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promote.
What about the third criterion: must an agent who holds there to be a
categorical imperative also hold that he has some fully justi¬ed end? A fully
justi¬ed end would be one that was either itself unconditionally good or
that derived its goodness from something unconditionally good. Since an
agent who maintains there to be a categorical imperative does not have to
profess there to be anything unconditionally good at all, I see no reason why
she would need to hold that she had any fully justi¬ed end (in Korsgaard™s
sense).
In short, an agent™s assuming that there is a categorical imperative does
not require her to agree that she has any ends that meet the second and
third criteria Korsgaard sets out. It seems that an agent can at the same time
hold there to be a categorical imperative yet deny that she has any good
ends.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
58

However, that does not preclude the possibility that there are other
grounds for holding that one has good ends. In The Sources of Normativity,
Korsgaard suggests that unless one holds that one does, one is committed
to complete practical skepticism “ that is, to the view that one has no reason
to do anything at all.19
Yet I do not see why one would be committed to this. Suppose that some-
one takes himself to have good ends, though not in Korsgaard™s sense accord-
ing to which such ends must be “fully justi¬ed.” He holds that the goodness
of his good ends derives from his re¬‚ectively, as opposed to impulsively,
choosing them as ends. He believes that his good ends are good because
they are objects of his re¬‚ective choice “ that is, his choice to preserve, pro-
mote, or realize them. Yet this person is committed to the view that there is
nothing unconditionally good from which the goodness of things derives.
In particular, he denies that his power of re¬‚ective choice is uncondition-
ally good. The agent thinks that the goodness of a thing is conditional on
its being an object of his re¬‚ective choice. Therefore, according to him,
the goodness of his power of re¬‚ective choice is itself conditional on his
exercise of this power. In his view, his power of re¬‚ective choice does not
count as good unless he at least makes a re¬‚ective choice to preserve it,
for example, to keep himself alive. Yet he can easily envisage a context in
which he would not choose to preserve his power of re¬‚ective choice. For
example, he imagines that he will die in a matter of months unless he takes
steps to procure an experimental medication. The medication is expensive
and would consume resources desperately needed right now to preserve the
lives of his loved ones. In this situation, he concludes, he would not choose
to preserve his power of re¬‚ective choice. Since the agent can conceive of
circumstances such as this, he can conceive of contexts in which his power
of re¬‚ective choice would not be good. Korsgaard apparently thinks that
such a person would be condemned to complete normative skepticism. But
the question is: why would he be? It seems that he would have reasons to do
certain things “ for example, to preserve, promote, or realize objects of his
re¬‚ective, as opposed to his impulsive, choice.
Perhaps Korsgaard would respond to this example by agreeing that in
light of the agent™s account of the conditions of value, he is not compelled to
embrace normative skepticism. Nevertheless, she might claim, the example
does not realize its aim: it does not show that one who is committed to
denying there to be anything unconditionally good from which the goodness
of his good ends derives can avoid normative skepticism. For though the
agent might not have re¬‚ected deeply enough to realize it, he is, by virtue of
his account of the conditions of value, committed to af¬rming that there is
something unconditionally good from which the goodness of his good ends
derives. This something is not the power of re¬‚ective choice, but the exercise
of this power: his re¬‚ective choice (i.e., choosing) itself. After all, the agent
takes his good ends to be good because they are objects of his re¬‚ective
The Formula of Humanity 59

choice. And, Korsgaard might conclude, if he holds re¬‚ective choice to
have this status, he must also hold it to be unconditionally good.
This response seems inadequate. For Korsgaard does not explain what
would be irrational in the agent™s holding that though his re¬‚ective choice
of an object is what confers value on it, re¬‚ective choice is not itself un-
conditionally valuable. In general, that one thing confers a property on a
second thing does not entail that the ¬rst thing possesses the property at
all, let alone unconditionally. Some university presidents confer the Ph.D.
on graduate students. That does not entail that these presidents themselves
possess a Ph.D.20 Of course, Korsgaard might insist that value is a special
property; unlike many other properties, it is such that whatever confers it
must possess it. But it is highly questionable whether this is the case. Sup-
pose I hold that what confers badness on something is that it be an object
of rational disapproval. I would not thereby have to hold that rational dis-
approval is bad at all, let alone unconditionally bad.21 Korsgaard has given
us inadequate grounds for thinking that, upon re¬‚ection, the agent does
take there to be something unconditionally good from which the goodness
of good ends derives. Therefore, she fails to rescue her claim that unless
we are committed to there being such a thing, we push ourselves into utter
normative skepticism.
In short, it is questionable both whether assuming there to be a categorical
imperative itself compels one to hold that he has good ends (in the robust
sense in question) and whether the only way to deny that one has such ends
is to embrace complete normative skepticism.


3.6 From Good Ends to the Unconditional Value of Humanity:
The Regressive Argument
Nevertheless, it would obviously be very signi¬cant if, on Korsgaard™s recon-
struction, it turned out that if we take ourselves to have good ends, then we
must hold humanity to be unconditionally good. In this section I set out the
argument; in the next I criticize it.22
Korsgaard characterizes the argument as “regressive,” which means that
“something is taken as given or actual and the conditions of its possibility are
explored.”23 In this case, what a person engaged in the argument takes as
given is that she has good ends. The burden of (what I call) the “regressive
argument” is to show the following: if an agent takes as given that she has
good ends, then she must (is rationally compelled to) hold that humanity is
unconditionally valuable. She must hold this because, upon re¬‚ection, she
will ¬nd that these ends ultimately derive their goodness from something
unconditionally good, namely from humanity.
Korsgaard™s interpretation of “humanity” coheres with that offered at
the beginning of this chapter (3.1). Korsgaard embraces the view that the
“characteristic feature” of humanity is the capacity to set ends.24 It is through
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
60

practical reason that we set ends. Whenever we act, we do so on some self-
given principle of practical reason, that is, some maxim. In giving ourselves
maxims of acting, we set ourselves ends; for each maxim contains (a de-
scription of) an end (see section 1.2).25 “Human beings are distinguished
from animals,” says Korsgaard, “by the fact that practical reason rather than
instinct is the determinant of our actions.”26 According to Korsgaard each
and every one of an agent™s ends is set by reason, though only his morally
obligatory ends are set entirely by reason.27 Korsgaard insists that we should
not understand humanity merely as a capacity to set moral ends, but, more
generally, as a capacity to set ends for our actions, as opposed to behaving
on instinct as do other animals. To value humanity is to value the capac-
ity to set ends, wherever it manifests itself. In the context of the regres-
sive argument, Korsgaard sometimes substitutes for “humanity” the terms
“rational nature” or “the power of rational choice.” She employs these terms
as equivalent.28
Although Korsgaard summarizes the regressive argument in various
works, she offers her most thorough account of it in “Kant™s Formula of
Humanity.”29 I believe that the regressive argument unfolds as follows:

i. You take it that some of your ends are good.

Therefore,

ii. You hold there to be a suf¬cient condition of their goodness: some-
thing that is either itself unconditionally good or that derives its good-
ness from something unconditionally good.
iii. The suf¬cient condition of the ends™ goodness does not lie in the
ends themselves.
iv. It does not lie in your having an inclination for them.
v. The suf¬cient condition of the ends™ goodness is not that they con-
tribute to your happiness, or even to everyone™s happiness.

On re¬‚ection,

vi. You hold that the suf¬cient condition of the goodness of the ends you
take to be good is that they be objects of your rational choice.

So,

vii. You must hold your power of rational choice (humanity) to be un-
conditionally good.

On re¬‚ection,

viii. You must hold that the suf¬cient condition of the goodness of each
agent™s good ends is that they be objects of the agent™s rational choice.
The Formula of Humanity 61

Therefore,

ix. You must hold everyone™s power of rational choice (humanity) to be
unconditionally good.

In embracing step i, an agent sets out his assumption that he has good
ends. According to the argument, given this assumption, he is compelled
to embrace ii, namely the idea that there is a suf¬cient condition of the
ends™ goodness “ something that is either itself unconditionally good or
that derives goodness from something unconditionally good. Steps iii“v are
supposed to eliminate various candidates the agent might consider for the
suf¬cient condition of the goodness of the ends he takes to be good. Step vi
represents what Korsgaard calls the crucial step of the argument “ that is, the
notion that, upon re¬‚ection, an agent takes the suf¬cient condition of the
goodness of these ends to be their status as objects of his rational choice. To
allay possible misunderstanding, let me emphasize from the outset that the
notion of suf¬ciency Korsgaard employs appears to be what we might (rather
awkwardly) call “becausal” suf¬ciency. To af¬rm that A is the “becausally”
suf¬cient condition of B is to af¬rm that if A, then B because A. So it appears
that we might paraphrase vi as follows. Suppose you have an end and you
take it to be a good one. You hold that if this end is an object of your rational
choice (as, according to Kant, all of your ends are), the end is good because
it is an object of your rational choice. In effect, you hold that what confers
value on any end of yours that you take to be good is its being an object of
your rational choice.30 Moving forward in the argument, the combination
of vi and ii is supposed to yield vii, namely that an agent must take his power
of rational choice (humanity) to be unconditionally good. Moreover, since
an agent embraces vi, suggests Korsgaard, he must also accept viii, namely
that the suf¬cient condition of the goodness of each agent™s good ends is
that they be objects of the agent™s rational choice. The move from viii to ix,
the conclusion, parallels that from vi to vii. According to Korsgaard (who
is, of course, following Kant), if an agent embraces the conclusion of the
regressive argument, he must recognize moral obligations to himself and
others. It is debatable precisely what these obligations are, but I do not focus
on this issue until Chapter 8.
Turning to the details of the regressive argument, we ¬nd that ii follows
from i. In i, we assume that we have good ends. Good ends are, on the
conception we are employing here, fully justi¬ed. That they are yields ii. To
hold an end to be fully justi¬ed is, says Korsgaard, to hold there to be some
(“becausally”) suf¬cient condition of its goodness that is itself uncondition-
ally good or which derives its goodness from something unconditionally
good. The question is: what is this suf¬cient condition? Steps iii“vi arise
from efforts to answer this question.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
62

