to a desired effect, that is, when they are hypothetical impera-
tives “ are indeed practical precepts but not laws. (v, 20)

What we now have, then, are not two terms (maxims and laws), but
four terms. The most general term is that of principle. There are three
kinds of principle: (1) laws (which are both objective and imperative),
(2) precepts (subjective and imperative), (3) maxims (subjective and non-
imperative). The precepts include what Kant had called, in Groundwork,
the rules of skill and the counsels of prudence, i.e. the hypothetical
imperatives, expressing an ˜˜I should™™ or ˜˜I ought to™™ (Ich soll) under
the condition of a previously determined end.18 The assertion of the
antecedent of a hypothetical imperative is itself a maxim, i.e. a rule that
expresses the manner in which our will is, in fact, determined, without

Cf. Harry Frankfurt, ˜˜Freedom of the will and the concept of a person,™™ in The Importance of
What We Care About (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1988), pp. 11“25.
Again, there is some uncertainty about what the precept is supposed to be: is it the whole
hypothetical imperative, or just the consequent that is asserted once the antecedent is
asserted? In a way, it would seem natural to say that the hypothetical imperative itself (˜˜if I
will, then I ought™™) holds universally, and thus objectively in Kant™s sense, precisely
because in it, the antecedent remains problematic: it would thus be a law, only the detached
consequent would be a precept. But this is not how Kant seems to use his distinction; he
does seem to include the hypothetical imperative itself among the precepts. This is
probably because what he has in mind is that the hypothetical imperative grounds the
assertion of a subjective ˜˜I ought™™. Note also that in the text cited, Kant mentions only rules
of skill as examples of precepts, which gives force to Wood™s claim that strictly speaking
there are no assertoric imperatives, only problematic ones (rules of skill). Against this view,
I would still maintain my own, for the reasons stated above (see n. 11).

this determination needing to take the form of an ˜˜I must™™ or ˜˜I should™™
or ˜˜I ought to™™ (Ich soll).19
These distinctions should now help us clarify the role of the cate-
gorical imperative in the transition from mere maxims and precepts to
practical laws. Consider Kant™s example, in the Critique of Practical
Reason, whether it is permissible to keep a deposit for myself:
I have, for example, made it my maxim to increase my wealth by every
safe means. Now I have a deposit in my hands, the owner of which has
died and left no record of it. This is, naturally, a case for my maxim. Now
I want only to know whether that maxim could also hold as a universal
practical law. I therefore apply the maxim to the present case and ask
whether it could indeed take the form of a law, and consequently
whether I could through my maxim at the same time give such a law as
this: that everyone may deny a deposit which no one can prove has been
made. I at once become aware that such a principle, as a law, would
annihilate itself since it would bring it about that there would be no
deposits at all. (v, 27)

The rule, ˜˜I will increase my wealth by every safe means,™™ is a maxim: a
rule that expresses the end that, in fact, I assign in general to my actions.
The case that presents itself (I have in my possession a deposit whose
existence is known to no one) falls clearly under the authority of this
maxim. Consequently, not only can I formulate the hypothetical impera-
tive: ˜˜If I want to increase my wealth by every safe means, then I ought to
deny the existence of a deposit which no one can prove has been made.™™
I can also posit its antecedent, and detach the consequent: ˜˜Now I want
to increase my wealth by every safe means. So, I ought to deny the
existence of the deposit, etc.™™ This conclusion is, in the vocabulary laid
out above, a precept: an imperative that holds only for me, under the
condition set by the end I have given myself: increase my wealth by all
available, safe means. There then arises the question: is it possible to will
this precept to be universally binding? Namely: suppose I take no
account of my particular end, can the precept be willed to bind (and
thus, to bind universally, unconditionally)? This would make it a prac-
tical law, in the sense stated above. We thus have here instances of the

Of course the antecedent might first itself have been derived as a precept, for instance: ˜˜If I
want to live comfortably, I ought to increase my wealth by all safe means.™™ Here, a rule that
could, as a mere maxim (˜˜I will increase my wealth by all safe means™™), function as the
antecedent in a hypothetical imperative (as in the example discussed below), is formulated
as a precept (˜˜I ought to™™), as the consequent of another hypothetical imperative.

three main types of principle distinguished above: the assertion of the
antecedent of the hypothetical imperative is a maxim; the assertion of
the consequent of the imperative, detached as the conclusion of the
inference, is a precept. A precept one took to be binding independently
of the condition formulated in the antecedent of a hypothetical impera-
tive, would thus bind universally and unconditionally: it would be a law.20
The test of the categorical imperative is applied to the precept (the
conclusion of the hypothetical syllogism). The test consists in asking
whether I could consent to the universalization of the precept. In the
case cited, the answer is negative: to universalize the precept ˜˜I must
deny the existence of the deposit which no one can prove has been
made,™™ would lead to canceling the very practice of deposits, and
thus my very action, which depends precisely on the existence of
that practice. Universalizing the detached consequent thus makes it
self-contradictory. By modus tollens, the antecedent itself must therefore
be denied. The modus tollens goes like this:
1 If I make it my maxim to (or, if I will) increase my wealth by all safe
means, then I ought to deny the existence of the deposit which no one
can prove has been made.
2 I ought not to deny the existence of the deposit which no one can
prove has been made (result of the test of universalization, about
which more below).
3 So, I do not make it my maxim to (or, I will not) increase my wealth by
all safe means.
We see, on this example, that the categorical imperative subjects to the
test of possible universalization first the particular rule of action, or
precept (˜˜I ought to deny the existence of the deposit which no one

