Immanuel Kant

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Friedrich Paulsen (essay date 1902)

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SOURCE: An introduction, and "The Practical Philosophy," in Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine, translated by J. E. Creighton and Albert LeFevre, Charles Scribner's Sons, 1902, pp. 1-21, 294-342.

[In the following excerpt from his Immanuel Kant: His Life and Doctrine (1902), Paulsen discusses the sources and historical importance of Kant's philosophy and outlines the central tenets of his practical philosophy.]


I. Kant's Significance in the General History of Thought

There are three attitudes of the mind towards reality which lay claim to truth,—Religion, Philosophy, and Science. Although sprung from a single root, they become differentiated in the higher stages of mental life, reunite, and again stand opposed to one another in a variety of ways, receiving their characteristic stamp through the manner in which this process takes place. Especially is it true that every philosophy is essentially determined through the attitude which it adopts towards religion and science.

In general, philosophy occupies an intermediate place between science and religion. If one adopts the figure of Bacon which represents the mental world as a ball (globus intellectualis), similar to the globus materialis by means of which the mediaeval cosmology pictured the external world, then one might divide the world into three concentric spheres, corresponding to the three spheres of the cosmos. The outermost sphere of this ball, corresponding to the region of the fixed stars, would represent science; the inner kernel, corresponding to the earth, would represent religion; while philosophy finally would occupy the middle or planetary sphere.

Science holds the peripheral position in the mental life. In this field the thinking and calculating understanding gives rise to a system of concepts and formulas by means of which it externally comprehends and rules over nature. Religion forms the inner kernel of our view of the world; its goal is the interpretation of the meaning of things. Science makes the world conceivable, but does not render it intelligible. Conformity to law is not its meaning. All religion claims certainly to possess the meaning of life and of the world, and to reveal this in concrete examples of the good and the perfect. Philosophy occupies an intermediate position between the two,—relating itself on the one hand to science, and on the other to religion. It seeks not only to conceive the world, but also to understand it. The history of philosophy shows that its task consists simply in mediating between science and religion. It seeks to unite knowledge and faith, and in this way to restore the unity of the mental life. It performs this task both for the individual and for society. As in the case of the individual, it mediates between the head and the heart, so in society it prevents science and religion from becoming entirely strange and indifferent to each other, and hinders also the mental life of the people from being split up into a faith-hating science and a science-hating faith or superstition.

It follows from what has been said that the character of a philosophy is essentially determined through the manner in which it performs this historical task. From this standpoint we may distinguish two fundamental forms of philosophy: I shall name them with Kant the dogmatic and the critical. The essence of dogmatic philosophy consists in the fact that it undertakes to found faith upon knowledge; it seeks to demonstrate what is to be believed. It produces as a variation of itself its own contradictory, that is, the sceptical philosophy. For when the latter tests the demonstrations and perceives their inadequacy, it comes at last to discard faith itself as...

(This entire section contains 23127 words.)

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a delusion, and to maintain that knowledge through scientific concepts constitutes the only form of truth. The critical philosophy comes forward in opposition to this. Its real nature is seen in the fact that it makes clear the essential difference between the functions of knowing and of believing, between conceiving things through a system of laws, and understanding their significance; and through a strict division of the field it shows how an agreement may be reached. Matters of faith cannot be demonstrated by the understanding, as dogmatism undertakes to do, because they are not derived from the understanding. But just for this reason they cannot be overthrown by the understanding, as scepticism tries to show.

I shall indicate the way in which this conceptual schema is borne out by the historical development.

The original form of positive dogmatism in the Western world is the idealistic philosophy of the Greeks; the original form of negative dogmatism is found in their materialistic philosophy. Plato and his successor Aristotle set out from the fundamental principle that the world is the realization of ideas. The cosmic order manifested through mathematically formulated laws is objective reason. Every living being is the realization of a purposive idea, while man, as the highest living creature, as knowing his own end and the purpose of the universe, is the self-realization of reason. The real function that philosophy has to perform, then, is to make known the meaning of the world in the form of a scientific system.

The same view of the nature of the world and of philosophy is dominant in the systems of the middle ages, which retained their place as the accepted school-philosophy until the beginning of the eighteenth century. It was also an assumption of the natural theology that after the time of Locke and Leibniz superseded scholasticism. The purpose of this natural theology is to furnish scientific demonstrations of the truth of what is held through faith, at least in its main principles, or to discover the divine purpose in nature and in history. Apart from the dependence of Christian philosophy upon external authority, it is distinguished from Greek philosophy mainly by the fact that it adopts a teleological philosophy of history, while Greek speculation limits itself to a teleology of nature.

Along with positive dogmatism, we have, as the obverse, negative dogmatism. In the ancient world, we meet this in the Epicurean philosophy, which knows only bodies and uniform natural laws, and refuses to recognize ideas and purposes in the real world. Although this point of view disappears almost completely during the middle ages, it emerges again as soon as pure scientific thought, which first showed itself in mathematics and the sciences of nature, found freer expression. In the second half of the eighteenth century, this philosophy was at the same time both the prohibited and the prevailing form of thought. This was especially the case in France.

Now, the real purpose of the critical philosophy, the philosophy of Kant, is to overcome the opposition which has extended through the entire history of human thought. Kant undertakes with positive dogmatism to restore the agreement between faith and knowledge. In the last resort, however, he establishes this agreement by means of a philosophy of morals, not by means of a philosophy of nature. In this way, he is able to grant to negative dogmatism its right to a free, unprejudiced investigation of the entire world of phenomena.

In his theoretical philosophy, Kant overthrows at one blow both positive and negative dogmatism. With materialism, he asserts that science leads only to a knowledge of the uniform connection of things according to law, not to a recognition of their meaning; it is mechanical, not teleological. A teleology of nature and of history is impossible from the scientific standpoint, and consequently it is impossible to have a science of natural theology. But a scientific knowledge of the world, which construes all things, from the formation of the cosmos to the origin of life on the earth, and the course of human history, as the necessary effects of given causes, is possible. On the other hand, Kant holds with idealism that there is a meaning in things, and that we can become certain of this meaning. Life has a real significance. With immediate certainty we affirm moral good as the real purpose of life. We do this, not by means of the understanding or scientific thinking, but through the will, or, as Kant says, the practical reason. In the fact that the will, which alone judges things as 'good' or 'bad,' determines morality as that which has absolute worth, we have the point of departure for the interpretation of life. It is through the will, not through the understanding, that we interpret history; such persons and events as, e.g., Jesus and his life and death, are the historical facts of supreme importance. Thus arise all the historical religions. And in the fact that the entire world is referred to this fixed point, the religious view of the world has its origin; nature is interpreted as a means for the fulfilment of that purpose. Faith is convinced that God has made the world in order to realize in it his salvation toward men. All dogmas of every religion are the diverse expressions of the conviction that the world exists for the sake of the good, and that nature and history find their explanation in the purposes of God.

But how now is it possible to bring together in a unitary view of the world these two independent ways of regarding things,—the scientific explanation and the religious interpretation? Kant's answer is, by means of the distinction between a sensible and a super-sensible world. The world which constitutes the object of mathematico-scientific knowledge is not reality as such, but only the appearance of reality to our sensibility. The world of religious conviction, on the contrary, is the supersensuous reality itself. This can never become the object of scientific knowledge, on account of the nature of human cognition, which presupposes perception. Regarding it we can know only that it exists; that is the ultimate point to which knowledge attains. In reflecting critically on its own nature and limits, the understanding recognizes that there is an absolute reality beyond the world of sense. And now the spirit (which is something more than understanding) claims, as a moral being, to be a member of this absolute reality, and defines the nature of this reality through its own essence. This is Kant's doctrine of the primacy of the practical reason over the theoretical.

In this way the critical philosophy solves the old problem of the relation of knowledge and faith. Kant is convinced that by properly fixing the limits of each he has succeeded in furnishing a basis for an honorable and enduring peace between them. Indeed, the significance and vitality of his philosophy will rest principally upon this. Although in the details of this philosophy there may be much that is not agreeable to us, it is its enduring merit to have drawn for the first time, with a firm hand and in clear outline, the dividing line between knowledge and faith. This gives to knowledge what belongs to it,—the entire world of phenomena for free investigation; it conserves, on the other hand, to faith its eternal right to the interpretation of life and of the world from the standpoint of value.

There is indeed no doubt that the great influence which Kant exerted upon his age was due just to the fact that he appeared as a deliverer from unendurable suspense. The old view regarding the claims of the feelings and the understanding on reality had been more and more called in question during the second half of the eighteenth century. Voltaire and Hume had not written in vain. Science seemed to demand the renunciation of the old faith. On the other hand, the heart still clung to it. Pietism had increased the sincerity and earnestness of religion, and given it a new and firm root in the affections of the German people. At this point Kant showed a way of escape from the dilemma. His philosophy made it possible to be at once a candid thinker and an honest man of faith. For that, thousands of hearts have thanked him with passionate devotion. It was a deliverance similar to that which the Reformation had brought to the German spirit a century or two earlier. Indeed, one may in a certain sense regard Kant as the finisher of what Luther had begun. The original purpose of the Reformation was to make faith independent of knowledge, and conscience free from external authority. It was the confusion of religion and science in scholastic philosophy against which Luther first revolted. That faith had been transformed into a philosophical body of doctrines, that fides had been changed to credo, seemed to him to be the root of all evil. To substitute for belief in a human dogma the immediate certainty of the heart in a gracious God reconciled through Christ, to emphasize the importance of the inner disposition, as opposed to outer acts, was the soul of his work. Kant was the first who definitely destroyed the scholastic philosophy. By banishing religion from the field of science, and science from the sphere of religion, he afforded freedom and independence to both. And at the same time he placed morality on a Protestant basis,—not works, but the disposition of the heart.

To this interpretation and evaluation of the Kantian philosophy there are opposed two other views. Criticism is combated by two forms of dogmatism. Though opposed to each other, they agree in their unfavorable opinion of Kant. Negative dogmatism accuses him of treachery to knowledge; positive dogmatism, of yielding the rights of faith. The latter reproaches him as the destroyer of religion and of the philosophy which was well disposed towards it; the former despises him for his subservience to traditional modes of thought and to the pretended necessities of the heart,—a weakness which at most can be forgiven only in view of his other services.1

I shall not further discuss negative dogmatism and the judgment which it passes on Kant. At the present day it plays no great rôle. Materialism does not nowadays speak the final word. The representatives of science for the most part occupy the Kantian position. So much the more frequent and vigorous are the attacks from the other side. Revived scholasticism, in particular, directs its attacks at Kant as the champion of the hostile philosophy. With Thomism, as the fundamental form of constructive idealism, is contrasted criticism, as the type of subjective, false, and destructive idealism. Thus it has been pictured by Otto Willmann in his three-volume History of Idealism. He represents the history of philosophy according to the following schema. First, the ascending branch. From Plato to St. Thomas we have the ever richer and fuller unfolding of pure idealism, which posits the ideas as objective, constitutive principles of reality. With Thomas the highest point is reached. Then with Nominalism begins the downward course; the disaster of the Reformation followed, and this in logical train led to the Illumination and the Revolution. In Kant's philosophy the spirit of denial has found its compietesi expression.

It is at the very opposite pole from Thomism. In it false idealism has attained to its final consequence—the reduction of all ideal principles to subjectivism. In this system, the subject, with boundless self-conceit, claims to be the bearer of all reality, the creator of both the laws of nature and of morals. The autonomy of reason is the real nerve of Kant's philosophizing. Kant is the absolutely free thinker, "an advocate for the overthrow of faith, morals, and science." "The idea that he is a pure German philosopher is quite preposterous. Kant is a cosmopolite: he follows the English, is an enthusiastic admirer of Rousseau, and raves about the French Revolution. To German honesty (Treue) Kant's destructive sophistic is in direct opposition."2

There can be no doubt that this condemnatory judgment regarding Kant is a direct consequence of the Catholic principle. The autonomy of reason and the infallibility of the dogma are evidently irreconcilably opposed. It is also a matter of course that for the adherent of the absolute philosophy, sanctioned by the authority of the Pope, there only exist outside his own standpoint various forms of error, over whose differences it is scarcely worth while to linger. Philosophia cœlestis has only one opposite, the philosophia terrena, unless one should oppose to it a philosophia infernails, which, moreover, also stands in the same relation. Both are sisters born of arrogance and disobedience.

What attitude would Kant have taken towards such criticism? I think he would have accepted unconditionally the characterization philosophia terrena. He recognizes that he is a man placed in this world; his standing-place is the earth. It is not strange, then, that the result of an attempt to orient himself in the world should be an earthly and not a heavenly philosophy. To be sure, it will not escape the man who devotes a more careful scrutiny to Kant's thoughts that his standpoint does not at all seek absolute satisfaction in the things of this earth; he rather points everywhere beyond the mundus sensibilis to a mundus intelligibilis. But his modesty, or rather his critical reflection upon man's position in the world, prevented him from taking this intelligible world as his standpoint and building his system upon it. He sees that he does not enjoy the privilege of dwelling in that world beyond, or of receiving his inspiration from it. So he is compelled to leave the heavenly philosophy to those who are more favorably situated in this respect. There are two considerations which enable him more easily to endure the arrogance of such people. The first is that the alleged heavenly philosophy has as yet accomplished little or nothing for the advancement of human knowledge. It is only since the earthly standpoint has been adopted that the sciences have gained a sure method of advance. The other is that the lauded service of the pretended heavenly philosophy on behalf of religion and idealism becomes very questionable on unprejudiced historical investigation. It seems rather to Kant that the Catholic church and school philosophy, which was derived directly from Thomism, is so far from affording support to religious faith at the end of the eighteenth century that the latter is rather hopelessly compromised, and has been brought into suspicion through its connection with the dead body of Thomism. It is the critical philosophy which has again restored to life the faith of the spirit in itself, and as a result of this has revived faith in spirit in general and its creative power in the world. Only through it has an idealistic philosophy which believes in itself become possible.

Indeed it is a remarkable coincidence that in the same year, 1770, there appeared in Catholic France the Système de la nature, in Protestant Germany Kant's treatise De mundi sensibilis et intelligibilis forma ac principiis—an end and a beginning: the former work an end,—the final and consistent formulation of the materialistic point of view, to which French thought had long tended under the impulse of the scholastic systems which were protected and fostered in the universities; the latter a beginning,—the first outline of an idealistic philosophy of a new kind, the point of departure, even to our own day, for a long series of idealistic systems. On the other hand also an end,—namely, the definitive end of materialism, if we are to accept the authority of the historian F. A. Lange.

At the same time we will also say what is to be thought of the other boast of the Catholic school-philosophy, that it is the philosophia perennis. At the end of last century it was as dead as out-worn system ever was. If that system at present is experiencing a kind of revival in the school of Catholicism, this is due not so much to its own inner vitality as to its supposed fitness to serve an ecclesiastical political system which through the favor of circumstances—patientia Dei et stultitia hominum, an old Lutheran would say—has attained again in our time to unexpected power. Moreover, there still remains the question whether continuance of existence is in general something of which a philosophy can boast. Perhaps fruitfulness is a better characteristic, and this the Kantian philosophy shows; it still gives rise to new systems of thought. Thomism, on the contrary, though of course a great achievement for its own time, yields to-day nothing except unfruitful repetitions. It does not set free the spirit, it enslaves it, which of course is just its intention.

But, finally, in regard to the doctrine of the autonomy of reason, with its groundless subjectivism and its immanent tendency to revolution, it is naturally impossible to discuss these matters with those who are not open to conviction. Whoever is determined to subject his reason to ecclesiastical, which now means papist, authority, cannot be hindered. And it would be just as vain to maintain against such a one the right of reason to independent judgment. He would in all circumstances see in this defence arrogance and culpable insubordination. To what purpose has he subjected himself if others may venture to make exceptions and go their own way?

But for those who are not yet so firmly convinced, the remark may be added that the grounding of the certainty of knowledge of morals and of faith upon the inner certainty of the individual is the firmest foundation which is possible in human matters. This is the very foundation that Kant has laid (at least in intention). He thought that he had proved that reason makes explicit its own essence in the laws of nature and of morals, and in rational faith; and that, therefore, so soon as it has knowledge of the real circumstances, it cannot refrain from recognizing this law. Of course, Kant's doctrine is not universally accepted. Nevertheless, in this respect no external authority has an advantage over it, not even that of the chair of Peter. Indeed, one can say that it lies in the nature of reason to react with inner hostility against every external authority that demands absolute subjection in spiritual and moral things. The history of Catholic lands does not permit us to doubt that absolutism brings as its opposite intellectual and even moral and political anarchism.

II. Kant's Position in the Thought of His Own Time

If we wish to describe Kant's position in a single formula we may say that he is at once the finisher and conqueror of the Illumination.

Kant's early training falls in the period when the two opposing tendencies of pietism and rationalism were influencing the minds of men. The period of his personal activity is the age of the illumination. The spread of his philosophy towards the end of the century coincides with the decline of the illumination and the appearance of the new humanism. By the turn of the century, which Kant as an old man lived to see, the critical philosophy in connection with modern classical literature had victoriously completed the great spiritual revolution in Germany, which ran parallel with the politico-social revolution in France. A new view of the world and a new ideal of culture had gained predominance.

I shall attempt to characterize in a few words the general tendencies and the leaders in this movement.

Pietism and rationalism both begin to find their way into Protestant Germany from the Netherlands and France in the second half of the seventeenth century. Although mutually antagonistic, they coö perate in overturning the theologico-dogmatic mode of thought that had prevailed since the generation in which the reformed doctrines had been fixed.

Pietism is, in its origin, a popular religious movement. Its object is to make Christianity—which in the state churches had degenerated into a subject of dispute for theological scholars, and a tool for obtaining the mastery on the part of the scheming politicians—what it originally sought to be, the great personal concern of the individual. This explains the insistence on conversion. Connection with a church is of no avail; everything depends on the personal turning to God in Christ. There is in this something of the original impulse of the Reformation. The subjective religious life asserts itself against the religion objectified in church doctrine and ordinance,—Luther rebels against Lutheranism.

If pietism is the renewing of the original and most fundamental tendencies of the Reformation, rationalism may be characterized as the continuance of the Renaissance. Like the latter, it proceeds from a worldly aristocratic impulse toward culture; the soil in which it grows is independent investigation that has been emancipated from authority. The new sciences, cosmology and physics, united with mathematics, and also that critical historical investigation which, since the days of Valla and Erasmus, had rent the veil which lay over the past, have given to reason confidence in itself. In the great philosophical systems of Descartes, Hobbes, Spinoza, and Leibniz, it sets itself the task of constructing on the basis of all the modern sciences a world-system of a purely rational character. Rationalism, in the most general sense, is nothing else than the confidence that reason must succeed, without any other presuppositions than those which scientific investigation and necessary thinking afford, in producing an all-embracing system of demonstrable truths in which God and nature, life and history, will be included without any unexplained remainder.

Pietism and rationalism, in spite of their intrinsic opposition, seem, on their first appearance, to be connected just as the Reformation and the Renaissance formerly were. They have a common foe in the dominant system, and a common characteristic in their endeavor after freedom, after the realization of the personal life. In the university which had just been founded at Halle (1694), they met in the persons of two of their most important representatives, August Hermann Francke (1662-1727), and Christian Thomasius (1665-1727). Both had been expelled from the land of pure Lutheranism, the old conservative Saxony, and its university at Leipzig, and both found the sphere of their permanent and wide-reaching influence in the young university of the energetic Prussian State. The theologian and the jurist were soon joined by a third, the philosopher, Christian Wolff (1679-1754). His importance consists in the fact that he reduced modern philosophy to an inclusive system that could be taught and learned in the universities, and by this means banished the Aristotelian school-philosophy from the German universities. The modern sciences, mathematics and mathematical physics, form the basis of his system. Like Leibniz and Descartes, Hobbes and Spinoza, Wolff sets out from these sciences, in which he had already worked as a teacher and writer. From their point of view he writes his logic and metaphysic, his ethics and psychology. The motto of his philosophy, "nothing without sufficient reason," denotes its strong rationalistic character; nothing happens and nothing is true without a sufficient reason.

As the political friendship between the Renaissance and the Reformation was broken so soon as the common enemy, scholasticism, had been overcome, so the intrinsic opposition between pietism and rationalism passed into open hostility as soon as the old orthodoxy had lost its dominant position. Even in Halle it came to a bitter fight, which ended with the well-known disaster, the expulsion of Wolff (1723). But the joy of his pietistical opponents was too hasty; the power of the illumination was already too strong. Persecution heightened Wolff's fame and increased his influence. In the year 1740, immediately after the accession of Frederick the Great, he was recalled with fullest honors and held his triumph as victor in Halle.

From the year 1740 we may date the undisputed dominance of the illumination in Germany. It lasted until about the death of its great representatives on the German thrones, Friedrich and Joseph. If we wish to define its character in a formula we may say: It was the period of the peaceful and universally recognized sway of reason upon the earth, attained after long combat and final victory. Confidence in reason was universal and unconditioned,—reason in things and reason in men. Now, reason undertakes to arrange all things according to their principles. The institutions and arrangements of life are examined with a critical glance, and ordered anew according to rational concepts. In like manner, knowledge is rationalized. Reason explains all things as due to reason. God, the world-reason, has formed nature in accordance with rational thoughts. The task of the philosopher is to discover these rational thoughts in things and to re-think them. The historical world, too, is explained from rational thoughts and purposes. Here is human reason itself, which creates its own world. Language and religion, law and the State, are means invented by the reason for the attainment of rational ends. And alongside this rationalistic philosophy of history stands a rationalistic æsthetic that explains art and poetry from rational principles, and affords guidance for rational production. Gottsched's critical art of poetry is the type of this æsthetic. Thus reason has become the all-prevailing principle—both formal and material—of philosophy. All things are made by reason and are intelligible through reason.

In the second half of the eighteenth century there appeared, at first imperceptibly, then more openly, a reaction against the universal sovereignty of reason, which finally led to the direct opposite of the illumination,— to Romanticism. Among the foreign influences which gave rise to this movement we may mention in the first place Voltaire, Rousseau, and the English philosophers. All these stand on the ground of the illumination, but they undermine its foundation. Voltaire directs his sarcasm against the perfection of the world as the optimistic rationalism of Leibniz had represented it. Rousseau champions the cause of the heart against the head; he emphasizes the importance of nature, and of the unconscious, as opposed to conscious reason; he praises innocent simplicity and good will above the arrogance of the culture of the understanding. English empiricism combats rationalism in epistemology and metaphysics. When carried to its extreme form by Hume, it denies the possibility of metaphysics or of natural theology in general. It asserts that there is no absolute knowledge of the world, that reality does not manifest itself to human reason. A metaphysical theory of the world, according to the view to which Hume's Dialogues on Natural Religion leads, is based rather on the disposition of the heart than upon reason and demonstration. It possesses the subjective necessity of faith, not the objective necessity of knowledge.

Similar transformations in the German world of thought are connected with the names of Winckelmann, Lessing, Hamann, Herder, Goethe, and Schiller. To this group also belongs Kant. These men all grew up in the school of the illumination, but they all transcend the conceptions of the illumination. For they abandon strict rationalism and advance to the historico-genetic standpoint, which asserts that things are not fashioned according to fixed plans, they develop and grow. Neither the great works of art and literature, nor the great historical achievements like language and religion, nor even nature and her products have been contrived as means for the realization of ends. Organic growth became the dominant concept, superseding the notion of mechanical creation. The view of the world which belongs to this type of thought is evolutionary pantheism. This displaced the metaphysic of the illumination, anthropomorphic theism.

A transformation in our attitude towards life, and in our general view of the world always shows itself first in the æsthetic field. We find, therefore, that this is the case here. Klopstock, Winckelmann, and Lessing shake men's faith in the rationalistic æsthetic, and in the art and poetry whose expression it is, or which has been framed according to its rules. Klopstock turns from the French to the English, from art to nature, and from what is foreign to what is domestic and national. Gottsched and the poetry formed after the rules of classic verse are despised. Winckelmann proclaimed the degradation of the court academy art in the midst of its own territory. He accused it of being a product of arbitrary choice, and of pandering to the vulgar taste for what is fashionable and exaggerated. In this he contrasts it with the simplicity and calm nobility of the art of the Greeks. Their works of art are not imitative products, fashioned according to the rules of academic art for the satisfaction of vanity or for the purpose of entertaining the fashionable world, but they have proceeded by uniform development from the national life itself. Lessing, the hero who rejoiced in conflict, begins his great war against everything which is canonical and conventional, against the dogmas of the old æsthetics and poetics, as well as against the dogmas of the orthodox or new-fashioned rational theology. He is the first who sees Spinoza's thoughts shining through Leibniz's system, the first who ventured to follow up Spinoza's thought of the . . . doctrine of the All-One.

When Lessing in the summer of 1780 carried on those conversations with F. H. Jacobi about Spinoza in Gleim's garden-house, he did not know that the work was already thought out which should give the death blow to the metaphysics of the illumination. This work was the Critique of Pure Reason. Kant showed that the world is in no respect such a transparent thought-product as the illumination assumed; indeed, that reality in general cannot be apprehended by our thought, that it necessarily transcends the standpoint of knowledge. And from this there followed for him the further consequences that religion cannot be derived from or demonstrated by reason, as the illumination attempted. Its roots lie deeper, they are to be sought in the will. The will, the practical side of our nature, determines the fundamental direction of our view of the world, as it determines the value of human life. Kant himself did not complete the transition from the intellectualistic to the voluntaristic metaphysics and psychology. He still possessed, even to the end, too great confidence in the power of reason. But he started the movement which was fully carried out by Schopenhauer.

Kant's younger countryman, Hamann, the "magician of the North," had many points of contact with him. In Hamann, the pietistic sceptic, the reaction against rationalism is almost transformed into a hostility towards reason. He will allow almost no merit to reason except that it leads men to a knowledge of its inevitable shortcomings. In so far as Hume and Kant (whom he once called the Prussian Hume) effect this, he recognizes in them the true philosophy. He was especially concerned with the problem of the origin of language and poetry, and finds its source, not in the reason, where the philosophers of the illumination had sought it, but in the dispositions and passions through which nature works. Hamann is the prophet of those inclined to mysticism among the devout of both confessions who at the beginning of the nineteenth century introduced the great revival of the emotional religiosity which clings fast to mysteries.

A pupil of Kant and Hamann is Herder, though both of them regard him as influenced by Hume and Rousseau. His importance in the development of the German intellectual life consists in the fact that he destroyed rationalism in the philosophy of history. Language, poetry, religion, are not manufactured products, but natural growths, which are produced by the different peoples with the same inner necessity with which the various regions produce different forms of plant and animal life. With this is connected Herder's fondness for the original form of poetry, the popular ballads. This is genuine poetry, which cannot be said of the manufactured verses of the professors of poetics and their pupils. And the same is true of religion. Religion is originally poetry, the great world-poem which the spirit of the people produces in its struggle with reality, and in which are reflected its own nature and destiny. It is said that religion is the manifestation of God. That is certainly true, but the manifestation of God through human nature, in the same sense that Homer is a manifestation of God, or the Zeus of Phidias, or the Madonna of Raphael. This point of view overthrows the old doctrine of special inspiration. It also destroys rationalistic theology, which explains religion as the invention of priests and religious societies, and seeks to purify it, by critical endeavors, of what is false and unessential. The final postulate of the new point of view is here again pantheistic metaphysics: the entire world is the manifestation of God. Herder too found in Spinoza his philosopher.

Goethe's thought, which was enriched by Herder, moved in the same path. Pantheism, poetically apprehended through feeling, is his faith,—Spinoza's philosophy and Rousseau's sensibility to nature united. His first great poetical works, Werther, Faust, Prometheus, are entirely filled with this spirit. He despised the conventional philosophy and science of the schools; he scorned the understanding which works designedly and according to rule,—encheiresin natuœ, so chemistry names it! Feeling and intuition are everything; name and concept are only the external appearance. This is the doctrine that he proclaims with youthful vehemence. But even in the scientific form of his later thought, there remains the opposition to the mechanico-rational view. This shows itself in his color theory, as aversion towards Newton; in his geological and biological views as dislike for the Plutonian hypothesis, and as belief in the gradual growth and development of natural forms. It is the idea of organic development which gave direction to his scientific thinking. Development, organic increase, is also the form of his personal life and practical activity. To both is the idea foreign of producing according to set plan. In his own person the wonderful richness of his nature unfolded itself in unbroken continuity throughout his long life without the haste and commotion of voluntarily setting about to produce it. And in the same way his great poetical works took form in an organic way from his own inner experience. Thus Goethe is in his own person the living refutation of the old, narrow, rationalistic view of the nature of poetry, and of life, and of reality in general. Schiller also was impregnated with the doctrines of Spinoza and Rousseau before he found his world-formula in the Kantian philosophy; but neither in his practical nor in his theoretical philosophy did the influences of his early mode of thought disappear.

To sum up: In the half-century which followed the death of Christian Wolff a mighty transformation had occurred. The intellectual theology of reason which took the form of anthropomorphic theism had been replaced by a poetic, naturalistic pantheism as the fundamental form of its view of the world. God is the All-One who manifests his nature both in the world and in the process of organic development. The highest revelation of his nature for us is found in the spiritual life of man in society. Dogmatic anthropomorphism, such as rational theology tried to construct, is impossible; but a symbolic anthropomorphism may perhaps be allowed. If the nature of the All-One manifests itself in man, man may represent God after his own image, not with the intention of thereby adequately defining the nature of God, but perhaps with the conviction that what is best and deepest in human nature is not foreign to the nature of God; indeed that it forms the essence of his nature.

To have cleared the ground and pointed the way to these thoughts, which have become dominant in the poetry and philosophy of the German people, is the imperishable service of Kant.


1 H. Heine, in his essay on "Religion and Philosophy in Germany," has characterized, or rather caricatured, Kant's relation to religion as follows: After Kant, in the Critique of Pure Reason, had destroyed deism, or the old Jehovah himself, the tragedy was followed by a farce. Behind the dreadful critic stands, carrying an umbrella, his old servant Lampe, tears and drops of anguish upon his face. "Then Immanuel Kant has compassion and shows that he is not only a great philosopher, but also a good man, and, half kindly, half ironically, he speaks: 'Old Lampe must have a God or else he cannot be happy, says the practical reason; for my part, the practical reason may, then, guarantee the existence of God.'"

2 III., pp. 503, 528.—In an essay on this book by Commer, the editor of the Catholic Jahrbücher für Philos. und spekul Theologie (1896), we find the following statements: There are two species of philosophy, the true and the false—philosophia cœlestis and philosophia terrena. These correspond to the two kingdoms of reality, as St. Augustine has distinguished them,—the civitas Dei and the civitas terrena. The one philosophy has its roots in love to God; the other, in self-love. On the one side stands St. Thomas, the representative of divine and true philosophy; and on the other, stand Materialism, Anarchism, Pantheism, Atheism, Agnosticism, and in the midst, Criticism, as the most dangerous foe of God and of religion.—I have made some criticisms of Willmann's book in an essay entitled, "The Most Recent Inquisition on Modern Philosophy," in the Deutsche Rundschau, August, 1898.

Second Book The Practical Philosophy

The central principle of Kant's practical philosophy is the idea of freedom, not in the technical sense of the system, but in the general acceptation of spontaneous self-activity. In epistemology, Kant opposes sensationalism by making knowledge the product of the mind's activity. And in the same way, he combats hedonism by basing ethics entirely on spontaneous activity. The value of man's life depends solely on what he does, not on what happens to him. And the same notion forms the leading principle of the subordinate disciplines. In the philosophy of the State and of Law, the constitution and laws of a state have value only when they are based upon the freedom and spontaneous activity of citizens who are regarded as the end. An autocratic form of government may, under certain circumstances, be very conducive to the peace and well-being of its subjects; but it is as much inferior to a republican, or representative form of government as a machine is to an organism. The same principle runs through the philosophy of Religion. Religion is believing in God and fulfilling his commands—the moral law—freely. Thus the church is nothing but the voluntary association, formed to fight against evil, of all the righteous and true believers. With the true church there is contrasted the priestly church, which degrades the people into passive laity, for whom the priest makes the creed and performs divine service. Finally, in the pedagogical works true education is distinguished from mere training by the fact that it has in view the self-activity and the freely acting good-will of the pupil.

First Section The Moral Philosophy

Literature: Among the precriticai writings, the Beobachtungen über das Gefühl des Schönen und Erhabenen (1764) is of special importance for Kant's ethical views, and contains contributions for a moral characterology. After hints of a change in his theory of morals in the Dissertation and the Kritik der reinen Vernunft, Kant published the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (1785), the first systematic exposition of his ethical views. It contains preliminary sketches that were subsequently omitted, and, above all, the important notion of a kingdom of ends. The Kritik der practischen Vernunft adds, in particular, the moral theology, and the Kritik der Urteilskraft [Eng. trans. by J. H. Bernard, 1892] contributes to the same subject. The systematic exposition of the ethics, according to the principles laid down in these writings, is contained in a work that belongs to his old age, Anfangsgründe der Tugendlehre. In the Anthropology there is much that concerns moral dietetics. Interesting fragments of earlier attempts at construction are contained in Reicke's Lose Blätter. [J. G. Schurman, Kantian Ethics and the Ethics of Evolution; 1881 ; Noah Porter, Kant's Ethics (Griggs Philos. Classics), 1886.] For the development of Kant's ethical views, cf. F. W. Förster, Der Entwickelungsgang der Kantischen Ethik bis 1781 (1893), and P. Menzer, in Vaihinger's Kantstudien, IL, pp. 290 ff., III., pp. 41 ff. Also, A. Hegler, Die Psychologie in Kants Ethik (1891); A. Cresson, La morale de Kant (1897). [T. K. Abbott's volume, entitled Kant's Theory of Ethics (1883), contains English translations of the Grundlegung zur Metaphysik der Sitten (Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysic of Morals), the Kritik der pract. Vernunft (Critique of Practical Reason), the general Introduction to the Metaphysiche Anfangsgründe der Sittenlehre (Metaphysical Principles of the Science of Morals), and the preface and Introduction to the Metaphysische Anfangsgründe der Tugendlehre (Metaphysical Principles of the Doctrine of Virtue).]

I. The General Character of Kant's Moral Philosophy

The character and position of moral philosophy in Kant's system is described by the name which he gives it, "metaphysic of morals." By means of this title, it is paralleled with the "metaphysic of nature." Like the latter, it is a system of pure rational laws, valid a priori, applying, not to the realm of nature, but to that of freedom. But, on the other hand, the name implies a contrast with the "physics of morals." It is not to be a theoretical science of the origin, importance, and effect of subjective and objective morality in the life of human experience, but a system of pure a priori valid formulæ, without any relation to the guidance of life according to the teachings of experience. The pure concepts of the understanding are absolutely indifferent to any particular content of experience, but are valid a priori for every possible experience. And, in the same way, the moral law is completely unconcerned with life and particular circumstances. It is valid a priori for every rational being, quite irrespective of what the conditions of life may be. The concepts of the understanding do indeed require for their objective validity confirmation through experience; for otherwise they are only empty thought-forms. But, for the moral law, it is not essential that it shall be obeyed anywhere in the real world. It does not determine what is, but what ought to be, what abides, even if what is actual everywhere follows a different course. In truth, there is no way of demonstrating that the moral law anywhere determines the nature of the real. Morality, as an act of freedom, can never be found as a fact in the empirical world. The metaphysic of morals has nothing at all to do with actual occurrences, with life and history as empirical facts. These things belong to the "physics of morals."

As this point is of great importance in understanding and estimating the value of Kant's moral philosophy, it will be well to consider it at somewhat greater length.