The third step of the regressive argument rejects a form of realism re-
garding the good “ the notion that goodness is simply inherent in certain
ends themselves. It is easy to sketch an example of the kind of position iii
disclaims. An environmentalist who has the end of preserving the maxi-
mum number of living species on earth might hold that this end not only
meets each of Korsgaard™s criteria for goodness but is itself unconditionally
good. It is, he thinks, good in every context that a maximum number of
(currently existing) species be preserved. In “Kant™s Formula of Humanity,”
Korsgaard brie¬‚y underscores a Kantian reply to this kind of position. The
environmentalist, goes the reply, is confused about the source of his end™s
goodness. He believes that he wants to maximize species preservation be-
cause such preservation is intrinsically good. Yet upon re¬‚ection he would
¬nd that any goodness had by species preservation would actually stem from
his desiring it. Korsgaard says: “[I]t looks as if the things you want, if they are
good at all, are good because you want them “ rather than your wanting them
because they are good.”31 But, the Kantian reply continues, if the goodness
of species preservation derives from the agent™s desire for it, then it is not
unconditionally good. Korsgaard cites approvingly Kant™s claim that: “All ob-
jects of the inclinations have only a conditional worth; for if there were not
inclinations and the needs based on them, their object would be without
worth” (GMS 428). Since, if some rational being did not want maximum
species preservation, it would be devoid of worth, it is not unconditionally
good. Of course, Korsgaard has at her disposal another means of showing
that maximum species preservation fails to be unconditionally good: Kant™s
famous (and much criticized) Groundwork I argument that nothing except
a good will can even be conceived as unconditionally good.32
Having assumed that we have good ends, we are inquiring into what
constitutes the suf¬cient condition of their goodness. In accepting step iii,
we have endorsed the notion that their goodness must derive somehow from
the nature or concerns of rational beings. A natural proposal for an agent
to make at this point is that his good ends are good simply because they
are objects of his desire. In other words, a suf¬cient condition of his ends™
goodness is that he have an inclination for them. In step iv Korsgaard denies
that this is the case. Her denial seems very plausible. That an agent has an
inclination for an object does not entail that the object is good. Someone
might have a craving to smoke cigarettes, but her having it might not, even
in her own view, make smoking good. For she might herself acknowledge
that though smoking gives her a momentary pleasure, it ultimately fails to
promote her happiness and is therefore not good.33
Yet what about happiness itself? Could it not be the case that a good end
is good because it contributes to happiness? There are two possibilities here,
both of which are addressed in step v. According to the ¬rst, an agent™s end
is good by virtue of its contributing to his own happiness. Korsgaard rejects
this possibility mainly by appealing to Kant™s claim that “we do not believe
The Formula of Humanity 63

that happiness is good in the possession of one who does not have a good
will.”34 Recall that in Korsgaard™s view a good end must be fully justi¬ed.
For her this means that it must derive its goodness from something that
is unconditionally good. If contributing to an agent™s own happiness is to
justify the goodness of his end, then, she thinks, the agent™s happiness must
be unconditionally good. Yet, according to Kant, an agent™s happiness is not
unconditionally good. There is a context in which his happiness is not good,
namely when it is not accompanied by a good will. A rational egoist might
object to this contention, arguing in what Korsgaard calls “a remarkable feat
of egocentrism” that his own happiness is unconditionally good, but I do
not pursue this point here.35
According to the second way of trying to use happiness to bring the
regress to a close, an end is good by virtue of its contributing to everyone™s
happiness. We might claim that everyone™s happiness “ that is, the state of
affairs in which every individual is happy “ is unconditionally good. A good
end is good because it contributes to the realization of this unconditionally
good state of affairs.
Against this suggestion, Korsgaard appeals to Kant™s notion that the good
must provide reasons for action that apply to every rational being. In partic-
ular, she emphasizes something that she takes to follow from this require-
ment, namely that if an end is good, then all rational agents must be able
to share it. The end must be a “consistent, harmonious object.”36 What is
a “consistent, harmonious object”? This much is clear. In Korsgaard™s view,
we cannot say that in pursuing his own happiness, each agent would be pur-
suing a consistent, harmonious object. Suppose each agent were pursuing
his own happiness. Korsgaard endorses Kant™s view that what would result
is a harmony like that suggested in the pledge of King Francis I to Emperor
Charles V: “What my brother Charles would have [Milan], that I would also
have” (KpV 28). The brothers do not really have a consistent object “ the one
wants to get Milan for himself, which would prevent his brother from getting
it, and vice versa. In a similar way (as we have already noted in section 3.2),
all agents pursuing their own happiness would not have a consistent object;
each agent wants his own happiness to be promoted, which, in Kant™s view,
would prevent (at least some) other agent from promoting his. For example,
part of Pete™s happiness would be winning this year™s tournament. Yet if he
wins, then Boris couldn™t be happy, since he was counting on victory as well.
It seems that if an object is consistent and harmonious, then one agent™s
promoting it would not itself preclude any other agent from doing so.
Korsgaard concludes that everyone™s happiness “does not form a consis-
tent harmonious object.”37 This conclusion, however, does not follow from
the understanding we have thus far attained of what it means to form one.
For it is not clear that one agent™s securing everyone™s happiness (if we as-
sume for a moment that it would be practically possible for one agent to do
this) would itself preclude another agent from doing so. One agent (angel 1)
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
64

might initially bring it about that everyone was happy, while another agent
(angel 2) might thwart a threat to everyone™s happiness, for example, a
threat from a natural disaster. So far, everyone™s happiness does seem to be
a consistent, harmonious object. Yet I suspect that there is a further condi-
tion on being such an object that we have not yet captured; a consistent,
harmonious object must be realizable. And, according to Korsgaard, every-
one™s happiness is not. For each person to be happy, each person would
have to have all of his desires satis¬ed. But the satisfaction of some agents™
desires necessarily precludes the satisfaction of some other agents™ desires.
Not everyone can be happy. In short, Korsgaard argues that since uncondi-
tionally good objects must be harmonious, and everyone™s happiness is not
harmonious, everyone™s happiness is not unconditionally good.
Moving forward in the argument, we have assumed that there are good
ends “ good in the very robust sense Korsgaard has speci¬ed. Given that
there are good ends in this sense, we must be able to pinpoint the suf¬cient
condition of their goodness. Yet the question remains: what is it? It will be
helpful to cite the passage in which Korsgaard answers this question:

Now comes the crucial step. Kant™s answer, as I understand him, is that what makes
the object of your rational choice good is that it is the object of a rational choice.
That is, since we still do make choices and have the attitude that what we choose is
good in spite of our incapacity to ¬nd the unconditioned condition of the object™s
goodness in this (empirical) regress upon the conditions, it must be that we are
supposing that rational choice itself makes its object good. His idea is that rational
choice has what I will call a value-conferring status.38

Here Korsgaard seems to be saying: a good end derives its value from being
the object of an agent™s exercise of a certain capacity, namely his power of
rational choice. Suppose an agent takes one of his ends to be good. Upon
re¬‚ection, suggests Korsgaard, he will conclude that it has this status by
virtue of his having exercised his power of rational choice with respect to it.
That the agent, not driven by impulse but rather guided by reason, chose
this end suf¬ces, in the agent™s considered view, to make it good. “We act as
if our own choice were the suf¬cient condition of the goodness of its object:
this attitude is built into (a subjective principle of) rational action.”39 An
agent holds that a suf¬cient condition of the goodness of his good ends is
that they be the object of his rational choice. This is the sixth step of the
regress argument.
How does Korsgaard move from step vi to vii? Suppose an agent embraces
the idea that a suf¬cient condition of the goodness of his good ends is that
they be objects of his rational choice (vi). According to ii, he is then commit-
ted to the view that his rational choice is either itself unconditionally good or
derives its goodness from something unconditionally good. The regressive
argument has the agent af¬rm the latter. He af¬rms that his exercising his
power of rational choice derives its goodness from this power itself, which is
The Formula of Humanity 65

unconditionally good: “[R]egressing upon the conditions, we ¬nd that the
unconditioned condition of the goodness of anything is rational nature, or
the power of rational choice.”40 It is not rational choosing, but the power
of rational choice that the agent holds to be unconditionally good. The ar-
gument™s seventh step ¬nishes the regress on conditions of the goodness of
the agent™s ends. It maintains that an agent must view his power of rational
choice to be unconditionally good.
Korsgaard™s transition from this step to the conclusion that you must hold
everyone™s power of rational choice to be unconditionally good appears to
go as follows. According to step vi, you (an agent who has af¬rmed that she
has good ends) are rationally compelled to view yourself as having “value-
conferring status” in virtue of your power of rational choice. But “[i]f you
view yourself as having a value-conferring status in virtue of your power of
rational choice, you must view anyone who has the power of rational choice
as having, in virtue of that power, a value-conferring status.”41 In short, you
must embrace viii. Moreover, just as your holding yourself to have value-
conferring status requires you to hold your power of rational choice to be
unconditionally good (the move from vi to vii), so your holding others to
have value-conferring status requires you to hold their power of choice to be
unconditionally good. In effect, as step ix states, you must hold everyone™s
power of rational choice (humanity) to be unconditionally good.