It may seem strange to ask whether the precept can be universally binding, namely a law:
everyone should deny the deposit. After all, all we want to know is whether it is permissible
to deny the deposit, not whether one should deny it. But the test by universalization of the
initially ˜˜subjective™™ maxim is precisely a test of permissibility: the (subjective) maxim, or
precept, is permissible only if I could also will it as a universal, unconditional precept: a law.
This supposition is a mere fiction, but the fiction is what helps decide what I take to be
permissible. If one is surprised that such a strong test should be called upon to establish
something fairly mild “ only the permissibility, not even the requirement, of an action “
one should remember that the test is negative: if no contradiction emerges in the course of
the test, then the action is permissible, although of course not required of all. On the other
hand, if a contradiction does emerge, then the result is more forceful: the action is
forbidden, and its contradictory opposite morally required. On the test itself and the
problems it raises, see below.

can prove has been made™™). Then, by virtue of the first test, the cate-
gorical imperative also evaluates the maxim on which the precept
depended. The opportunity I receive, to fraudulently keep a deposit
which was entrusted to me, leads me to put into question not only the
precept resulting from the assertion of my maxim, but the maxim itself.
A rule which seemed uncontroversial (to increase my wealth by every
safe means) is challenged when the precept that it induces does not
withstand the test of the categorical imperative.
We also see that the test consists in separating the precept (here, ˜˜I
ought to deny the existence of the deposit which no one can prove has
been made™™) from the end expressed in the antecedent of the hypo-
thetical imperative (here, ˜˜increase my wealth by all safe means™™). The
precept, ˜˜I ought to keep the deposit™™ resulted analytically from willing
the end expressed in the antecedent. If the precept does not withstand
the test, then willing the end must be rejected as well.

Contradiction in conception, contradiction in the will
Kant writes that if we supposed the universalization of the precept that
recommends not returning the deposit I have the opportunity to keep
with impunity, ˜˜there would be no deposits at all.™™ This is one of the two
main kinds of impossibility outlined by the test of the categorical impera-
tive: universalizing the maxim (the precept) leads to contradicting the
very concept of the action prescribed by the detached consequent of the
hypothetical imperative. This first kind of contradiction is now com-
monly called ˜˜contradiction in conception™™ and is distinguished from a
second type, called ˜˜contradiction in the will.™™21 In the latter case, uni-
versalizing the maxim would make the relevant action impossible not by
virtue of some intrinsic contradiction, but because the will which would

Cf. iv, 424: ˜˜Some actions are so constituted that their maxim cannot even be thought
without contradiction as a universal law of nature, far less could one will that it should
become such. In the case of others that inner impossibility is indeed not to be found, but it
is still impossible to will that their maxim be raised to the universality of a law of nature
because such a will would contradict itself™™ (italics are Kant™s). The expressions ˜˜contra-
diction in conception™™ and ˜˜contradiction in the will™™ have been coined by Onora O™Neill:
cf. Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant™s Practical Philosophy (Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1989), ch. 5. See also Christine Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996), ch. 3. See also Christine Korsgaard™s
preface to Groundwork, p. xx.

want to universalize such a maxim would contradict itself. Such is the
case, Kant maintains, with the maxim: ˜˜I do not care to contribute to the
welfare of my fellow human beings™™ (iv, 423). Endorsing this maxim as a
universal law would put us in contradiction with a fundamental purpose
of all human beings, that of insuring their own welfare. Universalizing
the maxim that recommends not to make it one™s business to contribute
to the welfare of others does not lead to an intrinsic impossibility (contra-
diction). But it is impossible not to want one™s own welfare, which means
it is impossible to renounce in advance the help of others in case of
distress. Consequently, the maxim: ˜˜I do not care to contribute to the
welfare of others,™™ which it is impossible to will to be a universal law, is
rejected by the test of the categorical imperative.
Two interesting points emerge from this example. First, the test of
contradiction in the will takes into account the ends of empirical human
beings (here, well-being) and not only those of rational beings.22 But
second, the point of view on these ends required by the categorical
imperative is a point of view that is in some ways impersonal, or perhaps
more exactly, universally personal. When I consider adopting a maxim
or a precept, I am required to consider whether, regardless of my
particular goals, I could want this precept to become a universal law,
that is, to be adopted by all, as a categorical imperative. If I could, then
the precept is permissible (but not obligatory). If not, the precept is
forbidden, and the contrary precept (for example: I ought to contribute
to the well-being of others) is obligatory.
The first type of contradiction (contradiction in conception) deter-
mines ˜˜perfect duties,™™ i.e. duties that ˜˜allow no exception in favor of the
inclination.™™ The second type of contradiction determines ˜˜imperfect
duties,™™ i.e. duties for which a degree of latitude is left to the agent in
taking his inclinations into account in the determination of his actions.
This distinction is linked to another, that between ˜˜narrow™™ and ˜˜wide™™
or meritorious duties. Narrow duties are commands or interdictions
concerning specific actions (for example the interdiction to lie). Wide
or meritorious duties are those which prescribe an end without specify-
ing what actions must be undertaken to pursue this end. The duty of