One may give the title of "physics of morals" to the theoretical consideration of morality as empirical facts of ordinary life. As an empirical living being, man belongs to nature, and all theoretical knowledge of his character and development forms a part of natural science in its broader sense. That is as true of psychical anthropology, including the philosophy of history, as of physical. All these disciplines consider man purely as a natural product, just in the same way as the zoölogist considers any other species of animal. Investigation into the history of his development may show how the species man has differentiated itself into various races in adapting itself to different conditions of life in different quarters of the globe. In the brief essays On the Various Races of Mankind (1775), and Determination of the Concept of a Race of Men (1785), Kant pointed out the way to this mode of treatment. If this procedure were ever able to show how mankind originally had evolved from an earlier form of life, Kant would have nothing to object. Then, too, sociology and philosophy of history consider man as a social being. The former may show how in a common life certain uniform relations necessarily grow up, and how these become, through the specific character of man, who differs from other gregarious animals in possessing higher intelligence and more strongly marked individuality, rational usages, consciously adopted and maintained, in distinction from the social instincts of animals. Again, it may go on to show how these usages assume different forms among different peoples, corresponding to the various conditions and ends of life, but how they everywhere have the tendency to promote life in the sense of preserving and raising the historical type. Finally, the philosophy of history may attempt to gain an insight into the unity of all the data presented by empirical history, and to discover in them progress towards a final purpose, perhaps the complete development of all the natural powers of humanity. In doing this it may represent the moral and legal usages as essential conditions of progress toward this goal.—All these would be purely theoretical sciences, investigating the uniform connection of given facts according to the law of causality.

And to the same sphere belong also disciplines like politics or pedagogy that deal with the problems of some special department of life, and even those that profess to furnish guidance for life in general, like morality in the popular sense of the word. These are all technical disciplines that really belong, as far as content is concerned, to the theoretical sciences. They convert into a rule that which theory expresses as a law. Medicine is nothing but the sum of the applications of the knowledge that physical anthropology possesses. It may be connected with the latter as a mere corollary. In like manner, the ordinary laws of morality, as a set of practical or technical precepts, might be added or annexed to general anthropology, as "pragmatic" anthropology. Kant has himself furnished an example of this in his Anthropology with a Pragmatic Purpose. All this belongs to the "physics of morals."

Now, a "metaphysic of morals" is entirely different from all this. It is not at all concerned with what happens, but only with that which should happen, whether it now is taking place anywhere or not. It sets up a law for the realm of Freedom. This is something that lies entirely outside the realm of nature, that is, outside of the real world in so far as the latter is known as an object. It lies in the intelligible world. Since obedience to the moral law is an intelligible act of free will, it does not belong at all to the observable facts of empirical reality. Real occurrences, which are objects of knowledge, belong entirely to the phenomenal world, and are to be explained according to the law of causality. The only thing that is evident as a fact is the consciousness of the unconditional obligation of a law that commands categorically. The effects and purposes of the action do not enter at all into this consciousness. In like manner, it is altogether free from inclinations and conditions of the possibility of the action. It contains only the form of a universal law by means of which all action is to be determined. Now, this law is the sole object of practical philosophy in the true sense, as opposed to pragmatic and technical disciplines that have wrongly assumed the name of practical, when really they are only offshoots of the theoretical sciences.1

Thus Kant's practical philosophy, or the "metaphysic of morals," is in principle completely divorced from empirical reality, from the life of the individual, and from the historical life of humanity. It is not at home on the earth among men, but in the transcendental world of purely rational beings. It is the natural law of the mundus intelligibilis. The moral law is suspended over life merely as a norm for passing judgments upon the will. It does not have its origin in life, and from the very nature of the case no knowledge of its effectiveness in life is possible.—It is another question whether Kant always remained true to this fundamental conception in elaborating it in detail. Probably such a purely transcendent morality cannot always be carried through. So soon as we attempt to deal with concrete norms, over and above the mere demands of formal accordance with the law, the special empirically given content of life will necessarily claim recognition. "Thou shalt not lie," is not a rule for purely rational beings as such, but for those who communicate their thoughts by speech and other symbols. "Thou shalt not mutilate, destroy, or defile thy body," is a rule only for those rational beings who have a body with the organs in question. In a pure "metaphysic of morals" there should really be no mention of any of these things. Of course the content of such a 'science' would be very scant.

II. The Elaboration of the System

The system of the "metaphysics of morals" was long delayed, although Kant had intended, as early as 1785, to undertake at once its complete elaboration.2 First there appeared as a prolegomenon the Fundamental Principles (Grundlegung), which, according to the preface,3 was intended to represent, the Critique. Then followed still another "Critique" of Practical Reason,—in reality quite an unsuitable title, as Kant himself recognized: the practical reason requires no critique. The theoretical reason, or the understanding, requires criticism because it has a tendency to overstep its limits. But the practical reason is not subject to any criticism, to a judicial sentence before any other court as to its claims. It is itself the final court of appeal regarding all human affairs. Instead of a "Critique" we might have expected an "apology," or rather an "apotheosis" of the practical reason. But after the Critique of Pure Reason, it seemed to Kant that this doctrine, too, must have a critique as a prolegomenon. And when the critique was written, in this case also the doctrine was long in following. Not until 1797 did it appear, and then not as a "system," but under the apparently stereotyped titles, Metaphysical Principles of Doctrine of Virtue, and Metaphysical Principles of Right. It was not until the second edition (1798) that the two works received the common title, Metaphysic of Morals. These works exhibit Kant's tendency to undertake all sorts of preliminary discussions, which developed into a kind of dislike to give a final exposition of the real question itself. They also show his ever-increasing tendency towards schematic uniformity in the construction of his system, the pernicious effects of which Adickes has traced throughout Kant's entire period of authorship in his acute investigation, entitled Kant's Schematic Tendency as a Factor in the Construction of his System. To this latter tendency in particular is to be ascribed the fact that the working out of the system (the doctrinal part, as Kant says) is lacking, or remains in the form of "Critiques." The elaboration of the Critique of Pure Reason had left such deep traces on Kant's mind that his thought always fell again into this groove. This is the limitation of the human understanding that we so often meet with. If one has once happily solved a problem by means of a certain method, one tries to solve all the problems of the world in the same way.

The Critique of Practical Reason, which therefore remained the chief work on moral philosophy, follows the Critique of Pure Reason step by step, not only in its intrinsic method, as the Fundamental Principles does, but also in its external divisions. We have the same statement of the problem regarding the possibility of synthetic judgments a priori; the same divisions into a Doctrine of Elements and a Doctrine of Method, into Analytic and Dialectic, with a table of categories and antinomies. If the schema was not adapted to the epistemological investigation, it is here still more ill-fitting. Kant's thought had become enslaved by the schema: it looks more at the fixed form of the system than at the facts. He is not troubled by the fact that his ideas suffer from this fixed arrangement, that necessary investigations are lacking, and empty, formal notions find place. He rejoices in the thorough-going analogy, and finds in this an important confirmation of the truth of his system. In what follows, I propose to treat merely the fundamental conceptions, without following in detail the schematic execution.

(1) The Form of Morality

The form of morality is determined by the essential character of the critical philosophy, formal rationalism. This element comes out so clearly just at this point that no one can mistake it and find the main purpose in something else, e. g., in phenomenalism or the determination of limits. The undertaking is to show that the practical reason, like the theoretical, is a priori legislative. Moral philosophy, as metaphysics in the Critique of Pure Reason, is traced back to a transcendental logic: the moral law is a purely logical law of action.

The point of departure for the investigation is here, as in his theoretical work, the division of human nature into two sides, sensibility and reason, which are related to each other as matter and form. In the Critique of Pure Reason, we have the understanding as spontaneity opposed to sensibility as the receptivity for impressions. It is the function of the understanding to bring the manifold of sensation to a unity subject to laws. In the Critique of Practical Reason, sensibility has the form of a plurality of impulses that by means of objects are stimulated into a variety of desires. Impulses aim at satisfaction. The satisfaction of all the impulses, posited as the common goal of sensibility, is called happiness. Also here we have reason as the formal principle opposed to sensibility. As in the theoretical sphere reason is the origin of the laws of nature, so here it assigns a law to the realm of voluntary action. This is the moral law. The moral laws correspond in the sphere of the will to the pure concepts of the understanding in the realm of intellect. Like the latter they possess universality and necessity, and in a two-fold sense. That is, they are valid for all rational beings, and they admit of absolutely no exceptions. Here as in the theoretical field their a priori character is established by means of these marks.

Of course the difference that we already described, that in the theoretical field the universality refers to what is, and in the practical to what ought to be, shows itself here. Natural phenomena correspond without exception to natural laws; but, on the contrary, action is not invariably controlled by the moral law. It should be so controlled, but it is not. But that the universality of obligation is not merely an empty and arbitrary demand, perhaps on the part of the moral philosophers, but rests upon a real law of reason, is shown by the fact that all men know and recognize it, if not in act, at least in passing moral judgments. In estimating the worth of our own actions and those of others, there is always presupposed an underlying standard. This is the moral law, and just in this way is its universal validity recognized.

It is noteworthy, as a further parallel, that the characteristic position of man, both in a theoretical and practical regard, rests upon this union of sensibility and reason. The nature of human knowledge is determined by the fact that there must enter into it both perception and understanding. Understanding without sensibility is a description of the divine intelligence, while sensibility without understanding is the condition of the brutes. In like manner, the human will is characterized by the fact that reason and sensibility are always united in action, the former determining the form of the will, and the latter furnishing the object of desire. Reason without sensibility characterizes the divine will, whose nature is expressed in the moral law, which alone determines its activity. Sensible impulses without reason result in the animal will, made up of lawless and accidental desires, subject to the natural course of events.

Now, just on this point rests the characteristic nature of morality, which is action out of respect for a law. Among beings above and below the human race there is no obligation and no morality, but only the act of will. The divine will corresponds completely with the divine reason: it is holy, not moral. The will of the lower animal is made up of passive excitations of impulse: it does not act, but is passive as a part of nature, and consequently is entirely without moral quality. In the case of man, morality rests upon the control of the sense impulses by the reason. Through the fact that man as a rational being prescribes a law to himself as a sensible being, obligation first arises. Here we have a volition that contains a moment of negation,—even of contradiction.

The point of departure and the basis for moral philosophy are found in the analysis of the moral consciousness. This reveals just that consciousness of the opposition of duty and inclination, the consciousness of obligation, as the original phenomenon in the field of morality in general. The interpretation of these facts is the first problem of moral philosophy. Kant solves it, as we have indicated, by tracing it back to the opposition of reason and sensibility. The inclinations are all derived ultimately from sense impulses, while the consciousness of duty proceeds from reason, as is evident from the fact that obligation presupposes a universal law as norm. Every system of moral philosophy that does not recognize the absolute nature of this opposition, that attempts, like eudæmonism, to explain obligation by some indirect derivation from the inclinations, destroys, according to Kant, the very essence of morality. For this reason he constantly treats eudæmonism not only as a false theory, but as a moral perversity. He sympathizes, however, with the morality of the common man, who finds as unconditionally given in his conscience the opposition of duty and inclination. One can at once say that Kant's system of morality is the restoration of the common morality of conscience with its absolute imperative, as opposed to philosophical theories of morality, which all undertake some explanation of that imperative.

The second point that results from an analysis of the moral consciousness is the fundamental form of moral judgments of value. A will is morally good when it is determined solely by duty, or the moral law. In so far as the will is determined by inclinations, whether these are bodily or mental, coarse or refined, its actions can have no moral value. They may in such cases correspond with the moral law. But legality is not morality. The latter rests solely upon the form of the determination of the will. It is only when duty is done out of respect for the law, without any reference to the results of the act for the inclinations, that we have the habit of will that alone possesses moral value. The ordinary reason always makes these distinctions with complete certainty. It distinguishes what is morally good from what is useful and agreeable, and also from what is merely in accordance with law and duty.

The content of the general moral consciousness may consequently be expressed as follows, in the form of a demand: Let the moral law be the sole determining ground of thy will. It has the form of a categorical imperative: Thou shalt do what the law prescribes, unconditionally, whatever consequences may result. Impulses that seek happiness, and the dictates of prudence speak in hypothetical imperatives: If you would obtain this or that, if you wish to consult your advantage, you must do this or that, or leave them undone. You must not be intemperate if you would not injure your health or your good name, and so act contrary to your happiness. The pure practical reason may command the same line of action. But by means of its form as unconditional imperative it can unmistakably be distinguished from all such prudential rules. Even if no injury could ever result to one from lying, or from a dishonorable act, the imperative retains its force. This is the mandate of the reason, the expression of its nature. Universality and necessity, not comparative and conditional, but absolute and unconditional, constitute the essence of all rationality.

For this very reason, universality is the touchstone through which the rational origin of the will's motives may be infallibly recognized. If the maxim of the will cannot be represented as a universal law, it is not derived from reason, but from sensibility, and the resulting act is without moral value, or non-moral. One may accordingly express the categorical imperative also in the formula: Act so that thy maxim may be capable of becoming the universal natural law of all rational beings. If it is from its very nature incapable of this extension, then it proceeds from the arbitrariness of sensibility, and not from reason. For example, the question may arise whether it is right for me to tell a lie to rescue myself or some one else from a difficulty. The maxim of the decision of the will might be: If by a lie or by a promise that I do not intend to keep I can obtain an advantage that is greater than any disadvantage for myself or others that may result, then I regard it as allowable, and will act accordingly. Now attempt to represent this maxim as a universal natural law of willing and acting. One sees at once that it is impossible: it would destroy itself. If every one constantly acted in accordance with this maxim, no one would ever believe the statements or promises of another, and accordingly there would be an end to statements and promises themselves. Lies and dishonesty are self-contradictory: they are possible only on the condition that they do not become universal natural laws of speech and conduct. The liar and deceiver wills at the same time that there shall not be lying and deceit; for he does not wish others to deceive him. The reason in him, therefore, is opposed to the sensible nature, which regards merely its momentary advantage.

And just in this fact lies the real ground for rejecting such a condition. Reason and sensibility are related as higher and lower. If one lies, he follows the lower faculty of desire; he permits the animal in him to rule, following his desires and fears. He divorces himself from his character as a rational being and renounces his humanity. The worth of man rests on the fact that reason rules in his life and is not subordinated to the impulses of sense. In virtue of his reason, man belongs to a higher order of things, an intelligible and divine world. As a sensible being he is a product of nature. How shameful and degrading it would be to subject his divine part to the animal nature, to renounce his citizenship in the kingdom of rational beings, and content himself with merely an animal existence. It is an absolute inversion of things to subject the reason, which from its very nature is its own absolute purpose, to the sensibility that it is naturally intended to serve. Justice . . . , to use Plato's phraseology to express Kant's thought, consists for man in every part of his soul performing its proper function. It is necessary that reason, the part that is divine in nature and in origin, shall rule, and that the will shall obey its commands and make them the law of its action, and that the system of sensory and animal impulses shall provide for the preservation of the bodily life in strict subjection to reason, and without causing the mind disquiet and disturbance.

We here touch upon the deepest side of the Kantian theory of morals, where it passes over at once into religious feeling. To this we shall return immediately. But first I wish to consider another of the fundamental notions of the system, that of freedom.

Freedom is the postulate of morality as something internally consistent. A being without freedom, a being whose activities are determined by causes either outside him or in him, is never the subject of a moral judgment. And it makes no difference whether this causality is mechanical or mediated through ideas. An automaton spirituale is not less an automaton than a bodily one. Freedom therefore signifies absolute spontaneity, the ability to act unconditionally, and not as determined by causes. The possibility of this notion was shown in the Critique of Pure Reason. There it was proved that empirical causality is valid in the world of phenomena, not in the intelligible world. It is therefore thinkable that the same being stands under the law of causality as a member of the phenomenal world, but as a noumenon, possesses causality according to the concept of freedom. This notion, which remains problematical from the speculative standpoint, is rendered certain by means of the practical reason. The moral law commands unconditionally. Its fulfilment must therefore be possible. In other words, there must be a will that is not determined by sense solicitation, but that determines itself merely through the idea of the law. That is a free will. Freedom, or the capacity to make the moral law the absolute ground of determination of the will, without regard to all the solicitations of inclination or to the influence of fixed habits, education, natural disposition and temperament, is directly posited in the recognition of the moral law itself. Although the understanding may not be able to explain it, the absolute validity of the notion is not less certain. Thou canst, for thou oughtst—common-sense recognizes at once the necessity of the connection.

With the concept of freedom that of autonomy is closely connected. The moral is not a law imposed by some external authority, but the essential expression of reason itself. The theological theory of morality, that derives the law from the arbitrary will of God, and finds its sanction in the power of the Almighty to punish and reward, is refuted by the notion of autonomy. There is no being except I myself that can say "thou shalt," to me. Another will can say "thou must," but that is a hypothetical imperative that always has some external sanction—if you would avoid or obtain this or that. That is heteronomy, and a will that is determined in this way never has any moral value. It is true the moral law is God's will; but God's will and the will of the rational being harmonize spontaneously, as being both expressions of the nature of reason itself. It is not binding as an arbitrarily imposed command that might even have been different.

And now I return to the point already mentioned: the moral law is the law or natural order of the intelligible world. The intelligible world is the kingdom of rational beings, of which God is the sovereign. In this world every rational being has full citizen rights and is a constituent member, furnishing from his own will the law that here obtains. In Rousseau's republic every citizen is subject and yields obedience only to laws that he assents to as a part of the legislative body. In the republic of spirits a similar autonomy prevails. There, no one is determined by means of causes external to himself, as takes place in nature where external conditioning is the rule, but there is nothing except free self-determination, which is at the same time in harmonious agreement with the reason of others.

In this way the moral law receives at Kant's hands a metaphysical and cosmical character. It is the natural order of what is actually real, of the intelligible world, while the law of causality is merely the natural order of the phenomenal world. It is for this reason that he so earnestly tries to show that the moral law is not merely the law for all men, but for all rational beings in general. It is a law of transcendent import, the most intimate law of the universe itself. In so far as man realizes this law in his life, he belongs directly to a different order of things from that of nature. During the earthly life this relation is concealed. Our faculty of ideas is limited by sensibility, and can conceive only what takes place in space and time. It cannot conceive freedom and eternity. Nevertheless, as moral beings, we are immediately certain that we are not merely natural beings belonging to the phenomenal world, but that as rational beings we belong to a truly real, a spiritual and divine universe. Is the earthly and temporal life merely one phase of our existence? If so we may suppose that when we put off the body we shall be free from the obscuring of consciousness by sensibility, and that the mind will then completely and with full consciousness recognize itself as a member of that real world, which it already knows through action and faith, though not through sight. Eternal life would be life as a purely rational being, without the trouble and limitation of the life of sense.

It is Kant's Platonism that is here evident as the fundamental form of his ontology. The Critique of Pure Reason and the Critique of Practical Reason unite for the purpose of establishing an ethical and religious view of the world on the basis of objective idealism,—a mode of thought that in its essential features is older than the critical philosophy. We found it already in the Dreams of a Ghost-Seer as the serious background to the humorous representation of Swedenborgianism. Criticism, looked at as a whole, appears even from the beginning as the new method of establishing a Platonic system of metaphysics.

These are the fundamental concepts of Kant's moral philosophy. They form, as we have already said, the most complete contrast to the empirical and eudæmonistic point of view. This latter appeared to Kant not merely false and superficial, but also perverse and profane. It reduces morality to self-love. Enlightened self-interest demands virtuous conduct, though in moderation, and as a means which best conduces to happiness. It makes reason subservient to the sensuous desires, and denies the possibility of a disinterested action, and thereby of any genuine morality whatever. In so far as it has any influence on action, it poisons morality at the root. Moreover, it is nothing but weak sophistry that "can exist only in the confusing speculations of schools which are bold enough to close their ears against the heavenly voice (of reason) in order to maintain a theory which does not cost much racking of the brain." The ordinary man of unsophisticated understanding, with the "wise simplicity" of Rousseau, dismisses at once these shallow arguments. He holds fast to the clear distinction between actions performed from a sense of duty and from inclination, and maintains its absolute significance for moral judgments of value.

Not only eudæmonism, the morality of enlightened self-interest, but the morality of feeling is abhorrent to Kant. He especially condemns the sentimental and rhetorical form that seeks to furnish moral stimulus by dressing up moral heroes, and by representations of actions that lie beyond the limits of duty. The morality of reason alone, with its fixed principles, affords a permanent basis for the moral will. The sentimental procedure produces merely momentary emotions that soon evaporate, and in doing so render the heart dry and dead.

It is worthy of note that also in these points the critical philosophy represents a reaction against Kant's past. The writings of the sixties show everywhere traces of the mode of thought that he now so decidedly rejects—the eudæmonistic morality of perfection,4 and the English ethics of feeling. And also in this field the change dates from the revolution of 1769. In 1785 (in the announcement of his lectures),5 he spoke of Shaftesbury, Hutcheson, and Hume as his predecessors whom he followed in investigations in the field of moral philosophy. But, in a remark in the Dissertation of 17706, he dismisses Shaftesbury and his followers with contempt. Pure reason alone is to be considered. As contrasted with it all empirical principles are "impure."

(2) The Material of The Will

Up to this point Kant's thought is on the whole simple and clear. The difficulties and vacillations begin with the problem of finding an object and end of action for the will that is only formally determined. Two ends are possible, happiness and perfection. The adoption of the one or the other of these constitutes the difference between the systems of moral philosophy to which one can apply the names Hedonism and Energism.

The former finds the ultimate end in pleasure, the latter in complete development of character and activity. Even Kant takes account of these two ends. He hesitated long, however, in deciding regarding their relation to morality proper, even after the critical point of view had been discovered. I shall deal first with happiness and its relation to morality.

The analogy of the practical with the theoretical seems to demand that the matter of the will should be furnished by sensibility. The impulses of sense all aim at satisfaction; in the last resort they may together be said to seek happiness. This accordingly would be the goal of natural volition and action. The moral law, according to the same analogy, would have to be represented as a condition of the possibility of this end, perhaps because it would harmonize the various desires and bring unity into the actions of the many persons whose actions have influence on one another's happiness. From this standpoint, happiness would be the effect, but not the motive of the will. This is determined a priori by reason, not a posteriori by the results to be expected, just as the pure concepts find their application and illustration in experience, although they do not originate in experience, but are necessary to its possibility.7

Another mode of establishing a necessary relation between virtue and happiness is by making the consciousness of virtue the source of happiness. This was the position of the Stoics, for whom the wise man as such is happy, whatever his external conditions of life. Internal happiness. . . is not dependent upon external fortune. . . , but is derived entirely from the individual's own will and the consciousness of his personal power and worth. Spinoza is a representative of the same standpoint.

This combination, too, is not unknown to Kant. A long and interesting sketch, published by Reicke in the Loose Leaves,8 contains, among other things, the following thoughts:9 "The material of happiness is sensible, but the form is intellectual. Now, this is not possible except as freedom under a priori laws of its agreement with itself, and this not to make happiness actual, but to render its idea possible. For happiness consists just in well-being in so far as this is not externally accidental, or even empirically dependent, but as based upon our volition. This must be active, and not dependent upon the determination of nature. .. . It is true that virtue has the advantage that it carries with it the greatest happiness in the use of natural endowments. But its higher value does not consist in the fact that it serves as it were as a means. Its real value consists in the fact that it is we who creatively produce it, irrespective of its empirical conditions, which can furnish only particular rules of life, and that it brings with it self-sufficiency. . . . There is a certain stock of contentment necessary and indispensable, and without which no happiness is possible; what is over and above this is non-essential. This is self-sufficiency,—as it were, apperceptio jucunda primitiva."10

This in essence was the Stoic solution of the relation between virtue and happiness. Kant found it nearer home in Shaftesbury and Pope. It is at bottom the view of Aristotle and Plato. Not pleasure, but virtue, is the highest good and final purpose. Or the exercise of the specifically human powers and capacities is what gives an absolute meaning and value to life. Since, however, the possession of this good is directly connected with the consciousness of one's own worth, one can say: Virtue insures at the same time happiness. But this name does not, of course, imply the satisfaction of all the desires of sense, but just the consciousness of possessing that which alone has absolute worth.

In the later expositions these positions are abandoned. In the Fundamental Principles the notion of happiness plays no part whatever. The concept of a kingdom of ends is introduced, but even this finds no further extension and application. The formal determination of the will by the law is here the only dominating conception. On this depends the worth of man. As a rational being, he belongs to the higher order of things. In the second half (Dialectic) of the Critique of Practical Reason, on the other hand, after the first part has repeated the formal determinations of the Fundamental Principles, pleasure appears prominently as a necessary element of practical philosophy. It is here combined with virtue (as the worthiness of happiness) into the concept of the highest good, and in this form serves as basis or moving principle of moral theology. The "postulates"—God and immortality, together with the complete adjustment of happiness and worthiness—are founded on this notion. In the end, all natural connection between virtue and happiness is rejected. Kant now emphatically denies the view of the ancient philosophers that there is any natural connection between the two. For him the connection is now "synthetic," not "analytic." Entirely reprehensible is the position of the Epicureans that makes virtue an external means to happiness. But the Stoic view is also untenable, that the consciousness of virtue is itself at once happiness. Obedience to the law, he explains here, is motived by "reverence,"—a feeling that has absolutely no kinship with the pathological feeling of pleasure. The truth is rather that man, as a sensible being, feels oppressed by the moral law which restrains his self-love and lowers his self-conceit by the demand for obedience that it makes. Obedience to the law also brings with it, indeed, a feeling of exaltation and self-respect, but neither have these the character of pleasure. "Contentment" (Selbszufriedenheit) really signifies only a negative pleasure in its existence.11

Nevertheless, happiness is an essential object of the rational will. Virtue is indeed the highest good (bonum supremum); but it is not therefore the complete and perfected good (bonum consummatum), as an object of desire for finite, rational beings. For that purpose happiness is an essential condition. And this is true not only from the partial standpoint of the man who makes himself his own end, but even in the judgment of impartial reason, which regards happiness in general as itself an end in the universe. For to desire happiness, and also to be worthy of it, and yet not to share in it, is a condition of things that cannot at all accord with the perfect volition of a rational being.12 Since, now, the connection of the two elements is not analytic, "in accordance with the rule of identity," but synthetic, the question how the highest good is practically possible requires a transcendental solution.

The key to this transcendental solution is again naturally found in the distinction between the sensible and the intelligible world. In the sense-world, happiness is not proportionate to worthiness, and so the adjustment is postponed to the future life. The practical reason ensures the possibility of the highest good by means of the two postulates, immortality of the soul and the existence of God. Immortality, or rather life beyond the grave, makes possible an indefinitely prolonged advance towards moral perfection, consequently towards worthiness for happiness. The existence of God, as an all-powerful and holy will, and at the same time the author of nature, guarantees the second element of the highest good, happiness in proportion to worthiness. Further, since to bring the highest good into existence through free volition is a requirement that is a priori necessary, the possibility of doing this must be a necessary postulate of practical reason. Or, in other words, the truth of the existence of God and of the life beyond the grave is apprehended by a necessary act of rational faith. It is not the object of theoretical knowledge. For this, perception would be necessary, and this is impossible for us who are limited to sense perception in space and time. Moreover, it is not the object of a command, imposed either internally or externally; for that is impossible. But it is guaranteed by an inextinguishable conviction that is posited along with my rational nature itself. The rightly constituted person can say: "I will God's existence, and that my existence in this world shall include, over and above the life of nature, membership in an intelligible world. Finally, I will my own immortality. I hold fast to these beliefs, and do not allow them to be taken from me. This is the single case where it is inevitable that my interest should determine my judgment, since I am not permitted to renounce any of its demands."

Moral theology is thus based on the lack of natural connection between virtue and happiness. The desire of the human will, which is unable to unite in this world the two indispensable elements, morality and happiness, by means of necessary concepts, becomes an imperative demand to pass to the region of the intelligible for what is necessary to complete our theory. Without God and immortality, without a transcendental world-order, the realization of the highest good, which is enjoined by the moral law, would not be possible.

In the form in which these thoughts are presented in the Critique of Practical Reason, there are many sides open to criticism. It reminds one somewhat too much of the police argument for God's existence: if one does not receive reward or punishment here, he will find it laid up for him in the next world. And Schopenhauer's gibe is not entirely unjustified, that Kant's virtue, which at first bore itself so bravely towards happiness, afterwards holds out its hand to receive a tip. Even formally the combination of the two factors is open to criticism. Happiness for Kant is the satisfaction of the inclinations of sense. Now, are there still inclinations of this kind in the other world? We are supposed to be in an intelligible world where sensibility is entirely lacking. And how does the matter stand with regard to the infinite progress towards moral perfection? In the other world is there still time in which change and progress can take place? And how is moral progress itself possible for a being without sensibility? The noumenon is "a purely rational being," "an intelligible character." In what, then, can its progress consist? It appears as if Kant would have to postulate indefinite continuance in time in the form of sensible existence in order to render progress and compensation possible. It would be necessary for him to adopt something like the East Indian notion of rebirth and transmigrations of souls.

Nevertheless, if one disregards the somewhat wooden form of exposition, and holds fast what is essential in Kant's thought, one will estimate the doctrine differently. We may say that Kant here really touches upon a strong, if not the strongest, motive of religious faith. The unsatisfactory nature of the present world, the conflict of the natural order of events with the irrelinquishable demands of the spirit, is the strongest motive to transcend the visible order and to seek an invisible one. The fact that in the natural course of events, as observation shows, the good and great are often oppressed and perish, while the vulgar and the wicked triumph, is the goad that drives us to deny the absolute reality of nature. It is and remains the final and indestructible axiom of the will that reality cannot be absolutely indifferent to good and evil. If, then, nature is indifferent, it cannot be the true reality. Then only behind or above nature, as mere phenomenon, can the true world be discovered, and in it the good is absolutely real; i.e., in God who is the absolutely real and the absolutely good. It was Plato who first united the notions of the absolutely real and the absolutely good in the concept of God. And since that time philosophy has never abandoned this thought, and it is this that constitutes the essential element in Kant's thought. This point of view would have been attainable without using happiness as the vehicle of the postulate. Kant really does happiness too much honor in making it, or the lack of correspondence between it and virtue in the empirical world, the copingstone of his entire system. If he had set out from the notion of a kingdom of ends, his road would have been shorter and smoother. He who wills the kingdom of ends believes in the possibility of its realization. He who lives for the kingdom of God, and is ready to die for it, believes in God.

At this point we return to the second definition of the object of volition—perfection as the end of the will. If Kant had given, as he intended, an exposition of his system about the middle of the eighties, this notion might perhaps have played an important rôle. As it is, it occupies an unimportant place in the Metaphysical Principles of the Doctrine of Virtue, as an end of the will that is necessary in addition to happiness. As the two ends which duty prescribes, although they must not be motives of will, Kant here names our own perfection, and the happiness of others. Under the head of our own perfection, the cultivation of all our powers and talents, bodily, mental, and moral, is enjoined. To promote these with all our strength is a duty. On the other hand, it is never one's duty to promote one's own happiness, "since every one inevitably does that spontaneously." Nevertheless, it may even become a duty to promote one's own happiness as a means, although not as an end, since disappointment, pains, and want furnish great temptations to transgression of duty. On the other hand, it is not a duty to promote the perfection of others—that is their own business—but to work for their happiness. In doing this, one performs a grateful service if one simply makes concessions to their inclinations, but undertakes a thankless task if one regards their real advantage, although they themselves do not recognize it as such.

Here, just as little as in the Critique of Practical Reason, is any attempt made to unite in an organic way the "necessary purposes" and the formal law. In the former work, happiness, both for ourselves and others, is without any mediation declared to be a necessary object of desire for the practical reason. Here Kant takes the same position with regard to perfection. If Kant had not been so hardened in formal rationalism, if he had not so blindly maintained in the sphere of the will the absolute separation of form and matter that in the Critique of Pure Reason determined the form of his critical philosophy, if he had been able for a moment to lay aside the axiom that the good will is that which is determined solely by the form of the law, and that all determination of the will by the matter of volition proceeds from sensibility and renders it "impure," he would necessarily have arrived at a different system of ideas from the concept of perfection as the end of the will. He would have seen that man as a rational being aims at the establishment and enlargement of a kingdom of reason, of a kingdom of humanity, of a kingdom of God upon the earth. The moral law is the natural law of this kingdom in the sense that its enlargement depends upon obedience to the law. Transgression against the law, on the other hand, has, as a natural effect, disorder and destruction.

This line of thought is not entirely foreign to Kant. He employed it in the concept of "end in itself," which he ascribed to rational beings as a distinguishing characteristic, in the related notion of a "kingdom of ends" or a "kingdom of God" in contrast with the kingdom of nature, as he speaks of it in the Critique of Pure Reason in Leibniz's phrase. The notion is also the foundation of his philosophy of history (in the Idea of a Universal History). It recurs in the Fundamental Principles in the following passage: "The kingdom of ends would actually come into existence by means of maxims whose rule the categorical imperative prescribes to all rational beings if these maxims were universally followed."13 But it is not employed seriously. The horror of rendering the determination of the will "impure" by any matter of volition prevented Kant from following up this thought. In the Critique of Practical Reason it no longer played any part. Here nothing but formalism prevails. This work begins at once with the propositions:14 "All practical principles which presuppose an object (matter) of the faculty of desire as the ground of determination of the will are empirical and can furnish no practical laws." "All material practical principles are as such of one and the same kind, and come under the general principle of self-love or personal happiness." With these "propositions" the notion of purpose is a priori debarred from entrance into the practical philosophy, at least from any influence on its main problem. At a later point, in the Dialectic, we have not the concept of "perfection" or of a "kingdom of rational beings," but that of happiness suddenly reappearing from some unknown quarter, and presenting itself, after having been previously rejected as derived from sensibility, as an a priori necessary element of the complete good, and one that reason has to recognize in addition to virtue.

One must say that anything so internally inconsistent as the Critique of Practical Reason, with its two parts, the Analytic and the Dialectic, with the form and the matter of the will, the law and happiness, is perhaps not to be met with again in the history of philosophical thought. Kant, however, is so certain of his a priori procedure that he unhesitatingly rejects, as forming a single massa perditionis, all previous forms of moral philosophy, Epicurus and the Stoics, Shaftesbury, Wolff, and Crusius, since they all have started with material grounds of determination. The critical metaphysic of morals is the first and only true system of moral philosophy.

If Kant had taken the concept of a kingdom of ends as his starting-point, and if, instead of forming his ethics after the pattern of his epistemology, he had elaborated it as a practical discipline, establishing or maintaining its natural connection with anthropology and philosophy of history, his thought might have attained something like the following form, which seems to me more felicitous.

The vocation of man, the purpose that God or nature has prescribed to him, and whose accomplishment is the business of the historical life, is the development from animality to humanity through the employment of his own reason. Education, civilization, and moralization, are the three parts of the process of humanizing. The final goal of the process of development is to form a united and harmonious kingdom of rational beings in which the moral law, as a natural law, shall determine volition and action, or in religious language to build up the kingdom of God upon the earth.

Man stands in a twofold relation in regard to this vocation. The sensuous impulses that he shares with the animals (the lower desiderative faculty) resist it, because in the process they suffer loss. The sense impulses are restrained by the advance of culture. On this point Kant shares Rousseau's conviction. But man has also a "higher desiderative faculty," practical reason, and this has as its end nothing else than the enforcement of its own demands. From this view-point the explanation of the essential concepts of moral philosophy would be as follows:

Morality is the constant resolution of the will of a being who is at once sensuous and rational to follow reason as opposed to the impulses of sense. It gives to action the form of universal conformity to law, instead of the accidental and arbitrary character that belongs to sensible impulses. Moral laws are universal laws of conduct, that, in so far as they determine the will, direct its activity towards the ultimate end. Duty in the objective sense is the obligation to determine action by reference to the moral law. Freedom is the corresponding capacity to determine conduct in independence of the incitations of sense, and in accordance with the moral law. The moral worth of the individual depends upon his disposition. Conscientious performance of duty carries with it moral worth and dignity, irrespective of the amount and extent of what is accomplished. For the latter is not dependent on the will alone, but also upon fortune.