3.7 The Failure of the Regressive Argument
I do not believe that this argument succeeds in showing that, if an agent
assumes that he has good ends, then he must hold that humanity is uncon-
ditionally valuable. I try to highlight two problems with the argument.
The ¬rst dif¬culty concerns step v, speci¬cally the denial that a suf¬cient
condition of the goodness of your good ends is that they contribute to every-
one™s happiness. As a basis for this denial, Korsgaard appeals to the notion
that such a condition would have to be unconditionally good. However, she
argues, if something is unconditionally good, then it is a “consistent, har-
monious object,” which entails that it is realizable. But everyone™s happiness
is not realizable, since making some people happy necessarily involves pre-
cluding others from being happy. Therefore, everyone™s happiness is not
unconditionally good.
For the sake of argument, let us grant that if we characterize happiness as
the complete satisfaction of all inclinations, as Kant sometimes does, then
happiness is not a harmonious object.42 Given the con¬‚icting set of desires
people have (and, let™s say, necessarily will have), the happiness of some
would always prevent the happiness of others.43 Yet why should we embrace
this desire-satisfaction account of happiness in the ¬rst place? Philosophers
who argue that everyone™s happiness is unconditionally good need not em-
ploy such an account. They might, rather, invoke a conception according to
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
66

which happiness is a harmonious object. These philosophers might contend,
for example, that being happy amounts to having a number of goods “ for
example, loving relationships, a sense of self-respect, security “ such that one
person™s having them would not preclude anyone else from having them.
In order for her rejection of happiness as unconditionally good to be effec-
tive, Korsgaard must, it seems, show not only that happiness on a Kantian
conception fails to be a harmonious object but also that happiness on other
(plausible) conceptions fails as well.
Korsgaard might here appeal to Kant™s view that the only thing we can
conceive of as good without quali¬cation is a good will. Everyone™s happi-
ness, no matter how we de¬ne it, would not be good without quali¬cation,
Korsgaard might argue. Kant suggests a thought experiment for determin-
ing that something fails to be good without quali¬cation. In it, we ask our-
selves whether, in some possible context, an “impartial rational spectator”
would ¬nd that the thing was not good (GMS 393). If, in our view, there is
such a possible context, then we conclude that the thing is not good without
quali¬cation. According to Kant, the notion that only a good will is uncon-
ditionally good is to be found in the “moral cognition of common human
reason” (GMS 403). Kant defends the notion with an appeal to our every-
day moral intuitions. Korsgaard might claim that there is a possible context
in which an impartial rational spectator would ¬nd that everyone™s being
happy is not good, namely when some happy individuals did not have a good
will.44
But what is a good will? Interpreting Kant™s notion (or notions) of a good
will is a challenging task, and I do not attempt to do so thoroughly here.
For our purposes, we can take note of two ways in which Kant seems to
employ “good will,” as it applies to us, agents who can be tempted by their
inclinations to act contrary to the moral law. According to the ¬rst way, a good
will is a particular sort of willing or, what for him amounts to the same thing,
of acting (section 1.4). Kant writes of “the unquali¬ed [uneingeschr¨ nkten]
a
worth of actions” (GMS 411), presumably of actions done from duty, which
he has previously stated to have “unconditional and moral worth” (GMS
400). Since, according to Kant, the only thing good without quali¬cation
(ohne Einschr¨ nkung) is a good will, it appears that sometimes “good will”
a
refers to a certain kind of action, that is, that done from duty.45 I call this
usage the “particular action” understanding of a good will.
According to a second way in which Kant employs “good will,” it refers
not to a particular kind of action an agent might perform but rather to a
kind of character she might have. An agent has a good will on this usage just
in case she is committed to doing what duty requires, not just in this or that
particular action, but overall. Presumably if an agent has this commitment,
then she will sometimes act from duty. (For example, she will invoke duty as
her incentive to do what is morally required in cases where she is tempted by
her inclinations to act contrary to what morality demands.) Kant intimates
The Formula of Humanity 67

that having a good will amounts to having a certain kind of character in the
¬rst paragraph of Groundwork I. Right after suggesting that the only thing
good without quali¬cation is a good will, he tells us that certain qualities
of temperament (e.g., courage or resolution) “are undoubtedly good and
desirable for many purposes, but they can also be extremely evil and harmful
if the will which is to make use of these gifts of nature, and whose distinctive
constitution is therefore called character, is not good” (GMS 393). Later Kant
is discussing a man who is by temperament cold and indifferent to others,
but who, from duty, acts bene¬cently. “It is just then,” says Kant, “that the
worth of character comes out, which is moral and incomparably the highest”
(GMS 398“399). These passages suggest that “good will” refers not merely
to a particular kind of action, but to a kind of character that can be expressed
in action. Sometimes Kant employs what I (following Karl Ameriks) call the
“whole character” conception of a good will.46
It appears that Kant employs (at least) two different notions of a good
will. For it seems that one could have a good will on the particular action
understanding, yet not have a good will on the whole character conception.
After all, why could one not act from duty in a particular case, yet not be
committed overall to doing what morality requires? I do not pursue this
question here. For our purposes, it suf¬ces to make clear which of these
notions of a good will we are employing at a given point, leaving aside the
issue of whether, ultimately, they coincide.
Let us now return to the argument we were considering before our brief
discussion of a good will. Although I am not entirely sure, I believe that when
Korsgaard invokes the notion of a good will, she has in view the whole char-
acter conception.47 An impartial rational spectator, Korsgaard might claim,
would not ¬nd everyone™s happiness to be good if some happy individuals
did not have a good will in the sense of an overall commitment to doing what
morality requires. On Kant™s view, of course, if an agent does not have a good
will, then she might not only stray from duty sometimes, but actually make a
habit of doing so. But do we really hold that an impartial rational spectator
would not approve of everyone™s being happy if some did not have a good
will? Some of us might imagine such a spectator reacting to this scenario
as follows: “The agents who do not have a good will do not morally deserve
their happiness. However, this does not mean that everyone™s happiness is
not good. For in the scenario in question, the actions of those without a
good will “ their lying, cheating, and so forth “ do not prevent others from
being happy. Since they do not, the scenario is actually still good. Granted, a
scenario in which everyone is happy but some are without a good will is not
as good as one in which everyone is both happy and has a good will. Yet the
former scenario is still good.” In Kant™s view, of course, this reaction does
not conform to ordinary moral reason. But this view seems dubious.
In any case, an appeal to the thought experiment in question would
be a dangerous tactic for a defender of the regressive argument to take.
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
68

For employing it might show that the power of rational choice is itself not
good without quali¬cation. Recall that the power of rational choice is the
capacity to set all sorts of ends, including, but not limited to, morally good
ones. Consider an agent who has the power of rational choice, but employs
it with no concern for whether he is conforming to moral requirements.
Whenever this agent is inclined to realize a morally bad end, he does all he
can to do so. In this context, which certainly seems to be a possible one,
would an impartial rational spectator judge the power of rational choice to
be good? That she would is, I think, doubtful.48 For it is his power of rational
choice that enables the agent to choose the morally bad ends. If he did not
have this power, yet instead sought merely instinctual grati¬cations, then he
might cause much less harm. It would not be helpful to respond here that
what makes the agent™s power of rational choice unconditionally good is
that by virtue of having it, he has a further capacity, namely that to develop
a good will. For we are imagining a case in which the agent never exercises
his capacity to develop a good will. And in this case, why should we hold this
capacity to be good, rather than, say, indifferent?
This discussion allows us to see in Kant™s doctrine an apparent tension
that I am unsure how to resolve. Kant holds that the good will alone is
good without quali¬cation (GMS 393). He also holds that rational nature is
unconditionally good (GMS 428). So unless I am overlooking some subtle
distinction between being good without quali¬cation and being uncondi-
tionally good, Kant seems to be identifying the good will and rational nature.
But on the conceptions of the good will I sketched above “ that is, the par-
ticular action and whole character conceptions “ it seems that a being could
possess rational nature and yet not have a good will. As we have just seen,
that a being has rational nature does not entail that he ever acts from duty,
let alone that he has committed himself to an overall policy of doing what
duty requires. As Ameriks notes, some philosophers, perhaps based on such
considerations, have attributed to Kant the view that the good will simply
is rational nature.49 But if we substitute this understanding into the begin-
ning of Groundwork I, we get nonsense. Since Kant™s notion of the good will
is problematic, so is appealing to this notion in an effort to rescue step v of
the regressive argument.
The second dif¬culty with the regressive argument concerns step iii. In
steps i and ii, you have assumed that some of your ends are good and that
their goodness must derive from something unconditionally good. Step iii
aims to rule out the possibility that your ends themselves count as this un-
conditionally good thing. Recall our example of the kind of position iii dis-
claims. An environmentalist who has the end of preserving the maximum
number of living species on earth might hold that this end not only meets
all of Korsgaard™s criteria for goodness but is itself unconditionally good.
Korsgaard suggests a Kantian response to this position. The environmen-
talist is mistaken about the source of his end™s goodness, believing that he
The Formula of Humanity 69

wants to maximize species preservation because such preservation is intrinsi-
cally good, when, in reality, any goodness had by species preservation would
actually stem from his desiring it. But given that the goodness of species
preservation derives from the agent™s desire for it, it is not unconditionally
good, since the agent may well cease to desire it.
This argument does not threaten value realists who hold goodness to be
inherent in their ends themselves.50 For Kant does not here establish that
these realists must accede that the goodness of what they take to be un-
conditionally good derives simply from their desiring it. Why, for example,
must the environmentalist agree that the goodness of species preservation
depends on his wanting it? Why can he not maintain that species preserva-
tion is unconditionally good, and thus good regardless of whether he (or
anyone else) desires it?
It is once again open to Kant to appeal to his claim that the only thing good
without quali¬cation is a good will. Such an appeal might be more effective
here than it was in eliminating the possibility that everyone™s happiness was
unconditionally good. Would an impartial rational spectator hold that the
maximum number of currently existing species being preserved was good
in every context?
There are some contexts in which such preservation would have what (we
might plausibly think) the spectator would take to be bad effects. For ex-
ample, in environmentally sensitive areas, preserving species might require
closing businesses and thus causing hardship to workers and their families.
However, that species being preserved would in some contexts have bad ef-
fects does not itself preclude it from being unconditionally good. As many
commentators have remarked, a good will can also have what (we might
plausibly think) a rational spectator would consider to be bad effects. Some-
one with a good will might be, as it were, cursed. When she acts from duty,
she might not only fail to realize her ends but, by a “special disfavor of for-
tune,” bring about the opposite of her aim. For example, her effort to save
a choking victim might actually result in his death. Or her large donation to
an emergency relief fund might end up in the hands of terrorists, ¬nancing
their destruction of innocent civilians. If Kant ruled out something™s being
good without quali¬cation on the grounds that in some contexts it had bad
effects, then he would be compelled to rule out a good will itself.
But Kant suggests another basis for ruling things out: if an object, disre-
garding its effects, is good in all contexts, then it is good without quali¬cation.
Qualities such as “moderation in affects and passions,” “self-control,” and
“calm re¬‚ection” are, Kant acknowledges, helpful in attaining all sorts of
ends. Yet he denies that they are good without quali¬cation, “for, without
the basic principles of a good will they can become extremely evil, and the
coolness of a scoundrel makes him not only far more dangerous but also
immediately more abominable in our eyes than we would have taken him
to be without it” (GMS 394). Kant seems to be suggesting here that when
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
70