The test by ˜˜contradiction in the will™™ also takes into account, of course, the ends of human
beings as rational beings. One of the examples Kant gives is that of testing the maxim ˜˜I will
not trouble myself with the cultivation of my talents.™™ This maxim is rejected because its
universalization puts it in contradiction with the proper end of a rational being, which is
that ˜˜all the capacities in him be developed, since they serve him and are given to him for all
sorts of possible purposes™™ (iv, 423).

benevolence toward others (caring for other people™s welfare) is a duty
of this type. This duty, determined under the test of contradiction in the
will, is thus a duty at once ˜˜imperfect™™ and ˜˜wide.™™23
One readily perceives the importance of the distinction between the
two kinds of contradiction, and the different kinds of duties they respect-
ively determine. The first kind of contradiction (contradiction in con-
ception, determining ˜˜perfect™™ and ˜˜narrow™™ duties), seems to bear the
whole weight of the so-called Kantian rigorism in matters of morality.
The second kind of contradiction (contradiction in the will, which deter-
mines the ˜˜imperfect™™ and ˜˜wide™™ duties), leaving room for inclination
and granting the agent a certain latitude in determining the action held
to be good, seems to reintroduce a prudential dimension (tied to the
search for happiness) into moral determination.
Now it is striking to note that the test by ˜˜contradiction in conception™™
seems especially relevant when applied to actions depending on human
convention.24 Thus for instance, it is clear that universalizing the maxim:
˜˜I will not return borrowed money™™ would put an end to (would be the
negation of) the existence of loan, that universalizing the maxim: ˜˜I will
make false promises™™ would be the negation of the practice of promise
itself, that universal appropriation of deposits would be the negation of
the very practice of deposit, and so on. All these actions are actions
depending on convention, and they are the object of juridical regulation.
Kant examines such actions in the first part of the Metaphysics of Morals
(the Doctrine of Right). It is clear that in this domain, all duties are both
perfect and narrow duties: they command obedience to an (external)
rule which determines with precision which actions are permissible or

For the distinction between ˜˜perfect™™ and ˜˜imperfect,™™ ˜˜narrow™™ and ˜˜wide™™ duties, see
Groundwork (iv, 422n) and Metaphysics of Morals (vi, 390). For the duty of benevolence as an
˜˜imperfect™™ and ˜˜wide™™ duty, see Groundwork (iv, 423“4); Metaphysics of Morals, x27 (vi,
450“1). The distinction between duties that are ˜˜narrow™™ and ˜˜perfect™™ on the one hand,
and duties that are ˜˜wide™™ and ˜˜imperfect™™ on the other hand, can also be characterized
under the second formulation of the categorical imperative: ˜˜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™™ (iv, 429). The distinction is this time between the cases
where the adoption of a maxim or precept would contradict the idea that humanity is an
end in itself, and those where it would simply not contribute to the promotion of humanity
as an end in itself (see iv, 429“31). Kant maintains that the results from the tests under
these two formulas are the same. The scope of this chapter does not allow me to examine
this point, nor to consider the role played by the third formulation of the categorical
imperative, cited at the beginning of this chapter.
What Christine Korsgaard calls, after Rawls, ˜˜practices™™ (see Kingdom of Ends, p. 85; John
Rawls, ˜˜Two concepts of rules,™™ Philosophical Review, vol. 64 [1955], pp. 3“32).

forbidden, required or not. But one may doubt that Kant is correct when
he considers actions that are not defined by explicit, positive law, as if
they arose from an implicit convention whose violation would, con-
sequently, put an end to the very possibility of the action itself (as a
In other words, I suggest that at least in the case of some of our moral
duties, when Kant makes use of the notion of ˜˜contradiction in concep-
tion™™ he extends to the domain of morality a notion that he borrows from
the domain of right (juridical law). Some actions are defined by (jurid-
ical) law, and to universalize an exception to the rule that defines them is
to put an end to the action itself, which owes its very possibility precisely
to its definition by the rule or law. This is the case for all actions defined
by a contract. Now of course a number of actions that are not regulated
by juridical law nevertheless derive their possibility from an implicit
contract or trust between agents. The practice of the promise is the
most obvious case. But when Kant extends the criterion of ˜˜contradic-
tion in conception™™ to the use of language itself “ to take the most famous
example “ he seems to treat it like an action whose status is defined by a
contract between agents, an action whose description is in fact much
more complex.
What I have in mind here is of course Kant™s famous discussion with
Benjamin Constant.25 From the Kantian characterization of moral duty,
Benjamin Constant maintains, it follows that ˜˜it would be a crime to lie to
a murderer who asked us whether a friend of ours who is pursued by
him had taken refuge in our house™™ (this is Constant as cited by Kant,
cf. viii, 425). Kant confirms that lying under any circumstance would be
a crime (not with respect to the murderer, he says, but with respect to
˜˜humanity in general™™) (viii, 426). But surprisingly enough, a large part
of the discussion that follows deals with the question whether I would be
juridically responsible for the misery that could, as a result of my action,
befall an innocent man. Kant™s answer is roughly the following: if I did
not obey the injunction of the categorical imperative (which commands
me to not lie, since universalizing the maxim of lying would put an end to
the practice of language and communication itself), then I am respon-
sible for the misery that might result, and I am thus liable to be punished