Happiness is used in a double sense, and corresponding to this its relation to sensibility is different. In so far as the word denotes the satisfaction of the sense impulses, virtue is not a means of promoting one's own happiness. But in so far as the realization of the higher desiderative faculty (the practical reason) is accompanied by the feeling of satisfaction, one may even say, if one likes to name this feeling happiness, that virtue is the only means of attaining the true happiness, which, in the case of a rational being, depends before everything else upon self-respect, and is inseparable from morality and the maintenance of the dignity proper to man.—Complete humanizing and moralizing, together with the happiness that is their result, constitute the highest good. This is a mere idea to which there can be no corresponding object in the sense-world. The significance of the idea consists in the fact that it sets a goal for empirical reality as manifested in the historical life, to which the human race is required to approximate through constant stages of progress.

Belief in God is the moral certainty that the highest good is the ground and goal of all things. Perfect divine service is a life spent for the honor of God, and in the service of the highest good.

In this way we might have all of Kant's essential thoughts without the formalism.

III. Criticism of the Moral Philosophy

In what has been said we have already indicated the standpoint from which Kant's moral philosophy is to be criticised. According to my opinion, it is just that which Kant regarded as his special service that constitutes his fundamental error. This is the expulsion of teleological considerations from ethics. I shall attempt to show this in describing the place of teleology in the historical development of philosophy. In undertaking this, I emphasize the fact that the criticism has reference only to Kant's moral theory, not to his moral views. These are better than his theory, and I shall return to them in the next section.

All philosophical reflection upon the nature of morality sets out from two points: (1) from the fact of moral judgment, (2) from the fact that the will is directed towards some end. From the first point of view, one reaches the problem regarding the final standard in passing judgments of value upon human actions. From the second standpoint, the question regarding the ultimate end or the highest good presents itself. In this way, arise the two types of moral philosophy,—the ethics of duty, and the ethics of the good. The original form of the ethics of duty is to be found in religious theories of morals: the law of God is the final standard of judgment and of value. Theological ethics, Christian and Jewish alike, declare that an action is morally good when it agrees with the command of God, and that a man is morally good when he makes the Divine command the law of his own will.

Philosophical ethics is inclined to the form of the ethics of the good. Greek ethics is entirely dominated by the question regarding the final end of all volition and action. Two tendencies manifest themselves at this point: that toward hedonism, and that toward energism. The former places the highest good in a state of feeling, pleasure; the latter, in an objective condition of character and realization of purposes: the complete development of all the human powers and capacities, and their complete realization is the highest good. Aristippus and Epicurus belong to the first side, Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics to the second. The two tendencies approach each other in so far as the first asserts that a happy life can be attained only by virtue and ability, and the other concedes that virtue and ability has happiness as its necessary though not intentional result.

Modern ethics begins in the seventeenth century with the abandonment of the theological form of the ethics of duty prevailing in the school philosophy. An immanent basis for ethics was sought, instead of the transcendent foundation in the will of God as expressed in the ten commandments. This is gained in the same way as in Greek ethics. For the distinctions of value in what is good and what is evil are based on the recognition of a highest good, and on the relation of will and conduct to it. This highest good was defined as self-preservation, realization of the complete character, human perfection, complete development of humanity (in the systems of Hobbes, Spinoza, Leibniz and Wolff, and Shaftesbury). Then a volition or action whose natural result is in harmony with this end is declared to be good. At the same time, egoistic hedonism, which makes the individual's own advantage the absolute ground for the determination of the will, made its appearance. The distinction between good and evil is then reduced to the difference between greater or less certainty and cleverness in attaining this end. On the other hand, the theological form of moral philosophy also perpetuated itself. Kant takes Crusius as its representative.

The fundamental distinction between the chief types is that the theological ethics of duty is formal, the philosophical ethics of the good, teleological. The latter derives the distinctions of value in human conduct and relations in a last resort from the effects in relation to an ultimate end. The former has regard merely to the formal agreement of the will with the law, or to the formal character of the will's determination by means of the law: the moral good is absolutely good, not good for something.

Now, Kant's position was determined in this way. Originally he occupied the standpoint of the Wolffian morality of perfection. To this was added in the sixties, by way of a basis and complement, the English morality of feeling with its anthropological tendencies. The critical philosophy brought a complete reversal: Kant went over to the side of formal moral philosophy; only, the pure reason takes the place of God as the autonomous source of the law. Henceforth he rejects the teleological conception, not merely as false, but as dangerous for morality itself. A will is good solely on account of its formal determination by the law, not on account of what it wills or what is effected through it.

I am unable to convince myself either of the dangerous character of teleological ethics, or of the tenability of this purely formalistic theory of morals. The latter sees only what stands nearest, and leaves entirely unsolved the problem of a general theory of life and of conduct.15

If one attempts, as is reasonable, to find a reconciliation, one may take as a basis the distinction between two kinds of judgments regarding the value of human volition and conduct, the subjective-formal and the objective-material. The first refers entirely to the disposition, to the relation of the will to the moral judgment of the person acting. And since we name an action good in so far as it results from a consciousness of its moral necessity, the content may be what it will. The Arab, as an avenger of blood, the fanatic who persecutes the enemies of his God, acting, not from personal hatred, but perhaps overcoming personal inclination or universal sympathy for his kind, and following the "categorical imperative" in his breast, acts morally. And his moral maxim would perhaps stand the test that Kant demands—act in such a way that thou canst will that thy maxim should become a universal law of conduct. "Certainly I will this," he might say, and even Kant could not prove the logical impossibility of this maxim prevailing as a law of nature.

But, we should now add, this is not the end of the matter. A second and quite independent question is whether avenging blood, and persecuting those of a different faith, are good when considered objectively. Our moral sense condemns both. Why? Evidently because they are in contradiction with our idea of a peaceful and equitable common life, with our conception of the value of freedom in our intellectual life, and of the worthlessness of forced convictions, and with our experience regarding the injurious influence of repression and protection in the spiritual life. Or, in a word, because the objective results of such ways of acting do not tend to promote, but to disturb and destroy the highest good, quite irrespective of what are the subjective motives of the person acting, whether he kills or persecutes from inclination or from a sense of duty.

And now we would go on to assert that the real problem of moral philosophy does not consist in discovering the subjective moral value of the actions of the individual. It has done all that it can do in this connection when it has established the principle that one acts morally, from a subjective point of view, when one acts from a feeling of duty, out of reverence for the absolute command. But the problem is rather to determine the objective value of actions and relations, or to explain the different moral evaluation placed upon them (varying among different peoples and at different times). Ethics will seek to determine why lying, stealing, killing, adultery, etc., are condemned, and truth, honesty, friendliness, and faithfulness in the marriage relation are good. In this investigation, it will find that actions of the sort first mentioned tend to disturb and to destroy man's social life, and thereby to undermine the foundations upon which all healthy human life must rest. Lying is not evil because it cannot be posited as universal without destroying itself, but because, so far as in it lies, it destroys an essential good, namely, the confidence that is the fundamental condition of all social life among men. And in like manner, thieving, and adultery, and impurity, are reprehensible because they destroy goods, like property, the material basis of all human culture, and the family life, the medium in which the spiritual life of man is maintained and handed down. In general, vices are objectively bad because they are destructive forces; virtues are objectively valuable because they act as forces to preserve and promote the kingdom of reason and of humanity. The capacity for logical universalization, however, is a useful means of discovering the result of any kind of action. It is difficult to say how a single action may result in any particular case. But it becomes clear what its nature is, what general tendency it possesses, as soon as one asks what the result would be if every man always acted in this way.

Finally, teleological ethics is able to derive from its own principle what is valuable in the purely subjective morality. It shows that the habit of determining one's actions from a sense of duty, which we call conscientiousness, has the tendency to preserve the content of human life. What actually determines the will in this case is uniformly the objective morality of the community and the time. Custom and law, however, usually tend to preserve this community life: a people whose custom and law tended towards disintegration would be incapable of living, and would perish. In so far, then, as conscience has objective morality as its content, it has the tendency to determine the conduct of the individual in the direction of the preservation of the community, and also to influence his actions as a member of the community.

Thus the teleological moral philosophy attains a unitary view of the moral world. It is able to derive both the form and the matter of the will, to speak in Kant's phrase, from a single principle. The will that is directed towards the highest good, wills at the same time its own determination by the moral law, as the norm upon whose maintenance the possibility of its realization depends. In this it may, of course, happen that this or that particular impulse sometimes determines the volition in a direction opposite to the norm. We have in this all the valuable elements of the Kantian ethics. We have the autonomy of the will in a twofold sense. As independent of external authority, the moral rational will wills the highest good, and in doing so gives itself the law. And, as independent of sensibility, the rational will, not the lawless impulses of sense, furnishes the motives of life. In like manner, we have freedom from hedonism and egoism. The rational will does not will pleasure as the absolute good, but an objective state of things. And the object of its will is not merely itself, or its own existence and advantage, but the preservation and development of the spiritual and moral life of the community, and of itself as a member of the community. And so we say with Kant that the worth and significance of a life depends entirely upon the good that man does, not upon the good or evil that he suffers.

On all these points, the Kantian morality is significant of an exceedingly healthy reaction against sensualistic and egoistic eudaemonism, which was then to some extent in vogue, especially in the polite world. Think, for example, of La Mettrie and Helvétius. It is the reaction of the sound morality of the people against the sophistical view of the court and the gentry. On the other hand, as a philosophical theory of morality, it is just as untenable as the old theological view. Above all, it is unable to discover the unity of form and matter of the formal and real motives of the will. As in the old theological moral philosophy, so also in Kant, the content of what is morally good is in the last resort given by command of God, and the end of the will, eternal blessedness, is only accidentally connected with morality by means of the will of God. Moreover, he brings in, as matter of the will, happiness or even perfection in addition; but he cannot find the natural connection of these with the moral law and so takes refuge in a supernatural connection. He had really before him all the elements for a teleological interpretation,—the concept of a kingdom of ends, the unity of rational beings, perfection and happiness as necessary objects of volition, the moral law as the natural law in the domain of freedom,—but as if by some fatality they were held apart. More than once, it seems as if he must reach a proper synthesis, especially in the second section of the Fundamental Principles, as, e. g., in the remark:16 "Teleology considers nature as a kingdom of ends, morality views a possible kingdom of ends as a kingdom of nature." But he does not draw the conclusion that the moral law is the natural law of the kingdom of ends, in the sense that on its realization depends the maintenance and actualization of that kingdom. He had the analogy that the laws of the state are the natural laws of civic society, in the sense that the preservation of the state as a social unit depends on the maintenance of the legal order. Nevertheless, he does not discover the formula of solution. He is so intent on the pure law of reason and its logical universality, so much in love with the purity of the pure will that is determined solely by means of the law, that he turned away in horror from the derivation of its validity from the matter of volition as from a sacrilegious defilement of morality.

Instead of this, he toiled over the absolutely vain attempt to squeeze a "matter" of volition out of the "pure" law of the logical universality of the motive of the will—ex aqua pumicem, one might say, inverting his quotation. Lying and suicide are morally impossible actions, for when made universal, they destroy their own possibility. Suicide would destroy life, and in this negate itself, and so with lying. These things, therefore, can occur only as irregular exceptions, and are thus contrary to reason and its logic. If in the case of these negative commands there is still a certain significance in this rule of universality—the same which belongs to the universal validity of legal commands—the positive duties resist most decidedly every attempt at an investigation of this kind. Consider the attempts to derive the duty of cultivating our own talents, and the duty of charity: "As a rational being man necessarily wills that all his powers should be developed because they are useful and given to him for all kinds of possible purposes." And: Even if absolute egoism could exist as a natural law, yet no one could will it, "since many cases might occur when he would require the love and sympathy of others." It is evident that Kant here drops his formula and falls back on the matter of volition, even appealing to egoistic motives. Thus the facts of the case emphatically reject his theory. Nevertheless he does not abandon it, but clings to it on principle: all derivation of duties from ends is empirical, false, and ruinous.

The cause of all this difficulty lies in the mysterious prominence that epistemology had won in his thought. It hindered the free, spontaneous development of Kant's ethics, as it did also of his metaphysics. It determined both the problems and the form of their solution. Above all it is responsible for the unfortunate theory that makes the human will a union of practical reason which merely sets up a law, and sensible impulses that merely clamor for egoistic satisfaction. Thus arises the empty concept of a pure will as the complement to "pure" perception and thought. And the mysterious over-estimation of "pure" thinking then led to the clearly untenable assumption that the "pure" will is the good will. And from this there resulted, as a further consequence, the denial of any moral difference whatsoever between the material grounds that determine the will. In principle, it is quite indifferent for the moral value of the action whether the satisfaction of sense desires, the love of fame, the good of a people, the salvation of a people from the bonds of injustice and falsehood, is the end that determines the will, in so far as they are all material principles of determination. At least, between the moral theories that adopt material principles, between egoistic hedonism and the Aristotelian and Stoic ethics of perfection, there is said to be no difference. According to Kant, they all reduce in the last resort to Epicureanism. Epicurus alone had the courage of his convictions. One may well say that the consequences of a false principle cannot be carried further.

And with this unfortunate theory of the will is connected the tendency of Kant's moral philosophy that from the first does violence to feeling. It is commonly called rigorism, but I should rather name it negativism. To act morally is to do what one does not want to do. Of course, according to Kant the natural and sensuous will always aims at the satisfaction of its desires. Duty, however, commands unconditionally that we shall allow nothing but the law to determine our will. Even the virtuous man might really always prefer to follow his sensuous inclinations to luxury, ease, etc. But the "idea of the law," with its "thou shalt not" or "thou shalt" interposes. And so, practising the hard virtue of repression, he does what he does not want to do. Greek moral philosophy, on the other hand, with its sound theory of the will, regards virtue as a joyous, positive mode of action, as the attraction of the will by a noble and beautiful purpose. In "perfection of character" and "completion of will," the human being attains that which his deepest nature seeks. To be sure, Kant at bottom holds to this also; he defends himself against Schiller's reproach, he struggles with his own negativism, but vainly. For he held fast to the principle that a will is only good when it is determined solely by the "idea of the law," and that all material determinations are reducible to happiness. And, as a consequence, duty remains that which one does not want to do, and virtue abstinence from that which one really desires.

I refrain from showing how this fanaticism for "purity," or fixed formalism, is connected with the inability of Kant's moral philosophy to account for important facts of the moral life as they exist, as, e. g., the conflict of duties, a doubtful or erring conscience, the moral necessity of a white lie, etc. Kant made shift as one usually does in such cases: he denied the possibility of that which could not be derived from his theory, or did not agree with it, and in this way he was led to deny the reality of the most evident facts.

However, let this suffice for criticism. We propose now to consider Kant's philosophy from another and a more pleasing side.

IV. Kant's Moral Perceptions as based in his personality

The moral perceptions of a man are not the result of his moral theory, but arise from his personal character. The theory is an attempt at their explanation, and is also partially determined by other influence of all sorts. Thus, in Kant's case, his moral perceptions have their root in his personality, while their exposition in his moral philosophy is very greatly influenced and perverted by his epistemology. I shall attempt to give an account of these perceptions themselves. It is to them that the Kantian morality owes the influence which it has exercised, and still continues to exert.

Into Kant's moral personality, or personal character, two moments, as we have already intimated, entered as determining factors.17 He had a strong will, but not a vigorous or even an amiable nature. He had formed his character through his will, and was a self-made man in the moral sense. And it was his pride that his moral quality was not a natural endowment, but the work of his own will. From the Essay, On the Power of the Spirit to Control its Morbid Feelings by mere Resolution, which he added as the third essay to that collection of essays called The Controversy of the Faculties, we learn how he brought his weak body into subjection by means of discipline that was continued even until his old age. The universal principle of his Dietetics reads: "Dietetics must not tend towards luxurious ease, for indulgence of one's powers and feelings is coddling, and results in weakness." His inner life was regulated according to similar principles. In the same passage he reports how by discipline of his ideas and feelings he had gained the mastery over the tendency to hypochondria, and had attained peace and cheerfulness, though in earlier life it had rendered his life almost unbearable. This self-control "also enabled him to express himself deliberately and naturally in society, and not according to the mood of the moment." Thus from a character naturally weak and retiring he developed the bold self-sufficiency that lies in the blood of bolder and more self-assertive natures. In like manner, the active sympathy that he showed for those about him appears to have been grounded in the moral consciousness of duty rather than to spring from a warm heart. It seems not improbable that he was thinking of himself when speaking of a man "in whose heart nature has placed little sympathy, who is naturally cold and indifferent to the sufferings of others; perhaps, being endowed with great patience and endurance, he makes little of his own pains, and presupposes or even demands that every other person should do the same." When such a person does good to others merely from a sense of duty, and without any promptings of inclination, his act has a much higher value than if it were the result of a "kind-hearted disposition."18 At least, one gets the impression from his biography that he did not possess a heart that was naturally very sensitive to what happened to others. Thus his interest in his sisters and their families, for whom he did much, had not the directness and heartiness of a lovable nature. One might almost say that there was an excess of rationality about it. He puts a low estimate on enjoyment—it is only activity that is valuable and gives worth to man—and likewise condemns the soft, tender, "moving" feelings. Only the "vigorous" emotions (animus strenuus) find favor in his eyes. Stoic apathy, independence of things and mastery over them is his personal ideal. It is obvious how strong an influence this exercised upon his moral theory.

A second point where his ethics was in close touch with his personality is found in his democratic feeling for the people, which always made him sympathize with the common man against the social pretensions of the aristocracy. This feeling is not unconnected with his own descent. Rosseau, his favorite author, even at that time a famous writer, and much affected in the polite world, knew how to understand and sympathize with the artisans, peasants, and shepherds, with whom he had shared bed and board in his youth. And in the same way Kant always remained faithful in his moral feelings to the circle of humble people from whom he had sprung. He is not at all inclined to grant that the advantage which the rich and polite claim to have in culture and manners is a real advantage. Their advantage consists more in what they enjoy than in what they do. He does not even recognize any merit in their charities. "The ability to give to charity," he says, not without a certain harshness, "is usually the result of the advantage given to various men by the injustice of the government. This brings about an inequality of fortune that renders charity to others necessary. Under these circumstances does the help that the rich may vouchsafe to those suffering from want deserve the name of charity, which one is so ready to apply to it in priding one's self on it as a virtue?"19

Not to the rich and the noble do we owe thanks, but to the laboring and productive masses. He called them once "the people most worthy of respect,"20 who have borne the pains and cost of our culture, without enjoying the fruit that usually belong to endurance and self-denial, in order that the few might have freedom and abundance.

These sentiments show that Kant belongs to the great movement which took place about the middle of the century, in which sympathy for the life of the people burst through the aristocratic ideas of rank that had hitherto prevailed in society. He thus belongs to the group of great writers who not merely created a new literary epoch, but founded a new epoch in the life of the German people. It is the period when the people, the long unnoticed masses, and their spiritual life were again discovered. Möser, Hamann, Herder, Goethe, and Pestalozzi had a share in bringing it about. Goethe, for example, in a letter to Frau von Stein (Dec. 4, 1777) says: "How much that dark journey (to the Harz in winter) taught me in the way of love for those who are called the lower classes, but who certainly are the highest in God's estimation. There we find all the virtues united: limitation, contentment, straightforwardness, fidelity, joy in the most moderate fortune, innocence, patience, patience—endurance in the face of privation."

One can say at once that Kant's morality is that of humble folk, the morality that he had learned in his parents' home. Conscientious and faithful performance of moral demands without thought of reward, with hard work and often severe self-denial, was the mode of life and of thought in which he grew up. With this corresponded a mood, not gloomy but somewhat austere, that was only slightly modified by the consciousness that they were living as God had willed it, and by the hope of a better life beyond the grave, in which the powers and natural talents that here lie under the pressure of necessity, will have opened up to them a freer field for their activity. That is essentially the mode of life and the attitude towards it that Kant has before him as a moral philosopher. His morality is not that of the ruling classes, or not that of the artist or poet, but the plain morality of the common man. The morality of the ruling classes (Herrenmoral), of which one hears so much talk nowadays in Germany, is individualistic and egoistic. Its philosophy is to live the life of the impulses, giving them free vent without any thought of a law, and without reference to others, or even at the cost of others, of the herd of humanity who are produced wholesale by nature for the service and enjoyment of the ruling class. The "artistic" morality is equally individualistic and egoistic. It also claims for itself a special standard, a morality of its own, which leaves room for the free development of the natural talents, and the elevation of the imagination above the common things of every-day reality. As opposed to a morality of this kind that claims to be for distinguished persons, the morality that flourished at the court at Versailles and perhaps also at Potsdam, and again at every seat of a petty grand-seigneur in Prussia, where sophists and court philosophers retailed "enlightenment" in the form of egoistic eudæmonism,—in opposition to morality with exemptions for the privileged classes, Kant sets up his account of morality, the simple morality of the common people. It has no exemptions for the gods or demigods of this earth, but its laws possess strict universality. It did not address itself to "volunteers" of morality, but preached simple obedience; it knew nothing of meritorious conduct, but only of obligation. In opposition to the tendency of the upper classes to estimate the worth of life from its accidental filling, to make the social judgment of a man's importance the final standard of evaluation, he took as the foundation of his morality the principle: "It is not possible to think of anything anywhere in the world, or even outside it, that can be regarded as good without any limitation except only a good will." The will, however, is not good through what it achieves, but good in and for itself, because it is determined only through the feeling of duty, and not through inclination. Whether you rule states and win battles, whether you render humanity richer by miracles of art or science, whether with weary feet you tread the furrows as a ploughboy, or on the remotest outskirts of the city you make harness or patch shoes,—none of these things have any significance at all for your moral worth. For this standard it matters not what external fortune or natural gifts you may possess, but all depends upon the disposition and faithfulness with which you perform your duty. If you do not follow your own inclinations and moods, but obey the moral law within, you will rise to a plane of grandeur and dignity that will always remain far from those who follow after happiness, or guide their actions merely according to maxims of prudence. You belong then, whatever your place in this earthly existence, to the kingdom of freedom; you are a citizen of the intelligible world, citizen of the kingdom of God.

Kant here stands in close connection with the Christian view of life and attitude toward it. I do not mean with the worldly, courtier Christianity of fashionable people, of the cavalier type, who rejoice in duels, but with the original spirit of true Christianity. Its depreciation of the world and its pomps and glories, its indifference to all external distinctions of culture and education, the absolute value that it places upon the good will, the fidelity with which one serves God and his neighbor, its insistence on the equality of all men before God,—these are all characteristic of Kant's view of life. He stood quite outside Christianity in its ecclesiastical form, where under the protection of the state it forces on people its doctrines and creeds; but to the Christianity of the heart and the will, as it was and still is practised among the common people, his relation was close and intimate. Indeed, one may say that his morality is nothing but the translation of this Christianity from the religious language to the language of reflection: in place of God we have pure reason, instead of the ten commandments the moral law, and in place of heaven the intelligible world.

It is only when we take this standpoint, then, that we gain a real understanding of Kant's moral philosophy. But it seems to me that here lies also the secret of the influence that it has exerted. This has not been due to the form of conceptual construction that it employs, but to the perceptions upon which this construction is based. These moral views corresponded to the temper of the period, which in Germany enthusiastically honored Rousseau as the true pioneer and guide. The thoughts through which Kant expresses the strongest sentiments of his time are contained in propositions like these: "Every man is to be respected as an absolute end in himself, and it is a crime against the dignity that belongs to him as a human being to use him as a mere means for some external purpose" (think, e.g., of bond-service and traffic in soldiers), and: "In the moral world the worth and dignity of each man has nothing at all to do with his position in society." The truth of these ideas is limited to no particular period, and they possess a very real significance for our time that has perhaps grown somewhat insensible to their force.

Even the first point, the emphasis on the power of the will as opposed to natural disposition, has its permanent value. It is the fashion to say that Kant aroused the generation of the illumination who were sunken in weak and selfish sentimentalism. His doctrine of the categorical imperative is supposed to have tempered the race of freedom's warriors. I do not know whether or not the voice of a philosopher is able to accomplish so much. In that great conflict there were perhaps stronger influences at work than the feeling of duty. I do not know either whether the age of the illumination deserves all the hard names that have been provided for it by a later time. We can at any rate say that on the whole it was a time of unusually hearty and vigorous effort in the cause of truth and right, for freedom and education and all that makes for the progress of humanity, and also especially for the elevation of the backward and oppressed classes. The present age has scarcely cause to pride itself as contrasted with that generation. But there is no doubt that the appeal to the will to assert itself in the face of natural impulses has its justification and its necessity in every age. The fundamental form of all moral teaching is as follows: You do not really will when you are moved by the impulses of sense; your real self, your true will, is directed toward a higher goal. And your proper moral dignity rests upon the fact that you are ruler of nature, not merely of what is external to yourself, but of what is in you, and that you fashion your life according to your own volition. An animal is a natural product, and just for this reason it has no real moral value, however beautiful and admirable it may be. This highest and absolute value you can bestow on yourself, even if you have received little from nature or from society. You cannot attain happiness by the unaided efforts of your will; that depends also on the natural course of events. But something that is higher than happiness, you and you alone can gain for yourself, i.e., personal dignity, which includes worthiness to be happy. It is indeed possible that you may be unfortunate, but you can never be miserable: the consciousness of personal worth will provide you with strength to bear the hardships of fate.

In conclusion, I may add a word regarding the copingstone of the Kantian philosophy, the doctrine of the primacy of the practical reason. This also is closely connected with Kant's personal feelings. It is a protest against attaching too much importance to science, and estimating too highly its importance for life, as had been the fashion since the days of the revival of learning. For three hundred years the maxim of the Renaissance that education is the presupposition of morality, had been accepted. Then Rousseau entered his emphatic protest. This came closely home to Kant; he felt the truth to which the prevailing opinion had hitherto rendered him blind. And his entire system of philosophy became for him a means for the confirmation of this truth. The critical philosophy degrades scientific knowledge to a technical means of orientation in the world of phenomena. It follows, of course, that the possession of such a technique, however valuable it may be as a means for all purposes of culture, cannot decide regarding the personal worth of a man. So long as one believed that through science and philosophy it was possible to obtain absolute insight into the nature of things, and the being of God, these things appeared to have some part in constituting the dignity of man. Now Kant declares that knowledge of this kind is absolutely impossible, and in its place he set practical faith, which rests solely on the good will, not on knowledge and demonstration. And this faith is the only way of approach to the supersensible world, which through it stands open to all alike, to all, that is, of good will. Learning of the schools, theology, and metaphysics are of no advantage here.

This point also was doubtless of essential importance in helping the Kantian philosophy to find an entrance. Belief in metaphysics and dogmas was in process of vanishing, and natural theology was losing its credit. To many it seemed that science had perhaps spoken its last word in the Système de la nature. Then Kant brought faith back to a place of honor. Science can afford us no final philosophy. Its certainty always rests upon the faith that has its deepest roots in the will.

It is my deepest conviction that in this doctrine Kant teaches us definitive truth.


1Cf. especially the first preface to the Critique of Judgment (VII., pp. 377 ff.).

2Cf. the letter to Schütz, of Sept. 13, 1785.

3 IV., p. 239.

4Cf. IL, p. 307.

5 II., p. 319.

6 § 9.

7 Pölitz, Kants Vorlesungen über Metaphysik, p. 321: "Worthiness for happiness consists in the practical agreement of our actions with the idea of universal happiness. When we act in such a way that there would result, if every one acted in the same way, the greatest amount of happiness, then our conduct has rendered us worthy of happiness.—Good conduct is the condition of universal happiness."

8 I., pp. 9 ff.

9 Förster and Höffding (Archiv f. Gesch. der Philos., VII., p. 461, Vaihinger's Kantstudien, II., pp. 11 ff.) place this sketch, perhaps rightly, in the seventies. Reicke, from external evidence, is inclined to fix the date in the eighties. Even this does not appear to me impossible. It is only certain that it is to be placed before the Grundlegung.

10 I add a few more sentences: "Happiness is not really the greatest sum of enjoyment, but pleasure arising from the consciousness of one's own ability to be contented,—at least this is the essential and formal condition of happiness, though still other material conditions are necessary."—"Morality (as freedom under universal laws) renders happiness as such possible. Though it does not depend upon it as its purpose, it is the original form of happiness, which, when one possesses, one can dispense entirely with pleasures, and bear many evils of life without any loss of contentment,—indeed even with a heightening of it."—"Morality is the idea of freedom as a principle of happiness (a regulative principle of happiness a priori). Accordingly, the laws of freedom must contain a priori the formal conditions of our own happiness without any direct reference to it."—"Freedom is in itself a power independent of empirical grounds for acting or refraining to act.—I am free, but only from the compelling forces of sense, not also from the limiting laws of reason.—That 'freedom of indifference' by means of which I can will what is contrary to my will, and which allows me no certain ground for counting on myself, would necessarily be in the highest degree unsatisfactory to me. It is essential, then, to recognize as a priori necessary a law according to which freedom may be limited to conditions that render the will self-consistent. To this law I can bring no objection, for it alone can establish, according to principles, the practical unity of the will."

11 V., p. 123.

12 V., p. 116.

13 IV., p. 286.

14 § § 2, 3.

15 A detailed account of the controversy between teleological and formalistic moral philosophy is given in my System der Ethik (4th ed. 1896), I., pp. 201 ff., 314 ff. [English translation by F. Thilly, pp. 222 ff., 340 ff.].

16 IV., p. 284. Footnote.

17 p. 54.

18 IV., p. 246; V., p. 284.

19Tugendlehre, § 31; cf. Kr. d. r. V., Doctine of Method, p. 161.

20 Preface to the 2d edition of the Kritik der pract. Vernunft.

John Rawls (essay date 1980)

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SOURCE: "Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory," in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol. LXXVII, No. 9, September, 1980, pp. 515-72.

[In this essay, originally presented as three lectures at Columbia University in April, 1980, Rawls explores Kantian constructivism in moral theory (as illustrated by justice as fairness and adopted in A Theory of Justice, by which objectivity is established through "a suitably constructed social point of view."]

Rational and Full Autonomy

In these lectures I examine the notion of a constructivist moral conception, or, more exactly, since there are different kinds of constructivism, one Kantian variant of this notion. The variant I discuss is that of justice as fairness, which is presented in my book A Theory of Justice.1 I have two reasons for doing this: one is that it offers me the opportunity to consider certain aspects of the conception of justice as fairness which I have not previously emphasized and to set out more clearly the Kantian roots of that conception. The other reason is that the Kantian form of constructivism is much less well understood than other familiar traditional moral conceptions, such as utilitarianism, perfectionism, and intuitionism. I believe that this situation impedes the advance of moral theory. Therefore, it may prove useful simply to explain the distinctive features of Kantian constructivism, to say what it is, as illustrated by justice as fairness, without being concerned to defend it. To a degree that it is hard for me to estimate, my discussion assumes some acquaintance with A Theory of Justice, but I hope that, for the most part, a bare familiarity with its main intuitive ideas will suffice; and what these are I note as we proceed.

I would like to think that John Dewey, in whose honor these lectures are given, would find their topic hospitable to his concerns. We tend to think of him as the founder of a characteristically American and instrumental naturalism and, thus, to lose sight of the fact that Dewey started his philosophical life, as many did in the late nineteenth century, greatly influenced by Hegel; and his genius was to adapt much that is valuable in Hegel's idealism to a form of naturalism congenial to our culture. It was one of Hegel's aims to overcome the many dualisms which he thought disfigured Kant's transcendental idealism, and Dewey shared this emphasis throughout his work, often stressing the continuity between things that Kant had sharply separated. This theme is present particularly in Dewey's early writings, where the historical origins of his thought are more in evidence.2 In elaborating his moral theory along somewhat Hegelian lines, Dewey opposes Kant, sometimes quite explicitly, and often at the same places at which justice as fairness also departs from Kant. Thus there are a number of affinities between justice as fairness and Dewey's moral theory which are explained by the common aim of overcoming the dualisms in Kant's doctrine.


What distinguishes the Kantian form of constructivism is essentially this: it specifies a particular conception of the person as an element in a reasonable procedure of construction, the outcome of which determines the content of the first principles of justice. Expressed another way: this kind of view sets up a certain procedure of construction which answers to certain reasonable requirements, and within this procedure persons characterized as rational agents of construction specify, through their agreements, the first principles of justice. (I use 'reasonable' and 'rational' to express different notions throughout, notions which will be explained below, in section v, 528-530.) The leading idea is to establish a suitable connection between a particular conception of the person and first principles of justice, by means of a procedure of construction. In a Kantian view the conception of the person, the procedure, and the first principles must be related in a certain manner—which, of course, admits of a number of variations. Justice as fairness is not, plainly, Kant's view, strictly speaking; it departs from his text at many points. But the adjective 'Kantian' expresses analogy and not identity; it means roughly that a doctrine sufficiently resembles Kant's in enough fundamental respects so that it is far closer to his view than to the other traditional moral conceptions that are appropriate for use as benchmarks of comparison.

On the Kantian view that I shall present, conditions for justifying a conception of justice hold only when a basis is established for political reasoning and understanding within a public culture. The social role of a conception of justice is to enable all members of society to make mutually acceptable to one another their shared institutions and basic arrangements, by citing what are publicly recognized as sufficient reasons, as identified by that conception. To succeed in doing this, a conception must specify admissible social institutions and their possible arrangements into one system, so that they can be justified to all citizens, whatever their social position or more particular interests. Thus, whenever a sufficient basis for agreement among citizens is not presently known, or recognized, the task of justifying a conception of justice becomes: how can people settle on a conception of justice, to serve this social role, that is (most) reasonable for them in virtue of how they conceive of their persons and construe the general features of social cooperation among persons so regarded?

Pursuing this idea of justification, we take our examination of the Kantian conception of justice as addressed to an impasse in our recent political history; the course of democratic thought over the past two centuries, say, shows that there is no agreement on the way basic social institutions should be arranged if they are to conform to the freedom and equality of citizens as moral persons. The requisite understanding of freedom and equality, which is implicit in the public culture of a democratic society, and the most suitable way to balance the claims of these notions, have not been expressed so as to meet general approval. Now a Kantian conception of justice tries to dispel the conflict between the different understandings of freedom and equality by asking: which traditionally recognized principles of freedom and equality, or which natural variations thereof, would free and equal moral persons themselves agree upon, if they were fairly represented solely as such persons and thought of themselves as citizens living a complete life in an on-going society? Their agreement, assuming an agreement would be reached, is conjectured to single out the most appropriate principles of freedom and equality and, therefore, to specify the principles of justice.

An immediate consequence of taking our inquiry as focused on the apparent conflict between freedom and equality in a democratic society is that we are not trying to find a conception of justice suitable for all societies regardless of their particular social or historical circumstances. We want to settle a fundamental disagreement over the just form of basic institutions within a democratic society under modern conditions. We look to ourselves and to our future, and reflect upon our disputes since, let's say, the Declaration of Independence. How far the conclusions we reach are of interest in a wider context is a separate question.