“coolness” belongs to a scoundrel, it undergoes a “value reversal,” to bor-
row a phrase from Berys Gaut.51 What we (presumably imagining ourselves
to be impartial rational spectators) often take to be good (e.g., coolness
in an astronaut) becomes bad in some contexts. And it is bad considered
independently of its effects. The coolness of a scoundrel is presumably bad
even if, with its help, the scoundrel never manages to do anyone any real
harm. Kant, of course, claims that a good will is the only thing that never
undergoes a value reversal; an impartial rational spectator would hold that
in every context it is good.
Would an appeal to this Kantian argument force value realists “ those
who take their ends themselves to be unconditionally good “ to abandon
their positions? In returning to our environmentalist, do we ¬nd that a max-
imum number of (currently existing) species being preserved undergoes a
value reversal? Considered independently of its effects, is there a context
in which an impartial rational spectator would not take this to be good? I
suspect that answers to this question will differ. Those who see no inherent
value in biodiversity will be drawn to the view that in many contexts an im-
partial rational spectator would take maximum species preservation to be
indifferent rather than good. They might, for example, ask us to imagine the
following world. The human species is fully ¬‚ourishing and a maximum num-
ber of species have been preserved. Moreover (in the imagined world), if
it comes to pass that a maximum number of species is no longer preserved
(e.g., if thousands go extinct) humans would fully ¬‚ourish just the same.
Since maximum species preservation is important only insofar as it affects
human ¬‚ourishing, they might conclude, in the imagined world maximum
species preservation would have no value to an impartial rational spectator.
Others would disagree with this view, however, contending that even in that
world the existence of the maximum variety of life would itself be valuable.
To deny this would, in effect, be to embrace the appallingly prideful view
that human beings are all that really matters, the others might say; and this
is surely not a view that an impartial rational spectator would adopt. My aim
here is not to settle the issue. It is merely to illustrate that Kant™s argument
here is controversial at best. Through his appeal to ordinary moral reason,
he falls far short of showing that the environmentalist is rationally compelled
to give up the notion that species preservation is unconditionally good.
Of course, there are many other candidates for unconditional goodness
besides a maximum number of species being preserved. Someone might,
for example, defend the view that knowledge, courage, friendship, beauty,
and so forth are good in themselves, independently of any agent™s desir-
ing them. It is open to Kant to challenge any item on such a list on the
grounds that, unlike a good will, it undergoes a value reversal in some con-
text. But I suspect that this tactic would be no more effective with regard to
these purportedly unconditionally good things than it was regarding species
preservation.52 I hope that my discussions of species preservation as well as
The Formula of Humanity 71

universal happiness have illustrated the vulnerability of Kant™s claim that
nothing other than a good will can be considered unconditionally good.
If I am correct that this claim does not really threaten the value realist po-
sition, then step iii of the regressive argument is without suf¬cient support.
We are free to hold that some of the objects of our desires are good not be-
cause we desire them, but are rather good in themselves. Given that iii lacks
suf¬cient support, the regressive argument does not prove that if we take our-
selves to have good ends, we must hold humanity to be unconditionally good.


3.8 Shortcomings in the Derivation of the Formula of Humanity
Let me now crystallize my main ¬ndings regarding Kant™s derivation of the
Formula of Humanity. There are two main reasons why I do not believe that
this derivation, even as reconstructed by Korsgaard, is successful.
First, Kant does not prove that if we take there to be a principle that
conforms to his basic concept of the supreme principle of morality, then we
must hold there to be something unconditionally good. Granted, if there is
a supreme principle of morality, then every agent must always have a motive
available to him for conforming to it. As our example of PW illustrated, how-
ever, this motive need not be the notion that conforming to the principle
is itself unconditionally good or enables the agent to secure something un-
conditionally good. The “ground” of a categorical imperative might be each
agent™s being rationally compelled to view his conforming to this principle
as something good for him (though not necessarily good from an impartial
perspective).
The example I have offered of a principle “grounded” in this way “
“Maximize your power over rational beings” “ is, in my view, a repellent
candidate for the supreme principle of morality. I venture that most readers
would agree. Nevertheless, it is illegitimate to infer that if a principle con-
forms to Kant™s basic concept of the supreme principle of morality, then we
must take there to be something that all agents are rationally compelled to
hold to be unconditionally good. Kant does not establish that unless we hold
there to be something unconditionally good (in his agent-neutral sense), we
cannot hold there to be a universally and unconditionally binding practical
principle (a categorical imperative).
The second main dif¬culty with the derivation of the Formula of Hu-
manity is, I think, more important than the ¬rst. Even if holding there to
be a categorical imperative requires holding there to be something uncon-
ditionally good, Kant does not establish that this must be humanity. Even in
Korsgaard™s ingenious reconstruction, we ¬nd no good reason to rule out
the possibility that the unconditionally good “ground” of a categorical im-
perative is everyone™s happiness. The regressive argument fails to threaten
utilitarianism. Moreover, it contains no compelling arguments against var-
ious forms of value realism. Kant™s response to those who would hold that
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
72

what is unconditionally good is the objects of their inclinations “ that is, their
ends such as maintaining biodiversity or gaining systematic knowledge of the
universe “ is that these objects are really only conditionally valuable, for if
these persons did not value them, then the objects would be devoid of worth.
But why must we agree that the value of such objects derives solely from our
wanting them? It would hardly seem unreasonable for someone to maintain
that Kant has things backward; it is not that environmental preservation is
valuable ( just) because we desire it, but rather that we desire it because it is
valuable. Yet the argument Kant suggests against the notion that some ob-
jects of our inclinations are unconditionally good is the controversial and, in
my view, ineffective one that a good will alone is unconditionally good. Kant
does not show that humanity alone is capable of being the unconditionally
good “ground” of the supreme principle of morality.
In sum, as I have argued, the derivation of the Formula of Humanity
contains two highly questionable steps. First, Kant does not establish that if
there is a supreme principle of morality, then there is something uncondi-
tionally good. Second, even if we assume that his ¬rst step succeeds, he does
not show that this unconditionally good something must be humanity.
It is worth pointing out that even if these two steps succeed, the derivation
might falter in its third step. If humanity is unconditionally good, then must
we always treat it not merely as a means but also as an end? In Chapter 8,
we explore what it means to treat humanity as an end or, equivalently, as an
end in itself. It seems that in Kant™s view treating humanity as an end in itself
involves treating it not only as something of unconditional worth, but also
as something of incomparable worth. Something has incomparable worth if
it cannot be legitimately sacri¬ced for or replaced by anything else. Now
let us assume that we hold humanity to be unconditionally valuable and
that, since we do, we are rationally compelled to treat it as such. Are we also
rationally compelled to treat humanity as incomparably valuable? That is not
at all clear. Take a case of an individual who, to preserve the humanity in
twenty innocent hostages, sacri¬ces the humanity in one person, a terrorist,
by killing him. It seems that the individual might reasonably contend that
he treated humanity as unconditionally valuable, though he did not treat it
as incomparably valuable. He treated humanity as unconditionally valuable
in that he attempted to preserve as much of it as possible, the individual
might maintain. But he did not treat it as incomparably valuable, since
in his own view he sacri¬ced the humanity in one person to preserve the
greater value inherent in the humanity of twenty people. In short, even if
Kant™s derivation showed that we are rationally compelled to treat humanity
as unconditionally valuable, he would need a further argument to show in
addition that we must treat it as incomparably valuable. So, in effect, Kant
would need an additional argument to show that we must treat humanity as
an end in itself.53
4

The Derivation of the Formula of Universal Law:
A Criterial Reading




4.1 Main Steps of the Derivation on the Criterial Reading
According to the traditional reading, Kant™s Groundwork derivation of the
Formula of Universal Law has an obvious ¬‚aw. It thus makes sense to look
elsewhere for more promising derivations of a Kantian principle. Allison
reconstructs Kant™s second Critique derivation of the Formula of Universal
Law, Korsgaard his Groundwork derivation of the Formula of Humanity. Yet
we have found that neither of these reconstructed derivations succeeds. The
prospects for a derivation of a Kantian principle seem very dim. The rest of
this book aims to show that they are brighter than these results suggest.
I challenge the traditional reading of Kant™s Groundwork derivation of the
Formula of Universal Law. According to the “criterial reading” I defend,
Kant™s Groundwork I derivation of this formula can be broken down into
three main steps. First, Kant tries to pinpoint criteria that we, on re¬‚ection,
believe that the supreme principle of morality must ful¬ll. Second, Kant
attempts to establish that no possible rival to the Formula of Universal Law
ful¬lls all of these criteria. Third, at least implicitly Kant argues that the
Formula of Universal Law remains as a viable candidate for a principle that
ful¬lls all of them. With these three steps, Kant strives to prove that if there is
a supreme principle of morality, then it is this formula. In short, Kant argues
by elimination. When we have before us a clear notion of the characteristics
the supreme principle of morality must possess, Kant suggests, we are able to
eliminate every candidate for this principle except the Formula of Universal
Law (or equivalent principles).
This chapter aims to make room for the criterial reading of Kant™s
derivation.1 It starts by examining a reading of the Groundwork I derivation
that has been offered by Christine Korsgaard. Korsgaard does not explicitly
confront the traditional interpretation of this derivation. Nevertheless, if her
reading were successful, then it would constitute an alternative to the tra-
ditional interpretation that might render the criterial reading unnecessary.