See Immanuel Kant, ˜˜On a Supposed Right to Lie from Altruistic Motives,™™ in Critique of
Practical Reason and Other Writings in Moral Philosophy, trans. and ed. with an introduction
by Lewis White Beck (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1949), pp. 346“51; AAviii,
pp. 425“30. Henceforth cited by volume and page number in the Akademie Ausgabe,
e.g. viii, 425“30.

by (juridical) law. If, in contrast, I obeyed the categorical imperative,
then I am not responsible for the harmful consequences that could result
from my action.
Such a reasoning seems to treat as a juridical question (no one can be
punished for obeying the law) a question that Constant took to be a
moral one. This shift from the realm of morality to that of juridical law
seems confirmed by the fact that Kant holds that the practice of language
is controlled by the implicit convention according to which we owe one
another (or more exactly, we owe ˜˜humanity in general™™ and thus first of
all, ourselves) veridical communication. To violate this convention is to
put an end to the practice of language itself.
Could Kant have said something else? Could he have treated the
situation presented by Benjamin Constant as arising from the demand,
not of a perfect and narrow duty (to tell the truth) but of an imperfect
and wide duty (to care for the welfare of others)? This would presuppose
that he not consider language as one of those activities defined by their
implicit contractual function (here: truthful communication), or lying,
therefore, as an act depending on the adoption of a maxim whose
universalization would negate the very existence of language. If he
renounced these views, there would then be no call for applying the
test of ˜˜contradiction in conception.™™ All we would have is a case for
applying the test by contradiction in the will. The result of such a test (it is
impossible to want universally that an innocent man be handed over to
the violence of a criminal) would be more in conformity with common
moral conscience, a point that should satisfy Kant.
If we generalize this result, we can suggest the following. The test by
˜˜contradiction in conception™™ applies only if the action under consid-
eration is defined by a clear convention, be it juridical or not. But most of
our actions are not of this kind. Most are such that they are candidates
for the potential ˜˜contradiction in the will™™ which would result from the
universalization of their maxim, much more than for a ˜˜contradiction in
the conception™™ of the action itself that might arise from such a univer-
salization. The reason why Kant does not see this point, I want to
suggest, is that his conception of morality is largely dependent on a
juridical model, however carefully he means to distinguish moral from
juridical evaluation. When Kant distinguishes between right and mor-
ality, the contrast he draws is between the ˜˜external™™ and constraining
character of juridical legislation on the one hand, and the ˜˜internal™™ and
autonomous character of moral legislation on the other hand (cf. vi, 220;
also 224). But this distinction between ˜˜external™™ and ˜˜internal™™

legislation does not stop him from importing into the moral domain the
juridical model of defining an action by the unambiguous convention
which determines its very possibility.
Finally, I would like to suggest that the influence of the juridical model
explains how we move from the discursive characterization of moral
judgment, which I tried to elucidate earlier (the use of logical forms of
judgment in the determination of the prescriptions that the will assigns
to itself) to its dimension of imputation and retribution. I will offer some
very brief remarks about this point, which on its own would require a
much more detailed investigation.

Moral judgment, imputation, retribution
An action is morally good only if it is performed ˜˜out of respect for the
law.™™ This means, in particular, that an action conforming to duty, but
performed in the hope of reward or for fear of punishment, would not
have moral value. In contrast, juridical legislation involves a system of
external constraints that motivate the will to obey the law (cf. vi, 219“20).
In the introduction to the Metaphysics of Morals, Kant defines imputation
(˜˜the judgment by which someone is regarded as the author of an
action™™), expounds the grounds for evaluating the merit or fault of an
action, and explains how punishment and reward are appropriately
adjudicated (vi, 227). If the first two points (the imputation and the
evaluation of merit or fault) are relevant both to morality and to juridical
law, the third belongs more specifically to the domain of right, i.e.
juridical law (law that establishes a system of constraints to insure that
˜˜the choice of one can be united with the choice of another in accordance
with a universal law of freedom,™™ cf. vi, 230). In other words, consid-
erations of reward and punishment belong to the domain of right, or
external law, not to that of morality strictly speaking, or internal law-
And yet the demand of pure practical reason, that the Highest Good,
i.e. the union of virtue and happiness, be realized, is a demand for
reward, which can be satisfied only by the Supreme Judge, God. By
Kant™s own admission, this is what makes the difference between the
ancient concept of summum bonum and his own concept of Highest Good.
For the Ancients, the virtuous life just is the highest form of happiness (in
the Aristotelian or in the Stoic version of the Highest Good), or the
reasoned search for happiness just is the virtuous life (in the Epicurean
version of the Highest Good). But for Kant, virtue is nothing else than