Hence, we should like to achieve among ourselves a practicable and working understanding on first principles of justice. Our hope is that there is a common desire for agreement, as well as a sufficient sharing of certain underlying notions and implicitly held principles, so that the effort to reach an understanding has some foothold. The aim of political philosophy, when it presents itself in the public culture of a democratic society, is to articulate and to make explicit those shared notions and principles thought to be already latent in common sense; or, as is often the case, if common sense is hesitant and uncertain, and doesn't know what to think, to propose to it certain conceptions and principles congenial to its most essential convictions and historical traditions. To justify a Kantian conception within a democratic society is not merely to reason correctly from given premises, or even from publicly shared and mutually recognized premises. The real task is to discover and formulate the deeper bases of agreement which one hopes are embedded in common sense, or even to originate and fashion starting points for common understanding by expressing in a new form the convictions found in the historical tradition by connecting them with a wide range of people's considered convictions: those which stand up to critical reflection. Now, as I have said, a Kantian doctrine joins the content of justice with a certain conception of the person; and this conception regards persons as both free and equal, as capable of acting both reasonably and rationally, and therefore as capable of taking part in social cooperation among persons so conceived. In addressing the public culture of a democratic society, Kantian constructivism hopes to invoke a conception of the person implicitly affirmed in that culture, or else one that would prove acceptable to citizens once it was properly presented and explained.

I should emphasize that what I have called the "real task" of justifying a conception of justice is not primarily an epistemological problem. The search for reasonable grounds for reaching agreement rooted in our conception of ourselves and in our relation to society replaces the search for moral truth interpreted as fixed by a prior and independent order of objects and relations, whether natural or divine, an order apart and distinct from how we conceive of ourselves. The task is to articulate a public conception of justice that all can live with who regard their person and their relation to society in a certain way. And though doing this may involve settling theoretical difficulties, the practical social task is primary. What justifies a conception of justice is not its being true to an order antecedent to and given to us, but its congruence with our deeper understanding of ourselves and our aspirations, and our realization that, given our history and the traditions embedded in our public life, it is the most reasonable doctrine for us. We can find no better basic charter for our social world. Kantian constructivism holds that moral objectivity is to be understood in terms of a suitably constructed social point of view that all can accept. Apart from the procedure of constructing the principles of justice, there are no moral facts. Whether certain facts are to be recognized as reasons of right and justice, or how much they are to count, can be ascertained only from within the constructive procedure, that is, from the undertakings of rational agents of construction when suitably represented as free and equal moral persons. (The points noted in this paragraph will be discussed in more detail in the third lecture.)


These first remarks were introductory and intended merely to suggest the themes of my discussion. To proceed, let's specify more exactly the above-mentioned impasse in our political culture as follows, namely, as a conflict between two traditions of democratic thought, one associated with Locke, the other with Rousseau. Using the distinction drawn by Benjamin Constant between the liberties of the moderns and the liberties of the ancients, the tradition derived from Locke gives pride of place to the former, that is, to the liberties of civic life, especially freedom of thought and conscience, certain basic rights of the person, and of property and association; while the tradition descending from Rousseau assigns priority to the equal political liberties and values of public life, and views the civic liberties as subordinate. Of course, this contrast is in many respects artificial and historically inaccurate; yet it serves to fix ideas and enables us to see that a mere splitting of the difference between these two traditions (even if we should agree on a favored interpretation of each) would be unsatisfactory. Somehow we must find a suitable rendering of freedom and equality, and of their relative priority, rooted in the more fundamental notions of our political life and congenial to our conception of the person.

But how are we to achieve this? Justice as fairness tries to uncover the fundamental ideas (latent in common sense) of freedom and equality, of ideal social cooperation and of the person, by formulating what I shall call "model-conceptions." We then reason within the framework of these conceptions, which need be defined only sharply enough to yield an acceptable public understanding of freedom and equality. Whether the doctrine that eventually results fulfills its purpose is then decided by how it works out: once stated, it must articulate a suitable conception of ourselves and of our relation to society, and connect this conception with workable first principles of justice, so that, after due consideration, we can acknowledge the doctrine proposed.

Now the two basic model-conceptions of justice as fairness are those of a well-ordered society and of a moral person. Their general purpose is to single out the essential aspects of our conception of ourselves as moral persons and of our relation to society as free and equal citizens. They depict certain general features of what a society would look like if its members publicly viewed themselves and their social ties with one another in a certain way. The original position is a third and mediating model-conception: its role is to establish the connection between the model-conception of a moral person and the principles of justice that characterize the relations of citizens in the model-conception of a well-ordered society. It serves this role by modeling the way in which the citizens in a well-ordered society, viewed as moral persons, would ideally select first principles of justice for their society. The constraints imposed on the parties in the original position, and the manner in which the parties are described, are to represent the freedom and equality of moral persons as understood in such a society. If certain principles of justice would indeed be agreed to (or if they would belong to a certain restricted family of principles), then the aim of Kantian constructivism to connect definite principles with a particular conception of the person is achieved.

For the present, however, I am concerned with the parties in the original position only as rationally autonomous agents of construction who (as such agents) represent the aspect of rationality, which is part of the conception of a moral person affirmed by citizens in a well-ordered society. The rational autonomy of the parties in the original position contrasts with the full autonomy of citizens in society. Thus rational autonomy is that of the parties as agents of construction: it is a relatively narrow notion, and roughly parallels Kant's notion of hypothetical imperatives (or the notion of rationality found in neo-classical economics); full autonomy is that of citizens in everyday life who think of themselves in a certain way and affirm and act from the first principles of justice that would be agreed to. In section v, I shall discuss the constraints imposed on the parties which enable the original position to represent the essential elements of full autonomy.

Let us briefly recall the features of a well-ordered society most relevant here.3 First, such a society is effectively regulated by a public conception of justice; that is, it is a society in which every one accepts, and knows that others likewise accept, the same first principles of right and justice. It is also the case that the basic structure of society, the arrangement of its main institutions into one social scheme, actually satisfies, and is believed by all on good grounds to satisfy, these principles. Finally, the public principles of justice are themselves founded on reasonable beliefs as established by the society's generally accepted methods of inquiry; and the same is true of the application of these principles to judge social institutions.

Second, the members of a well-ordered society are, and view themselves and one another in their political and social relations (so far as these are relevant to questions of justice) as, free and equal moral persons. Here there are three distinct notions, specified independently: freedom, equality, and moral (as applied to) person. The members of a well-ordered society are moral persons in that, once they have reached the age of reason, each has, and views the others as having, an effective sense of justice, as well as an understanding of a conception of their good. Citizens are equal in that they regard one another as having an equal right to determine, and to assess upon due reflection, the first principles of justice by which the basic structure of their society is to be governed. Finally, the members of a well-ordered society are free in that they think they are entitled to make claims on the design of their common institutions in the name of their own fundamental aims and highest-order interests. At the same time, as free persons, they think of themselves not as inevitably tied to the pursuit of the particular final ends they have at any given time, but rather as capable of revising and changing these ends on reasonable and rational grounds.

There are other features of a well-ordered society, such as its stability with respect to its sense of justice, its existing under the circumstances of justice, and so on. But these matters can be left aside. The essential thing is that, when we formulate the model-conception of the original position, we must view the parties as selecting principles of justice which are to serve as effective public principles of justice in a well-ordered society, and hence for social cooperation among persons who conceive of themselves as free and equal moral persons. Although this description of a well-ordered society is formal, in that its elements taken alone do not imply a specific content for the principles of justice, the description does impose various conditions on how the original position can be set up. In particular, the conception of moral persons as free and equal, and the distinction between rational and full autonomy, must be appropriately reflected in its description. Otherwise the original position cannot fulfill its mediating role to connect a certain conception of the person with definite first principles by means of a procedure in which the parties, as rationally autonomous agents of construction, adopt principles of justice, the public affirmation of which by citizens of a well-ordered society in every-day life enables them to be fully autonomous.


Let us descend from these abstractions, at least a bit, and turn to a summary account of the original position. As I have said, justice as fairness begins from the idea that the most appropriate conception of justice for the basic structure of a democratic society is one that its citizens would adopt in a situation that is fair between them and in which they are represented solely as free and equal moral persons. This situation is the original position: we conjecture that the fairness of the circumstances under which agreement is reached transfers to the principles of justice agreed to; since the original position situates free and equal moral persons fairly with respect to one another, any conception of justice they adopt is likewise fair. Thus the name: 'justice as fairness'.

In order to ensure that the original position is fair between individuals regarded solely as free and equal moral persons, we require that, when adopting principles for the basic structure, the parties be deprived of certain information; that is, they are behind what I shall call a "veil of ignorance." For example, they do not know their place in society, their class position, or social status, nor do they know their fortune in the distribution of natural talents and abilities. It is assumed also that they do not know their conception of the good, that is, their particular final ends; nor finally, their own distinctive psychological dispositions and propensities, and the like. Excluding this information is required if no one is to be advantaged or disadvantaged by natural contingencies or social chance in the adoption of principles. Otherwise the parties would have disparate bargaining advantages that would affect the agreement reached. The original position would represent the parties not solely as free and equal moral persons, but instead as persons also affected by social fortune and natural accident. Thus, these and other limitations on information are necessary to establish fairness between the parties as free and equal moral persons and, therefore, to guarantee that it is as such persons that they agree to society's basic principles of justice.

Now the original position, as described, incorporates pure procedural justice at the highest level. This means that whatever principles the parties select from the list of alternative conceptions presented to them are just. Put another way, the outcome of the original position defines, let us say, the appropriate principles of justice. This contrasts with perfect procedural justice, where there is an independent and already given criterion of what is just (or fair) and where a procedure exists to ensure a result that satisfies this standard. This is illustrated by the familiar example of dividing a cake: if equal division is taken as fair, then we simply require the person who cuts it to have the last piece. (I forego the assumptions necessary to make the example airtight.) The essential feature of pure procedural justice, as opposed to perfect procedural justice, is that there exists no independent criterion of justice; what is just is defined by the outcome of the procedure itself.

One reason for describing the original position as incorporating pure procedural justice is that it enables us to explain how the parties, as the rational agents of construction, are also autonomous (as such agents). For the use of pure procedural justice implies that the principles of justice themselves are to be constructed by a process of deliberation, a process visualized as being carried out by the parties in the original position. The appropriate weight of considerations for and against various principles is given by the force of these considerations for the parties, and the force of all reasons on balance is expressed by the agreement made. Pure procedural justice in the original position allows that in their deliberations the parties are not required to apply, nor are they bound by, any antecedently given principles of right and justice. Or, put another way, there exists no standpoint external to the parties' own perspective from which they are constrained by prior and independent principles in questions of justice that arise among them as members of one society.

I call your attention to the following: I have said above that there is no standpoint external to the parties' own perspective from which they are bound in questions of justice that arise between them. Here the phrase 'between them' is significant. It signals the fact that I am leaving aside two important matters: questions of justice between societies (the law of nations), and our relations to the order of nature and to other living things. Both these questions are of first importance and immensely difficult; except in a few special cases, no attempt was made in A Theory of Justice to discuss these questions.4 I shall simply proceed on the idea that we may reasonably begin with the basic structure of one society as a closed and self-sufficient system of cooperation. Should we find a suitable conception for this case, we can then work both inward to principles for associations and practices, and outward to the law of nations and order of nature itself. How far this can be done, and to what extent the conception of justice for the basic structure will have to be revised in the process, cannot be foreseen in advance. Here I merely wish to register these limitations of my discussion.

So far the autonomy of the parties is expressed by their being at liberty to agree to any conception of justice available to them as prompted by their rational assessment of which alternative is most likely to advance their interests. In their deliberations they are not required to apply, or to be guided by, any principles of right and justice, but are to decide as principles of rationality dictate, given their situation. But the propriety of the term 'autonomy' as applied to the parties also depends on what their interests are and on the nature of constraints to which they are subject. So let's review these matters.


Recall that the parties are to adopt principles to serve as the effective public conception of justice for a well-ordered society. Now the citizens of such a society regard themselves as moral persons and as having a conception of the good (an ordered scheme of final ends) for the sake of which they think it proper to make claims on the design of their common institutions. So in the original position we may describe the parties either as the representatives (or trustees) of persons with certain interests or as themselves moved by these interests. It makes no difference either way, although the latter is simpler and I shall usually speak in this vein.

To continue: we take moral persons to be characterized by two moral powers and by two corresponding highest-order interests in realizing and exercising these powers. The first power is the capacity for an effective sense of justice, that is, the capacity to understand, to apply and to act from (and not merely in accordance with) the principles of justice. The second moral power is the capacity to form, to revise, and rationally to pursue a conception of the good. Corresponding to the moral powers, moral persons are said to be moved by two highest-order interests to realize and exercise these powers. By calling these interests "highest-order" interests, I mean that, as the model-conception of a moral person is specified, these interests are supremely regulative as well as effective. This implies that, whenever circumstances are relevant to their fulfillment, these interests govern deliberation and conduct. Since the parties represent moral persons, they are likewise moved by these interests to secure the development and exercise of the moral powers.

In addition, I assume that the parties represent developed moral persons, that is, persons who have, at any given time, a determinate scheme of final ends, a particular conception of the good. Thus the model-conception defines moral persons as also determinate persons, although from the standpoint of the original position, the parties do not know the content of their conception of the good: its final ends. This conception yields a third interest that moves the parties: a higher-order interest in protecting and advancing their conception of the good as best they can, whatever it may be. The reason this is but a higher-order and not a highest-order interest is that, as we shall see later, it is in essential respects subordinate to the highest-order interests.

Now in view of these three regulative interests, the veil of ignorance poses a problem: how are we to set up the original position so that the parties, as representatives of persons with these interests, can make a rational agreement? It is at this point that the account of primary goods is introduced: by stipulating that the parties evaluate conceptions of justice by a preference for these goods, we endow them, as agents of construction, with sufficiently specific desires so that their rational deliberations reach a definite result. We look for social background conditions and general all-purpose means normally necessary for developing and exercising the two moral powers and for effectively pursuing a conception of the good. Thus a very brief explanation of the parties' preference for the primary goods enumerated in A Theory of Justice is this:5

  • The basic liberties (freedom of thought and liberty of conscience, etc.) are the background institutions necessary for the development and exercise of the capacity to decide upon and revise, and rationally to pursue, a conception of the good. Similarly, these liberties allow for the development and exercise of the sense of right and justice under social conditions that are free.
  • Freedom of movement and free choice of occupation against a background of diverse opportunities are required for the pursuit of final ends, as well as to give effect to a decision to revise and change them, if one so desires.
  • Powers and prerogatives of offices and positions of responsibility are needed to give scope to various self-governing and social capacities of the self.
  • Income and wealth, understood broadly as they must be, are all-purpose means (having an exchange value) for achieving directly or indirectly almost any of our ends, whatever they happen to be.
  • The social bases of self-respect are those aspects of basic institutions which are normally essential if individuals are to have a lively sense of their own worth as moral persons and to be able to realize their higher-order interests and advance their ends with zest and self-confidence.

Granted the correctness of these observations, the parties' preference for primary goods is rational. (I shall assume that in this context our intuitive notion of rationality suffices for our purposes here, and so I shan't discuss it until the next section.)

There are many points about primary goods which need to be examined. Here I mention only the leading idea, namely, that primary goods are singled out by asking which things are generally necessary as social conditions and all-purpose means to enable human beings to realize and exercise their moral powers and to pursue their final ends (assumed to lie within certain limits). Here we must look to social requirements and the normal circumstances of human life in a democratic society. Now note that the conception of moral persons as having certain specified highest-order interests selects what is to count as primary goods within the framework of the model-conceptions. Thus these goods are not to be understood as general means essential for achieving whatever final ends a comprehensive empirical or historical survey might show people usually or normally to have in common under all social conditions. There may be few if any such ends; and those there are may not serve the purpose of constructing a conception of justice reasonable for us. The list of primary goods does not rest on that kind of general fact, although it does rely on general social facts, once the conception of the person and its highest-order interests are fixed. (Here I should comment that, by making the account of primary goods rest upon a particular conception of the person, I am revising the suggestions in A Theory of Justice, since there it can seem as if the list of primary goods is regarded as the outcome of a purely psychological, statistical, or historical inquiry.)6

What bearing do these remarks about primary goods have on our original question about rational autonomy? We observed that this autonomy surely depends in part upon the interests that move the parties and not solely on their being bound by no prior and independent principles of right. Were the parties moved solely by lower-order impulses, say for food and drink, or by certain particular affections for this or that group of persons, association, or community, we might think of them as heteronomous and not as autonomous. But at the basis of the desire for primary goods are the highest-order interests of moral personality and the need to secure one's conception of the good (whatever it is). Thus the parties are simply trying to guarantee and to advance the requisite conditions for exercising the powers that characterize them as moral persons. Certainly this motivation is neither heteronomous nor self-centered: we expect and indeed want people to care about their liberties and opportunities in order to realize these powers, and we think they show a lack of self-respect and weakness of character in not doing so. Thus the assumption that the parties are mutually disinterested and, hence, concerned to ensure their own highest-order interests (or those of the persons they represent) should not be confused with egoism.

In conclusion, then, the parties as rational agents of construction are described in the original position as autonomous in two respects: first, in their deliberations they are not required to apply, or to be guided by, any prior and antecedent principles of right and justice. This is expressed by the use of pure procedural justice. Second, they are said to be moved solely by the highest-order interests in their moral powers and by their concern to advance their determinate but unknown final ends. The account of primary goods and its derivation convey this side of autonomy. Given the veil of ignorance, the parties can be prompted only by these highest-order interests, which they must, in turn, render specific by the preference for primary goods.


So much for the notion of rational autonomy of the parties as agents of construction. I now turn to the notion of full autonomy; although this notion is realized only by the citizens of a well-ordered society in the course of their daily lives, the essential features of it must nevertheless be represented in a suitable manner in the original position. For it is by affirming the first principles that would be adopted in this situation and by publicly recognizing the way in which they would be agreed to, as well as by acting from these principles as their sense of justice dictates, that citizens' full autonomy is achieved. We must ask, then, how the original position incorporates the requisite elements of full autonomy.

Now these elements are not expressed by how the parties' deliberations and motivation are described. The parties are merely artificial agents, and are presented not as fully but only as rationally autonomous. To explain full autonomy, let us note two elements of any notion of social cooperation. The first is a conception of the fair terms of cooperation, that is, terms each participant may reasonably be expected to accept, provided that everyone else likewise accepts them. Fair terms of cooperation articulate an idea of reciprocity and mutuality: all who cooperate must benefit, or share in common burdens, in some appropriate fashion as judged by a suitable benchmark of comparison. This element in social cooperation I call the Reasonable. The other element corresponds to the Rational: it expresses a conception of each participant's rational advantage, what, as individuals, they are trying to advance. As we have seen, the rational is interpreted by the original position in reference to the desire of persons to realize and to exercise their moral powers and to secure the advancement of their conception of the good. Given a specification of the parties' highest-order interests, they are rational in their deliberations to the extent that sensible principles of rational choice guide their decisions. Familiar examples of such principles are: the adoption of effective means to ends; the balancing of final ends by their significance for our plan of life as a whole and by the extent to which these ends cohere with and support each other; and finally, the assigning of a greater weight to the more likely consequences; and so on. Although there seems to be no one best interpretation of rationality, the difficulties in explaining Kantian constructivism do not lie here. Thus I ignore these matters, and focus on the more obscure notion of the Reasonable and how it is represented in the original position.

This representing is done essentially by the nature of the constraints within which the parties' deliberations take place and which define their circumstances with respect to one another. The Reasonable is incorporated into the background setup of the original position which frames the discussions of the parties and situates them symmetrically. More specifically, in addition to various familiar formal conditions on first principles, such as generality and universality, ordering and finality, the parties are required to adopt a public conception of justice and must assess its first principles with this condition in mind. (I shall say more about the publicity condition in the next lecture.)

Again, the veil of ignorance implies that persons are represented solely as moral persons and not as persons advantaged or disadvantaged by the contingencies of their social position, the distribution of natural abilities, or by luck and historical accident over the course of their lives. As a result they are situated equally as moral persons, and in this sense fairly. Here I appeal to the idea that, in establishing the truly basic terms of social cooperation, the possession of the minimum adequate powers of moral personality (the powers that equip us to be normally cooperating members of society over a complete life) is the sole relevant characteristic. This presumption, plus the precept that equals in all relevant respects are to be represented equally, ensures that the original position is fair.

The last constraint I shall mention here is this: the stipulation that the first subject of justice is the basic structure of society, that is, the main social institutions and how they cohere together into one system, supports situating the parties equally and restricting their information by the veil of ignorance. For this stipulation requires the parties to assess alternative conceptions as providing first principles of what we may call background justice: it is only if the basic structure satisfies the requirements of background justice that a society treats its members as equal moral persons. Otherwise, its fundamental regulative arrangements do not answer to principles its citizens would adopt when fairly represented solely as such persons.

Let us pull together these remarks as follows: the Reasonable presupposes and subordinates the Rational. It defines the fair terms of cooperation acceptable to all within some group of separately identifiable persons, each of whom possesses and can exercise the two moral powers. All have a conception of their good which defines their rational advantage, and everyone has a normally effective sense of justice: a capacity to honor the fair terms of cooperation. The Reasonable presupposes the Rational, because, without conceptions of the good that move members of the group, there is no point to social cooperation nor to notions of right and justice, even though such cooperation realizes values that go beyond what conceptions of the good specify taken alone. The Reasonable subordinates the Rational because its principles limit, and in a Kantian doctrine limit absolutely, the final ends that can be pursued.

Thus, in the original position we view the Reasonable as expressed by the framework of constraints within which the deliberations of the parties (as rationally autonomous agents of construction) take place. Representative of these constraints are the condition of publicity, the veil of ignorance and the symmetry of the parties' situation with respect to one another, and the stipulation that the basic structure is the first subject of justice. Familiar principles of justice are examples of reasonable principles, and familiar principles of rational choice are examples of rational principles. The way the Reasonable is represented in the original position leads to the two principles of justice. These principles are constructed by justice as fairness as the content of the Reasonable for the basic structure of a well-ordered society.


This concludes my account of the distinction between Rational and Full Autonomy and explains how these notions are expressed in the original position. In certain respects, however, the contrast between the Reasonable and the Rational, as drawn in the last two paragraphs, is too stark and may give a misleading impression of how these notions are to be understood. By way of clarification, I consider an objection which parallels the criticism Schopenhauer made against Kant's doctrine of the Categorical Imperative.7 You will recall that Schopenhauer maintained that, in arguing for the duty of mutual aid in situations of distress (the fourth example in the Grundlegung), Kant appeals to what rational agents, as finite beings with needs, can consistently will to be universal law. In view of our need for love and sympathy, on at least some occasions, we cannot will a social world in which others are always indifferent to our pleas in such cases. From this Schopenhauer claimed that Kant's view is at bottom egoistic, from which it follows that it is but a disguised form of heteronomy after all.

Here I am concerned not to defend Kant against this criticism but to point out why the parallel objection to justice as fairness is incorrect. To this end, observe that there are, offhand, two things that prompt Schopenhauer's objection. First, he believes that Kant asks us to test maxims in the light of their general consequences for our natural inclinations and needs, when these maxims are made universal laws, and that these inclinations and needs are viewed egoistically. Second, the rules that define the procedure for testing maxims Schopenhauer interprets as external constraints, imposed so to speak from the outside by the limitations of our situation, which we should like to surmount, and not derived from the essential features of ourselves as moral persons. These two considerations lead Schopenhauer to say that the categorical imperative is a principle of reciprocity which egoism cunningly accepts as a compromise; as such a principle, it may be appropriate for a confederation of nation states but not as a moral principle.

Now consider the parallel criticism of justice as fairness in regard to these two points. Concerning the first, though it is indeed true that the parties in the original position are mutually disinterested and evaluate principles of justice in terms of primary goods, they are moved in the first instance by their highest-order interests in developing and exercising their moral powers; and the list of primary goods, and the index of these goods, is to be explained so far as possible by reference to these interests. Since these interests may be taken to specify their needs as moral persons, the parties' aims are not egoistic, but entirely fitting and proper. It accords with the conception of free personality held in a democratic society that citizens should secure the conditions for realizing and exercising their moral powers, as well as the social bases and means of their self-respect. This contrasts with Schopenhauer's presumption that in Kant's doctrine maxims are tested by their consequences for the fulfillment of the agent's natural inclinations and needs.

Turning to the second point, what I have called "the constraints imposed on the parties in the original position" are indeed external to the parties as rational agents of construction. Nevertheless, these constraints express the Reasonable and, therefore, the formal conditions implicit in the moral powers of the members of a well-ordered society, whom the parties represent. This contrasts with Schopenhauer's second presumption that the constraints of the categorical imperative derive from the limitations of our finite nature, which, prompted by our natural inclinations, we should like to overcome. In justice as fairness, the Reasonable frames the Rational and is derived from a conception of moral persons as free and equal. Once this is understood, the constraints of the original position are no longer external. Thus neither basis for Schopenhauer's objection applies.

Finally, the way in which the Reasonable frames the Rational in the original position represents a feature of the unity of practical reason. In Kant's terms, empirical practical reason is represented by the rational deliberations of the parties; pure practical reason is represented by the constraints within which these deliberations take place. The unity of practical reason is expressed by defining the Reasonable to frame the Rational and to subordinate it absolutely; that is, the principles of justice that are agreed to are lexically prior in their application in a well-ordered society to claims of the good. This means, among other things, that the principles of justice and the rights and liberties they define cannot, in such a society, be overridden by considerations of efficiency and a greater net balance of social well-being. This illustrates one feature of the unity of reason: the Reasonable and the Rational are unified within one scheme of practical reasoning which establishes the strict priority of the Reasonable with respect to the Rational. This priority of the right over the good is characteristic of Kantian constructivism.

Now in a well-ordered society we stipulate that the justification of the principles of justice as the outcome of the original position is publicly understood. So not only do citizens have a highest-order desire, their sense of justice, to act from the principles of justice, but they understand these principles as issuing from a construction in which their conception of themselves as free and equal moral persons who are both reasonable and rational is adequately represented. By acting from these principles, and affirming them in public life, as so derived, they express their full autonomy. The rational autonomy of the parties is merely that of artificial agents who inhabit a construction designed to model this more inclusive conception. It is the inclusive conception which expresses the ideal to be realized in our social world.

It is natural to reply that, all the same, fully autonomous citizens in a well-ordered society act from some desire, and so are still heteronomous, since they are not moved by reason alone.8 To this the answer is that a Kantian view does not deny that we act from some desire. What is of moment is the kinds of desires from which we act and how they are ordered; that is, how these desires originate within and are related to the self, and the way their structure and priority are determined by principles of justice connected with the conception of the person we affirm. The mediating conception of the original position enables us to connect certain definite principles of justice with a certain conception of free and equal moral persons. Given this connection, an effective sense of justice, the desire to act from the principles of justice, is not a desire on the same footing with natural inclinations; it is an executive and regulative highest-order desire to act from certain principles of justice in view of their connection with a conception of the person as free and equal. And that desire is not heteronomous: for whether a desire is heteronomous is settled by its mode of origin and role within the self and by what it is a desire for. In this case the desire is to be a certain kind of person specified by the conception of fully autonomous citizens of a well-ordered society.


I conclude with a few observations which may help to keep in focus the discussion so far. First, it is important to distingush three points of view: that of the parties in the original position, that of citizens in a well-ordered society, and finally, that of ourselves—you and me who are examining justice as fairness as a basis for a conception of justice that may yield a suitable understanding of freedom and equality.

The first two points of view occur within the doctrine of justice as parts of two of its model-conceptions. Whereas the conceptions of a well-ordered society and of moral persons are fundamental, the original position is the mediating conception once we stipulate that the parties as rational agents of construction are subject to reasonable constraints and are to view themselves as adopting principles to serve as the public conception of justice for a well-ordered society. The intent of justice as fairness is badly misunderstood if the deliberations of the parties and their rational autonomy are confused with full autonomy. Full autonomy is a moral ideal and part of the more comprehensive ideal of a well-ordered society. Rational autonomy is not, as such, an ideal at all, but a device of representation used to connect the conception of the person with definite principles of justice. (Of course, this is not to deny that rational deliberation, suitably circumscribed, is an aspect of the ideal of full autonomy.)

The third point of view—that of you and me—is that from which justice as fairness, and indeed any other doctrine, is to be assessed. Here the test is that of general and wide reflective equilibrium, that is, how well the view as a whole meshes with and articulates our more firm considered convictions, at all levels of generality, after due examination, once all adjustments and revisions that seem compelling have been made. A doctrine that meets this criterion is the doctrine that, so far as we can now ascertain, is the most reasonable for us.

A final observation: it is also useful to distinguish between the roles of a conception of the of person and of a theory of human nature.9 In justice as fairness these ideas are distinct elements and enter at different places. For one thing, the conception of the person is a companion moral ideal paired with that of a well-ordered society. Like any other ideal, it must be possible for people to honor it sufficiently closely; and hence the feasible ideals of the person are limited by the capacities of human nature and the requirements of social life. To this extent such an ideal presupposes a theory of human nature, and social theory generally, but the task of a moral doctrine is to specify an appropriate conception of the person that general facts about human nature and society allow. Starting from the assumption that full autonomy is a feasible ideal for political life, we represent its various aspects in the original position under the headings of the Reasonable and the Rational. Thus this ideal is mirrored in how this position is set up.

A theory of human nature, by contrast, appears in the general facts available to the parties for them to use in assessing the consequences of the various principles of justice and so in deciding which principles are best able to secure their highest-order interests and to lead to a well-ordered society that is stable with respect to its public conception of justice. When we formulate justice as fairness from the third point of view, we supply the parties with the requisite general facts that we take to be true, or true enough, given the state of public knowledge in our society. The agreement of the parties is relative, then, to these beliefs. There is no other way to proceed, since we must start from where we are. But, leaving this aside, the point is that a theory of human nature is not part of the framework of the original position, except as such theories limit the feasibility of the ideals of person and society embedded in that framework. Rather, a theory of human nature is an element to be filled in, depending upon the general facts about human beings and the workings of society which we allow to the parties in their deliberations.

In this lecture I have focused on the distinction between rational and full autonomy and have said very little about the notions of the freedom and equality of persons, and even less about how these notions are represented in the original position. These matters I consider in the next lecture.

Representation of Freedom and Equality

In the last lecture, I focused largely on the distinction between rational and full autonomy. Rational autonomy is expressed in the deliberations of the parties as artificial agents of construction within the original position. Full autonomy is the more comprehensive notion and expresses an ideal of the person affirmed by the citizens of a well-ordered society in their social life. But although I described the parties as representatives of free and equal moral persons, I indicated only briefly what freedom and equality mean and how these features of the person are represented in the original position. Nor did I say very much about the formal condition of publicity, which is a distinctive element of a Kantian view. Exploring these matters will help to fill in the account of the original position and show how justice as fairness is an illustration of Kantian constructivism in moral theory.


I shall begin with some further remarks about the model-conception of a well-ordered society. You will recall that I said last time that there are various forms of constructivism. A number of views not usually thought of as constructivist can be presented in this way.10 This suggests that the three model-con-ceptions of justice as fairness—those of a well-ordered society, the conception of the person, and the original position—are all special renderings of more general notions. What characterizes a Kantian doctrine is the particular way in which it interprets these three model-conceptions; especially characteristic, of course, is its conception of the person as reasonable and rational, and fully autonomous. I shall not examine here what these more general model-notions are or how they might be defined; I mention these questions only to remind us that the model-conceptions I discuss are special cases that define a particular moral doctrine.

To continue: recall that a well-ordered society is conceived as an on-going society, a self-sufficient association of human beings which, like a nation-state, controls a connected territory. Its members view their common polity as extending backward and forward in time over generations, and they strive to reproduce themselves, and their cultural and social life in perpetuity, practically speaking; that is, they would envisage any final date at which they were to wind up their affairs as inadmissible and foreign to their conception of their association. Finally, a well-ordered society is a closed system; there are no significant relations to other societies, and no one enters from without, for all are born into it to lead a complete life.

Next, we assume that, as an on-going society, the scheme of social and economic activities set up and framed by the basic structure is productive and fruitfill. This implies, for example, that a well-ordered society does not have a manna economy, nor are its economic arrangements a zero-sum game in which none can gain unless others lose. Yet it does exist under circumstances of justice, of which there are two kinds: first, the objective circumstances of moderate scarcity; and, second, the subjective circumstances, namely, that persons and associations have contrary conceptions of the good as well as of how to realize them, and these differences set them at odds, and lead them to make conflicting claims on their institutions. They hold opposing religious and philosophical beliefs, and affirm not only diverse moral and political doctrines, but also conflicting ways of evaluating arguments and evidence when they try to reconcile these oppositions. In view of the circumstances of justice, the members of a well-ordered society are not indifferent to how the fruits of their social cooperation are distributed, and, for their society to be stable, the distribution that results and is expected in the future must be seen to be (sufficiently) just.

Thus, as we noted last time, the stability of a well-ordered society is not founded merely on a perceived balance of social forces the upshot of which all accept since none can do better for themselves. To the contrary, citizens affirm their existing institutions in part because they reasonably believe them to satisfy their public and effective conception of justice. Now the notion of publicity has three levels, which may be distinguished as follows:11

The first was mentioned last time: it means that society is effectively regulated by public principles of justice; that is, everyone accepts and knows that the others likewise accept the same principles, and this knowledge in turn is publicly recognized. Also, the institutions that constitute the basic structure of society actually satisfy these principles of justice, and everyone with reason acknowledges this on the basis of commonly shared beliefs confirmed by methods of inquiry and ways of reasoning agreed to be appropriate for questions of social justice.

The second level of publicity concerns the general beliefs in the light of which first principles of justice themselves can be accepted, that is, the theory of human nature and of social institutions generally. Citizens in a well-ordered society roughly agree on these beliefs because they can be supported (as at the first level) by publicly shared methods of inquiry and ways of reasoning thought to be appropriate for this case. These methods and ways of reasoning I assume to be familiar from common sense and to include the procedures and conclusions of science, when these are well established and not controversial. Keep in mind that we aim to find a conception of justice for a democratic society under modern conditions; so we may properly assume that in its public culture the methods and conclusions of science play an influential role. It is precisely these general beliefs, which reflect the current public views in a well-ordered society, that we allow to the parties in the original position for the purpose of assessing alternative principles of justice.

The third and last level of publicity has to do with the complete justification of the public conception of justice as it would be presented in its own terms. This justification includes everything that we would say—you and me—when we set up justice as fairness, and reflect why we do this one way rather than another. At the third level I suppose this full justification also to be publicly known or, better, at least publicly available; this weaker condition allows for the possibility that some will not want to carry moral reflection so far, and certainly they are not required to do so. But if they wish to, the justification is present in public culture, reflected in law and political institutions, and in the philosophical and historical traditions of their interpretation. More specifically, the full justification includes connecting the moral doctrine's model-conceptions with the society's particular conception of the person and of social co-operation. This conception is shown in how citizens think of themselves as members of a democratic polity when they examine the doctrine as a whole and find after due reflection that it matches their considered judgments at all levels of generality.

A well-ordered society satisfies what I shall call the full publicity condition when all three levels are exemplified. (I reserve the adjective 'full' for the elements of the complete and full rendering of the conception of a well-ordered society.) Now this full condition may seem excessively strong; so let's ask why it is adopted. One reason is that the model-conception of a well-ordered society is to incorporate various formal moral notions into an ideal of social cooperation between persons regarded in a certain way. This ideal is to hold for free and equal moral persons, and views social cooperation not simply as productive and socially coordinated activity, but as fulfilling a notion of fair terms of cooperation and of mutual advantage, as expressed by the distinction between the Reasonable and the Rational. So we should like to find a conception of justice that answers to the full condition; it seems bound to define more specific constraints on conceptions of justice and, hence, is more likely to provide a sharper basis for deciding among conflicting understandings of freedom and equality and for determining how their claims are to be balanced against one another. Recall that this conflict of understandings sets the present practical task of political philosophy.