73
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
74

However, I argue against Korsgaard™s reading on textual as well as philo-
sophical grounds (section 4.2). I then turn to the traditional interpretation
itself. A brief examination of the structure of Groundwork I (4.3) helps us to
see the serious ¬‚aws in one version of the traditional interpretation, that is,
a version discussed by Allison (4.4). But the bulk of the chapter is devoted to
developing the criterial reading as an alternative to the other version of the
traditional interpretation, the version offered by Aune (4.5“11). We must
acknowledge that Aune™s version has considerable force. However, I try to
show that despite initial appearances to the contrary, the criterial reading
is compatible with Kant™s Groundwork I (and even his Groundwork II) deriva-
tions of the Formula of Universal Law. Later, by the end of Chapter 7, I hope
it will be clear that the criterial reading renders Kant™s argument far more
philosophically powerful and interesting than it is under the guise of Aune™s
interpretation.


4.2 Korsgaard™s Reading of the Derivation
It seems that according to Korsgaard Kant™s Groundwork derivation not only
suffers from no obvious gaps, but actually succeeds.2 If her interpretation
yielded a compelling, textually grounded argument, then there would be
little reason to develop the criterial reading. In my view, however, it does not.
Korsgaard™s interpretation seems to go as follows:3

i. Kant is engaged in “motivational analysis of the notion of duty or
rightness. Kant is analyzing the good will, characterized as one that
does what is right because it is right, in order to discover the principle
of unconditionally good action,” and he assumes that “the reason why
a good-willed person does an action, and the reason why the action is
right, are the same.”4
ii. The reason in both cases is constituted by what Korsgaard calls the
“legal character” of the good-willed person™s maxim “ that is, the
maxim™s capacity to express a demand on us, its normative force.5
iii. Kant holds that the legal character (normative force) of the agent™s
maxim must not derive from any external source, such as God™s com-
mands. The reason is that “if there were an outside source of legal
character, then that source, rather than legal character itself, would
be what makes the action right.”6
iv. And if that were so, by the equivalence mentioned in step i, the agent
would not be acting on the maxim because of the maxim™s normative
force, but because of the normative force of the outside source. For
example, the agent would not be acting on the maxim because it was
right to do so, but because God commanded that she act on it. So,
given step i, the normative force of the maxim of the action cannot
derive from any external source.
The Formula of Universal Law 75

v. What then constitutes the maxim™s normative force? The only alter-
native to dependence on an external source is that the maxim™s nor-
mative force is constituted by the fact that the maxim has “intrinsic
lawlike form.”7 (Apparently, a maxim has an intrinsic lawlike form
when acting on it is required by some law that does not owe its validity
to anything external to the will [e.g., to God].)
vi. This lawlike form must be speci¬ed by the universalizability test, that
is, by the Formula of Universal Law. If acting on a particular maxim is
required by the universalizability test, the maxim is one of duty; it
is “one that you must will as universal law. And this means that the
maxim is a law to which your own will commits you. But a maxim to
which your own will commits you is normative for you.”8
vii. Hence only the Formula of Universal Law (and, presumably, equiva-
lent principles) can confer lawlike form on the maxims of duty, and
hence only it can be the supreme principle of morality. And that is
the conclusion of the derivation.

Korsgaard™s interpretation is correct in laying stress on the importance
of motivational analysis and the good will in the derivation. But her inter-
pretation has little textual support where it is most innovative, and it also
yields an extremely problematic argument.
First, crucial to the interpretation is that Kant sets up a sharp dichotomy
between intrinsic lawlike form and an external source of normative force
(a dichotomy deployed in steps iii“vi). But there is no ¬rm textual evidence
that he exploits this dichotomy in the Groundwork I derivation. The only
textual evidence for deployment of the dichotomy that Korsgaard cites is
GMS 402:

Since I have deprived the will of every impulse that could arise for it from obeying
some law, nothing is left but the conformity of actions to universal law as such, which
alone is to serve the will as its principle, that is, I ought never to act except in such a way
that I could also will that my maxim should become a universal law. Here mere conformity
to law as such, without having as its basis some law determined for certain actions, is
what serves the will as its principle, and must so serve it, if duty is not to be everywhere
an empty delusion and a chimerical concept.

She asserts that with the words “without having as its basis some law de-
termined for certain actions” (or “without assuming any particular law ap-
plicable to certain actions” in the translation she employs), Kant means to
block the claim that the law could be an independent one “ that is, could
derive its validity from any external source.9 But this is not what Kant says;
there is no mention of independence or externality here. Why should we
take “some law determined for certain actions” to refer to an external law?
Surely some explanation is needed, especially since Korsgaard does not
provide any other textual evidence that Kant is in this passage concerned
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
76

with blocking the possibility that the principle of a good will could have an
outside source.10
Second, moving from a concern regarding the textual basis of the ar-
gument to one regarding its substance, steps iii and iv do not succeed in
ruling out an external source of normativity. Take Korsgaard™s example of
an external source: acting on some maxim because God has commanded
it. The dutiful agent who believes in the divine command view of morality
holds, just as the Kantian agent does, that he is acting on a maxim of duty
because it is right to do so; but what its rightness consists in, according to the
divine command moralist, is its being commanded by God. That addition
does not affect his motivation to do what is right; it merely tells him what
the property of rightness is. Korsgaard replies to this kind of objection that
the maxim™s “conformity to divine law can only make a maxim extrinsically,
not intrinsically, legal.”11 But given that an intrinsic property is one that
is necessarily possessed, the divine command moralist can simply deny the
quoted claim. It is not a contingent fact according to him that God wills what
is right; on the contrary, it is precisely because God wills something that it
is right. One may of course dispute this view, but then the objection is to
the substance of the divine command moralist™s analysis, not to its making
normative character extrinsic.
Finally and most importantly, Korsgaard™s interpretation fails to give Kant
a reasonable justi¬cation for the introduction of the Formula of Universal
Law. For the argument in step vi would at best show that this formula is
one principle that could test for the intrinsic lawlike form of a maxim. It
does not show that it is the only principle that could do this. (The dif¬-
culty with establishing the uniqueness of the Formula of Universal Law as
a viable candidate for the supreme principle of morality is familiar to us
from our discussion of Allison in section 2.5.) In fact, there are many prin-
ciples that would not derive their normative force from an external source,
yet are not equivalent with the Formula of Universal Law. For example,
consider two principles we have already recognized not to be equivalent
to this formula (2.5): the weaker principle WU, “Act only on that maxim
which, when generalized, could be a universal law,” and the bizarre prin-
ciple BP, “Act only on that maxim that you cannot, at the same time, will
that it become a universal law.” Why could not a maxim™s being required
by one of these principles signal that the maxim has intrinsic lawlike form?
We have been given no explanation for how Kant can rule out these other
principles. In short, there is a gap in Korsgaard™s argument between the
notion that a maxim of duty must have an intrinsic lawlike form and the
notion that it has this form only if it is required by the Formula of Uni-
versal Law. And to me this gap seems almost as large as the one the tra-
ditional interpretation ¬nds in the derivation.12 Korsgaard™s reading of
the Groundwork I derivation does not constitute a viable alternative to the
traditional interpretation.
The Formula of Universal Law 77

4.3 The Structure of Groundwork I
In his preface to the Groundwork, Kant sets out his goals: to locate and to
establish the supreme principle of morality (GMS 392). In Section I Kant
attempts to locate the supreme principle of morality in the sense of specify-
ing what it is, if there is one.13 Appealing to (what he takes to be) ordinary
moral views, Kant tries to ¬nd the principle that, on re¬‚ection, we hold to
be at work in our moral practice. It is easy to overlook that this is what Kant is
attempting to do. Philosophers have focused so much on Kant™s discussion
of the value of acting from duty “ as opposed to acting from sympathy, for
example “ that one gets lulled into assuming that Kant™s foremost interest
is in specifying necessary and suf¬cient conditions for an action™s having
moral worth.14 Near the end of Groundwork I, Kant proclaims success at iso-
lating the principle we hold to be at work in our moral practice: “Thus, then,
we have arrived, within the moral cognition of common human reason, at
its principle, which it admittedly does not think so abstractly in a universal
form, but which it actually has always before its eyes and uses as the norm for
its appraisals” (GMS 403“404).15 This principle is the Formula of Universal
Law.16 In Groundwork I, Kant™s main concern is to show that if there is a
supreme principle of morality, then it is this formula.
What, in broad outline, is Kant™s route to the Formula of Universal Law?
Before arriving at it, Kant discusses at length the good will, duty, and moral
worth. Since his primary aim in Groundwork I is to construct an effective
derivation of this formula, it is reasonable to suppose that he thinks this
discussion to be necessary if he is to do so. The discussion includes the
claims (roughly) that only a good will is good without quali¬cation (GMS
393); that all and only actions from duty have moral worth (GMS 397“399);
that the moral worth of actions from duty stems not from their effects, but
from their maxim (GMS 399“400); and that duty is the necessity of an
action done from respect for the law (GMS 400). A plausible interpretation
of Groundwork I must explain why in Kant™s view at least some such claims
must turn out to be true if he is to succeed in his derivation of the Formula
of Universal Law.