˜˜moral intention in struggle™™ (cf. v, 84), i.e. the resolution to motivate
one™s actions by respect for the moral law, in spite of the obstacles
presented by our passive, sensible nature. Only a supreme judge can
insure that virtue be justly rewarded, and pure practical reason cannot
but want such reward, even if it must not allow this desire to be a
determining motivation for the moral action. My suggestion is thus the
following: Kant™s Highest Good is a limit case, on the scale of humanity as
a whole, of the juridical model of retribution. This prevalence of the
juridical model for Kant™s view of morality did not escape Hegel, nor did
it escape Nietzsche. Each of them made this aspect of Kant™s moral
philosophy a central theme of their interpretation and criticism.26 It
may explain the prevalence of the so-called test by ˜˜contradiction in
conception™™ in Kant™s account of what we ought to do.

Concluding remarks
According to Kant, the discursive capacities of the thinking subject,
whose role in cognition has been analyzed in the Critique of Pure
Reason, play an equally essential role in the determination of action: in
the agent™s reflection on the relation of ends and means (in the self-
prescription of hypothetical imperatives) on the one hand, and in the
higher demands of morality (the evaluation of subjective maxims and
precepts under the objective principle of the categorical imperative) on
the other hand. Just as in the domain of its theoretical use, so too in the
domain of its practical use the role of reason is to promote a standpoint
on the whole (here, a ˜˜kingdom of ends™™ where every human being
would be, as such, a legislator), which calls upon rational capacities
shared by all. The role of practical reason is not to generate a represen-
tation of good and evil by pure concepts, but to order our empirical/
sensible ends under the discriminating principle of the categorical

In his Principles of the Philosophy of Right, Hegel presents ˜˜morality,™™ namely the Kantian
moral view, as an internalization of the demands of ˜˜abstract right,™™ namely juridical law:
see G. W. F. Hegel, Elements of the Philosophy of Right, ed. Allen W. Wood, trans. H. B. Nisbet
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1991), part II: Morality, esp. x135, pp. 162“3.
Nietzsche, on the other hand, traces both juridical law and Kantian morality back to the
age-old practice of Schuld, debt (note that the German word Schuld means both debt
and guilt). See Friedrich Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals, trans. Walter Kaufmann
(New York: Random House, Vintage Books edition, 1989), essay 2, esp. xx5“6, pp. 64“7 ;
xx20“1, pp. 90“2.

I suggested that the application of this principle takes a very different
form whether one privileges one or the other of the two main kinds of
contradiction (˜˜contradiction in conception,™™ ˜˜contradiction in the will™™)
under which Kant calls upon us to test the possibility of universalizing
our maxims. I suggested that the importance given by Kant to the test by
˜˜contradiction in conception™™ tells much about the importance for Kant
of the juridical model of defining an action by an explicit convention. To
follow this suggestion further would necessitate examining more closely
the relation between external law and morality for Kant and for his
immediate predecessors and followers. We would also need to question
more closely the conception of the will which gives meaning to the
second type of contradiction evoked by Kant, ˜˜contradiction in the
will.™™ Such a study would be all the more important as it would perhaps
allow us better to understand the relation between the various aspects of
the referent of ˜˜I™™ in ˜˜I think,™™ in the first Critique, and the various aspects
of the referent of ˜˜I™™ in ˜˜I will,™™ in Kant™s moral philosophy.


Kant conducts his Analytic of the Beautiful, in the Critique of the Power
of Judgment, according to the ˜˜leading thread™™ that also guided the
table of the categories in the first Critique: the four titles of the logical
functions of judgment. This leading thread, which has not met with
much favor on the part of Kant™s readers where the first Critique is
concerned, is even less popular in the case of the third Critique. I will
argue that this ill repute is unmerited. In fact, Kant™s use of the
leading thread of the logical functions of judgment to analyse judg-
ments of taste merits close attention. In particular, it brings to light a
striking feature of judgments of taste as analyzed by Kant. We would
expect the main headings in the table of logical functions (quantity,
quality, relation, modality) to guide the analysis of aesthetic judg-
ments as judgments about an object (˜˜this rose is beautiful,™™ ˜˜this
painting is beautiful™™). Now they certainly do serve this purpose. But
in addition, it turns out that they also serve to analyze another judg-
ment, one that remains implicitly contained within the predicate
(˜˜beautiful™™) of the judgments of taste. This second judgment,
imbedded, as it were, in the first (or in the predicate of the first),
and which only the critique of taste brings to discursive clarity, is a
judgment no longer about the object, but about the judging subjects,
namely the subjects that pass the judgment: ˜˜this rose is beautiful,™™
˜˜this painting is beautiful,™™ and so on.