Another reason for the full publicity condition (and indeed for any of its levels) is that is seems particularly appropriate for a conception of political and social justice. No doubt, publicity is less compelling for other moral notions. But the principles of justice apply to the political constitution and the basic institutions of society, which normally include, even under favorable conditions, some machinery of legal coercion, if only to guarantee the stability of social cooperation.12 Moreover, these institutions can have decisive long-term social effects and importantly shape the character and aims of the members of society, the kinds of persons they are and want to be. It seems fitting, then, that the fundamental terms of social cooperation between free and equal moral persons should answer to the requirements of full publicity. For if institutions rely on coercive sanctions, however seldom necessary and however scrupulously applied, and influence people's deepest aspirations, the grounds and tendency of these institutions should stand up to public scrutiny. When political principles satisfy the full publicity condition, and social arrangements and individual actions are similarly justifiable, the citizens can fully account for their beliefs and conduct to everyone else with assurance that this avowed reckoning itself will strengthen and not weaken the public understanding. The maintenance of the social order does not depend on historically accidental or institutionalized delusions, or other mistaken beliefs about how its institutions work. Publicity ensures, so far as the feasible design of institutions can allow, that free and equal persons are in a position to know and to accept the background social influences that shape their conception of themselves as persons, as well as their character and conception of their good. Being in this position is a precondition of freedom; it means that nothing is or need be hidden.13

Thus, given the circumstances of justice, the full publicity condition applies only to the principles of political and social justice and not to all moral notions. Now, although moderate scarcity may possibly be overcome or largely mitigated, justice as fairness assumes that deep and pervasive differences of religious, philosophical, and ethical doctrine remain. For many philosophical and moral notions public agreement cannot be reached; the consensus to which publicity applies is limited in scope to the public moral constitution and the fundamental terms of social cooperation. That citizens in a well-ordered society can agree before one another on principles of justice and recognize their institutions to be just means that they have also agreed that, for certain parts of their common life, considerations of justice are to have a special place. Other reasons are taken not to be appropriate, although elsewhere they may have a governing role, say, within the life of associations. In public questions, ways of reasoning and rules of evidence for reaching true general beliefs that help settle whether institutions are just should be of a kind that everyone can recognize. Although, in a democratic society under modern conditions, these norms are the shared principles and practices of common sense and science (when not controversial), to apply them to other convictions is a different matter.

To conclude: the conception of a well-ordered society includes and generalizes the idea of religious liberty; it assigns to people's conception of the good a public status analogous to that of religion. Although a well-ordered society is divided and pluralistic, its citizens have nevertheless reached an understanding on principles to regulate their basic institutions. While they cannot achieve agreement in all things, the public agreement on questions of political and social justice supports ties of civic friendship and secures the bonds of association.


I now consider how the publicity condition is represented in the original position and examine some queries by way of clarification. Actually, the representation of publicity (at any level) is quite straightforward: we simply require the parties as agents of construction to assess conceptions of justice, subject to the constraint that the principles they agree to must serve as a public conception of justice in the stipulated sense. Principles which might work quite well provided they were not publicly acknowledged (as defined at the first level) or provided the general beliefs upon which they are founded are not commonly understood, or which would be recognized as fallacious (as defined by the second level) are to be rejected. Thus the parties must evaluate the social and psychological consequences of various kinds of public knowledge against a certain background of common beliefs, and these consequences will affect which conception of justice they adopt, all things considered.

Since the representation of publicity seems simple enough, it is more instructive to take up a few points that naturally arise. To begin with, even the first level of publicity cannot be satisfied in society unless the parties also agree upon rules of evidence and forms of reasoning to be used in deciding whether existing institutions fulfill the principles of justice. An agreement on a conception of justice is fruitless in the absence of an understanding about the application of its principles. Now, given the subjective circumstances of justice (the existence of deep and pervasive religious and philosophical differences, and the like), the admissible grounds for holding institutions just or unjust must be limited to those allowed by forms of reasoning accepted by common sense, including the procedures of science when generally accepted. Otherwise no effective undertaking has been made. In a well-ordered society citizens' judgments of their basic institutions in questions of justice rest on common knowledge and on shared practices of inquiry. As I have noted, these restrictions apply only to political and social justice. On philosophical or religious or other grounds people may, of course, think certain institutions and policies wrong, but when their beliefs are not commonly based (in the sense defined), they refrain from urging these considerations. The claims of justice have priority and are accepted as decisive in questions concerning the design of the basic structure. The parties recognize, then, that the agreement in the original position has two parts: first, an agreement on principles of justice and, second, a companion agreement on ways of reasoning and rules for weighing evidence which govern the application of those principles. The subjective circumstances of justice limit this companion agreement to the shared beliefs and the recognized procedures of science and common sense.

These remarks are connected with the restrictions contained in the veil of ignorance, as follows. The second level of full publicity is that the general beliefs of social theory and moral psychology relied on by the parties in order to rank conceptions of justice must also be publicly known. Citizens in a well-ordered society know what beliefs are thought to support the recognized principles of justice and belong, therefore, to their complete public justification. This presupposes that, when the original position is set up, we stipulate that the parties must reason only from general beliefs that are suitably common. Thus, the question arises: what is the reason for limiting the parties to these beliefs and not allowing them to take into account all true beliefs? Surely some religious and philosophical doctrines must be true, even if they merely deny other false or incoherent doctrines. Why isn't the most reasonable conception that which is founded on the whole truth and not simply on a part of it, much less on merely commonly based beliefs that happen to be publicly accepted at any given time, for these presumably contain at least some error?

A fully adequate answer to this question involves a number of matters that I cannot go into here. Therefore I restrict my reply to the practical answer implicit in what has already been said.14 In view of the practical task of political philosophy, it would be a mistake to dismiss this answer as merely practical. But to proceed: as I shall note in the last lecture, Kantian constructivism allows us to say that the (or a) most reasonable conception of justice (should one or more exist) is the conception that the parties would adopt were they to know all the relevant and true beliefs concerning human nature and social theory. This conception of justice has a natural preeminence. It is essential to see, however, that not even this conception is accepted on the basis of the whole truth, if the whole truth is to include the truths of religion and philosophy and of moral and political doctrine. By assumption, in a well-ordered democratic society under modern conditions, there is no settled and enduring agreement on these matters; this stipulation is contained in the subjective circumstances of justice. If we ask why these circumstances are assumed, the reply is that, unlike the objective circumstances of moderate scarcity, which might be overcome, the subjective circumstances seem bound to obtain in the absence of a sustained and coercive use of state power that aims to enforce the requisite unanimity. There is no alternative, then, to founding a conception of justice suitable for a well-ordered democratic society on but a part of the truth, and not the whole, or, more specifically, on our present commonly based and shared beliefs, as above defined.

It is important to observe that this practical answer does not imply either skepticism or indifference about religious, philosophical, or moral doctrines. We do not say that they are all doubtful or false, or address questions to which truth and falsehood do not apply. Instead, long historical experience suggests, and many plausible reflections confirm, that on such doctrines reasoned and uncoerced agreement is not to be expected. Religious and philosophical views express outlooks toward the world and our life with one another, severally and collectively, as a whole. Our individual and associative points of view, intellectual affinities and affective attachments, are too diverse, especially in a free democratic society, to allow of lasting and reasoned agreement. Many conceptions of the world can plausibly be constructed from different standpoints. Diversity naturally arises from our limited powers and distinct perspectives; it is unrealistic to suppose that all our differences are rooted solely in ignorance and perversity, or else in the rivalries that result from scarcity. Justice as fairness tries to construct a conception of justice that takes deep and unresolvable differences on matters of fundamental significance as a permanent condition of human life. Indeed, this condition may have its good side, if only we can delineate the character of social arrangements that enable us to appreciate its possible benefits.

One final comment: in order to explain why the veil of ignorance excludes certain kinds of beliefs, even when we as individuals are convinced they are true, I have cited the public role that a conception of justice has in a well-ordered society. Because its principles are to serve as a shared point of view among citizens with opposing religions, philosophical and moral convictions, as well as diverse conceptions of the good, this point of view needs to be appropriately impartial among those differences. Now this brings out in striking fashion the practical purposes and social role that a conception of social justice must fulfill. The very content of the first principles of justice, in contrast with the content of derivative standards and precepts, is determined in part by the practical task of political philosophy. We are accustomed to the idea that secondary norms and working criteria, by which our moral views are applied, must be adjusted to the normal requirements of social life as well as to the limited capacities of human reasoning, and the like. But we tend to regard these adjustments as made in the light of various first principles, or a single such principle. First principles themselves are not widely regarded as affected by practical limitations and social requirements. In Kantian constructivism at least, the situation is different, as we shall see next time: the first principles of justice are thought to depend on such practical considerations.


Let us now turn to freedom and equality. I have said that citizens in a well-ordered society regard themselves as free and equal moral persons. Last time we took up the notion of moral persons as characterized by two moral powers: the capacity to act from a sense of justice, and a capacity to form and rationally to pursue a conception of the good. Moral persons are moved by two corresponding highest-order interests to develop and to exercise these powers. We surveyed how moral personality is represented in the original position by elements falling under the Reasonable and the Rational and how in turn this distinction connects with the contrast between Rational and Full Autonomy.

I begin with freedom: I said that citizens in a well-ordered society view themselves as free in two ways. First of all, they hold themselves entitled to make claims on the design of social institutions in the name of their highest-order interests and final ends, when these ends lie within certain limits. We can elaborate this by saying: citizens think of themselves as self-originating sources of valid claims. Provided their final ends are not things directly contrary to the public principles of justice, these ends along with their highest-order interests support such claims, the weight of which may depend, of course, on particular circumstances. People are self-originating sources of claims in the sense that their claims carry weight on their own without being derived from prior duties or obligations owed to society or to other persons, or, finally, as derived from, or assigned to, their particular social role. Claims that are said to be founded on duties to self, if some hold that there are such duties, are counted as self-originating for the purposes of a conception of social justice.

Thus, one aspect of freedom is that of the person as a self-originating source of claims. We can see this by contrasting this basis of claims with one derived from our social role, for example, that of claims implied by the duties we must discharge in certain positions of authority, or of those which result from obligations we have assumed. Again, people who act as agents for others have rights and powers dependent upon the rights and intentions of those who have authorized them as their agents. To take the extreme case, slaves are human beings who are not counted as self-originating sources of claims at all; any such claims originate with their owners or in the rights of a certain class in society. Of course, this extreme condition is usually mitigated to some degree, but even when the legal system allows slaves to originate claims, the explanation may rest not on claims that slaves have as moral persons but on the recognition of the unhappy consequences for the rest of society of an extreme institution of slavery. The contrast with slavery makes clear why counting moral personality itself as a source of claims is an aspect of freedom.

A second aspect of freedom, as I described it last time, is that, as free persons, citizens recognize one another as having the moral power to have a conception of the good. This means that they do not view themselves as inevitably tied to the pursuit of the particular conception of the good and its final ends which they espouse at any given time.15 Instead, as citizens, they are regarded as, in general, capable of revising and changing this conception on reasonable and rational grounds. Thus it is held to be permissible for citizens to stand apart from conceptions of the good and to survey and assess their various final ends; indeed this must be done whenever these ends conflict with the principles of justice, for in that case they must be revised. And here I should explain that by a conception of the good is meant not merely a system of final ends but also a view about one's relation to others and to the world which makes these ends appropriate.

In sum, then, citizens as free persons have the right to view their persons as independent and not identified with any particular system of ends. Given their moral power to form, to revise, and rationally to pursue a conception of the good, their public identity as a moral person and a self-originating source of claims is not affected by changes over time in their conceptions of the good, at least so long as these changes are in certain ways continuous and have suitable explanations. These remarks are unhappily extremely vague; their only purpose, however, is to indicate the conception of the person connected with the public conception of justice in a well-ordered society, and so with the principles of justice that apply to its basic institutions. By contrast, citizens in their personal affairs, or within the internal life of associations, may regard their ends and aspirations differently. They may have attachments and loves that they believe they would not, or could not, stand apart from; and they might regard it as unthinkable for them to view themselves without certain religious and philosophical convictions and commitments. But none of this need affect the conception of the person connected with society's public conception of justice and its ideal of social cooperation. Within different contexts we can assume diverse points of view toward our person without contradiction so long as these points of view cohere together when circumstances require. As always, our focus here is on the public conception that underlies the principles of social justice.16

A third aspect of freedom I shall only mention here: namely, as responsibility for ends. Very roughly, this means that, given just background institutions and the provision for all of a fair index of primary goods (as required by the principles of justice), citizens are capable of adjusting their aims and ambitions in the light of what they can reasonably expect and of restricting their claims in matters of justice to certain kinds of things. They recognize that the weight of their claims is not given by the strength or intensity of their wants and desires, even when these are rational. But to explain these matters here would take us too far afield.17 I shall consider only two aspects of freedom: one as self-originating source of claims, the other as independence.

I have yet to state the sense in which citizens in a well-ordered society are equal moral persons. But before I do this, let's introduce a further idealization of the notion of a well-ordered society. Our aim is to ascertain the conception of justice most appropriate for a democratic society in which citizens conceive of themselves in a certain way. So let's add that all citizens are fully cooperating members of society over the course of a complete life. This means that everyone has sufficient intellectual powers to play a normal part in society, and no one suffers from unusual needs that are especially difficult to fulfill, for example, unusual and costly medical requirements. Of course, care for those with such requirements is a pressing practical question. But at this initial stage, the fundamental problem of social justice arises between those who are full and active and morally conscientious participants in society, and directly or indirectly associated together throughout a complete life. Therefore, it is sensible to lay aside certain difficult complications. If we can work out a theory that covers the fundamental case, we can try to extend it to other cases later. Plainly a theory that fails for the fundamental case is of no use at all.

To return to equality, we say: everyone is equally capable of understanding and complying with the public conception of justice; therefore all are capable of honoring the principles of justice and of being full participants in social cooperation throughout their lives. On this basis, together with each person's being a self-originating source of valid claims, all view themselves as equally worthy of being represented in any procedure that is to determine the principles of justice that are to regulate the basic institutions of their society. This conception of equal worth is founded on the equally sufficient capacity (which I assume to be realized) to understand and to act from the public conception of social cooperation.

Now some citizens have a deeper understanding of justice than others, and a greater facility in applying its principles and making reasonable decisions, especially in hard cases. The judicial virtues depend upon special gifts and acquired wisdom. Equality means that, although these virtues may render some better qualified than others for certain more demanding offices and positions (those of a judicial kind, for example), nevertheless, given people's actual place in just institutions, including the status all have as equal citizens, everyone's sense of justice is equally sufficient relative to what is asked of them. This suffices for everyone to be equally worthy of representation in a procedure that is to settle the fundamental terms of social cooperation, given that all are able to be fully co-operating members of society over a complete life.

Finally, citizens in a well-ordered society are in their conduct (more or less) above reproach. Whatever their actions, all conform to the acknowledged requirements of justice for the most part. This follows from the assumption that everyone has an equally effective sense of justice. The usual differences in the degree to which people are open to censure in matters of justice do not obtain. Nevertheless, certain social and economic inequalities presumably exist, but, whatever their explanation, they do not match differences in the degree to which people comply with just arrangements. Since justice regulates these inequalities, the public conception, whatever it is, cannot read: to persons according to their moral worth. This much follows from the general description of a well-ordered society.


It remains to consider the representation of freedom and equality in the original position. I observe first, however, that the two powers of moral persons are represented in a purely formal way. Thus while the parties as agents of construction are assumed to have an effective sense of justice, this is taken to mean that they have a capacity to understand and apply the various principles of justice that are under discussion, as well as a sufficiently strong desire to act upon whatever principles are eventually adopted. Since these principles are not yet agreed to, the parties' sense of justice lacks content. Their formal sense of justice simply ensures that, as members of society, they can follow the most reasonable conception of justice, everything taken into account. The original agreement meets this condition on a bona fide undertaking.

The second capacity of moral personality is likewise represented in a formal fashion. Although the parties have the power to develop, revise, and pursue rationally a conception of the good, they do not know its particular final ends. The capacity for such a conception is assumed to be realized in society, and indeed to have some determinate content. These restrictions on information, which are consequences of the veil of ignorance, require us to characterize the parties' moral powers in a formal way.

To prevent misunderstanding, I reiterate what I said last time: that the motivation of the parties is appropriate to the representation of moral persons. Once such persons are characterized by the moral powers, it is proper that they should strive to realize and exercise these capacities, and be moved by what I have called their "highest-order" interests. This leads us to say that the parties are mutually disinterested, that is, that they aim to secure the interests of their moral personality and to try to guarantee the objective social conditions that enable them rationally to assess their final ends and to do their part in cooperating with others in fair social arrangements to produce the all-purpose means to achieve them. Since the parties are determinate persons, they also try to ensure their own ability to pursue their particular aims and to protect the objects of their affections, whatever these are. Given the limits on information, they settle an index of primary goods as the most effective way of achieving these objectives.

Now the freedom of persons as self-originating sources of claims is represented by not requiring the parties to justify the claims they wish to make. Whether they are citizens acting as deputies for themselves or whether they are trustees, they are free to act in the best interests of whomever they represent within the framework of reasonable constraints embedded in the original position. It belongs to the parties' rational autonomy that there are no given antecedent principles external to their point of view to which they are bound. The interests they try to advance need not be derived from some prior duty or obligation, either to other persons or to society. Nor do the parties recognize certain intrinsic values as known by rational intuition, for example, the perfectionist values of human excellence or of truth and beauty. This is how freedom as originating claims is represented. Although some or all in society may recognize these values, their acceptance is, from the standpoint of political and social justice, self-imposed, or else a consequence of the principles of justice still to be adopted.

Freedom as independence is represented in how the parties are moved to give priority to guaranteeing the social conditions for realizing their highest-order interests, and in their having grounds for agreement despite the severe restrictions on information implied by the veil of ignorance. To explain this, consider the objection that, since these restrictions exclude knowledge of final ends, no rational agreement is possible. The reply to this objection is that it ties the aspirations of the person too closely to the particular conception of the good that is being pursued at any given time. As free persons have been characterized, rational deliberation is still possible even when the final ends of this conception are unknown. The explanation is that free persons have a regulative and effective desire to be a certain kind of person, so that the veil of ignorance does not eliminate all bases for deliberation. For if it did, the parties would lack the highest-order interests in guaranteeing the objective social conditions for developing and exercising their moral powers and in securing the normally essential all-purpose means for advancing their plan of life.

In a Kantian constructivist view, then, it is a feature attributed to persons (for the purposes of a conception of social justice) that they can stand above and critically survey their own final ends by reference to a notion of the Reasonable and the Rational. In this sense, they are independent from and moved by considerations other than those given by their particular conception of the good. The veil of ignorance forces the parties to do something analogous, but on a more abstract level: since they are ignorant of their final ends and of much else, they must try to work out which conception of justice is most likely to secure the social conditions and all-purpose means necessary to realize their highest-order interests and determinate but unknown conception of the good.

A further feature of a Kantian doctrine is that it aims at the thickest possible veil of ignorance.18 This may be explained as follows: there are two distinct rationales for excluding information, and one leads to a thicker veil of ignorance than the other. The rationale drawn from Hume's "judicious spectator" is designed to prevent the parties from reasoning according to the principle: to persons according to their threat advantage. By denying everyone a knowledge of these contingencies, a kind of impartiality is achieved. We begin by allowing the parties all information about themselves: their social position, realized natural assets, their ends and aims, and so on. Enough information is then ruled out to achieve impartiality in the sense of the elimination of threat advantage. The veil of ignorance is thin, because no more knowledge is excluded than is necessary to secure this result; the parties still know the general configuration of society, its political structure and economic organization, and so on. So long as the relevant particular facts are unknown, the influence of threat advantage is eliminated.

The Kantian rationale proceeds in the opposite direction: it starts by allowing the parties no information and then adds just enough so that they can make a rational agreement. The first principles of justice should be those of rationally autonomous agents moved to secure the conditions for the development and exercise of their moral powers, and their determinate (but unknown) final ends. It does not suffice that they are impartial in the sense of being unable to take advantage of their superior position (if such they have). The parties are not to be influenced by any particular information that is not part of their representation as free and equal moral persons with a determinate (but unknown) conception of the good, unless this information is necessary for a rational agreement to be reached. And so the veil of ignorance is presumably thicker: the Humean rationale will not exclude certain particular information; the Kantian will not include it. Even if these different restrictions led to the same principles, the thicker veil of ignorance would still be preferable, since these principles are then connected more clearly to the conception of free and equal moral persons. Were we to allow knowledge of the general institutional features of society, we would permit particular information about the outcome of society's history to obscure how intimately the principles adopted are tied to the conception of the person. And should this information yield different principles, it would do so on inappropriate grounds. In either case it should be excluded in order to have a lucid representation of the notion of freedom that characterizes a Kantian view.


The representation of equality is an easy matter: we simply describe all the parties in the same way and situate them equally, that is, symmetrically with respect to one another. Everyone has the same rights and powers in the procedure for reaching agreement. Now it is essential to justice as fairness that the original position be fair between equal moral persons so that this fairness can transfer to the principles adopted. Let's recall, then, why the original position is said to be fair.

To begin with, we take the basic structure of society as the first subject of justice. Next, we say that to determine first principles for this subject, the only relevant feature of human beings is their having the minimum sufficient capacity for moral personality (as expressed by the two moral powers), given that, as I suppose, all are fully capable of being fully cooperating members of society over a complete life. Finally, we assume that persons equal in all relevant respects are to be represented equally. These presumptions ensure that the original position is fair between equal moral persons and, therefore, that it correctly represents how the members of a well-ordered society regard one another. Doubts about the fairness of the original position are perhaps best dealt with by defense against various objections.

For example, it is sometimes said that the original position is unfair to those with superior natural endowments, since, by excluding knowledge of such gifts, it precludes them from affecting the outcome. Again, justice as fairness is said to be unfair to those who have conscientiously acquired certain skills in the expectation of benefiting from them. But these objections fail, I think, to allow for the special features of the problem of background justice. Keep in mind that we seek principles to regulate the basic structure into which we are born to lead a complete life. The thesis is that the only relevant feature in connection with these principles is the capacity for moral personality in the sense defined. The way in which we think about fairness in everyday life ill prepares us for the great shift in perspective required for considering the justice of the basic structure itself.

Once this is understood, we must distinguish between features of persons relevant for the justice of the basic structure and features relevant for the fairness of the actual distributions of benefits that come about within this structure as a result of the particular decisions and activities of individuals and associations. These distributions arise from the honoring of legitimate expectations and are, of course, affected by what people actually decide to do, given their knowledge of existing institutional rules, as well as by the various realized skills and talents of individuals. A further essential distinction is between the unequal distribution of natural assets, which is simply a natural fact and neither just nor unjust, and the way the basic structure of society makes use of these natural differences and permits them to affect the social fortune of citizens, their opportunities in life, and the actual terms of cooperation between them. Plainly it is the way that social institutions use natural differences, and allow accident and chance to operate, which defines the problem of social justice.19

Now the original position is seen to be fair between equal moral persons once we grant that the natural distribution of abilities does not support a claim, grounded solely on an individual person's place in this distribution, to any particular scheme of background institutions, to a scheme that would favor that person's special endowments over the special endowments of others. This seems perfectly obvious. The veil of ignorance reflects this idea by excluding all knowledge of these matters in the original position. Neither the more nor the less fortunate as such has a claim to be especially favored. The basic structure, and the entitlements it generates and the legitimate expectations it honors, are to be governed by principles of justice that the parties adopt as representatives of free and equal moral persons.

In justice as fairness, then, there is no prior and independent notion of desert, perfectionist or intuitionist, that could override or restrict the agreement of the parties as agents of construction. To suppose that there is such a notion would violate the equality and autonomy of free and equal moral persons, which the rational autonomy of the parties in part represents. Thus citizens come to deserve this or that by their actual decisions and efforts within an on-going background system of cooperation with publicly announced rules that support legitimate expectations and acquired claims.20 The only available notion of desert for judging this background system is derivative from the principles agreed to by the parties. Once this is recognized, the original position is seen as fair—or more accurately, as fair within a Kantian view, given its conception of free and equal persons, and of their autonomy.


As I did in the first lecture, I conclude with a few general remarks. First, the guiding idea in representing persons is that, so far as possible, the parties in the original position as agents of construction should be constrained or influenced in the adoption of principles solely by features that fall under the Reasonable and the Rational and reflect the freedom and equality of moral persons. The original position thereby serves to connect, in the most explicit possible manner, the way the members of a well-ordered society view themselves as citizens with the content of their public conception of justice.

Another observation is that, although I regard justice as fairness as a Kantian view, it differs from Kant's doctrine in important respects. Here I note that justice as fairness assigns a certain primacy to the social; that is, the first subject of justice is the basic structure of society, and citizens must arrive at a public understanding on a conception of justice for this subject first. This understanding is interpreted via the unanimous agreement of the parties in the original position. By contrast, Kant's account of the Categorical Imperative applies to the personal maxims of sincere and conscientious individuals in everyday life. To be sure, in the course of testing such maxims we are to compare social worlds, that is, the social world that results when everyone follows the proposed maxim, as if by a law of nature, with the social world in which the contradictory maxim is followed. But this comparison of social worlds is undertaken singly by each person and for the purpose of judging a given personal maxim. Thus Kant proceeds from the particular, even personal, case of everyday life; he assumed that this process carried out correctly would eventually yield a coherent and sufficiently complete system of principles, including principles of social justice. Justice as fairness moves in quite the reverse fashion: its construction starts from a unanimous collective agreement regulating the basic structure of society within which all personal and associational decisions are to be made in conformity with this prior undertaking.

Finally, I have stressed the full publicity condition and its consequences for a conception of justice. Now this condition is related to the wide, as opposed to the narrow, view of the social role of morality.21 The narrow view restricts this role to achieving the more or less minimum conditions of effective social cooperation, for example, by specifying standards to settle competing claims and setting up rules for coordinating and stabilizing social arrangements. Moral norms are regarded as inhibiting self- or group-centered tendencies, and aimed at encouraging less limited sympathies. Any moral doctrine accepts these requirements in some form, but they do not involve the full publicity condition. Once this condition is imposed, a moral conception assumes a wide role as part of public culture. Not only are its first principles embodied in political and social institutions and public traditions of their interpretation, but the derivation of citizens' rights, liberties, and opportunities invokes a certain conception of their person. In this way citizens are made aware of and educated to this conception. They are presented with a way of regarding themselves that otherwise they would most likely never have been able to entertain. Thus the realization of the full publicity condition provides the social milieu within which the notion of full autonomy can be understood and within which its ideal of the person can elicit an effective desire to be that kind of person. This educative role of the moral conception defines the wide view.

Now Kant often notes the publicity requirement in some form, but he seems to think that the conception of ourselves as fully autonomous is already given to us by the Fact of Reason, that is, by our recognition that the moral law is supremely authoritative as for us reasonable and rational beings. 22 Thus this conception of ourselves is implicit in individual moral consciousness, and the background social conditions for its realization are not emphasized or made part of the moral doctrine itself. Justice as fairness departs from Kant, then, both in the primacy it assigns to the social and in the further aspect of this primacy contained in the full publicity condition. I believe these departures enable justice as fairness to avoid some of the faults that Dewey found in Kant's view.

Construction and Objectivity

In the preceding lectures I sketched the main idea of Kantian constructivism, which is to establish a connection between the first principles of justice and the conception of moral persons as free and equal. These first principles are used to settle the appropriate understanding of freedom and equality for a modern democratic society. The requisite connection is provided by a procedure of construction in which rationally autonomous agents subject to reasonable conditions agree to public principles of justice. With the sketch of these ideas behind us, I consider in this final lecture how a Kantian doctrine interprets the notion of objectivity in terms of a suitably constructed social point of view that is authoritative with respect to all individual and associational points of view. This rendering of objectivity implies that, rather than think of the principles of justice as true, it is better to say that they are the principles most reasonable for us, given our conception of persons as free and equal, and fully cooperating members of a democratic society. [Here 'reasonable' is used, as explained later (569/70), in contrast with 'true' as understood in rational intuitionism, and not, as previously (528-530), with 'rational', as in the notion of rational autonomy.]


To fix ideas, let's look back roughly a hundred years to Henry Sidgwick. The Methods of Ethics (first edition 1874) is, I believe, the outstanding achievement in modern moral theory.23 By "moral theory" I mean the systematic and comparative study of moral conceptions, starting with those which historically and by current estimation seem to be the most important. Moral philosophy includes moral theory, but takes as its main question justification and how it is to be conceived and resolved; for example, whether it is to be conceived as an epistemological problem (as in rational intuitionism) or as a practical problem (as in Kantian constructivism). Sidgwick's Methods is the first truly academic work in moral theory, modern in both method and spirit. Treating ethics as a discipline to be studied like any other branch of knowledge, it defines and carries out in exemplary fashion, if not for the first time, some of the comprehensive comparisons that constitute moral theory. By pulling together the work of previous writers, and through its influence on G. E. Moore and others, this work defined much of the framework of subsequent moral philosophy. Sidgwick's originality lies in his conception and mode of presentation of the subject and in his recognition of the significance of moral theory for moral philosophy.

It is natural, then, that the limitations of Methods have been as important as its merits. Of these limitations I wish to mention two. First, Sidgwick gives relatively little attention to the conception of the person and the social role of morality as main parts of a moral doctrine. He starts with the idea of a method of ethics as a method specified by certain first principles, principles by which we are to arrive at a judgment about what we ought to do. He takes for granted that these methods aim at reaching true judgments that hold for all rational minds. Of course, he thinks it is best to approach the problem of justification only when a broad understanding of moral theory has been achieved. In the preface of the first edition of Methods he explains that he wants to resist the natural urgency to discover the true method of ascertaining what it is right to do. He wishes instead to expound, from a neutral position and as impartially as possible, the different methods found in the moral consciousness of humankind and worked into familiar historical systems.24 But these detailed expositions—necessary as they are—are merely preparation for comparing the various methods and evaluating them by criteria that any rational method that aims at truth must satisfy.

But a consequence of starting with methods of ethics defined as methods that seek truth is not only that it interprets justification as an epistemological problem, but also that it is likely to restrict attention to the first principles of moral conceptions and how they can be known. First principles are however only one element of a moral conception; of equal importance are its conception of the person and its view of the social role of morality. Until these other elements are clearly recognized, the ingredients of a constructivist doctrine are not at hand. It is characteristic of Sidgwick's Methods that the social role of morality and the conception of the person receive little notice. And so the possibility of constructivism was closed to him.

Sidgwick overlooked this possibility because of a second limitation: he failed to recognize that Kant's doctrine (and perfectionism also for that matter) is a distinctive method of ethics. He regarded the categorical imperative as a purely formal principle, or what he called "the principle of equity": whatever is right for one person is right for all similar persons in relevantly similar circumstances. This principle Sidgwick accepts, but, since it is plainly not a sufficient basis for a moral view, Kant's doctrine could not be counted a substantive method (209/10). This formal reading of Kant, together with the dismissal of perfectionism, led Sidgwick to reduce the traditional moral conceptions essentially to three main methods: rational egoism, (pluralistic) intuitionism, and classical utilitarianism. Surely he was right to restrict himself to a few conceptions so that each could be explored in considerable detail. Only in this way can depth of understanding be achieved. But rational egoism, which he accepted as a method of ethics, is really not a moral conception at all, but rather a challenge to all such conceptions, although no less interesting for that. Left with only (pluralistic) intuitionism and classical utilitarianism as methods of ethics in the usual sense, it is no surprise that utilitarianism seemed superior to Sidgwick, given his desire for unity and system in a moral doctrine.

Since Kant's view is the leading historical example of a constructivist doctrine, the result once again is that constructivism finds no place in Methods. Nor is the situation altered if we include another leading representative work, F. H. Bradley's Ethical Studies (first edition 1876); following Hegel, Bradley likewise regarded Kant's ethics as purely formal and lacking in content and, therefore, to be assigned to an early stage of the dialectic as an inadequate view.25 The result of these formal interpretations of Kant is that constructivism was not recognized as a moral conception to be studied and assimilated into moral theory. Nor was this lack made good in the first half of this century; for in this period, beginning with Moore's Principia Ethica (1903), interest centered mainly on philosophical analysis and its bearing on justification regarded as an epistemological problem and on the question whether its conclusions support or deny the notion of moral truth. During this time, however, utilitarianism and intuitionism made important advances. A proper understanding of Kantian constructivism, on a par with our grasp of these views, is still to be achieved.


Let us now try to deepen our understanding of Kantian constructivism by contrasting it with what I shall call rational intuitionism. This doctrine has, of course, been expressed in various ways; but in one form or another it dominated moral philosophy from Plato and Aristotle onwards until it was challenged by Hobbes and Hume, and, I believe, in a very different way by Kant. To simplify matters, I take rational intuitionism to be the view exemplified in the English tradition by Clarke and Price, Sidgwick and Moore, and formulated in its minimum essentials by W. D. Ross.26 With qualifications, it was accepted by Leibniz and Wolff in the guise of perfectionism, and Kant knows of it in this form.

For our purposes here, rational intuitionism may be summed up by two theses: first, the basic moral concepts of the right and the good, and the moral worth of persons, are not analyzable in terms of nonmoral concepts (although possibly analyzable in terms of one another); and, second, first principles of morals (whether one or many), when correctly stated, are self-evident propositions about what kinds of considerations are good grounds for applying one of the three basic moral concepts, that is, for asserting that something is (intrinsically) good, or that a certain action is the right thing to do, or that a certain trait of character has moral worth. These two theses imply that the agreement in judgment which is so essential for an effective public conception of justice is founded on the recognition of self-evident truths about good reasons. And what these reasons are is fixed by a moral order that is prior to and independent of our conception of the person and the social role of morality. This order is given by the nature of things and is known, not by sense, but by rational intuition. It is with this idea of moral truth that the idea of first principles as reasonable will be contrasted.

It should be observed that rational intuitionism is compatible with a variety of contents for the first principles of a moral conception. Even classical utilitarianism, which Sidgwick was strongly inclined to favor (although he could not see how to eliminate rational egoism as a rival) was sometimes viewed by him as following from three principles each self-evident in its own right. 27 In brief, these three propositions were: the principle of equity so-called: that it cannot be right to treat two different persons differently merely on the ground of their being numerically different individuals; a principle of rational prudence: that mere difference of position in time is not by itself a reasonable ground for giving more regard to well-being at one moment than to well-being at another; and a principle of rational benevolence: the good of one person is of no more importance from the point of view of the universe than the good of any other person. These three principles, when combined with the principle that, as reasonable beings, we are bound to aim at good generally and not at any particular part of it, Sidgwick thought yielded the principle of utility: namely, to maximize the net balance of happiness. And this principle, like those from which it followed, he was tempted to hold as self-evident.