4.4 The Failure of One Version of the Traditional
Reading of the Derivation
This brief re¬‚ection alone leads us to a ground for rejecting one version
of the traditional interpretation of Groundwork I, namely the one according
to which Kant invokes the “principle of rightness universalism.” According
to this version (section i.4), Kant presents the Formula of Universal Law
in a parenthetical clause aimed at elucidating the prescription that the will
conform its actions to universal law as such. This prescription is interpreted
to be the principle of rightness universalism RU, namely: “If a maxim or
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
78

action is judged permissible for a rational agent in given circumstances, it
must also be judged permissible for any other rational agent in relevantly
similar circumstances.” Kant tries to reach the Formula of Universal Law by
embracing RU, then claiming (without argument) that RU entails the For-
mula of Universal Law. Does this interpretation of Kant™s argument explain
how his discussion of the good will, duty, and moral worth are necessary to
his locating the Formula of Universal Law? Since, according to the inter-
pretation, Kant moves directly from RU to the Formula of Universal Law,
an advocate of the interpretation might hope to ¬nd these discussions nec-
essary for a Kantian defense of RU. However, the discussions seem totally
irrelevant to the issue of whether we should embrace RU. For example, two
of the central claims Kant makes in them are that all actions from duty have
moral worth and that the moral worth of actions done from duty does not at
all depend on the actions™ effects. Without in the least threatening RU™s le-
gitimacy, we can deny these claims. We can maintain instead that only some
actions done from duty have moral worth and that these actions have such
worth because they bring about good effects “ for example, an increase in
the general welfare. In short, this version of the traditional interpretation
is to be rejected on the ground that it does not account for the role Kant™s
complex discussion of ordinary moral views plays in his route to the Formula
of Universal Law.
Two additional reasons support rejection of this version. First, according
to it, Kant suggests that the supreme principle of morality (whatever it is)
must require “the conformity of actions to universal law as such” (GMS 402).
In this suggestion we are supposed to ¬nd an endorsement of RU. But is
Kant really endorsing it there? It is far from obvious that for Kant the re-
quirement to conform one™s actions to universal law as such amounts to RU.
After all, Kant makes no mention here of the concept of relevantly similar
circumstances. The issue is not whether Kant would accept RU. There is no
reason to doubt he would. But there is a gap between what Kant actually says
and the interpretation of it as an endorsement of RU. Second, it is clearly fal-
lacious to identify RU with the Formula of Universal Law, or to hold that the
latter is entailed by the former. We have no dif¬culty at all in demonstrating
that this is a fallacy (section i.4). Given Kant™s status as a philosopher, to ac-
cuse him of what is a simpleminded error de¬es credibility here, especially
when there is no compelling textual reason to attribute the error to him.
One version of the traditional interpretation is relatively easy to dismiss.


4.5 The Challenge Posed by Aune™s Version
of the Traditional Reading
The other version we sketched (section i.4), however, poses a greater chal-
lenge. According to this version, which has been developed by Aune (and
recently reaf¬rmed in its essentials by Allen Wood, among others), Kant
The Formula of Universal Law 79

argues for the principle L: “Conform your actions to universal law.” Kant
then jumps without argument to the Formula of Universal Law. He simply
assumes that an agent abides by L just when he abides by the Formula of
Universal Law “ that is, he conforms to universal law just when he acts on
a maxim that he can at the same time will to be a universal law. But this
assumption is highly questionable. In this context, a universal law is a prac-
tical principle that is binding on all of us. Why would this universal law have
to be the Formula of Universal Law, instead of, say, a principle prescribing
us to maximally promote the general welfare or the perfection of rational
beings? According to Aune, Kant™s argument contains a crucial gap.
Earlier I suggested that a plausible interpretation of Groundwork I must
show why in Kant™s view at least some main points in his discussion of the
good will, duty, and moral worth are necessary if he is to succeed in his
derivation of the Formula of Universal Law. Aune seems to be cognizant of
this requirement. For he attempts to show how L emerges from a central line
of argument in Groundwork I. Here is a slightly simpli¬ed sketch of Aune™s
account. Groundwork I contains an argument that L is the principle of a good
will “ the one that motivates morally valuable actions. In his ¬rst and second
“propositions,” Kant contends that all and only actions from duty have moral
worth and that their worth does not stem from their effects but rather from
their motive. Then, in his discussion of his third proposition, Kant suggests
that all actions from duty are done from (the motive of) respect for law.
In effect, he suggests that to act from duty is to be motivated to act by the
notion that one™s action conforms to universal law. So for Kant all morally
worthy actions are motivated by the principle L, “Conform your actions to
universal law.” Kant is embracing L when, right before stating the Formula
of Universal Law, he says, “nothing is left but the conformity of actions to
universal law as such, which alone is to serve the will as its principle” (GMS
402). Since L is what motivates all morally worthy actions, L is the basic
moral requirement.17 In this defense of L, Kant™s propositions seem to be
necessary. If, for example, contrary to the second proposition, the moral
worth of actions was merely a function of their effects, then Kant would
not be able to claim with any credibility that L is what motivates all actions
having moral worth. Actions done from other motives (e.g., sympathy) could
presumably bring about good effects, and thus have moral worth. In sum, it
would be unfair to dismiss Aune™s version of the traditional interpretation
on the grounds that it fails to show the relevance of key claims in Groundwork
I to the derivation of the Formula of Universal Law.
But there are good reasons for rejecting Aune™s reading of Groundwork I.
As a ¬rst step to showing this, let me contrast the basic structure of Aune™s
reading with that of the one I propose, the criterial reading. According
to Aune, Kant employs his discussion of the good will, duty, and moral
worth to establish that, upon re¬‚ection, we recognize L as the basic moral
requirement. Once L has been located, Kant makes no further appeal to
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
80

this discussion. Kant simply assumes that the only way we can conform to
universal law is to conform to the Formula of Universal Law. On the criterial
reading, Kant™s argument unfolds differently. Kant employs his discussion of
the good will, duty, and moral worth to develop criteria that, upon re¬‚ection,
we see must be ful¬lled by any viable candidate for the supreme principle
of morality. These criteria supplement those with which Kant begins “ the
ones that are contained in his basic concept of the supreme principle of
morality (see section i.2). At least implicitly, Kant relies on the full set of
these criteria to eliminate rivals to the Formula of Universal Law. Only this
formula (and its equivalents), claims Kant, remain as viable candidates for
meeting the full set. Whether or not Kant adequately defends this claim,
the Groundwork I derivation contains no obvious gap between a practically
uninformative principle and the Formula of Universal Law.
Of course, that the criterial reading has a different structure than Aune™s
reading does not entail that the former is superior to the latter. It is fair to
maintain that we would show the criterial reading to be superior if we ac-
complished three tasks. First, we need to meet the requirement introduced
in section 4.3 by explaining why Kant might view his main discussions in
Groundwork I to be necessary for his derivation of the Formula of Universal
Law. Second, we need to offer a plausible alternative interpretation of Kant™s
murky suggestion that “nothing is left but the conformity of actions to uni-
versal law as such, which alone is to serve the will as its principle” “ that
is, an alternative to Aune™s reading of it as an endorsement of L. Finally,
we must show that on the criterial reading, Kant™s argument is philosoph-
ically more powerful and interesting than on Aune™s construal. I hope to
attain each of these aims in the course of this chapter and those which
follow.


4.6 From Duty and Moral Worth to Two Criteria
for the Supreme Principle of Morality
According to the criterial reading, it is through his discussion of the good
will, duty, and moral worth that Kant pinpoints criteria that the supreme
principle of morality must ful¬ll. He then relies on these criteria to eliminate
all candidates for the supreme principle of morality except the Formula of
Universal Law (and its equivalents). Kant™s argument by elimination is the
focus of Chapter 7. Here I would like to defend the view that through his
exploration of ordinary moral views Kant is indeed developing criteria for
the supreme principle of morality.
To begin, let us look back in the text from the point at which Kant initially
formulates the Formula of Universal Law. In the preceding sentence, Kant
asks: “But what kind of law can that be, the representation of which must
determine the will . . . so that the will can be called good absolutely and
without quali¬cation?” (GMS 402). Kant is here supposing that the supreme
The Formula of Universal Law 81

principle of morality (the law) must meet a certain condition, and then
asking which principle could meet it. Here is the condition. The supreme
principle of morality (the law) must be such that the will is good without
quali¬cation if and only if it is determined by this principle. So for Kant we
cannot hold a principle to be the supreme principle of morality (the law)
unless we can hold that a will is good without quali¬cation just in case it is
determined by the principle.
This condition as stated at GMS 402 actually crystallizes criteria for the
supreme principle of morality that Kant implicitly embraces in section I.
Meeting the condition involves meeting at least two criteria, both of which
concern duty and moral worth. To show this, I will make a very brief pass
through Kant™s dif¬cult and controversial account of duty and moral worth.
My aim is not to evaluate the account, or even to clarify its details (these tasks
are left to Chapters 6 and 5 respectively), but merely to show that in it Kant
suggests two criteria that any viable candidate for the supreme principle of
morality must meet.
According to Kant™s condition, the supreme principle of morality (the
law) must be such that the will is good without quali¬cation if and only
if it is determined by this principle. By “the will” here I take Kant to be
referring to an instance of willing. But when is willing unconditionally good?
Kant answers this question as it applies to the willing of rational agents like
humans who, unlike other (possibly extant) agents such as God and angels,
can be tempted by their inclinations to act immorally.18 Kant suggests that
willing is unconditionally good if and only if it is done from duty. All and
only actions from duty have moral worth, which is unconditional worth.19
This is widely taken to be Kant™s “¬rst proposition,” which he implies, but
does not state, in Groundwork I (GMS 397“399).20 Kant takes this point
to yield a further, related, one (GMS 399). Given that acting from duty is
unconditionally valuable, its value cannot stem from its producing certain
effects. For if it stemmed from this source, then there would be contexts in
which it was not valuable, namely those in which the action did not produce
these effects. Thus Kant intimates in his “second proposition” that the moral
worth of actions from duty stems not from their effects but rather from the
principle of volition on which they have been done (GMS 399“400).
But what kind of principle is such that acting on it has moral worth?
Kant™s “third proposition” is that: “Duty is the necessity of an action from respect
for law” (GMS 400). In his discussion of this proposition, Kant suggests that
an action has moral worth if and only if it is determined by the law (the
supreme principle of morality).21 Acting from duty involves conforming to
the supreme principle of morality because this principle requires that one
conform to it. In sum, Kant suggests that the supreme principle of moral-
ity must be such that willing is good without quali¬cation if and only if it
is determined by this principle. For us, willing (or, equivalently, acting) is
unconditionally valuable just in case it is done from duty. (Here Kant is
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
82