In this chapter I will be concerned with the striking shift of direction in
Kant™s analysis of judgments of taste, from an analysis of the explicit
judgement about an object, to an analysis of the implicit judgment about
the judging subjects. I propose moreover to show that when we reach
the fourth moment of the Analytic of judgments of taste “ that of
modality “ the systematic investigation of these judgments according to
the ˜˜leading thread™™ of the logical functions laid out in the first Critique
uniquely illuminates the relationship between the normative and the
descriptive aspects of aesthetic judgments. As always with Kant,
architectonic considerations thus play an essential role in the unfolding
of the substantive argument.
I now start with the first title or ˜˜moment,™™ that of quality.

The predicate of the judgment of taste: the expression of a
disinterested pleasure
I must first forestall a possible objection to the method just propounded.
Given the differences Kant emphasizes between aesthetic judgments
and the cognitive judgments of the first Critique, how can the ˜˜leading
thread™™ of the logical forms of judgment at work in the first Critique be
the slightest bit enlightening for our understanding of Kant™s Analytic of
the Beautiful? In the Critique of Pure Reason the table of the logical
functions of judgment was presented as the systematic inventory of the
functions of thought necessarily at work in any analysis of what is given
to our sensibility, insofar as that analysis is geared toward subsuming
individual representations (intuitions) under general representations
(concepts). Because the logical forms of judgments were forms in
accordance with which we analyze the sensible given into concepts, it
was also supposed to be a key to those forms of synthesis of sensible
manifolds that make possible their analysis into concepts. As such, the
table of logical functions of judgment was also the ˜˜leading thread™™ for
the establishment of a table of universal concepts of synthesis prior to
analysis: the categories (cf. A70/B85“A85/B109).1 But Kant is adamant
that judgments of taste are not cognitive judgments, and that as aesthetic
judgments, they do not rest on categories. This being so, in what way
might the argument of the first Critique, to the effect that the table of
logical forms of judgment can function as a leading thread for a table of

See above, ch. 4, pp. 100“6.

categories, have any consequence whatsoever for understanding the
nature of judgments of taste?
One preliminary answer is that following once again the leading thread
of the elementary logical functions serves at least to establish a checklist of
questions concerning the nature of the acts of judging at work in aesthetic
judgments: investigating the manifest form of judgments of taste accord-
ing to the four headings established in the first Critique is investigating the
function of judging, Funktion zu urteilen, manifest in this form. Just as in
the first Critique, all we have here is indeed a mere leading thread:
investigating the logical form of an aesthetic judgment should give us an
invaluable tool for understanding a content which cannot, of course, be
reduced to that logical form. In aesthetic judgments, however, the content
thus illuminated is not the content of the categories. Rather, the content
brought to light by the Analytic conducted in accordance with the logical
functions of judgment is that of the predicate of the judgment of taste: the
predicate ˜˜beautiful.™™ In other words, to analyze, using the leading thread
of logical functions of judgment, the act of judging the beautiful, is also to
elucidate the meaning of the predicate ˜˜beautiful™™ in the propositions
resulting from that act.
This is precisely why the first moment in the Analytic of the Beautiful is
that of quality. As all commentators have noted, the order of exposition
here differs from that of the table of judgments in the first Critique, where
Kant started with quantity. This is because in a way, the whole analysis of
aesthetic judgment boils down to the question: what is the meaning of
the predicate of the judgment of taste (the predicate ˜˜beautiful™™),
i.e. what, if anything, is asserted of the object (the logical subject of
the judgment ˜˜this X is beautiful™™) in an aesthetic judgment?
Consequently, when we consider aesthetic judgments under the title of
quality, we are not merely considering their form. As to quality, the form
of the aesthetic judgments Kant is most directly concerned with (e.g.
˜˜this rose is beautiful™™) is affirmative, there is no particular difficulty
about that.2 But the interesting question is: what is thus being affirmed?

This is not to say that there cannot be negative judgments of taste (˜˜this X is not beautiful™™)
or even, more interestingly, judgments of taste whose predicate is the opposite of ˜˜beauti-
ful™™ (e.g. ˜˜ugly™™). All I mean to say here is that whatever the form of the judgment is as to its
quality, Kant™s main concern in the first moment of the Analytic of the Beautiful is to take
this form only as a starting point to investigate the content of the predicate asserted (or as
the case may be, negated) in the judgment of taste. The most typical case of aesthetic
judgment of taste, and that on which Kant focuses his attention, is that where the judgment
is affirmative, and asserts of an object that it is beautiful. For a possible interpretation of the
predicate ˜˜ugly,™™ see my ˜˜Kant™s theory of judgment, and judgments of taste: on Henry