Of all recent versions of rational intuitionism, the appeal to self-evidence is perhaps most striking in Moore's so-called "ideal utilitarianism" in Principia Ethica (1903). A consequence of Moore's principle of organic unity is that his view is extremely pluralistic; there are few if any useful first principles, and distinct kinds of cases are to be decided by intuition as they arise. Moore held a kind of Platonic atomism:28 moral concepts (along with other concepts) are subsisting and independent entities grasped by the mind. That pleasure and beauty are good, and that different combinations of them alone or together with other good things are also good, and to what degree, are truths known by intuition: by seeing with the mind's eye how these separate and distinct objects (universals) are (timelessly) related. This picture is even more vivid in the early philosophy of mathematics of Bertrand Russell, who talks of searching for the indefinable concepts of mathematics with a mental telescope (as one might look for a planet).29

Now my aim in recalling these matters is to point out that rational intuitionism, as illustrated by Sidgwick, Moore, and Ross, is sharply opposed to a constructivist conception along Kantian lines. That Kant would have rejected Hume's psychological naturalism as heteronomous is clear.30 I believe that the contrast with rational intuitionism, no matter what the content of the view (whether utilitarian, perfectionist, or pluralist) is even more instructive. It is less obvious that for Kant rational intuitionism is also heteronomous. The reason is that from the first thesis of rational intuitionism, the basic moral concepts are conceptually independent of natural concepts, and first principles are independent of the natural world and, as grasped by rational intuition, are regarded as synthetic a priori. This may seem to make these principles not heteronomous. Yet it suffices for heteronomy that these principles obtain in virtue of relations among objects the nature of which is not affected or determined by the conception of the person. Kant's idea of autonomy requires that there exist no such order of given objects determining the first principles of right and justice among free and equal moral persons. Heteronomy obtains not only when first principles are fixed by the special psychological constitution of human nature, as in Hume, but also when they are fixed by an order of universals or concepts grasped by rational intuition, as in Plato's realm of forms or in Leibniz's hierarchy of perfections. 31 Perhaps I should add, to prevent misunderstanding, that a Kantian doctrine of autonomy need not deny that the procedures by which first principles are selected are synthetic a priori. This thesis, however, must be properly interpreted. The essential idea is that such procedures must be suitably founded on practical reason, or, more exactly, on notions which characterize persons as reasonable and rational and which are incorporated into the way in which, as such persons, they represent to themselves their free and equal moral personality. Put another way, first principles of justice must issue from a conception of the person through a suitable representation of that conception as illustrated by the procedure of construction in justice as fairness.

Thus in a Kantian doctrine a relatively complex conception of the person plays a central role. By contrast, rational intuitionism requires but a sparse notion of the person, founded on the self as knower. This is because the content of first principles is already fixed, and the only requirements on the self are to be able to know what these principles are and to be moved by this knowledge. A basic assumption is that the recognition of first principles as true and self-evident gives rise, in a being capable of rationally intuiting these principles, to a desire to act from them for their own sake. Moral motivation is defined by reference to desires that have a special kind of cause, namely, the intuitive grasp of first principles. 32 This sparse conception the person joined with its moral psychology characterizes the rational intuitionism of Sidgwick, Moore, and Ross, although there is nothing that forces rational intuitionism to so thin a notion. The point is rather that, in rational intuitionism in contrast to a Kantian view, since the content of first principles is already given, a more complex conception of the person, of a kind adequate to determine the content of these principles, together with a suitable moral psychology, is simply unnecessary.


Having contrasted Kantian constructivism to rational intuitionism with respect to the idea of a moral order that is prior to and independent from our conception of the person, I now consider a second contrast, namely, how each regards the inevitable limitations that constrain our moral deliberations. The constructionist view accepts from the start that a moral conception can establish but a loose framework for deliberation which must rely very considerably on our powers of reflection and judgment. These powers are not fixed once and for all, but are developed by a shared public culture and hence shaped by that culture. In justice as fairness this means that the principles adopted by the parties in the original position are designed by them to achieve a public and workable agreement on matters of social justice which suffices for effective and fair social cooperation. From the standpoint of the parties as agents of construction, the first principles of justice are not thought to represent, or to be true of, an already given moral order, as rational intuitionism supposes. The essential point is that a conception of justice fulfills its social role provided that citizens equally conscientious and sharing roughly the same beliefs find that, by affirming the framework of deliberation set up by it, they are normally led to a sufficient convergence of opinion. Thus a conception of justice is framed to meet the practical requirements of social life and to yield a public basis in the light of which citizens can justify to one another their common institutions. Such a conception need be only precise enough to achieve this result.

On the constructivist view, the limitations that constrain our moral deliberations affect the requirements of publicity and support the use of priority rules. These limitations also lead us to take the basic structure of a well-ordered society as the first subject of justice and to adopt the primary goods as the basis of interpersonal comparisons. To begin with publicity: at the end of the preceding lecture I mentioned why in a constructivist view first principles are to satisfy the requirements of publicity. The moral conception is to have a wide social role as a part of public culture and is to enable citizens to appreciate and accept the conception of the person as free and equal. Now if it is to play this wide role, a conception's first principles cannot be so complex that they cannot be generally understood and followed in the more important cases. Thus, it is desirable that knowing whether these principles are satisfied, at least with reference to fundamental liberties and basic institutions, should not depend on information difficult to obtain or hard to evaluate. To incorporate these desiderata in a constructivist view, the parties are assumed to take these considerations into account and to prefer (other things equal) principles that are easy to understand and simple to apply. The gain in compliance and willing acceptance by citizens more than makes up for the rough and ready nature of the guiding framework that results and its neglect of certain distinctions and differences. In effect, the parties agree to rule out certain facts as irrelevant in questions of justice concerning the basic structure, even though they recognize that in regard to other cases it may be appropriate to appeal to them. From the standpoint of the original position, eliminating these facts as reasons of social justice sufficiently increases the capacity of the conception to fulfill its social role. Of course, we should keep in mind that the exclusion of such facts as reasons of social justice does not alone entail that they are not reasons in other kinds of situation where different moral notions apply. Indeed, it is not even ruled out that the account of some notions should be constructivist, whereas the account of others is not.

It is evident, then, why a constructivist view such as justice as fairness incorporates into the framework of moral deliberation a number of schematic and practical distinctions as ways that enable us to deal with the inevitable limitations of our moral capacities and the complexity of our social circumstances. The need for such distinctions supports and helps to account for the use of certain priority rules to settle the relative weight of particular kinds of grounds in extremely important cases. Two such rules in justice as fairness are: first, the priority of justice over efficiency (in the sense of Pareto) and the net balance of advantages (summed over all individuals in society), and second, the priority of the principle of equal liberty (understood in terms of certain enumerated basic liberties) over the second principle of justice.33 These rules are introduced to handle the complexity of the many prima facie reasons we are ready to cite in everyday life; and their plausibility depends in large part on the first principles to which they are adjoined. But although these rules are intended to narrow the scope of judgment in certain fundamental questions of justice, this scope can never be entirely eliminated, and for many other questions sharp and definite conclusions cannot usually be derived. Sharp and definite conclusions are not needed, however, if sufficient agreement is still forthcoming (TJ 44/5).

Similar considerations apply in beginning with the basic structure of a well-ordered society as the first subject of justice and trying to develop a conception of justice for this case alone. The idea is that this structure plays a very special role in society by establishing what we may call background justice; and if we can find suitable first principles of background justice, we may be able to exclude enough other considerations as irrelevant for this case, so as to develop a reasonably simple and workable conception of justice for the basic structure. The further complexities of everyday cases that cannot be ignored in a more complete moral conception may be dealt with later in the less general situations that occur within the various associations regulated by the basic structure, and in that sense subordinate to it.34

Finally, parallel observations hold in finding a feasible basis for interpersonal comparisons of well-being relevant for questions of justice that arise in regard to the basic structure. These comparisons are to be made in terms of primary goods (as defined in the first lecture), which are, so far as possible, certain public features of social institutions and of people's situations with respect to them, such as their rights, liberties, and opportunities, and their income and wealth, broadly understood. This has the consequence that the comparison of citizens' shares in the benefits of social cooperation is greatly simplified and put on a footing less open to dispute.

Thus the reason why a constructivist view uses the schematic or practical distinctions we have just noted is that such distinctions are necessary if a workable conception of justice is to be achieved. These distinctions are incorporated into justice as fairness through the description of the parties as agents of construction and the account of how they are to deliberate. Charged with the task of agreeing to a workable conception of justice designed to achieve a sufficient convergence of opinion, the parties can find no better way in which to carry out this task. They accept the limitations of human life and recognize that at best a conception of justice can establish but a guiding framework for deliberation.

A comparison with classical utilitarianism will highlight what is involved here. On that view, whether stated as a form of rational intuitionism (Sidgwick) or as a form of naturalism (Bentham), every question of right and justice has an answer: whether an institution or action is right depends upon whether it will produce the greatest net balance of satisfaction. We may never be in a position to know the answer, or even to come very near to it, but, granting that a suitable measure of satisfaction exists, there is an answer: a fact of the matter. Of course, utilitarianism recognizes the needs of practice: working precepts and secondary rules are necessary to guide deliberation and coordinate our actions. These norms may be thought of as devised to bring our actions as close as possible to those which would maximize utility, so far as this is feasible. But of course, such rules and precepts are not first principles; they are at best directives that when followed make the results of our conduct approximate to what the principle of utility enjoins. In this sense, our working norms are approximations to something given.

By contrast, justice as fairness, as a constructivist view, holds that not all the moral questions we are prompted to ask in everyday life have answers. Indeed, perhaps only a few of them can be settled by any moral conception that we can understand and apply. Practical limitations impose a more modest aim upon a reasonable conception of justice, namely, to identify the most fundamental questions of justice that can be dealt with, in the hope that, once this is done and just basic institutions established, the remaining conflicts of opinion will not be so deep or widespread that they cannot be compromised. To accept the basic structure as the first subject of justice together with the account of primary goods is a step toward achieving this more modest goal. But in addition, the idea of approximating to moral truth has no place in a constructivist doctrine: the parties in the original position do not recognize any principles of justice as true or correct and so as antecedently given; their aim is simply to select the conception most rational for them, given their circumstances. This conception is not regarded as a workable approximation to the moral facts: there are no such moral facts to which the principles adopted could approximate.

As we have just seen, the differences between constructivism and classical utilitarianism are especially sharp in view of the content of the principle of utility: it always yields an answer that we can at least verbally describe. With the rational (pluralistic) intuitionism of Ross, however, the contrast is less obvious, since Ross's list of self-evident prima facie principles that identify good reasons also specifies but a loose guiding framework of moral deliberation which shares a number of the features of the framework provided by constructivism. But though these resemblances are real, the underlying idea of Ross's view is still essentially different from constructivism. His pluralistic intuitionism rejects utilitarianism (even an ideal utilitarianism) as oversimplifying the given moral facts, especially those concerning the correct weight of special duties and obligations. The complexity of the moral facts in particular kinds of cases is said to force us to recognize that no family of first principles that we can formulate characterizes these facts sufficiently accurately to lead to a definite conclusion. Decision and judgment are almost always to that some degree uncertain and must rest with "perception," 35 that is, with our intuitive estimate of where the greatest balance of prima facie reasons lies in each kind of case. And this perception is that of a balance of reasons each of which is given by an independent moral order known by intuition. The essential contrast with constructivism remains.


Having examined several contrasts between Kantian constructivism and rational intuitionism, we are now in a position to take up a fundamental point suggested by the discussion so far: an essential feature of a constructivist view, as illustrated by justice as fairness, is that its first principles single out what facts citizens in a well-ordered society are to count as reasons of justice. Apart from the procedure of constructing these principles, there are no reasons of justice. Put in another way, whether certain facts are to count as reasons of justice and what their relative force is to be can be ascertained only on the basis of the principles that result from the construction. This connects with the use of pure procedural justice at the highest level. It is, therefore, up to the parties in the original position to decide how simple or complex the moral facts are to be, that is, to decide on the number and complexity of the principles that identify which facts are to be accepted as reasons of justice by citizens in society (see ). There is nothing parallel to this in rational intuitionism.

This essential feature of constructivism may be obscured by the fact that in justice as fairness the first principles of justice depend upon those general beliefs about human nature and how society works which are allowed to the parties in the original position. First principles are not, in a constructivist view, independent of such beliefs, nor, as some forms of rational intuitionism hold, true in all possible worlds. In particular, they depend on the rather specific features and limitations of human life that give rise to the circumstances justice.36 Now, given the way the original position is set up, we can allow, in theory, that, as the relevant general beliefs change, the beliefs we attribute to the parties likewise change, and conceivably also the first principles that would be agreed to. We can say, if we like that the (most reasonable) principles of justice are those which would be adopted if the parties possessed all relevant general information and if they were properly to take account of all the practical desiderata required for a workable public conception of justice. Though these principles have a certain preeminence, they are still the outcome of construction. Furthermore, it is important to notice here that no assumptions have been made about a theory of truth. A constructivist view does not require an idealist or a verificationist, as opposed to a realist, account of truth. Whatever the nature of truth in the case of general beliefs about human nature and how society works, a constructivist moral doctrine requires a distinct procedure of construction to identify the first principles of justice. To the extent that Kant's moral doctrine depends upon what to some may appear to be a constructivist account of truth in the First Critique (I don't mean to imply that such an interpretation is correct), justice as fairness departs from that aspect of Kant's view and seeks to preserve the over-all structure of his moral conception apart from that background.

In the preceding paragraph I said that the way justice as fairness is set up allows the possibility that, as the general beliefs ascribed to the parties in the original position change, the first principles of justice may also change. But I regard this as a mere possibility noted in order to explain the nature of a constructivist view. To elaborate: at the end of the first lecture I distinguished between the roles of a conception of the person and of a theory of human nature, and I remarked that in justice as fairness these are distinct elements and enter at different places. I said that a conception of the person is a companion moral ideal paired with the ideal of a well-ordered society. A theory of human nature and a view of the requirements of social life tell us whether these ideals are feasible, whether it is possible to realize them under normally favorable conditions of human life. Changes in the theory of human nature or in social theory generally which do not affect the feasibility of the ideals of the person and of a well-ordered society do not affect the agreement of the parties in the original position. It is hard to imagine realistically any new knowledge that should convince us that these ideals are not feasible, given what we know about the general nature of the world, as opposed to our particular social and historical circumstances. In fact, the relevant information on these matters must go back a long time and is available to the common sense of any thoughtful and reflective person. Thus such advances in our knowledge of human nature and society as may take place do not affect our moral conception, but rather may be used to implement the application of its first principles of justice and suggest to us institutions and policies better designed to realize them in practice.37

In justice as fairness, then, the main ideals of the conception of justice are embedded in the two model-conceptions of the person and of a well-ordered society. And, granting that these ideals are allowed by the theory of human nature and so in that sense feasible, the first principles of justice to which they lead, via the constructivist procedure of the original position, determine the long-term aim of social change. These principles are not, as in rational intuitionism, given by a moral order prior to and independent from our conception of the person and the social role of morality; nor are they, as in some naturalist doctrines, to be derived from the truths of science and adjusted in accordance with advances in human psychology and social theory. (These remarks are admittedly too brief, but we must return to the main line of discussion.)


The rational intuitionist may object that an essential feature of constructivism—the view that the facts to count as reasons of justice are singled out by the parties in the original position as agents of construction and that, apart from such construction, there are no reasons of justice—is simply incoherent.38 This view is incompatible not only with the notion of truth as given by a prior and independent moral order, but also with the notions of reasonableness and objectivity, neither of which refer to what can be settled simply by agreement, much less by choice. A constructivist view, the objection continues, depends on the idea of adopting or choosing first principles, and such principles are not the kind of thing concerning which it makes sense to say that their status depends on their being chosen or adopted. We cannot "choose" them; what we can do is choose whether to follow them in our actions or to be guided by them in our reasoning, just as we can choose whether to honor our duties, but not what our duties are.

In reply, one must distinguish the three points of view that we noted at the end of the first lecture (in section VII, 533/4): that of the parties in the original position, that of the citizens in a well-ordered society, and that of you and me who are examining justice as fairness to serve as a basis for a conception that may yield a suitable understanding of freedom and equality. It is, of course, the parties in the original position whose agreement singles out the facts to count as reasons. But their agreement is subject to all the conditions of the original position which represent the Reasonable and the Rational. And the facts singled out by the first principles count as reasons not for the parties, since they are moved by their highest-order interests, but for the citizens of a well-ordered society in matters of social justice. As citizens in society we are indeed bound by first principles and by what our duties are, and must act in the light of reasons of justice. Constructivism is certain to seem incoherent unless we carefully distinguish these points of view.

The parties in the original position do not agree on what the moral facts are, as if there already were such facts. It is not that, being situated impartially, they have a clear and undistorted view of a prior and independent moral order. Rather (for constructivism), there is no such order, and therefore no such facts apart from the procedure of construction as a whole; the facts are identified by the principles that result. Thus the rational intuitionists' objection, properly expressed, must be that no hypothetical agreement by rationally autonomous agents, no matter how circumscribed by reasonable conditions in a procedure of construction, can determine the reasons that settle what we as citizens should consider just and unjust; right and wrong are not, even in that way, constructed. But this is merely to deny what constructivism asserts. If, on the other hand, such a construction does yield the first principles of a conception of justice that matches more accurately than other views our considered convictions in general and wide reflective equilibrium, then constructivism would seem to provide a suitable basis for objectivity.

The agreement of the parties in the original position is not a so-called "radical" choice: that is, a choice not based on reasons, a choice that simply fixes, by sheer fiat, as it were, the scheme of reasons that we, as citizens, are to recognize, at least until another such choice is made. The notion of radical choice, commonly associated with Nietzsche and the existentialists, finds no place in justice as fairness. The parties in the original position are moved by their preference for primary goods, which preference in turn is rooted in their highest-order interests in developing and exercising their moral powers. Moreover, the agreement of the parties takes place subject to constraints that express reasonable conditions.

In the model-conception of a well-ordered society, citizens affirm their public conception of justice because it matches their considered convictions and coheres with the kind of persons they, on due reflection, want to be. Again, this affirmation is not radical choice. The ideals of the person and of social cooperation embedded in the two model-conceptions mediated by the original position are not ideals that, at some moment in life, citizens are said simply to choose. One is to imagine that, for the most part, they find on examination that they hold these ideals, that they have taken them in part from the culture of their society.

The preceding paragraph ties in with what I said at the beginning of the first lecture, except that there I was talking about us and not about a well-ordered society. Recall that a Kantian view, in addressing the public culture of a democratic society, hopes to bring to awareness a conception of the person and of social cooperation conjectured to be implicit in that culture, or at least congenial to its deepest tendencies when properly expressed and presented. Our society is not well-ordered: the public conception of justice and its understanding of freedom and equality are in dispute. Therefore, for us—you and me—a basis of public justification is still to be achieved. In considering the conception of justice as fairness we have to ask whether the ideals embedded in its model-conceptions are sufficiently congenial to our considered convictions to be affirmed as a practicable basis of public justification. Such an affirmation would not be radical choice (if choice at all); nor should it be confused with the adoption of principles of justice by the parties in the original position. To the contrary, it would be rooted in the fact that this Kantian doctrine as a whole, more fully than other views available to us, organized our considered convictions.

Given the various contrasts between Kantian constructivism and rational intuitionism, it seems better to say that in constructivism first principles are reasonable (or unreasonable) than that they are true (or false)—better still, that they are most reasonable for those who conceive of their person as it is represented in the procedure of construction. And here 'reasonable' is used instead of 'true' not because of some alternative theory of truth, but simply in order to keep to terms that indicate the constructivist standpoint as opposed to rational intuitionism. This usage, however, does not imply that there are no natural uses for the notion of truth in moral reasoning. To the contrary, for example, particular judgments and secondary norms may be considered true when they follow from, or are sound applications of, reasonable first principles. These first principles may be said to be true in the sense that they would be agreed to if the parties in the original position were provided with all the relevant true general beliefs.

Nor does justice as fairness exclude the possibility of there being a fact of the matter as to whether there is a single most reasonable conception. For it seems quite likely that there are only a few viable conceptions of the person both sufficiently general to be part of a moral doctrine and congruent with the ways in which people are to regard themselves in a democratic society. And only one of these conceptions may have a representation in a procedure of construction that issues in acceptable and workable principles, given the relevant general beliefs.39 Of course, this is conjecture, intended only to indicate that constructivism is compatible with there being, in fact, only one most reasonable conception of justice, and therefore that constructivism is compatible with objectivism in this sense. However, constructivism does not presuppose that this is the case, and it may turn out that, for us, there exists no reasonable and workable conception of justice at all. This would mean that the practical task of political philosophy is doomed to failure.


My account of Kantian constructivism in moral theory (as illustrated by justice as fairness) is now concluded. I should stress, however, that for all I have said it is still open to the rational intuitionist to reply that I have not shown that rational intuitionism is false or that it is not a possible basis for the necessary agreement in our judgments of justice. It has been my intention to describe constructivism by contrast and not to defend it, much less to argue that rational intuitionism is mistaken. In any case, Kantian constructivism, as I would state it, aims to establish only that the rational intuitionist notion of objectivity is unnecessary for objectivity. Of course, it is always possible to say, if we ever do reach general and wide reflective equilibrium, that now at last we intuit the moral truths fixed by a given moral order; but the constructivist will say instead that our conception of justice, by all the criteria we can think of to apply, is now the most reasonable for us.

We have arrived at the idea that objectivity is not given by "the point of view of the universe," to use Sidgwick's phrase. Objectivity is to be understood by reference to a suitably constructed social point of view, an example of which is the framework provided by the procedure of the original position. This point of view is social in several respects. It is the publicly shared point of view of citizens in a well-ordered society, and the principles that issue from it are accepted by them as authoritative with regard to the claims of individuals and associations. Moreover, these principles regulate the basic structure of society within which the activities of individuals and associations take place. Finally, by representing the person as a free and equal citizen of a well-ordered society, the constructivist procedure yields principles that further everyone's highest-order interests and define the fair terms of social cooperation among persons so understood. When citizens invoke these principles they speak as members of a political community and appeal to its shared point of view either in their own behalf or in that of others. Thus, the essential agreement in judgments of justice arises not from the recognition of a prior and independent moral order, but from everyone's affirmation of the same authoritative social perspective.

The central place of the conception of the person in these lectures prompts me to conclude with a note of warning, addressed as much to me as to anyone else: ever since the notion of the person assumed a central place in moral philosophy in the latter part of the eighteenth century, as seen in Rousseau and Kant and the philosophy of idealism, its use has suffered from excessive vagueness and ambiguity. And so it is essential to devise an approach that disciplines our thought and suitably limits these defects. I view the three model-conception that underlie justice as fairness as having this purpose.

To elucidate: suppose we define the concept of a person as that of a human being capable of taking full part in social cooperation, honoring its ties and relationships over a complete life. There are plainly many specifications of this capacity, depending, for example, on how social cooperation or a complete life is understood; and each such specification yields another conception of the person falling under the concept. Moreover, such conceptions must be distinguished from specifications of the concept of the self as knower, used in epistemology and metaphysics, or the concept of the self as the continuant carrier of psychological states: the self as substance, or soul. These are prima facie distinct notions, and questions of identity, say, may well be different for each; for these notions arise in connection with different problems. This much is perhaps obvious. The consequence is that there are numerous conceptions of the person as the basic unit of agency and responsibility in social life, and of its requisite intellectual, moral, and active powers. The specification of these conceptions by philosophical analysis alone, apart from any background theoretical structure or general requirements, is likely to prove fruitless. In isolation these notions play no role that fixes or limits their use, and so their features remain vague and indeterminate.

One purpose of a model-conception like that of the original position is that, by setting up a definite framework within which a binding agreement on principles must be made, it serves to fix ideas. We are faced with a specific problem that must be solved, and we are forced to describe the parties and their mutual relations in the process of construction so that appropriate principles of justice result. The context of the problem guides us in removing vagueness and ambiguity in the conception of the person, and tells us how precise we need to be. There is no such thing as absolute clarity or exactness; we have to be only clear or exact enough for the task at hand. Thus the structure defined by the original position may enable us to crystallize our otherwise amorphous notion of the person and to identify with sufficient sharpness the appropriate characterization of free and equal moral personality.

The constructivist view also enables us to exploit the flexibility and power of the idea of rational choice subject to appropriate constraints. The rational deliberations of the parties in the original position serve as a way to select among traditional or other promising conceptions of justice. So understood, the original position is not an axiomatic (or deductive) basis from which principles are derived but a procedure for singling out principles most fitting to the conception of the person most likely to be held, at least implicitly, in a modern democratic society. To exaggerate, we compute via the deliberations of the parties and in this way hope to achieve sufficient rigor and clarity in moral theory. Indeed, it is hard to see how there could be any more direct connection between the conception of free and equal moral persons and first principles of justice than this construction allows. For here persons so conceived and moved by their highest-order interests are themselves, in their rationally autonomous deliberations, the agents who select the principles that are to govern the basic structure of their social life. What connection could be more intimate than this?

Finally, if we ask, what is clarity and exactness enough? the answer is: enough to find an understanding of freedom and equality that achieves workable public agreement on the weight of their respective claims. With this we return to the current impasse in the understanding of freedom and equality which troubles our democratic tradition and from which we started. Finding a way out of this impasse defines the immediate practical task of political philosophy. Having come full circle, I bring these lectures to a close.


Presented as three lectures, on Kantian Constructivism in Moral Theory, given at Columbia University in April, 1980; the first, "Rational and Full Autonomy," on April 14; the second, "Representation of Freedom and Equality," on April 15; the third, "Construction and Objectivity," on April 16. These lectures constitute the fourth series of John Dewey Lectures, which were established in 1967 to honor the late John Dewey, who had been from 1905 to 1930 a professor of philosophy at Columbia.

In revising these lectures for publication I should like to thank Burton Dreben for helpful discussion which has led to numerous improvements and clarifications, and also Joshua Cohen and Samuel Scheffler for valuable criticisms of an earlier version of material included in lectures I and III, originally prepared for the Howison Lecture at Berkeley in May 1979. As always, I am indebted, at many points, to Joshua Rabinowitz.

1 Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971. Hereafter referred to as TJ.

2 See, for example, Dewey's Outlines of a Critical Theory of Ethics (1891) and The Study of Ethics: A Syllabus (1894) reprinted in John Dewey: The Early Works, 1882-1898 (Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 1971), in volumes 3 and 4, respectively. From Dewey's critique of Kant in Outlines, pp. 290-300, and his statement of his own form of the self-realization doctrine, pp. 300-327, Dewey's debt to idealism is plain enough.

3 These features were not conveniently stated at any one place in TJ. In this and the next lectures I try to give a clearer and more systematic account of this notion and to indicate its basic role as a model-conception.

4 See TJ, § 58, where several cases of conscientious refusal are considered in connection with the problem of just war. As for our relations with the order of nature, note the last paragraph of § 77.

5 A fuller discussion can be found in Allen Buchanan, "Revisability and Rational Choice," Canadian Journal of Philosophy, v, 3 (November 1975): 395-408. For a more general account of which the use of primary goods is a special case, see T. M. Scanlon, "Preference and Urgency," this JOURNAL, LXXII, 19 (Nov. 6, 1975): 655-669.

6 See, for example, § 15, pp. 92 ff, where primary goods are first discussed at some length; and also pp. 142 f, 253, 260, and 433 f. The question whether the account of primary goods is a matter for social theory, or depends essentially on a conception of the person, is not discussed. I am grateful to Joshua Cohen, Joshua Rabinowitz, T. M. Scanlon, and Michael Teitelman for helpful criticism and clarification on this important point.

7 See On the Basis of Ethics (1840), Part II, § 7, E.
F. J. Payne, trans. (New York: Liberal Arts Press, 1965), pp. 89-92. I am indebted to Joshua Cohen for pointing out to me that my previous reply to this criticism misses the force of Schopenhauer's objection. See TJ, pp. 147 f. Thanks to him, I believe the reply in the text is better and connects with the revised account of primary goods. I am indebted also to Stephen Darwall's "A Defense of the Kantian Interpretation," Ethics, LXXXVI, 2 (January 1976): 164-170.

8 This seems to be the view of Oliver A. Johnson in his reply to Darwall, see fn 7 above. See Ethics, LXXXVII, 3 (April 1977): 251-259, p. 253 f.

9 I am indebted to Norman Daniels for clarification of this point.

10 Thus, for example, average utilitarianism might be presented as a kind of constructivism. See TJ, § 27.

11 I am indebted to Joshua Rabinowitz for clarification concerning these distinctions.

12 Here I should explain that in a well-ordered society coercive sanctions are rather rarely, if ever, actually applied (since offences are presumably infrequent), nor need severe sanctions be legally permitted. Stability means that institutional rules are generally complied with, and the role of the machinery of sanctions is to support citizens' mutual expectations of one another's settled intention to follow these norms. See TJ, pp. 269 f, 336, 576 f.

13 Put in a different way: a well-ordered society does not require an ideology in order to achieve stability, understanding 'ideology' (in Marx's sense) as some form of false consciousness or delusory scheme of public beliefs.

14 I am indebted to Thomas Nagel, Derek Parfit, and T.
M. Scanlon for instructive discussion on this and related points.

15 I should like to thank Sidney Morgenbesser for improvements in this and the next paragraph.

16 The remarks in this paragraph indicate part of the basis for a reply that I believe can be made to some of the objections raised by Bernard Williams to a Kantian view. See his paper "Persons, Character and Morality," in A. O. Rorty, ed., The Identities of Persons (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1976), pp. 197-216.

17 For a brief account, see "Fairness to Goodness," Philosophical Review, LXXXIV, 4 (October 1975): 536-554, pp. 551-554.

18 I am indebted to Joshua Rabinowitz for the distinction between a thick and a thin veil of ignorance as stated in this and the next paragraph.

19 For a discussion of the basic structure as the first subject of justice, see "The Basic Structure as Subject," in A. I. Goldman and Jaegwon Kim, eds., Values and Morals (Boston: Reidel, 1978), pp. 47-72.

20 See TJ, § 48, and pp. 88 f.

21 These terms are suggested by a similar distinction drawn by J. L. Mackie, Ethics (New York: Penguin Books, 1977), pp. 106 f, 134 ff.

22 It is in some such fashion that I am inclined to interpret the important although difficult passages in the Second Critique where the Fact of Reason enters in.

23 On Sidgwick now, see the comprehensive work by
J. B. Schneewind, Sidgwick's Ethics and Modern Victorian Moral Philosophy (New York: Oxford, 1977).

24The Methods of Ethics (London: Macmillan 1907), 7th ed., pp. v-vi; parenthetical page references to Sidgwick are to this book, this edition.

25 See Essay IV: "Duty for Duty's Sake," 2nd ed. (New York: Oxford, 1927).

26 See The Right and the Good (Oxford: The Clarendon Press, 1930), esp. chs. 1-2. I shall adopt Ross's characterization of rational intuitionism, adjusted to allow for any number of first principles and, thus, as fitting either single-principle or pluralistic intuitionism. I should add that, for my purposes here, I interpret Aristotle's view as combining teleological and metaphysical perfectionism. Although this may not be a sound interpretation in the light of contemporary scholarship, it suits well enough how Aristotle was interpreted up to Kant's time.

27Methods, Book III, ch. 13, pp. 379-389. See Schneewind's discussion, ch. 10, pp. 286-309.

28 I borrow this expression from Peter Hylton's discussion, The Origins of Analytic Philosophy, ch. 3 (Dissertation: Harvard University, 1978).

29 See The Principles of Mathematics (London: Allen & Unwin, 1937), 2nd ed. (1st ed. 1903), pp. xv-xvi. The analogy of the mental telescope is Russell's.

30 Because it formulates definitions of the basic moral concepts in terms of nonmoral concepts, this being the mode of identifying those facts which are to count as good reasons in applying the basic moral concepts, naturalism is a form of heteronomy from the Kantian standpoint. The various definitions, presumably arrived at by the analysis of concepts, convert moral judgments into statements about the world on all fours with those of science and common sense. Therefore, these definitions, combined with the natural order itself, now come to constitute the moral order, which is prior to and independent from our conception of ourselves as free and equal moral persons. If time permitted, this could be substantiated by setting out, for example, the details of Hume's view (as often interpreted) and of Bentham's hedonistic utilitarianism, at least once these views are expressed in the requisite naturalistic format. (Rational intuitionism tries to secure a kind of independence of the moral order from the order of nature.)

31 This fundamental contention is unfortunately obscured by the fact that although in the Grundlegung Kant classifies the view of Leibniz and Wolff as a form of heteronomy, his criticism of it is that it is circular and therefore empty. See Academy Edition, p. 443. Much the same happens in the Second Critique, Academy Edition, p. 41, where Kant argues that the notion of perfection in practical reasoning means fitness for any given ends and therefore is again empty until these ends are specified independently. These arguments give the erroneous impression that, if perfectionism had sufficient content, it would be compatible with autonomy.

32 See, for example, Methods, pp. 23-28, 34-37, 39 f, read together with the discussion of the self-evident basis of the principle of utility, cited in fn 5 above.

33 For a statement of these principles and priority rules, see TJ, pp. 60-62, 250, 302/3.

34 See "The Basic Structure as Subject," in A. I. Goldman and Jaegwon Kim, eds., Values and Morals (Boston: Reidel, 1978), especially secs. IV-V, pp. 52-57.

35 See The Right and the Good, pp. 41/2. Ross refers to Aristotle's remark: "The decision rests with perception" (Nicomachean Ethics 1109 b 23, 1126 b 4).

36 See Lecture II, section I.

37 Therefore these advances in our knowledge of human psychology and social theory might be relevant at the constitutional, legislative, and judicial stages in the application of the principles of justice, as opposed to the adoption of principles in the original position. For a brief account of these stages, see TJ, § 31.

38 For this and other objections to what I call "constructivism" in this lecture, see the review of TJ by Marcus Singer, Philosophy of Science, XLIV, 4 (December 1977): 594-618, pp. 612-615.1 am grateful to him for raising this objection, which I here try to meet. Singer's criticism starts from the passage on page 45 of TJ (also referred to above, 564/5). It should not be assumed that Singer's own position is that of rational intuitionism. I simply suppose that a rational intuitionist would make this objection.

39 I am indebted to Samuel Scheffler for valuable discussion on this point.

Christine Korsgaard (essay date 1985)

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SOURCE: "Kant's Formula of Universal Law," in Pacific Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 66, 1985, pp. 24-47.

[In the following essay, Korsgaard evaluates different interpretations regarding the kind of contradiction referred to in Kant's first formulation of the Categorical Imperative.]

Kant's first formulation of the Categorical Imperative, the Formula of Universal Law, runs:

Act only according to that maxim by which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. (G 421/39)1

A few lines later, Kant says that this is equivalent to acting as though your maxim were by your will to become a law of nature, and he uses this latter formulation in his examples of how the imperative is to be applied. Elsewhere, Kant specifies that the test is whether you could will the universalization for a system of nature "of which you yourself were a part" (C2 69/72); and in one place he characterizes the moral agent as asking "what sort of world he would create under the guidance of practical reason, . . . a world into which, moreover, he would place himself as a member." 2 But how do you determine whether or not you can will a given maxim as a law of nature? Since the will is practical reason, and since everyone must arrive at the same conclusions in matters of duty, it cannot be the case that what you are able to will is a matter of personal taste, or relative to your individual desires. Rather, the question of what you can will is a question of what you can will without contradiction.

According to Kant, willing universalized maxims may give rise to contradictions in two ways:

Some actions are of such a nature that their maxim cannot even be thought as a universal law of nature without contradiction, far from it being possible that one could will that it should be such. In others this internal impossibility is not found, though it is still impossible to will that their maxim should be raised to the universality of a law of nature, because such a will would contradict itself. We easily see that the former maxim conflicts with the stricter or narrower (imprescriptible) duty, the latter with broader (meritorious) duty. (G 424/41-42)

The first sort of contradiction is usually called a contradiction in conception, and the second a contradiction in the will.

In this paper I am concerned with identifying the sense in which there is a "contradiction" in willing the universalization of an immoral maxim, and especially with the sense in which the universalization of such a maxim can be said to have a contradiction in it—that is, with the idea of a contradiction in conception. There are three different interpretations of the kind of contradiction Kant has (or ought to have) in mind found in the literature.3 They are:

  • The Logical Contradiction Interpretation. On this interpretation, there is something like a logical impossibility in the universalization of the maxim, or in the system of nature in which the maxim is a natural law: if the maxim were universalized, the action or policy that it proposes would be inconceivable.
  • The Teleological Contradiction Interpretation. On this interpretation, it would be contradictory to will your maxim as a law for a system of nature teleologically conceived: either you are acting against some natural purpose, or your maxim could not be a teleological law. The maxim is inconsistent with a systematic harmony of purposes, or with the principle that any organ, instinct, or action-type has a natural purpose for which it must be the one best suited.
  • The Practical Contradiction Interpretation. On this interpretation, the contradiction is that your maxim would be self-defeating if universalized: your action would become ineffectual for the achievement of your purpose if everyone (tried to) use it for that purpose. Since you propose to use that action for that purpose at the same time as you propose to universalize the maxim, you in effect will the thwarting of your own purpose.