employing what I earlier called his “particular action” account of the good
will (section 3.7).) The value of action from duty does not lie in its effects but
rather in its grounds. When we act from duty, we act because the supreme
principle of morality (the law) requires it. In this sense, the supreme prin-
ciple of morality determines our action.
I claimed that in Kant™s view to meet the condition implicit at GMS 402,
a principle would have to meet at least two criteria. We can now see what
those criteria are. First, the supreme principle of morality must be such
that all and only actions conforming to it because the principle requires
it “ that is, all and only actions done “from duty” “ have moral worth. We
cannot (rationally speaking) hold a principle to be the supreme principle
of morality unless we can maintain that it ful¬lls this criterion. Second, the
supreme principle of morality must be such that the moral worth of actions
conforming to it “from duty” stems from the actions™ motive “ that is, the
principle on which they are performed “ rather than from their effects.
Kant suggests that the ¬rst criterion entails the second. If the moral worth
of actions done from duty stemmed from their effects, then, contrary to the
¬rst criterion, some actions done from duty would not have moral worth,
namely actions that failed to have a certain effect.
As it stands, these criteria are quite abstract. In Chapter 5, we probe
what they mean and how Kant defends them. It should now be appar-
ent, however, that we may plausibly interpret Kant to be developing cri-
teria for the supreme principle of morality in Groundwork I. The criterial
interpretation will meet the ¬rst requirement for success sketched earlier
if we can, in addition, show that Kant needs to appeal to these criteria to
eliminate rivals to the Formula of Universal Law. Chapter 7 focuses on this
task.


4.7 Law as Motive: A Third Criterion for the Supreme
Principle of Morality
For now, let us turn to the second requirement for success. What might
Kant mean when he says that “nothing is left but the conformity of actions
to universal law as such, which alone is to serve the will as its principle”?
Is there a plausible alternative to the notion that he is embracing L, the
imperative “Conform your actions to universal law”? I believe that there is.
However, in fairness to Aune, we should note that the obscurity of Kant™s
remarks here renders it very dif¬cult to arrive at a de¬nitive interpretation.
Kant writes:

But what kind of law can that be, the representation of which must determine the
will, even without regard for the effect expected from it, in order for the will to
be called good absolutely and without limitation? Since I have deprived the will of
every impulse that could arise for it from obeying some law, nothing is left but the
The Formula of Universal Law 83

conformity of actions to universal law as such, which alone is to serve the will as its
principle. (GMS 402)

In the ¬rst sentence, Kant implicitly invokes criteria, which he developed
earlier in Groundwork I, for our accepting a principle as the supreme prin-
ciple of morality. We stated two of these criteria in the preceding section. I
now suggest that in the second sentence, before introducing the Formula
of Universal Law, Kant implicitly invokes another criterion. This criterion
for the supreme principle of morality has to do with a motive that must be
available to us for conforming to it.
In the sentence immediately preceding the cited passage, Kant distin-
guishes between two basic ways we can be motivated to conform to a princi-
ple. Kant contrasts cases in which the representation of a principle in itself
constitutes the determining ground of the will from ones in which some ex-
pected effect constitutes this ground. Moreover, he suggests that only cases
of the former sort are cases of good willing. Thus he says “nothing other
than the representation of the law in itself . . . insofar as it and not the hoped-for
effect is the determining ground of the will, can constitute the preeminent
good we call moral, which is already present in the person himself who acts
on this representation” (GMS 401).
Returning to GMS 402, Kant is concerned with the kind of will that is
absolutely good. He speci¬es here that what determines absolutely good
willing is not the effects one expects to result from the willing. Kant has
“deprived the will of every impulse that could arise for it from obeying some
law” in the sense that, in his view, he has shown that absolutely good willing is
not at all motivated by some “impulse” (e.g., the sensation of pleasure) that
one believes will result from obeying some principle.22 It is rather motivated
by the representation of the law. What determines absolutely good willing
is the “conformity of actions to universal law as such.” In other words, the
motive for absolutely good willing is the notion that it conforms to a univer-
sally and unconditionally binding practical principle. This principle is, of
course, the supreme principle of morality. We can now see the criterion that
Kant is implicitly invoking in the second sentence. The supreme principle of
morality must be such that our representing it as a law, that is, a universally
and unconditionally binding principle, gives us a suf¬cient motive to con-
form to it. If this reading is on target, then Kant is not suggesting here that
we must embrace the imperative “Conform your actions to universal law,”
but rather invoking yet another criterion that he takes himself to have estab-
lished earlier in his discussion. Whatever the supreme principle of morality
is, implies this criterion, we must (rationally speaking) be able to hold that
our having suf¬cient motive to adhere to it does not depend on any effect
we expect from doing so.
The notion that Kant indeed takes this as a criterion gains support from
a distinction he makes between “material” and “formal” principles. Kant
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
84

introduces this distinction in his discussion of the “second proposition” in
Groundwork I:

For, the will stands between its a priori principle, which is formal, and its a posteriori
incentive, which is material, as at a crossroads; and since it must still be determined
by something, it must be determined by the formal principle of volition as such when
an action is done from duty, where every material principle has been withdrawn from
it.23 (GMS 400)

Kant holds that when an agent acts from duty, her will is determined by the
supreme principle of morality. Kant here says, moreover, that when an agent
acts from duty, her will is determined by a formal, rather than a material,
principle. So Kant is implying that the supreme principle of morality must
be a formal, rather than a material, principle. Kant does not discuss in this
passage precisely what a formal principle is. Yet he does suggest that, in one
sense, a formal principle is one that determines the will even though “every
material principle has been withdrawn.” What does this mean? In light of
Kant™s most thorough discussion of material practical principles, namely the
one he conducts in the second Critique, we will be able to see that it means
the following: a formal principle is a rule such that our representing it as a
law governing our actions gives us suf¬cient motive to conform to it.
Let us turn to the Analytic of the Critique of Practical Reason. In Theorem
I, Kant claims: “All practical principles that presuppose an object (matter) of
the capacity of desire as the determining ground of the will are, without ex-
ception, empirical and can furnish no practical laws” (KpV 21). No material
practical principle, says Theorem I, can be a practical law. Since the supreme
principle of morality would have to be a practical law, this theorem (if true)
entails that no material practical principle can be the supreme principle of
morality. According to Kant, a material practical principle presupposes an
object of the capacity of desire as the determining ground of the will. In
other words, a material practical principle is a rule that an agent has suf¬-
cient motive to adhere to only on condition that, in his view, doing so will
enable him to realize some object he desires (section 1.8). Take the rule:
“In order to visit Grant™s tomb, you ought to travel to New York.” To say that
it is a material practical principle is to say (in part) that an agent™s having
suf¬cient motive to act on it (i.e., to travel to New York) is contingent on his
belief that doing so will enable him to realize some object he desires (i.e.,
his visiting Grant™s tomb).24
Now, obviously, for Kant formal principles are not material. Whatever else
it might be, a formal principle is a rule such that an agent™s having suf¬cient
motive to adhere to it does not depend on his expecting that doing so will
enable him to realize some object he desires. Nevertheless, according to
Kant if a principle is a formal one, an agent does have suf¬cient motive to
adhere to it. What is this motive? Later, under Theorem III, Kant states that
“all that remains of a law if one separates from it everything material, that is,
The Formula of Universal Law 85

every object of the will (as its determining ground), is the mere form of giving
universal law” (KpV 27; see also KpV 24). Since a formal principle counts as
one from which “every object of the will (as its determining ground)” has
been separated, this statement suggests that what serves as a determining
ground for abiding by such a principle is “the mere form of giving universal
law.” In other words, what serves as a motive for abiding by a formal principle
is the representation of it as a law. So, in one sense, a formal principle is a
practical rule such that our representing it as a law gives us suf¬cient motive
to conform to it. (I have not tried to give an exhaustive account of Kant™s
distinction between formal and material principles, but to pinpoint one way
in which Kant draws such a distinction.)25
In sum, no material principle, Kant claims, can be the supreme principle
of morality. The supreme principle would have to ful¬ll a criterion of for-
mality; it would have to be such that an agent™s representing it as a law “ that
is, a universally and unconditionally binding principle “ gives him suf¬cient
motive to conform to it. Kant offers this criterion in the Groundwork and
develops it at greater length in the second Critique.
We could not show the criterial reading of Groundwork I to be superior
to Aune™s reading unless we could plausibly interpret Kant™s assertion that
“nothing is left but the conformity of actions to universal law as such, which
alone is to serve the will as its principle” in some way other than as an
endorsement of the imperative “Conform your actions to universal law.” We
have found that there is another plausible interpretation of this assertion,
namely that it amounts to a statement of one criterion that in Kant™s view
the supreme principle of morality must meet: this principle must be such
that our representing it to ourselves as a law governing our action gives us a
suf¬cient motive for us to conform to it.
On Aune™s reading, Kant sees his discussion of the good will, duty, and
moral worth as necessary for him to establish the imperative “Conform
your actions to universal law.” After establishing this imperative, Kant thinks
(wrongly) that he can move immediately to the Formula of Universal Law.
There is an obvious gap in Kant™s reasoning. On the criterial reading, in
contrast, Kant sees his discussion of the good will, duty, and moral worth as
necessary for him to establish criteria for the supreme principle of moral-
ity. The supreme principle of morality must be such that: (1) all and only
actions conforming to this principle because the principle requires it “ that
is, all and only actions done from duty “ have moral worth; (2) the moral
worth of conforming to this principle from duty stems from its motive, not
from its effects; (3) an agent™s representing this principle as a law (i.e., a
universally and unconditionally binding principle) gives him suf¬cient mo-
tive to conform to it. Kant crystallizes these criteria at GMS 402, right before
he sets out the Formula of Universal Law. In effect, Kant holds that only
this formula (and equivalent ones) remain as viable candidates for ful¬lling
each of the criteria he develops for the supreme principle of morality. (The
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
86

criteria Kant develops are, I believe, the three just mentioned, those implicit
in his basic concept of the supreme principle of morality, and one other I
discuss later, in section 4.9.) If Kant™s argument fails, it is not because it
contains an obvious gap between a practically uninformative principle and
the supreme principle of morality.
We have already gone half of the way toward showing the criterial reading
to be superior to Aune™s version of the traditional reading. We have seen
that there is a plausible alternative to Aune™s reading of Kant™s claim that
“nothing is left but the conformity of actions . . . ” We have seen that Kant
holds his discussions of the good will, duty, and moral worth to be necessary
for the development of criteria for the supreme principle of morality. All
we need to do to show that he could reasonably hold these discussions to
be necessary for the derivation is to establish how he might use the criteria
to eliminate various candidates for this principle. Chapter 7 focuses on
eliminating these rivals as well as showing that the criterial interpretation
makes Kant™s argument far more forceful and philosophically interesting
than it is on the traditional interpretation.