What is the content of the predicate ˜˜beautiful™™ that is asserted of an
object in aesthetic judgments?
Kant™s answer: the predicate ˜˜beautiful™™ does not express a reality “
namely the positive determination of a thing, known through our
senses.3 Rather, it expresses a feeling of pleasure brought about in the
judging subject by its own mental activity in apprehending the object.
This pleasure, albeit occasioned by the object, is elicited more directly by
the receptivity of the judging subject to its own activity. This is why Kant
describes the aesthetic pleasure as ˜˜disinterested.™™ An ˜˜interest,™™ he says,
is a satisfaction that attaches to the representation of the existence of an
object.4 To say that aesthetic pleasure is disinterested is not to say that
the object does not need to exist for the pleasure to be elicited. Rather, it
is to say that the object™s existence is not what causes our pleasure; nor
does our faculty of desire strive to cause the existence of the object.
Instead, the object™s existence is only the occasion for the pleasure,
which is elicited by what Kant calls the ˜˜free play of the imagination
and the understanding™™ in apprehending the object.
The pleasure we are talking about here is therefore of a peculiar
nature. In x1 of the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant characterizes
pleasure “ and displeasure “ as a ˜˜feeling of life™™ (Lebensgefuhl) of the
subject (v, 204). Similarly, in the Critique of Practical Reason he wrote:
Pleasure is the representation of the agreement of the object or the
action with the subjective conditions of life [my emphasis], i.e. with the faculty
of the causality of a representation with respect to the actual existence
[Wirklichkeit] of its object (or with respect to the determination of the
powers of the subject to action in order to produce the object).5
Now, to relate the feeling of pleasure to the ˜˜causality of the repre-
sentation with respect to the existence of its object™™ is to relate it to the
faculty of desire. For the latter is defined, in the same footnote of the
Critique of Practical Reason, as ˜˜a being™s faculty to be by means of his
representations the cause of the actual existence of the object of these

Allison™s Kant™s Theory of Taste,™™ Inquiry, vol. 46, no. 2 (2003), (henceforth ˜˜On KTT™™),
pp. 154“5.
Cf. the explanation of ˜˜reality,™™ the first of the three categories of quality, corresponding to
the form of affirmative judgment, in the first Critique: A80/B106, A183/B182.
Critique of the Power of Judgment, x2, AAv, p. 205. Henceforth references to the Critique of the
Power of Judgment will be given in the main text, by volume and page in the Akademie
Ausgabe, e.g. (v, 205). References to the First Introduction to the Critique of the Power of
Judgment will be indicated in the main text by volume (xx) and page of the Akademie
Critique of Practical Reason, v, 9n. Translation modified.

representations.™™ What Kant calls the ˜˜subjective conditions of life™™ are
thus no other than the conditions under which the faculty of desire
becomes active in striving to generate its objects. And the pleasure we
take in an object is the representation of the agreement of that object
with the faculty of desire.6
Defined in this way, pleasure is certainly not ˜˜disinterested™™ since it is
linked, by its very definition, to the faculty of desire. However, in the
First Introduction to the Critique of the Power of Judgment, Kant extends
his definition of pleasure. He includes under the concept ˜˜pleasure™™ a
feeling that is not directly linked to the ˜˜causality of the representation
with respect to the actual existence of its object.™™ His definition of
pleasure is now the following:
Pleasure is a state of the mind in which a representation is in agreement
with itself, as a ground, either merely for preserving this state itself (for
the state of the powers of the mind reciprocally promoting each other in
a representation preserves itself) or for producing its object. (xx, 231)

The second kind of pleasure mentioned in this text (˜˜Pleasure is a state
of the mind in which a representation is in agreement with itself as the
ground . . . for producing its object™™) is the same as the kind described
in the Critique of Practical Reason quoted above. But the first kind is
different: it is the consciousness of a state that tends to nothing more
than to preserve itself. This is the ˜˜disinterested™™ pleasure proper to the
judgment of taste.
We find it described again in x10, where the definition of pleasure
includes no reference at all to the interested pleasure that was the focus
of the Critique of Practical Reason. Kant now writes:

When Kant, in the passage from the Critique of Practical Reason referenced in footnote 5,
describes the faculty of desire as the ˜˜subjective condition of life,™™ we need to remember that
for him, life is a capacity (Vermogen) of a material thing to produce itself, or to be cause and
effect of itself. At least this is how our power of judgment, in its reflective use, allows us to
represent living things, or organisms (see v, 372“7). In living beings that are also conscious
and self-moving (animals), the faculty of desire is a ˜˜subjective condition of life™™ since the
˜˜capacity to be by one™s representation the cause of the existence of the object of one™s
representation™™ allows the living being to act with a purpose in insuring its own production
and reproduction. We understand, then, how pleasure can be described as a Lebensgefuhl ¨
when it is the feeling of the agreement of the object with the subjective condition of life, or
faculty of desire. However, in introducing the distinctive kind of pleasure which is the
aesthetic pleasure, where the pleasure has no relation to the faculty of desire or is dis-
interested, Kant makes clear that pleasure as the Lebensgefuhl is not necessarily connected
with the faculty of desire defined as the ˜˜subjective condition of life™™ in the way just
explained. I say more about this disconcerting point shortly.