In trying to determine which of these views is correct, it is important to remember that it is not just because of the contradiction in the universalized maxim that immoral action is irrational. Kant is not claiming that immoral conduct is contradictory—if he were, the moral law would be analytic rather than synthetic. In any event, a contradiction in the universalization of your maxim would not prove that there is a contradiction in your maxim, for these are different. The Formula of Universal Law is a test of the sufficiency of the reasons for action and choice which are embodied in our maxims. The idea the universalizability is a test for sufficiency ("what if everybody did that?") is a familiar one, and shows in an intuitive way why it is rational to attend to a universalizability requirement. But the claim that universalizability is a test for a reason sufficient to motivate a rational being cannot be fully defended at this stage of the argument, for the full defense requires the connection to autonomy. Kant's critical ethical project is to prove that perfect rationality includes conformity to the categorical imperative: but in the Foundations this project is directly taken not up until the Third Section, 4 The Second Section, where the Formula of Universal Law appears, is devoted to showing us what the content of the categorical imperative will be if there is one. The question of contradictions arises not in the context of determining why you must conform your conduct to the categorical imperative, but of how you do so.

Yet in trying to come to an understanding of how the Formula of Universal Law is to be applied, we must not lose sight of this further goal. Any view of how the Formula of Universal Law is applied must presuppose some view of what rational willing is. The problem is most obviously pressing for the case of contradictions in the will, for it seems impossible to say what contradicts a rational will until we know what a rational will is, or what is necessarily contains. There is a contradiction in one's beliefs if one believes both x and not-x, or things that imply both x and not-x. There is a contradiction in one's will if one wills both x and not-x, or things that imply both x and not-x. But until one knows what things are involved in or implied by "willing x," one will not know how to discover these contradictions. So in determining which maxims can be willed as universal law without contradiction, we will have to employ some notion of what rational willing is. Some of the interpretations of the contradiction in conception test also rely on particular views of what rational willing is. This is why we must keep in view Kant's eventual aim of showing that moral conduct is rational conduct. Whatever view of the nature of rational willing is used in determining how the formula is to be applied must also be used in determining why it is rational to act as the formula prescribes.

One constraint this places on interpretations of the test is this: it must not employ a notion of rational willing that already has moral content. An example will show what I mean. John Stuart Mill says of Kant:

But when he begins to deduce from this precept any of the actual duties of morality, he fails, almost grotesquely, to show that there would be any contradiction, any logical (not to say physical) impossibility, in the adoption by all rational beings of the most outrageously immoral rules of conduct. All he shows is that the consequences of their universal adoption would be such as no one would choose to incur.5

Mill thinks that Kant's view really amounts to an appeal to utility, to what we would now call rule-utilitarianism. A rule-utilitarian interpretation of the Formula of Universal Law gives, as Mill points out, no sense to Kant's use of the word "contradiction" in this context. Yet, we could give it sense by claiming that a rational being is by definition opposed to undesirable consequences, and therefore cannot, without contradiction, will the universalization of any maxim if that universalization would have undesirable consequences. But roughly this kind of connection between a rational will and a moral will is what Kant is trying to establish, and therefore to use such a definition in explaining the contradiction test would make the Kantian argument circular. For if we use this definition we are already presupposing a morality-laden conception of what it is to be rational: we are assuming the sort of connection between moral goodness and rationality that Kant is preparing to demonstrate. So although the contradiction tests by themselves do not show us why immoral action is irrational, the notion of rational willing which they presuppose must be one that can be used at the later stage of the argument.

My question is which of the three "kinds" of contradiction we should expect to find in the universalized version of an immoral maxim, and my aim is to defend the third answer, that it is a practical contradiction. I should say from the outset that although there is one important piece of textual evidence for this answer, it is my view that no interpretation can be based on textual considerations alone. Language supporting all of them can be found in Kant's texts, and it seems possible that he was not aware of the differences among them. My defense of the practical contradiction interpretation will therefore be based primarily on philosophical considerations. For each interpretation I will ask (i) what kinds of cases it can handle, (ii) whether it can meet some standard objections, (iii) what sort of distinction between the contradiction in conception test and the contradiction in the will test is implied by it, and, most importantly, (iv) what presuppositions about rationality it makes and so what kind of case it will allow Kant to make when he turns to the critical project of showing that morality is pure rationality.

I. The Logical Contradiction Interpretation

Some of Kant's defenders have tried to identify a contradiction of just the sort Mill denies can be found. Versions of a Logical Contradiction Interpretation have been defended by Dietrichson, Kemp, and Wood,6 among others. I suppose hardly any of this interpretation's proponents have held it in the pure form that Mill describes: what they have looked for is something very like a logical or physical impossibility. Part of the reason for this is that it is clear that nothing like a logical contradiction can be found for the contradiction in the will test, since we are explicitly told that maxims that fail that test are conceivable. But there is no question that much of Kant's language favors a Logical Contradiction Interpretation for the contradiction in conception test. He says that universalizations of immoral maxims destroy themselves (G 403/19), annihilate themselves (C2 27/27), are inconceivable or cannot be thought, and so on. The example that fits this view best is the false promising example. A man in financial difficulties considers "borrowing" money which he knows he can never repay. Kant explains how this fails the contradiction in conception test this way:

.. . the universality of a law which says that anyone who believes himself to be in need could promise what he pleased with the intention of not fulfilling it would make the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it impossible; no one would believe what was promised to him but would only laugh at any such assertion as vain pretense. (G 422/40)

Proponents of the Logical Contradiction Interpretation tend to focus on the remark that the promise itself would be impossible, as this seems to be where a logical inconceivability would lie. Kant tells us that promises would be impossible if this maxim were universalized because no one would believe them. There are various ways to find a contradiction here. One could say that the contradiction is that we are trying to conceive a world in which the agent (and everyone with his purpose) is making a certain sort of false promise, but at the same time we are necessarily conceiving a world in which no one can be making this sort of promise, since you cannot make a promise (of this sort) to someone who will not accept it. Perhaps the clearest way to bring out a logical contradiction is to say that there would be no such thing as a promise (or anyway a repayment-promise) in the world of the universalized maxim. The practice of offering and accepting promises would have died out under stress of too many violations. Thus we are imagining a world in which the agent and everyone with his purpose is making a certain sort of promise, but also a world in which there is no such thing. And this is logically inconceivable. If universalizing a maxim makes the action proposed inconceivable, then, we can get a logical contradiction.

A Problem About Violence

The difficulty in taking this line shows up in a problem that Dietrichson describes in "Kant's Criteria of Universalizability." He considers the case of a woman who has decided to consider the maxim "if I give birth to a baby weighing less than six pounds, I shall do everything in my power to kill it."7 Dietrichson points out that it is certainly possible to conceive the idea of every mother behaving according to this rule. In my view, Dietrichson's example is not a properly formulated maxim, since it does not mention the mother's reason for killing the child. The child's weighting less than six pounds is not by itself recognizable as a prima facie reason for killing it. Since the Formula of Universal Law is a test of the sufficiency of reasons, the maxim must include them. But this is not the problem brought out by Dietrichson's example. We can make the maxim one of killing children that tend to cry at night more than average, in order to get enough sleep. Either Dietrichson's maxim or mine could clearly be a universal law without a logical contradiction. There could in fact be worlds where these things happen. They could happen in our world.

Dietrichson's solution is to appeal to the second contradiction test, and to place this among the maxims whose universalizations cannot be willed although they can be conceived. But this will not work. Different ways of deriving duties lead to different kinds of duty, with different moral and legal consequences. In the Foundations, Kant associates the contradiction in the will test with wide, meritorious duties (G 424/42), and the duty not to kill a child is obviously not of that kind.

Since Kant's account of the division of duties changes it is worth noting that even the later views will not permit Dietrichson's solution. The examples in the Foundations are divided in the text into perfect duties to self, perfect duties to others, imperfect duties to self and imperfect duties to others. A footnote warns us, however, that Kant will make his own division of duties in the Metaphysics of Morals. (G 421/39) That work is divided into duties of justice and of virtue. Now it might seem tempting to simply identify duties of justice, narrow duties, perfect duties, and negative duties with one another and similarly to suppose that duties of virtue, wide duties, imperfect duties, and positive duties are the same. But this would be an oversimplification: Kant's categorizations are more intricate than that.8 For although the duties of virtue are said to be broad or wide duties, there are perfect and negative duties that appear in this category: the duty not to commit suicide (one of Kant's Foundations examples) being an important instance. The perfect duties of virtue are the duties not to abuse your own moral and physical person and duties of respect (as opposed of those of love) to others. (MM 464/130, § 41)

There is room for controversy about exactly what effect this complex categorization has on the derivation of the relevant duties. In the Foundations, Kant's view seems to be that all perfect duties, whether of virtue or of justice, are to be derived from the contradiction in conception test. At least, this is how he tries to derive the duty not to commit suicide. Later, I will explain why I think that the derivation of this duty given by Kant under the Formula of Universal Law in the Foundations does not work. My own opinion is that this is because the perfect duties of virtue require a more complex derivation than Kant gives them in the Foundations. Perfect duties of virtue spring from the fact that there are ends against which we must not act, and ends cannot be assigned to us by the contradiction in the conception test, although they can by the contradiction in the will test. Kant's own texts do not give us direct guidance here, for in spelling out the duties of virtue in the Metaphysics of Morals he for the most part uses the concepts and casuistical methods of the Formula of Humanity rather than that of Universal Law. But if one holds that all duties of virtue, perfect or imperfect, depend on obligatory ends, one might be tempted to use the contradiction in the will test, which now can identify some perfect duties, for cases like Dietrichson's.

But this move could not solve the problem because even if this is a way to derive some perfect duties they are still only duties of virtue if they are arrived at in this way. Like the imperfect duties of virtue that assign ends we are to promote, they are externally unenforceable because the law cannot make us hold an end. (MM 379-385/36-43) Imperfect duties of virtue are wide duties because the law does not prescribe exactly what and how much you must do to promote the obligatory ends. Perfect duties of virtue are wide for the somewhat different reason that acting for the sake of these ends is something we must work towards—we cannot, in our "phenomenal" lives, just decide to act for the sake of these ends. (MM 392/51 and § 22, 446/110-111) You can decide to treat someone with outward respect, but you cannot just decide to treat them so out of real respect. The attitudes involved are ones that you must cultivate, a sort of internal labor that ethics assigns to us, and how much and what you can do may depend on the circumstances of your life and perhaps the temperamental obstacles you have to overcome. But the murder of a child does not merely show the mother's failure to value it as an end in itself (although it does do that). This means only that the mother lacks virtues that she ought to have. The murder is also an injustice, a violation of right, and the duty not to commit murder is—as duties of virtue are not—rightfully enforceable. (MM 218-221/17-20 and 383-384/40-41) This puts it into the category of duties of justice, which are enforceable. We need the contradiction in conception test to identify this kind of immorality.9

Natural and Conventional Actions

The problem that is demonstrated by Dietrichson's example springs from the fact that the action contemplated is one of natural violence. In the promising case we were able to generate a logical contradiction because the practice of promising was, under stress of universal violation, ushered off the scene. There would no longer be such a thing as promising. No such analysis is available here, because killing cannot be ushered off the scene by the way it is employed. The reason is obvious. Promising is, in the sense developed Rawls by in "Two Concepts of 10 a practice. Both Rules," the possibility and the efficacy of actions performed within a convention such as promising—such as making, accepting, and keeping promises—depend on the existence, by conventional establishment, of the practice. The practice is comprised of certain rules, and its existence (where it is not embodied in an institution with sanctions) consists in the general acknowledgement and following of those rules. Now it is perhaps difficult to say exactly under what conditions a practice exists. We know that practices can exist if their rules are violated sometimes, for they do. But they cannot exist if their rules are universally violated. One may generate the contradiction by saying that when this happens the practice has new rules and becomes a different practice, but this is somewhat obscure. The clearer thing to say is this: a practice has a standard purpose, and if its rules are universally violated it ceases to be efficacious for this purpose, and so ceases to exist. People find some other way to achieve it, and the practice simply goes out of business. This is what happens in Kant's false promising example. Repayment promises, because they are never accepted, become nonexistent. People either make no loans or find another way to ensure repayment. For this reason, all actions which could not intelligibly exist or would not be efficacious without the existence of practices, and yet violate the rules of those practices, are easily handled by both the Logical and the Practical Interpretations of the contradiction test. Willing universal violation creates an inconsistency by making the action-type that it universalizes a non-existent one, and ipso facto, ineffectual.

But in Dietrichson's case there is no practice. The action is killing, and no amount or kind of use of the action of killing is going to make it impossible. And this is because the existence of this kind of action and its efficacy depend only on the laws of nature, not on any conventional practice. For shorthand, I am going to call actions like promising "conventional actions" and actions like killing "natural actions." The Logical Contradiction interpretation works well for immoral conventional actions, but it is not very clear how it can handle immoral natural actions. When an action's possibility depends only on the laws of nature it cannot become inconceivable through universal practice.

Two Hegelian Objections

In my view, it is the difficulty about natural actions which is most damaging to the Logical Contradiction Interpretation. Before I turn to the other views, however, I should mention some objections that are usually taken to be its most serious problem. I will call these the Hegelian objections, since they were originally put forward by Hegel dley and others.11 One of the and promulgated Hegelian objections by Brais that universal law test is empty. I will borrow the formulation used by H. B. Action, discussing Kant's Critique of Practical Reason example of a man who is considering not returning a deposit (C2 27-28/26-27):

In an essay entitled On the Scientific Treatment of Natural Law (1803), Hegel says that all Kant's argument shows is that a system without deposits is contradicted by a system with deposits, but not that there is any contradiction in a system without deposits. Kant makes there seem to be a contradiction in a system without deposits because he assumes that everyone would want there to be deposits, and this, says Hegel, shows that Kant was assuming the system of property and was arguing that if everyone kept what belongs to others then there would be no system of property. The interesting question, Hegel goes on, is just why there should be property, and about this Kant says nothing.12

This objection as it stands does not hold. On the Logical Contradiction Interpretation, the contradiction lies not in envisioning a society in which there are no deposits, but in envisioning a society in which the agent and others with his purpose are making use of the deposit system even though there is no such thing. The contradiction is generated when the agent tries to will his maxim and the universalization of his maxim at the same time, or tries to will it for a system of which he is to be a part. The non-existence of the practice that results from universalization is contradicted by the existence of it presupposed in the individual maxim.

The other Hegelian objection pulls in the opposite direction: instead of showing the test to be empty, it shows it to be too strong. Bradley describes it this way:

'Steal property' is a contradiction, for it destroys property, and with it possibility of theft.

We have no need here to push further a metaphysical argument against this view, for it supplies us at once with a crushing instance against itself. The essence of morality was a similar contradiction.... Morality is .. . as inconsistent as theft. 'Succor the poor' both negates and presupposes (hence posits) poverty: as Blake comically says:

Pity would be no more,
If we did not make somebody poor.

If you are to love your enemies, you must never be without them; and yet you try to get rid of them. Is that consistent? In short, every duty which presupposes something to be negated is no duty; it is an immoral rule, because self-contradictory,13

It is true that we cannot imagine a world in which people give to the poor and there are no poor. Since there is no one to give to, it is an impossible state of affairs. But the advocate of Logical Contradiction Interpretation can handle the objection. He can say that Bradley has misstated the maxim. The maxim is to succor those who need it, and this maxim can be consistently held (and in a degenerate sense acted on) in a world where no one needs help. The policy of succoring those who need it when no one does is not inconceivable. It merely gives one nothing to do.

II. The Teleological Contradiction Interpretation

According to the Teleological Contradiction interpretation, when we test our maxim by the two contradiction tests under the Formula of the Law of Nature, we are to consider whether we could will the universalized maxim as a possible law in a teleologically organized system of nature. There are two versions of this view. The first, which I will call the simple view, is usually understood this way: the contradiction emerges when an action or instinct is used in a way that is inconsistent with its natural purpose, or is not used in a way that its natural purpose calls for. A problem with this view as I have just stated it is that it makes no real use of universalization. Yet, there is some textual support for this interpretation: Kant does not scruple to use teleological language, and there are five arguments in the published ethical writings in which Kant's reasoning is explicitly teleological. One is the argument about the function of practical reasoning in the first section of the Foundations. (G 395-396/11-12) That argument is certainly teleological—Kant indeed carefully sets forth its teleological basis—but it is not a derivation of duty. Of the other four, two appear in the Foundations, in connection with the first set of examples: in deriving the duty not to commit suicide (G 421-422/39-40) and in deriving the duty of self-cultivation. (G 423/41) The other two are in the Metaphysics of Morals, where lying is said to violate the natural purpose of the power of communication (MM 429/91) and carnal self-defilement is denounced by appeal to the natural purpose of the sexual instincts. (MM 424-425/85-87)

The second version of this view is that of H. J. Paton, spelled out in Chapter XV of The Categorical Imperative.14 Paton is the major proponent of the Teleological Contradiction Interpretation and Beck partly endorses Paton's view. Aune also believes that Kant relies on a teleological conception Paton in formulation.15 the clear applying that it is of the Law that thinks Nature laws of nature Kant had in mind were teleological rather than causal, and that the test is whether "a will which aimed at a systematic harmony of purposes in human nature could consistently will this particular as maxim 16 Paton's view differs a law of human nature." from the simple view in that he thinks that a teleological system serves as the type of the moral law, rather than thinking that our actions must not contradict actual natural purposes. However, in his account of the examples he takes Kant's explicitly teleological language as evidence for his interpretation, although that language suits the simple view.17 The difference matters more than Paton seems to realize, for the presuppositions about rationality are different. On his own view the claim must be that a rational being as such values a systematic harmony of human purposes, whereas on the simple view we must claim that a rational being as such values natural purposes. In what follows I will consider both versions.

As I mentioned, the usual understanding of the teleological view is that we find some way to assign natural purposes to various instincts and types of actions and then find the contradiction when universalized maxims involve uses of those instincts and actions that defeat the natural purpose or perhaps are merely deviant. The best evidence that Kant understood the contradiction test this way is the suicide example,18 and it can be made to fit this pattern.

In the first teleological argument in the Foundations, Kant offers this as a general principle of teleological judgment: "we assume as an axiom that no organ will be found for any purpose which is not the fittest and best adapted to that purpose." (G 395/11) We can use this regulative principle to assign natural purposes to action-types as well as to organs, instincts, and other organic arrangements. Kant uses it to establish that the attainment of happiness is not the natural purpose of practical reason—the argument being that since instinct would be a better guide to happiness than reason is, reason is not the fittest and best adapted thing for that purpose. So let us say that there is a teleological contradiction if we propose as a universal law that a certain organ, instinct, or action-type be used in a way that makes it less than the fittest and best device for achieving its natural purpose. For example, we will say that the "natural purpose" of promising is to establish trust and confidence and the cooperation which they make possible. False promising on a universal scale makes promising less than the best device for this natural purpose. The suicide case will work this way: self-love is for the natural purpose of self-preservation; in the system of nature that results from universalizing the maxim of committing suicide out of self-love, self-love would not be the instinct fittest and best adapted to the purpose of self-preservation. As Kant says, "One sees immediately a contradiction in a system of nature whose law would be to destroy life by the feeling whose special office is to impel the improvement of life." (G 422/40) So the standard set by the regulative principle of teleological judgment is not met.

An attraction of the Teleological Contradiction Interpretation is that it looks at first as if it is going to resolve the most difficult problem faced by the Logical Contradiction Interpretation, that of natural actions. Suicide, after all, is such an action. The reason that it is not hard to find a contradiction in willing the universal violation of a practice is that the practice has a standard purpose: universal violation causes people to find some other way to carry out this purpose, and that is why the practice is abandoned. The Teleological view promises to allow us to treat natural actions in a similar way, for it assigns these actions or the instincts that prompt them standard purposes like the ones practices have—namely natural purposes. Of course it is true that a natural action or instinct, unlike a practice, will survive its universal abuse. But this is not a problem for the Teleological Contradiction Interpretation, for the defender of this view can say that the action or instinct will not, if universally misused, be best fitted for its purpose. That, not the existence of the action-type or instinct, is his criterion for establishing the contradiction.

But there is a difficulty with this solution to the problem of natural actions and with the proposed reading of the suicide case generally. It is that the suicide himself is not supposed to be able to will the teleological system based on the universalization of his maxim. Now it may be said that the suicide certainly cannot will the teleological system resulting from the universalization of his maxim, since, qua teleological system, it has a contradiction in it (an instinct not best adapted to its purpose). But this is a curiously abstract way to make a case against suicide. The contradiction in the teleological system is, after all, that a mechanism designed for the protection of life is malfunctioning. But the suicide doesn't want the mechanism to function well in his own case, and he may be indifferent about other cases. So neither his own purpose nor anything else commits him to the purpose. So if Kant's point were that the suicide cannot will the teleological system in question because qua teleological system it has a contradiction in it, Kant would simply be committed to the view that a rational being as such wills a well-functioning teleological system, regardless of whether he wills the purposes that it serves. But then it is hard to see how the argument can go through. This instinct would be malfunctioning with regard to this purpose, but nothing prevents the suicide from willing that both the instinct and its purpose be scrapped. The problem is that of the first Hegelian objection: just in the same way that Hegel says that there is no contradiction in willing away deposits because the world does not require them, so the suicide will say that the world does not require a self-preservation instinct (or any other teleological device) to make people go on living unless one supposes that it is better that people go on living. But this is what a suicide undertakes not to suppose. And we cannot use the answer to that objection that we used before. In the false promising case we said, using the Logical Contradiction view, that the man who is unable to will the universalization of the maxim of false promising does envision promising going on. He is going to make a promise. But the suicide's intention does not require him either to will or to envision the well-functioning of the self-preservation instincts. He does not plan to use them, or care whether they exist.

This objection does not apply in the same way to Paton's view. On Paton's view, the order of nature is a typic for the systematic harmony of human purposes. He supposes that a rational agent is committed to this harmony. One might object that this has the same problem as the utilitarian view: it presupposes a morality-laden view of reason. But Paton can counter this objection. He cites as evidence Kant's argument in the Critique of Practical Reason that self-love cannot be the basis of morality because it does not produce harmony purposes. (C2 28/27-28)19 And he might a also cite of as evidence the Critique of Pure Reason view that a harmony of purposes 20 These things is the formal may highest unity that of Kant to imply reason. be taken pure thinks that rationality commits us to a harmony of purposes. Of course, this conclusion does not necessarily imply that when we reason morally we reason from such a harmony—it might instead be that this is a harmony that morality teaches us how to achieve. However that may be, the idea that a rational being is committed to a harmony of purposes will only help us with the Formula of Universal Law if we can somehow establish that the proposed natural purpose of the action-type is one needed for the systematic harmony of all human purposes and therefore is one that the agent must will.

The problem shows up in Paton's analysis of the false promising case. He reads the Teleological Contradiction Interpretation into the promising case by suggesting that the purpose of promises is to produce trust and mutual confidence; false promises destroy trust and therefore universalization makes the purpose of promising impossible. Paton comments:

What Kant says is true enough so far as it goes, but it does not offer a satisfactory basis for moral judgment unless we make the further assumption that the keeping of such promises and the mutual confidence thereby aroused are essential factors in the systematic harmony of human purposes.21

That is, we have to presuppose that the teleological system needs promises. Again, we get a problem like that of the first Hegelian objection.

On either Paton's or the simple view, the teleological analysis requires a commitment to specific purposes: either purposes of nature (like the preservation of life in the suicide example) or purposes required for the systematic harmony of human purposes. The trouble with bringing in teleological considerations in order to assign these purposes to natural as well as conventional actions is that such purposes may have nothing to do with what the agent wants or ought rationally to want, or even with what any human being wants. Unless we can show that the agent is committed to the purpose, it is possible to say that the system can do without the teleological arrangement because it can do without the purpose.

The Practical Contradiction Interpretation, which appeals to thwarting of the agent's own purpose in formulating the maxim in the first place, will solve this problem.

III. The Practical Contradiction Interpretation

According to the contradiction the Practical in Contradiction Interpretation22 conception test, the contradiction that is involved in the universalization of an immoral maxim is that the agent would be unable to act on the maxim in a world in which it were universalized so as to achieve his own purpose—that is, the purpose that is specified in the maxim. Since he wills to act on his maxim, this means that his purpose will be frustrated. If this interpretation is correct, then it is essential that in testing maxims of actions the purpose always be included in the formulation of the maxim. It is what happens to the purpose that is the key to the contradiction.

The test is carried out by imagining, in effect, that the action you propose to perform in order to carry out your purpose is the standard procedure for carrying out that purpose.23 What the test shows to be forbidden are just those actions whose efficacy in achieving their purposes depends upon their being exceptional. If the action no longer works as a way of achieving the purpose in question when it is universalized, then it is an action of this kind. Intuitively speaking, the test reveals unfairness, deception, and cheating. For instance, in the false promising case, the difficulty is that the man's end—getting the money—cannot be achieved by his means—making a false promise—in the world of the universalized maxim. The efficacy of the false promise as a means of securing the money depends on the fact that not everyone uses promises this way. Promises are efficacious in securing loans only because they are believed, and they are believed only if they are normally true. Since promising is the means he proposes to use, his end would not be achieved at all, but frustrated. In willing the world of the universalized maxim and—as Kant says—at the same time—willing the maxim itself, the man wills the frustration of his own end. As Kant says, the man "would make the promise itself and the end to be accomplished by it impossible." (G 422/40) This way of looking at the test also shows us one sense in which violations of the universal law test imply that you are using others as mere means. If you do something that only works because most people do not do it, their actions are making your action work. In the false promising case, other people's honesty makes your deceit effective.

Practical Contradictions

Even proponents of this view, or versions of it, sometimes describe a practical contradiction as being a contradiction in a weaker sense than a theoretical one.24 This is not correct. Kant's ethics is based on the idea that there is a specifically practical employment of reason, which is not the same as an application of theoretical reason. It includes a specifically practical sense of "contradiction." The argument that shows this seems to me to be an almost decisive one in favor of this interpretation.

After laying out the three kinds of imperatives, Kant tells us that hypothetical imperatives are analytic. This means, ordinarily, two things: the relation expressed is one of conceptual containment, and the opposite or denial is a flat contradiction. Intuitively, we can see why failing to conform your conduct to relevant hypothetical imperatives, and thus frustrating your own purposes, is contradictory. Someone who wills an end, knows that it will be brought about by a certain necessary and available means, has no extraneous reason not to use that means, and yet is utterly unmoved to take it, is irrational in a to that does seem to way capture 25 We might contradiction. the sense that amount there is a contradiction here by saying that such a person is acting as if she both did and didn't will the end. But Kant can do better than that, for he also explains the containment relation that makes the hypothetical imperative analytic:

Whoever wills the end, so far as reason has decisive influence on his action, wills also the indispensably necessary means to it that lie in his power. This proposition, in what concerns the will, is analytical; for, in willing the object as my effect, my causality as an acting cause, i.e., the use of means, is already thought, and the imperative derives the concept of necessary actions to this end from the concept of willing this end. (G 417/34-35)

The argument is based on an idea that plays a central role in Kant's ethics generally, namely that willing is regarding yourself as a cause: that the will is, as Kant says in the opening argument of Section Three of the Foundations, "a causality of living beings insofar as they are rational." (G 446/64) It is because we must regard ourselves not only as a cause but as a free cause or a first cause that it turns out rationality requires autonomy, and this is the basis of moral obligation. In the argument above, Kant's point is this: willing is regarding yourself as the cause of the end in question—as the one who will bring it about. This distinguishes willing from mere wanting or wishing or desiring. Conceiving yourself as a cause of the end is conceiving yourself as setting off a causal chain that will result in the production of the end. It is conceiving yourself as using the available causal connections. But the available causal connections are, by definition, "means." So, willing the end contains, or insofar as you are rational is already, willing the means. It is because this is a "containment" relation—in the logic of practical reason—that acting against the hypothetical imperative is contradictory. This gives us a sense of practical contradiction—of contradiction in the will—which is different from but not weaker than "theoretical" contradiction.

Since this is the sort of contradiction implied by the analyticity of hypothetical imperatives, it is reasonable to think that this will be the sort of contradiction employed in the categorical imperative tests. On the Practical Contradiction Interpretation, such a contradiction in the universalization of an immoral maxim is exactly what the test shows. In the world of the universalized maxim, the hypothetical imperative from which the false promiser constructs his maxim is no longer true. It was "if you want some ready cash, you ought to make a false promise." But at the same time that he employs this hypothetical imperative in constructing his maxim, he wills its falsification, by willing a state of affairs (the world of the universalized maxim) in which it will be false. In that world, false promising is not a means to getting ready cash. Kant, therefore, not only has a specifically practical sense of "contradiction," but should be seen as employing it in his contradiction tests.

The Hegelian Objections

Like the Logical Contradiction Interpretation, the Practical Contradiction Interpretation enables us to answer the Hegelian objections, and it shows even more clearly why those objections miss the moral point of a universalization test. The first Hegelian objection is that the universalization test is empty. There is no contradiction in a system without such practices as deposits or promises. The proponent of the Logical Contradiction view replies that the contradiction is not merely in a system without these practices but in an agent engaging in these practices in a system without them. On the Practical Contradiction Interpretation the answer we shall give is still better. The person who tries to will the universalization of this maxim is not only thereby willing a situation in which practices like deposits and promises do not exist. He is also willing that they do exist, precisely because he is willing to use them to achieve his ends. The man who wills the universalization of the false promise, for example, is also willing to use a false promise to get the money. But he cannot rationally will to use a promise to achieve his end at the same time that he wills a situation in which promises will not be accepted, because if his promise is not accepted it is not a means to achieving his end. Thus the Practical Contradiction Interpretation's answer to this Hegelian objection is that Kant need not be assuming that everyone wants there to be deposits. The man in the example wants there to be a system of deposits, because he proposes to use that system as the means to his end. In a clear sense he is unfair.

The second objection was that the test is too strong. You cannot universalize "succor the poor," since if everyone did this poverty would be eliminated and there would be no one to succor. The Practical Contradiction Interpretation answers this objection both readily and, in an obvious way, correctly. One's purpose in succoring the poor is to give them relief. The world of the universalized maxim only contradicts one's will if it thwarts one's purpose. A world without poverty does not contradict this purpose, but rather satisfies it another (better) way, and no contradiction arises.26

Contradictions in Conception and in the Will

Another advantage of this view is that it should enable us to employ the same sense of contradiction in interpreting the two contradiction tests, and yet still to distinguish between them. Consider what the other two interpretations say about this question. The Logical Contradiction Interpretation forces us to look for a different sort of contradiction altogether for the contradiction in the will test, since Kant is explicit about the fact that no logical inconceivability is involved there. The Logical Contradiction Interpretation seems initially to have the virtue that it involves no presuppositions about rationality that are not completely uncontroversial. The contradiction it identifies in universalizing immoral maxims is of a familiar kind. But this advantage is lost if we must use different presuppositions in order to understand the contradiction in the will test. Often, proponents of the Logical Contradiction Interpretation for contradictions in conception end up with something like a utilitarian or a teleological view about contradictions in the will. But the utilitarian reading has the same problem for the second test as it does for the first: it presupposes a morality-laden conception of rationality. The Teleological Contradiction Interpretation, on the other hand, does not seem to allow for a very well-defined distinction between the two tests. I suppose one may say that in the case of a contradiction in conception, some specific instinct or action is found not to be best adapted to its particular purpose; and in the case of a contradiction in the will, we lose some positive good needed for a teleological system, or for the systematic harmony of human purposes. But it is not really obvious that these are distinct. Recall that Paton could not find a contradiction in the false promising case without assuming that promises are needed for the harmony of human purposes. This problem tends to collapse the two tests.

Now consider the Practical Contradiction Interpretation. If a thwarted purpose is a practical contradiction, we must understand the contradiction in the will test this way: we must find some purpose or purposes which belong essentially to the will, and in the world where maxims that fail these tests are universal law, these essential purposes will be thwarted, because the means of achieving them will be unavailable. Examples of purposes that might be thought to be essential to the will are its general effectiveness in the pursuit of its ends, and its freedom to adopt and pursue new ends. The arguments for self-development and mutual aid will then be that without the development of human talents and powers and the resources of mutual cooperation, the will's effectiveness and freedom would be thwarted. This is of course just a sketch. Exactly which purposes are essential to the will and how they can be shown to be so is a topic in its own right, which I will not pursue further here. The point is that the Practical Contradiction Interpretation gives a better account of the relation between the two tests than either of the others. The difference between the two tests will not lie in the use of a different kind of contradiction, as it does in the Logical Contradiction Interpretation. And yet there will be a difference. The purpose thwarted in the case of a maxim that fails the contradiction in the conception test is the one in the maxim itself, and so the contradiction can be said to be in the universalized maxim. The purpose thwarted in the case of the contradiction but in the test is not one that is in the one will that is 27 essential to the maxim, will.

The Problem of Natural Actions

The Practical Contradiction Interpretation, like the Logical, works especially well with respect to wrong actions which are conventional. But the reason why it works is slightly different. On the Logical Contradiction Interpretation, the contradiction arises because the agent wills to engage in a conventional action, but he also wills a state of affairs in which that kind of action will no longer exist. On the Practical Contradiction Interpretation, the contradiction arises because the agent wills to engage in a conventional action, but he also wills a state of affairs in which that action will no longer work. When we are dealing with an action that falls under a practice, the two views are readily confused, because the reason the action no longer works is because it no longer exists. But on the Practical Contradiction Interpretation it is the failure of efficacy, not the non-existence, that really matters.

This gives rise to the possibility that with the Practical Contradiction Interpretation we will be able to derive at least some of our duties of omission with respect to natural actions. Natural actions are not going to cease to exist if used wrongly, but their efficacy for some purposes may depend on their exceptional use. A great deal depends here on what the purpose is taken to be and how it is described. One case that is borderline between natural and conventional is stealing. That might seem wholly conventional, since property is a practice, but it is difficult to imagine an economic system in which the means of production and action were not guaranteed to 28 And any the violation use of particular of persons at times. these guaranteed particular assignments would be "stealing." Now if the purpose of stealing is to acquire something for your personal use or possession—to get something you want when you want it—and you imagine that anyone in your situation—anyone who wants something not assigned to him—steals it, as a standard procedure—then you see that under these conditions it is quite impossible to acquire something for your use or possession, to have it when you want it. The idea here is that what the thief really wants is to make something his property, to have some guarantee that he will have it when he wants it. His purpose is therefore thwarted if his maxim is universalized.

That case is borderline, but a similar analysis might apply to wholly natural acts. Here is a silly example. Suppose you are second in line for a job, and are considering murder as a way of dealing with your more successful rival. Can this be universalized? Killing is a natural act, not a conventional one. We cannot say that if this sort of action is abused the practice will die out, for that makes no sense whatever. Nor can we say that any amount or kind of use of killing will destroy its efficacy in achieving its purpose if we specify that purpose simply as that of getting someone dead. So here the test will only work if the purpose is specified differently. We must say that the purpose is that of securing a job, and we must emphasize the fact that if anyone else wants this job, or any job you hold, universalization makes you the victim. Now, it may seem that the purpose that is thwarted by universalization—that of staying alive—is not the same as the purpose in your maxim—that of securing the job. This would be bad. It is the fact that it is the purpose in the maxim that gets thwarted in the world of the universalized maxim that enables us to carry out the test without any extraneous information about the agent's desires and purposes. If it is some other, contingent, purpose that gets thwarted, then it looks as if the test (i) requires empirical information about what other purposes people have and (ii) functions idiosyncratically, giving different results to people with different desires. These are both conclusions the Kantian wants to avoid. We shall avoid them here by pointing out that this is not a case of an extraneous end being thwarted. Staying alive matters in this example because it is a necessary condition of having the job.