4.8 The Criterial Reading and Groundwork II
Before developing the criterial reading any further, however, I must attend
to a worry that readers might have. This reading has been presented as an
alternative to the traditional interpretation of the Groundwork derivation of
the Formula of Universal Law. The main proponent of the traditional inter-
pretation, Aune, bases his contention that this derivation contains a crucial
gap on examination of Groundwork I. The criterial reading also focuses on
Groundwork I. To be successful the reading must be consistent with what Kant
actually says in the sentences preceding his ¬rst statement of the Formula
of Universal Law. Yet when I initially sketched the traditional reading of
the Groundwork derivation of the Formula of Universal Law, I cited not only
Kant™s argument in Groundwork I (culminating at GMS 402) but also a par-
allel argument in Groundwork II (culminating at GMS 420“421). The worry
is that, although the criterial reading might constitute a viable alternative
to the traditional one in light of Groundwork I alone, when we take into con-
sideration Groundwork II as well we ¬nd that only the traditional reading is
permitted by the text. In Groundwork II, Kant says that he is going to “inquire
whether the mere concept of a categorical imperative” can provide him with
a principle that is alone suited to be a categorical imperative (GMS 420).
He then says:

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
The Formula of Universal Law 87

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 on
that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it become a universal law. (GMS
420“421)

It appears that Kant might be making just that unacceptable move that
Aune claims he makes in Groundwork I. Does Kant not here jump without
argument from the notion that the fundamental moral requirement is to
conform your actions to universal law to the conclusion that the only way to
adhere to this requirement is to conform to the Formula of Universal Law?
Does Kant not here take an illicit step from the notion that, by virtue of its
very concept, a categorical imperative commands conformity to law to the
further notion that it commands that you act only on maxims that you can
at the same time will to become universal laws?
This worry is reasonable, and I have no quick and easy response to it.
However, several considerations show at least that the worry is not as serious
as it might initially seem to be.


4.9 Coherence with Ordinary Moral Reason: A Fourth Criterion
To begin, Kant does not take the derivation of the Formula of Universal Law
to end with his setting out of the formula. The text continues: “Now, if all
imperatives of duty can be derived from this single imperative as from their
principle, then, even though we leave it undecided whether what is called
duty is not as such an empty concept, we shall at least be able to show what we
think by it and what the concept wants to say” (GMS 420“421). The deriva-
tion is not complete unless “all imperatives of duty” can be derived from
the imperative Kant proposes as the only viable candidate for the supreme
principle of morality. By “all imperatives of duty,” Kant apparently means all
imperatives that we, re¬‚ective rational agents, take to express our moral du-
ties. Kant proceeds, of course, to try to show that four such imperatives (e.g.,
a requirement not to make false promises for ¬nancial gain) follow from the
Formula of Universal Law. He then says: “These are a few of the many actual
duties, or at least of what we take to be such, whose derivation from the one prin-
ciple cited above is clear” (GMS 423“424, emphasis added). If these duties™
derivation from the Formula of Universal Law were not clear “ for example,
if it simply did not follow from the formula that we had them “ then, Kant
implies, we could not accept this formula as the only viable candidate for
the supreme principle of morality. In the short paragraph (GMS 420“421)
following his statement of the Formula of Universal Law, Kant not only em-
phasizes that he has not (yet) established (i.e., given a deduction for) this
formula but also indicates an important criterion for any viable candidate for
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality
88

the supreme principle of morality. We must be able to see how it follows from
this candidate that if it were established, we would indeed have moral duties
that we are convinced we do have. So, despite initial appearances, Kant is
not guilty of moving immediately, without argument, from the notion that
the fundamental moral requirement is to conform your actions to universal
law to the conclusion that the only way to adhere to this requirement is to
conform to the Formula of Universal Law. His transition is, at the very least,
mediated by consideration of whether the Formula of Universal Law could
generate duties that conform to what we take our moral duties to be.
This sort of consideration is found not only in Kant™s Groundwork II deriva-
tion of the Formula of Universal Law but elsewhere as well. Consider Kant™s
derivation of the Formula of Humanity. Before stating the formula, he says
that “it must be possible to derive all laws of the will” (GMS 429) from the
“supreme practical principle” (GMS 428). After stating the formula, he says:
“we shall see whether this can be carried out” (GMS 429), implying that if
the Formula of Humanity is to be a viable candidate for the supreme princi-
ple of morality, we had better see that we can derive all laws of the will from
it. Granted, in Groundwork I Kant does not explicitly make it a condition of
success of his derivation of the Formula of Universal Law that this principle
generate moral prescriptions we take ourselves to be bound by. Immediately
after setting out the principle, however, Kant turns to supporting the view
that common human reason “agrees completely with this in its practical
appraisals” (GMS 402). And it is only after Kant supports this view that he
claims that “we have arrived, within the moral cognition of common human
reason, at its principle” (GMS 403). In light of the evidence we have seen in
the other derivations, it seems reasonable to conclude that here as well he
holds that for his argument to be successful, the principle he selects must (if
it is valid) generate moral requirements that cohere with those we pretheo-
retically believe ourselves to have. Therefore, I will take it that for Kant any
viable candidate for the supreme principle of morality must be such that,
if valid, it would generate a plausible set of duties, where plausibility is to
be assessed in relation to ordinary moral thinking. In brief, the supreme
principle of morality must be such that a plausible set of duties (relative to
ordinary moral consciousness) can be derived from it.
Those friendly to the idea that Kant embraces this criterion might wonder
why the criterion does not belong to Kant™s basic concept of the supreme
principle of morality. The term “basic concept” is mine, not Kant™s. In my
usage, Kant™s basic concept contains only those criteria that Kant employs
from the very outset of the Groundwork, namely its Preface (section I.2). I do
not ¬nd evidence in the Preface that Kant holds that any viable candidate
for the supreme principle of morality must generate moral prescriptions
acceptable to ordinary moral consciousness. The evidence emerges later,
in the places just highlighted. A philosopher might, however, insist that the
criterion is obviously implicit in the notion of a supreme principle of morality.
The Formula of Universal Law 89

If a practical principle generated duties that clashed dramatically with what
we take our moral duties to be, then there would be no sense in which it
could be a principle of morality,the philosopher might insist. In reply, I think
Kant himself suggests a sense in which such a principle could conceivably
be a principle of morality. It could conceivably be a categorical imperative,
the kind of imperative Kant himself associates with morality (see GMS 416).
The principle could set out unconditional practical requirements, that is,
specify (correctly) what all of us are obligated to do, regardless of whether
we have an inclination to do it (or even regardless of whether we believe that
we have a duty not to do it). In the end, what is important is not that we
agree on the precise point in his argument that Kant embraces the criterion
in question but rather that we realize that Kant does indeed embrace it.


4.10 The Apriority of the Supreme Principle of Morality
Before moving on to other reasons for rejecting the notion that, in light
of Groundwork II, the traditional interpretation of the derivation is the only
plausible one, we need to address an issued raised by the ¬rst reason. It
might seem puzzling that in Kant™s view a criterion any viable candidate
for the supreme principle of morality must ful¬ll is that of being capable of
generating duties that cohere with the moral duties we take ourselves to have.
Does not whether we conclude that a given principle meets this criterion
rest on experience, that is, our particular experience of morality, and does
not Kant insist that the supreme principle be an a priori one? Already in the
Groundwork Preface, Kant says that the ground of an obligation to conform
to the supreme principle of morality must be sought “a priori simply in
concepts of pure reason” and that any principle that “rests in the least part
on empirical grounds, perhaps only in terms of a motive, can indeed be
called a practical rule but never a moral law” (GMS 389).
To determine how much, if any, real tension exists in Kant™s view, we need
to understand two senses in which according to him the supreme principle
must be an a priori rather than an empirical principle. It must be a priori
in both (what I call) a motivational sense and an epistemological sense.
Beginning with the former, the supreme principle of morality must be
such that all rational agents always have available to them a suf¬cient motive
for abiding by it. (Whether they actually act on this motive or some other
one, such as an inclination, is another question.) But that means that their
having suf¬cient motive available to them to conform to the principle must
not depend on anything empirical “ that is, on their particular inclinations
or even on their nature, insofar as this nature is not necessarily shared with
all rational agents (KrV A 806“807/B 834“835). A principle is a priori in the
motivational sense just in case any rational agent™s having available to him a
suf¬cient motive for abiding by it is not conditional on anything empirical.
A principle would be empirical in case a rational agent™s having suf¬cient
Search for the Supreme Principle of Morality

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