The consciousness of the causality of a representation for maintaining the
subject in its state, can here designate in general what is called pleasure;
in contrast to which displeasure is that representation that contains the
ground [den Grund] for determining the state of the representations to
pass into its opposite (by repelling or eliminating those representations).
(v, 220)

This is the first of the two kinds of pleasure described in the First
Introduction: a pleasure which does not relate to a faculty of desire
directed toward obtaining its object, but instead is the mere conscious-
ness of the effort of the mind to conserve its present state.7
But then what remains of the idea that pleasure is the ˜˜consciousness
of the relationship of the representation to the subjective conditions of
life™™? And what about pleasure as a ˜˜feeling of life™™? One proposal might
be that in the case of aesthetic pleasure, the ˜˜life™™ in question is different
from the biological life whose subjective conditions are, for non-rational
creatures just as much as for rational creatures, the conditions under
which the faculty of desire becomes active in striving to produce and
obtain its object. The ˜˜life™™ whose consciousness is aesthetic pleasure
might be the life of what Hegel will later call ˜˜spirit™™: the life of the
universal community of human minds.8
Here two objections may readily present themselves. First, one might
object that I am extending Kant™s notion of life beyond recognition by
trying to suggest a move from the biological life to which interested
pleasure (the pleasure of sensation) is clearly connected, to a hypothe-
tical ˜˜life of the spirit™™ to which disinterested pleasure (the pleasure of
taste) might be connected. Does this second notion of life have more than
metaphorical meaning? Second, one might object that I am moving even
further from any recognizable Kantian doctrine when I suggest a com-
parison between this ˜˜life of the spirit™™ of dubious Kantian pedigree, and
Hegel™s notion of spirit.

Note that Kant™s conception of pleasure is strikingly active. Both kinds of pleasure are
characterized by a specific effort or striving: either an effort to produce (or reproduce) the
object whose representation is accompanied by the feeling of pleasure; or the effort to
remain in the state in which the mind affects itself, through its own activity, with a feeling of
For this notion of spirit, see for instance G. W. F. Hegel, Phenomenology of Spirit, p. 110 (˜˜ ˜I™
that is ˜We™ and ˜We™ that is ˜I™™™). Of course the grounds on which this ˜˜We™™ is established in
the Phenomenology of Spirit are very different from those I am exploring here in connection
with Kant™s Analytic of the Beautiful.

In response I shall first note that Kant does grant that all pleasure or
displeasure is the feeling of a living entity in the biological sense: a
conscious corporeal being.9 Nevertheless, he adds, if all pleasure were
a pleasure grounded on attraction or emotion, then there would be no
justification for demanding of others an agreement with our own
pleasure. So there has to be an a priori ground to the peculiar kind of
pleasure that is the aesthetic pleasure of reflection. This a priori ground,
as we shall see shortly, is a peculiar feature of the very functioning of our
mind, or representational capacities. So far, all we know is that by virtue
of this pleasure, the mind tends to nothing more, nothing less, than to
maintain itself in its own state. Now, being the cause and effect of oneself
is precisely Kant™s characterization of life, as a capacity of corporeal
things.10 It thus seems quite apt to say: in aesthetic pleasure, the mind
is cause and effect of nothing but itself, and so aesthetic pleasure is
Lebensgefuhl in this restricted sense: feeling of the life of the mind (of
the representational capacities). Nevertheless, the term ˜˜life™™ has at the
same time its most usual sense (the capacity of a corporeal being to be
cause and effect of its own activity), since there would be no feeling of
pleasure unless the representational capacities were those of a living
thing, in the ordinary sense of the term.
I added that this life of the mind is also ˜˜life of the spirit,™™ i.e. the life of
a universal community of judging subjects. With this suggestion I in fact
anticipated a point that finds its initial expression only in the second
moment of Kant™s analytic of the judgment of taste: what it is about the
state of the mind that elicits the peculiar kind of pleasure that is aesthetic
pleasure is the very fact that it is universally communicable, or makes a
claim to the possibility of being shared by all human beings. I thus
suggest that the aesthetic pleasure, according to Kant, is a Lebensgefuhl ¨
in the additional sense that it is a feeling of the life (the capacity to be the
cause and effect of itself) of an a priori grounded community of judg-
ing subjects (a community grounded in the a priori representational
capacities shared by all judging subjects, considered simply as such).
To recapitulate: in the first moment of his Analytic of the Beautiful,
Kant asks: what is affirmed of the logical subject of the judgment, in the
simple case of an affirmative judgment of taste such as ˜˜this X is beauti-
ful™™? His answer: what is affirmed is a feeling of disinterested pleasure
elicited in us when we apprehend the object. I have suggested that this

See Kant™s discussion of Burke™s views at the end of the Analytic of the Sublime (v, 277“8).
On this point, see n. 6 above.

pleasure does meet Kant™s generic definition of pleasure (pleasure is a
˜˜feeling of life™™) if one accepts that in this particular case ˜˜the feeling of
life™™ is dissociated from the ˜˜subjective condition of life™™ which is the
faculty of desire, and instead is the feeling elicited by the life of the spirit.
Here I anticipated the second moment of the Analytic in suggesting to
understand ˜˜spirit™™ as the a priori community of judging subjects,
grounded in the universal a priori forms of their mental activity.
Let me now submit this last point to scrutiny by turning to the second
moment, that of ˜˜quantity™™ in Kant™s Analytic of the Beautiful.

The ˜˜subjective universality™™ of judgments of taste


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