That might seem like a silly thing to say in this case, but it is an application of a point which is not in general silly at all. In Utilitarianism, Mill argues that justice is specifically concerned with a special object of human interest—that of security. Security is not merely one good thing among others, but to put it in Kantian language, a condition of the goodness of anything else:

. . . but security no human being can possibly do without; on it we depend for all our immunity from evil, and for the whole value of all and every good, beyond the passing moment, since nothing but the gratification of the instant could be of any worth to us, if we could be deprived of anything the next instant by whoever was momentarily stronger than ourselves.29

The Kantian may avail himself of this insight. To want something is to want to be secure in the possession of it. The use of violent natural means for achieving ends cannot be universalized because that would leave us insecure in the possession of these goods, and without that security these goods are no good to us at all. So, if we include as part of the purpose that the agent wants to be secure in the possession of the end, we can get a practical contradiction in the universalization of violent methods. And in fact, Kant's argument in the Metaphysical Elements of Justice about why there must be proprietary rights is not very different from Mill's: it is that we need to be secure in the possession of certain sorts of goods in order to successfully make use of them. (MM 246ff/52ff)

The method of dealing with natural acts which I have just suggested focuses on the question whether you could really achieve your purpose—with everything that purpose involves (i.e., security in its possession) in a world where your action was the universal method of achieving that purpose. Another way to approach this problem is to consider whether the social conditions that allow violence to work as a method of achieving this purpose would exist if it were the universal method. It is true that natural laws are all that is needed to make violent methods yield their natural effects, but more is needed to make them yield their social effects. For example, the simplest way of making the argument against cheating on an entrance examination is to point out that if everyone did this the entrance examination would cease to be used as a criterion for selection. Since a lot of incompetent people would get in, it would be found impracticable and some other method would be chosen. ("Everyone would laugh at entrance examinations as vain pretenses.") Placing people in jobs is like this: it is something for which there must be a method, and if one method were universally abused, another, not liable to that abuse, would be found. Now if murder to get a job were universally practiced, the best candidates would not get the jobs. So whatever it is about the old selection process that makes this possible would be changed. Perhaps no one would be told who the candidates were, or people would even keep it a secret what jobs they held. Again, the argument sounds silly in this case but is meant to bring out something that is not silly. Cheating could not be the first or standard procedure for getting into an educational program. It is essentially parasitic on the existence of another method. Violence, in many cases, also has this parasitic nature when it is a way of achieving a purpose in society.

The Practical Contradiction Interpretation can therefore handle some cases of natural actions. A harder kind of case would be something like killing for revenge, or out of hatred. In these cases it is not some enduring condition that the agent wants to achieve—he wants the immediate result—so the security consideration will not help us here.30 These grim kinds of cases are managed without difficulty when using the Formula of Humanity, but it will be difficult to find any contradiction of the sort needed here. And this problem applies to the suicide case as well. On the Practical Contradiction Interpretation we cannot get an analysis of that case, for the suicide's purpose, if it is release from his own misery, will not be thwarted by universal practice. There is an important parallel to this problem. Kant's theory is least helpful and least plausible when one is dealing with a case where other people around the agent have already introduced evil into the situation. His debate with Benjamin Constant about whether you may lie to the murderer whose victim is hidden in your house, and his insistence that there is never a right to revolution, are infamous examples of cases in which his view seems to forbid us to try to prevent or to set right the wrongs committed by others. I believe that there is a similar sort of difficulty in making out what Kant is to say about cases where something has gone wrong inside, where the problem is not the selfish pursuit of an ordinary purpose, but a diseased purpose. I do not say that Kant is unable to give us an account of these cases. But the kind of case around which the view is framed, and which it handles best, is the temptation to make oneself an exception: selfishness, meanness, advantage-taking, and disregard for the rights of others. It is this sort of thing, not violent crimes born of despair or illness, that serves as Kant's model of immoral conduct. I do not think we can fault him on this, for this and not the other is the sort of evil that most people are tempted by in their everyday lives.


It is conceivable that Kant did not perceive the differences among these three readings, and that this is why language supporting all of them can be found in his texts. In a certain kind of case, the three readings are very close. Where the immoral action involves the abuse of a practice, the Logical Contradiction Interpretation says you cannot universalize because the practice will not exist and the action will be inconceivable; the Teleological Contradiction Interpretation says you cannot universalize because the practice will then not be best suited for what in a teleological system would be its natural purpose; and the Practical Contradiction Interpretation says you cannot universalize because if the practice disappears it will of course no longer be efficacious in producing your purpose. These three analyses are very close, and for this kind of case the differences are insignificant. It is only when we begin to consider the problems created by natural actions, the Hegelian objections, and the need to extend our analysis in the right way to the contradiction in the will test that differences emerge. In my view, the Practical Contradiction Interpretation deals with these problems better than the other two, although not always with complete success.

The best argument for it, however, is that it employs the sense of contradiction which Kant identifies in his analysis of the hypothetical imperative. Each interpretation must presuppose some notion of rationality in determining whether a rational being can will the universalization of a maxim at the same time as that maxim without contradiction. The Logical Contradiction view works with a notion of contradiction indistinguishable from that of theoretical rationality and this is a great advantage. But this advantage is lost when we turn to contradictions in the will, which then require another interpretation. The Teleological Contradiction view works with a rather rich notion of rationality as aiming at a harmony of purposes. I think on Kant's view pure reason does aim at a harmony of purposes, but that only morality tells us how that is to be achieved. We cannot reason morally from that idea. The Practical Contradiction view uses a specifically practical notion of rationality and of contradiction which springs from the notion of the will as a causality. This is not a morality-laden notion of rationality, for on Kant's view this notion is needed to explain instrumental rationality.

Yet the same notion will also be employed in explaining why the moral law applies to us. The Practical Contradiction Interpretation allows us to sketch an explanation, in terms of autonomy, of why the conformity to the Formula of Universal Law is a requirement of reason. Start with a parallel to theoretical reasoning: as a rational being, you may take the connection between two events to be a causal one. But this connection must always hold—must hold universally—if the cause you have identified is indeed sufficient to produce that effect. Only in this case is what you have identified a law. The rational will, regarding itself as a causality, models its conception of a law on a causal law. As a rational being you may take the connection between a purpose you hold and an action that would promote it to be a reason for you to perform the action. But this connection must be universalizable if the reason is sufficient. Only in this case have you identified a law. If universalization would destroy the connection between action and purpose, the purpose is not a sufficient reason for the action. This is how, on the Practical Contradiction Interpretation, the contradiction in conception test shows an immoral maxim to be unfit to be an objective practical law. As an autonomous rational being, you must act on your conception of a law. This is why autonomy requires comformity to the Formula of Universal Law.31


1 References to Kant's ethical works will be given in the text, using the abbreviations below. In each case, the first number represents the page in the relevant volume of the Prussian Academy of Sciences edition of Kant's works, and the second the page number in the translation listed.

G Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals. Translated by Lewis White Beck. Library of Liberal Arts, 1959.

C2Critique of Practical Reason. Translated by Lewis White Beck. Library of Liberal Arts, 1956.

MM The Metaphysics of Morals. For the Preface and General Introduction, and for the Metaphysical Principles of Virtue, I have used the translation by James Ellington in Immanuel Kant: Ethical Philosophy. Hackett, 1983. For the Metaphysical Elements of Justice, see the translation by John Ladd, Library of Liberal Arts, 1965.

2 Immanuel Kant, Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, translated by Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt H. Hudson. Harper Torchbooks, 1960, p. 5.

3 Of course, these are general categories and fitting everyone's views into them would involve distortion; there are many slight differences in interpretation. I think, however, that they represent the main kinds of reading, and will indicate how I am classifying some important commentators as I present the views.

4 See the last paragraph of Section Two, G 444-445/63-64; also the last full paragraph on G 420/38.

5 John Stuart Mill, Utilitarianism, in Mill: Utilitarianism with Critical Essays, edited by Samuel Gorovitz, Bobbs-Merrill Text and Commentary Series, p. 15.

6 See Paul Dietrichson, "Kant's Criteria of Universalizability" in Kant: Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals: Text and Critical Essays, edited by Robert Paul Wolff. Bobbs-Merrill, 1969. This essay is based on Dietrichson's "When is a Maxim Fully Universalizable?" Kant-Studien, Band 55, 1964. For Kemp's views, see J. Kemp, "Kant's Examples of the Categorical Imperative" The Philosophical Quarterly, Vol. 8 No. 30, 1958, also reprinted in Kant: Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals: Text and Critical Essays. I attribute this view to Allen Wood on the basis of his paper "Kant on False Promises" in Proceedings of the Third International Kant Conference, edited by Lewis White Beck. Dordrecht Holland: D. Reidel, 1972.

7 Dietrichson, "Kant's Criteria of Universalizability" in Kant: Foundations of the Metaphysics of Morals: Text and Critical Essays, p. 188.

8 For a good discussion of this issue, see Onora Nell (O'Neill), Acting on Principle: An Essay on Kantian Ethics. Columbia University Press, 1975. Although I do not agree with this work on every point, it will be obvious to anyone who knows the book that I owe a great deal to it.

9 Kant does not use the Formula of Universal Law to derive the duties of justice in the Metaphysics of Morals. Instead he uses the Universal Principle of Justice, which tells us that our actions should be consistent with universalizable external freedom. (MM 230-231/35) But in the Foundations, Kant suggests that violations of right are wrong in the same way as false promising (G 430/48), and this suggests that they should be derivable from the contradiction in conception test. Furthermore, it is reasonable to think that if injustices are by definition inconsistent with universalizable external freedom, their universalizations should display contradictions in conception if anything does.

10 John Rawls, "Two Concepts of Rules," Philosophical Review 64, 1955.

11 Obviously, this discussion is not intended as a complete treatment of Hegel's criticisms of Kant's ethical philosophy. I mean only to cover some objections that recur in the literature and are usually referred to Hegel.

12 H. B. Acton, Kant's Moral Philosophy. Macmillan, St. Martin's Press, 1970, pp. 24-25.

13 F. H. Bradley, "Duty for Duty's Sake," Essay IV in Ethical Studies. (1876), Oxford, 1970, p. 155.

14 H. J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative. (1947), University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971, pp. 146-157.

15 See Lewis White Beck, A Commentary on Kant's Critique of Practical Reason. Chicago, 1960, pp. 159-163; and Bruce Aune, Kant's Theory of Morals. Princeton, 1979, pp. 59ff.

16 Paton, The Categorical Imperative, p. 151.

17 This emerges when Paton, in discussing one of Kant's direct uses of teleological language, says that in this case ". . . Kant is on stronger ground. Here his teleology is more explicit . . ." See The Categorical Imperative, p. 155.

18 This is contrary to the view of Paton, who thinks this example is the best evidence that Kant intended the typic to be ordinary causal laws, and also that it is not a good example. See The Categorical Imperative, p. 148.

19 Paton, The Categorical Imperative, p. 140.

20 Immanuel Kant, Critique of Pure Reason (1781 and 1787), translated by Norman Kemp Smith, Macmillan, St. Martin's Press, 1965, p. 560, (A 686-687; B 714-715).

21 Paton, The Categorical Imperative, p. 153.

22 This view is supported by Marcus Singer in Generalization in Ethics and a version of it is supported in Onora Nell (O'Neill), Acting on Principle: An Essay on Kantian Ethics.

23 The test works most smoothly where the hypothetical reasoning behind the maxim to be tested is purely instrumental. The problem of universalizing maxims like that of becoming a doctor in order to make one's living (the objection being that not everyone could do this) arises because the reasoning is constitutive. Being a doctor is an instance of a profession with certain features which the agent wants. The more we can specify these features, the closer we will come to the testable reasons that should be embodied in the maxim.

24 See for instance Singer, Generalization in Ethics, p. 259. Although Nell's version of the test is like the Practical Contradiction Interpretation in that she emphasizes the impossibility of acting on the maxim in the world of the universalized maxim, she supposes that Kant appeals to the Law of Nature formulation because applying the notions of self-defeat or self-frustration is not as clear as applying that of contradiction. See Acting on Principle, p. 63. Although she notes that Kant thinks that hypothetical imperatives are analytic, she thinks this is in a loose sense, (p. 70n)

25 Perhaps you will be tempted to say that this case does not occur. There would always be some extraneous reason for such a person not to take the means. This temptation is one to be resisted. Kant thinks that we are imperfectly rational: and one thing this means is that we will not always have reasons for being uninfluenced by reasons. It may be that there is always a cause of irrationality. Perhaps someone does not take the means to an end because she is depressed. This can be forced into the mold of a reason ("I feel so tired it would not be worth it to me right now"), and the agent herself will feel inclined to treat it that way. But it may not be the best way to describe what is really going on to say she has a reason not to take the means. If we think she would be better off taking the means even though she feels lethargic, we will find it better to say the depression is a cause of irrationality rather than that it changes the structure of the available reasons.

26 See the discussion in Singer, Generalization in Ethics, (1961) Atheneum, 1971, pp. 279-292.

27 In Kant's first set of examples of the contradiction in the will test in the Foundations, there is no purpose given in the maxim. But even if we assigned purposes to the agents who adopt these maxims the point will hold. The man who does not develop his talents and powers presumably has the purpose of taking his ease. But the purpose that is thwarted is the development of his rational nature.

28 I do not mean that there has to be property in the thick Lockean sense of complete control of an object and absolute right to do anything with it. I only mean that there could not be a society in which persons did not have rights of use with respect to objects for certain durations—say the way you "own" the furniture in your office. An editor has pointed out to me that a system without something like promises may be just as hard to imagine, in which case those too will be a borderline case.

29 Mill, Utilitarianism, in Mill: Utilitarianism, Text and Critical Essays, p. 50.

30 Here is something we cannot do. We cannot get something like the security condition by saying that the vengeful killer wants to kill and get away with it—he wants not to be killed in turn himself, so he cannot universalize his vengeful maxim. We cannot say this because we don't know it. The security argument works only if we can say that security in the possession of a good or the continuance of a situation is really a condition of achieving that good or situation at all. It must not be a separate end. But wanting to get away with it is a separate end; getting away with it is not a condition of getting revenge. For notice that if we tried to make this our argument a vengeful killer would be morally all right if he did not mind paying the price.

31 I would like to thank an editor for comments which have enabled me to make this paper much clearer.

Andrews Reath (essay date 1989)

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SOURCE: "The Categorical Imperative and Kant's Conception of Practical Rationality," in The Monist, Vol. 72, No. 3, July, 1989, pp. 384-410.

[In this essay, Reath traces Kant's derivation of the moral law from his conception of practical rationality.]

1. Introduction

The primary concern of this paper is to outline an explanation of how Kant derives morality from reason. We all know that Kant thought that morality comprises a set of demands that are unconditionally and universally valid (valid for all rational beings). In addition, he thought that to support this understanding of moral principles, one must show that they originate in reason a priori, rather than in contingent facts about human psychology, or the circumstances of human life.1 But do we really understand how he tries to establish that moral principles originate in reason? In at least two passages in the second section of the Groundwork, Kant insists upon the importance of grounding the moral law in practical reason a priori, and subsequently states a conception of practical reason from which he appears to extract The reasoning a formulation of the Categorical perative.2 Imemployed in these passages would appear to be of central importance to the overall argument of the Groundwork, but in each case the route travelled from the definition of practical reason to the ensuing formulation of the moral law is obscure. My goal is to work out a plausible reconstruction of this portion of Kant's argument. At the very least, I hope that my interpretation will illuminate the distinctive structure of the Kantian approach to questions of justification in ethics. What I understand of Kant's view leads me to believe that its aims and overall shape are different in important respects from what is often assumed. It also represents an approach to foundational issues in ethics, which provides an alternative to many contemporary attempts to ground morality in reason.

I will be limiting myself to a small part of this very large question. Theories of this sort, Kant's included, tend to address two separate questions of justification. The first is that of justifying one substantive moral conception as opposed to another. This is primarily a concern with content: which moral principles should we adopt, given the fact that we are going to adopt some? The second is that of giving some account of why moral reasons make valid claims on agents, or why we should adhere to them (whatever they may involve). This is a concern with the reasons that one has for acting morally, or with the justification of the moral life. In part this is a question of identifying, or producing, the motivation for adhering to moral principles, but I shall refer to it less specifically as a concern with their validity. I will be examining Kant's approach to the first issue—how he derives the outline of a substantive moral Here conception practical reason.3 from a concept of concerned I shall be particularly to identify the conception of practical rationality that Kant draws on, and to explain how it functions in his derivation of morality.

Contemporary attempts to derive morality from reason often seek an independent foundation for morality in a more basic conception of rationality. As David Wiggins has put it, such a theory supposes that one can "construct an a priori theory of rationality or prudence such that . . . rationality is definable both independently of morality and ideals of agency and in such a way as to have In other independent words, it leverage seeks a comprehensive in these ancient and disputes." morally 4 neutral definition of practical rationality that is universally valid, from which a set of moral principles can be derived. In this way, one would have provided a justification for a set of moral principles, and shown that adherence to them is a basic requirement of rationality on conduct, which has authority for any agent regardless of professed desires and motives.

It is often assumed that Kant's theory fits this pattern, by attempting to provide a foundation for morality that is morally neutral, and thus, in Bernard Williams's phrase, to construct morality "from the ground up."5 I will argue that this is not the case. While the conception of practical rationality which Kant assumes is a priori and has a claim to universal validity, it is not empty of substantive ideals. Indeed it is a distinguishing feature of a Kantian view that it does not attempt to derive morality from a morally neutral starting point. Its general structure is that it ties the content of a moral conception to a more general set of ideals—of the person, of agency, or of rationality—which, while applying widely, and providing some kind of independent perspective on morality, need not be empty of moral content. The validity of the moral conception for us is established by the fundamental character of these ideals and the reasonableness of applying them to ourselves, and the motivation to act from it comes ultimately from an understanding of the ideals in question, and of how they are expressed in the actions which it singles out.

If this is the case, Kant's account is not aimed at showing that bad conduct is irrational, or inconsistent with principles to which one is committed qua rational, as that is often understood, where the sense of irrationality is explained solely in terms of prudential or instrumental rationality plus logical consistency. More generally, Kant clearly did not think that any form of instrumental rationality (rationality as the effective pursuit of one's ends, or as consistency among desires, beliefs and actions) is sufficient by itself to yield a moral conception. For it is fundamental to his moral view that we recognize different forms of practical reasoning, that moral evaluation is distinct from prudential and involves a set of concerns not reducible to something more primitive.6 The Hypothetical Imperative and the Categorical Imperative, or what Kant also calls empirical practical reason and pure practical reason, represent different kinds of normative standards and patterns of evaluation. Indeed it is a major aim of the Critique of Practical Reason to show that the "empirically conditioned use of reason" does not exhaust the use of reason in the practical sphere, and that there is such a thing as pure practical reason. [KpV 15/15]

We may distinguish these two forms of rationality provisionally as follows. The Hypothetical Imperative is the principle underlying the empirically conditioned use of reason. It states that if one wills an end, then one ought to will the means needed to achieve it insofar as they are in one's power (or else give up the end). It assesses the rationality of actions relative to the ends which one desires or has adopted, and thus yields specific judgments about what an individual ought to do only in ends.7 What makes information about conjunction this use with of reason her "empirically conditioned" is that it assesses actions relative to given desires or ends, and yields judgments whose application is conditional on one's desires or ends. The Hypothetical Imperative is often thought to apply primarily to the pursuit of one's own happiness, but in fact it applies to the pursuit of any end that an agent can adopt, including moral ends. In contrast, pure practical reason will address questions of evaluation that are beyond the scope of empirical practical reason. It will introduce standards for evaluating actions and ends that are non-instrumental, and apply independently of given desires and ends—principles which ground judgments of intrinsic goodness or acceptability to anyone, which for Kant are the basis of justification to others. There are grounds for thinking, in addition, that pure practical reason will be concerned with the evaluation and choice of ends for their own sake (in contrast to the choice of actions as means to ends). This will include the capacity to elect aims and goals viewed as intrinsically good or worthy of choice, which can initiate actions and structure larger practical pursuits.8

Any account of how Kant derives the content of the moral law from reason must be consistent with the existence of these distinct forms of rationality. But then the question arises of how a derivation of the moral law from reason can actually be carried out. The moral law cannot be derived from any notion of empirical practical reason, and a derivation from pure practical reason would seem to lack independent force, since it already contains the concerns essential to morality. In a sense this is right. On the interpretation that I develop, something like moral ideals are embedded in the conception of choice and the ordinary use of practical reason from the start. But the way to explain Kant's view is to show how moral choice builds on features present in any form of choice, and thus to trace morality to features of rationality found in all forms of conduct. The fact that moral rationality cannot be derived from a more primitive (nonmoral) basis need not imply that it is not found in less developed forms.

The key here is that Kant thought that both forms of reasoning inform all rational choice, including choice of actions that we might not think of as morally motivated. Even in the pursuit of purely personal ends, the rational agent is not concerned solely to make her actions rational relative to her desires. She will also view at least some of her ends as good in themselves, and as providing reasons for her actions whose justifying force extends to the point of view of others. Thus the concern with justifying reasons and with the goodness of ends that define pure practical reason is found, in some form, in all choice; indeed, comprises the essential element in choice.

If moral reasoning represents a distinct form of rationality found in all forms of choice, then Kant's derivation of the moral law from reason should be understood along the following lines: moral choice represents the most complete realization of an ideal of rationality found in all forms of choice. All choice meets certain conditions, which, in moral choice, are extended to their limit, or completed—so that the conditions that define moral choice are built into the ordinary notion of rational choice.

To explain: we think of choice as guided by reasons, or normative considerations that the agent takes to provide some justification for an action. The reasons that guide agents' choices lead them to view their actions as good in some respect (and this is the source of their motivating force). They also have normative force from the point of view of others. They may be cited to explain or justify an action to others; and even if such explanations do not get others to accept or approve, they may provide a partial justification by enabling others to see why the agent took the action to be a good thing to do. In addition, Kant assumes, not implausibly, that as rational agents we take some of our reasons to be final or ultimate. The particular reasons for action that we may cite are in turn supported by more general reasons or principles, which give the particular reasons their normative force. Thus it would appear to be a structural feature of practical reason that some reasons function as final or ultimate reasons: they are viewed (by an agent) as good per se, and as conferring support on more specific concerns from which we act. What different agents take to provide final reasons may be quite varied. They could include specific ends or activities, such as a successful career, a personal relationship, or involvement in a social cause; or more general aims—e.g., happiness, or leading an honorable life. They might also be values such as honesty, fairness, or protecting one's own interests. Furthermore, an agent's final reasons may be more or less admirable. Some, properly cited, may be sufficient to get others to accept or approve of the resulting actions; others may fall short of this, rendering an action intelligible without fully justifying it.

This characterization of rational choice allows us to see the way in which moral choice might be viewed as the most complete realization of an ideal of rationality found in all forms of choice. Morally good choices are those which are fully justified in that the agent acts from reasons which are final and universally valid. What happens in moral choice is that the normative force characteristic of any reason has been extended along certain dimensions, as it were. In particular the justifying force which they have for the agent is universal and extends to the point of view of any agent— so that it is sufficient to lead anyone to accept the action as good. In short, all rational choice is guided by normative considerations (reasons with normative force for the agent). In moral choice, the reasons from which the agent acts are in fact sufficient to justify the action to anyone.

I will now argue that such a view underlies Kant's derivation of the Categorical Imperative, and offers the best understanding of the connection that he draws between moral principles and the nature of practical reason. To do so I will offer a reconstruction of the derivation of the Formula of Universal Law in the first two sections of the Groundwork. Section 2 of the paper is an overview of the argument of Groundwork, I, which explains how Kant thinks that the concept of morality implicit in ordinary thought leads to the Formula of Universal Law. Sections 3 through 5 explain, respectively, what leads Kant to undertake another derivation of the Formula of Universal Law in Groundwork, II—this time one that traces it to the nature of practical reason; his conception of practical reason; and how it is most fully expressed by the Categorical Imperative.

2. The Aims of Groundwork, I

The Groundwork offers a foundational account of a concept of morality that Kant takes to be well-established in ordinary thought and practice; indeed he takes it to be the concept of morality. His concern is to provide an account that preserves and grounds its essential features. The initial aim of the First Section is to articulate the defining features of this concept of morality through an examination of ordinary moral consciousness—that is, through examples and attention to our concept of a "duty." What has received most attention are Kant's theses about moral worth—that an action has moral worth when done from the motive of duty, and that its moral worth is determined by its underlying principle, While rather than its results or important intended consequences.9 Kantian doctrines, they ought to be viewed as intermediate conclusions on the way to the larger objective of a formulation of the Categorical Imperative. Kant uses his discussion of when an action displays a good will (has moral worth) to get at the principle of right conduct which a good will uses in assessing actions and deciding how to act. [Gl 392, 403-404]10

I would argue that Kant's examination of ordinary moral consciousness in Groundwork, I, produces two results of primary importance. First, it reveals the special authority that (it is part of our concept of morality that) moral reasons and value have in practical deliberation. In more general terms, it reveals the formal features of moral reasons which are definitive of our concept of morality—the necessity and univerality with which they are thought to apply. Second, from this concept of morality Kant derives the moral principle implicit in ordinary thought. He attempts to move from the formal features of moral reasons to the principle that allows us to determine what moral reasons there are in a given situation. This principle will turn out to be a representation of the general form of reasoning implicit in actual instances of moral deliberation.11 The movement of the argument here is from form towards content, or more accurately, from formal considerations to a principle that, with suitable input, may be used to construct a substantive moral conception. Argumentation of this sort is characteristic of Kant's moral theory, and this same move is repeated in Groundwork, II. Here Kant argues that the very concept of a categorical imperative provides the only principle that can be a categorical imperative. An imperative that commands categorically (whatever its content) specifies an action as unconditionally and absolutely good, and thus applies with the necessity of a practical law.12 Kant thinks that these concepts lead to the Formula of Universal Law, as a principle that expresses the concept of a practical law, or states the form of an unconditional requirement on action. Ultimately Kant will argue that the "form of volition in general" yields a principle by which one may guide one's particular volitions and choices. [Cf. Gl 444.] Here we see an important aspect of his claim that morality must rest on the principle of autonomy: the very nature of the will yields the principle from which the standards we recognize as moral are derived.

In the text, the notion of respect for the moral law provides the bridge between the claims about moral worth and the statement of the moral law, by focussing our attention on the overriding authority that moral concerns have in our thought.13 Kant's examples have shown that the agent who exhibits the exemplary moral attitude is motivated simply by the recognition that his action is right—that is, by respect for the moral law. The motive of respect "excludes the influence of inclination," but also "outweighs it." [Gl 400, 401] It is a response to a kind of intrinsic value that is not mediated by an agent's desires. But more importantly, it is the recognition of a value that overrides other forms of value. To show respect for the moral law is to give the reasons which it yields an absolute weight in practical deliberation. [Gl 401n, 403] In this way, the attitude of respect for the law shows us that we take moral reasons to apply with necessity (do not presuppose any particular desires on the part of the agent and are independent of ways in which individuals tend to act) and to have absolute priority over other kinds of reasons (i.e., are overriding relative to the reasons given by an agent's desires). Their application must also be universally valid, since it is independent of contingent features They represent of the self could and motives that would an hold agent for lack. in 14 reasons anyone the relevant situation, and reasons that anyone can recognize as valid and authoritative. Necessity, absolute priority and universal validity are formal features in that they can be attributed to moral reasons without specifying the particular actions which such reasons pick out, and they may be taken as definitive of morality.15 It is simply part of our concept of morality that, whatever moral reasons there turn out to be, they will apply to us in this way.

Otherwise put, reflection on the attitude of respect shows that we take moral principles and reasons to have the status of law. As the recognition of an order of value that limits the authority of other forms of value, respect is the proper attitude towards a law as such. Thus it shows that the idea of a practical law is central to our concept of morality. Here it is important to note that a practical law is not just a principle which makes claims about how anyone should act in a kind of situation, or one whose validity anyone can recognize—i.e., one which is universal in form. A practical law, in addition, provides reasons of special weight. Its application to an agent's circumstances yields determinate reasons for acting that apply with necessity and take priority over other kinds of reasons.16 By noting how the conditions of necessity and universality function together, we can see that a practical law also grounds a kind of justification, which will be equally central to our concept of morality. The absolute weight that moral reasons possess must itself be one of the features that is universally applicable. Thus, the application of a practical law yields reasons for acting that anyone can recognize as overriding in that situation. That would seem to be the strongest kind of reason that there is, and one which justifies completely.

This suggests a way of understanding Kant's final move to the statement of the Formula of Universal Law in Groundwork, I. When moved by respect for the law, one is concerned with the "universal conformity of [one's] action to law as such." [Gl 402] That is, one wants one's action to be supported by reasons that are necessary and universally valid (unconditionally valid), and thus sufficient to justify the action fully to anyone. The following would seem to be a principle that expresses the practical implications of these concepts, and as such a candidate for the "supreme principle of morality":

P: Let your reasons for performing an action at the same time suffice to justify your action fully to anyone no matter how situated (give anyone reason to accept what you do).

It is a plausible expression of the requirement that the agent's maxim have the "form of a practical law" (meet the formal criteria of necessity and universality implied by the concept of a practical law), and one who acts from this principle would be realizing the ideals central to the concept of morality. The principle that Kant in fact states is:

FUL: Act only on a maxim which you can at the same time will should hold as a universal law.

Thus, Kant must take the idea of acting from maxims that you could act on while willing that everyone act on them to be equivalent to, or to express, the idea of acting from reasons that are necessary and universally valid. The argument needs supplementation to see why the idea of necessity and universal validity gets cashed out in terms of universalisability. If these principles are equivalent, it is because the Formula of Universal Law provides a procedure for determining whether one's reasons are unconditionally valid. As I interpret it, the key idea is that of reasons sufficient to justify one's action fully to anyone. Since this ideal is quite abstract, we need a way to determine when a maxim satisfies it. This must be the intent of the Formula of Universal Law: asking whether your maxim is one you can at the same time will as a universal law should be construed as the way of determining whether you are acting from reasons that anyone can accept.17

3. Why Moral Principles Must Originate in Reason

Early in Groundwork, II, Kant stresses at several points that moral principles must originate in reason a priori, and at least two of these passages are preparatory to another It is evident derivation of the Universal Formula seeks of that Kant a deeper now grounding Law.18 for the concept of morality articulated thus far, by connecting it directly with the nature of practical reason. Why? His primary motivation must be that a grounding of this sort is needed to explain and to preserve the necessity and universality which have emerged as definitive of moral reasons in ordinary thought. If substantive moral reasons do have the unconditional validity that we take them to have, they must come from a principle that originates in reason a priori, since only reason yields principles that apply in this way. A theory that seeks the origin of moral principles elsewhere, such as an empiricist theory, cannot account for their standing as practical laws. Thus, Kant's insistence on the importance of deriving moral principles from reason is in part a rejection of alternative accounts as inadequate, in being unable to ground what he has identified as the features essential to our concept of morality.

To get clear about the problem that Kant is addressing, we ought to note that the first section of the Groundwork simply assumes the ordinary concept of morality, and that Kant thinks that mere clarification of what this concept implies leaves open the possibility that it Perhaps involves the a kind an empty of delusion, that or we is recognize as idea. 19 considerations moral do not really have the authority that we accord them. We may take certain substantive principles such as truth-telling, refraining from manipulation and coercion of others, helping others, etc, when properly applied, to yield unconditional reasons for acting. But our taking them in this way may reflect nothing more than a process of social conditioning for which no further justification can be given. Or the validity of these principles may depend on desires that one could lack, so that an agent without these desires could claim exemption from the principle. Perhaps there are no unconditional reasons for acting, and the concept of morality, defined as the set of such reasons (or the set of practical laws), while perfectly coherent, is empty and contains nothing. At issue here for Kant is whether there is such a thing as "morality" in the sense of that term implicit in ordinary practice. If morality is what it claims to be, it consists of practical laws; but principles with the character of law must originate in reason.

Kant's account is not directed towards individuals who claim that the authority of moral concerns is illusory, but rather toward those whose understanding of morality threatens to make These it an include illusion, or to undermine central features.20 its both agents whose moral practice implicitly fails to acknowledge that moral principles have the status of law, and theorists whose account of morality is unable to explain how moral conclusions can have this status. Regarding the first, one of the major obstacles to good conduct in Kant's eyes is not the explicit denial of moral claims, but the tendency to exempt oneself from moral requirements through various forms of rationalization.21 We often weaken principles we otherwise accept by making exceptions for ourselves, or by interpreting them so as not apply to the situation in which one is acting. This is to act as though the claims of self-interest are on a par with, or even limit, moral claims, and is equivalent in practice to denying that moral requirements have the status of law. What is needed to counter this tendency is an unambiguous recognition of the authority of moral claims and a story that explains where it comes from. In this respect, moral theory plays a particular practical role for Kant: a proper understanding of the nature and status of moral claims is integral to producing the moral disposition.

Second, Kant's insistence on deriving morality from reason is a rejection of influential empiricist theories that ground moral obligation in empirical facts about human beings, including both psychological facts and facts about the needs of human society and the structure of social interaction. The empiricist may assume some principles of prudential rationality; but he will avoid a priori principles or normative standards whose motivation cannot be supplied by desires and behavioural tendencies people are generally observed to have. Kant's general criticism is that by deriving moral principles from empirically given desires, such theories are unable to ground the notion of a practical law. If the validity of a principle depends on the presence of a desire or interest that one may lack, then there may be agents without that motive, to whom the principle would not apply. Such an agent could only be subject to criticism for lacking the motive which the principle presupposes. But that is to depart from the empiricist viewpoint, by introducing an a priori normative standard to which an individual's desires ought to conform.

Kant wishes to provide an understanding of moral requirements that supports their unconditional validity, and his alternative to empiricism is to derive the moral law from a conception of practical reason which is given a priori. Since Kant is concerned both with content and validity, he must first give a characterization of rational agency that yields this principal and, in addition, guides its application.22 The best way to understand the connection is to say that the principle as stated expresses the connection of rational agency. This is to say that it is a principle of choice that an agent defined by that conception of rational agency would choose as his fundamental maxim, in which his practical rationality is most fully realized. Second, Kant must establish the validity of the principle for us by showing that we are rational beings in the required sense, or have reason to view ourselves in that way. Though this involves a separate and further step, which is not without its complications, it must to some extent depend on how the first step is carried out. Much of the issue of validity hinges on showing that the principle does express the conception of rational agency, or is the appropriate principle for a being with this nature to act on.

4. Kant's Conception of Practical Rationality

At the core of Kant's conception of rational agency is the idea that rational action is guided by considerations that the agent takes to provide justifications for acting in a certain way. We find this view in the following well-known and very important passage:

Everything in nature works in accordance with laws. Only a rational being has the power to act according to the conception of laws, i.e., according to principles. This capacity is will [Wille]. Since reason is required for the derivation of actions from laws, will is nothing else than practical reason .. . the will is a faculty of choosing only that which reason, independently of inclination, recognizes as practically necessary, i.e., as good [Gl 412.]

The features of rationality cited are quite general, in that in addition to action, they apply to the formation of belief, the carrying out of a proof, and so on. Rational agency is defined here as the capacity to guide one's actions by normative standards that are generally applicable, such that one's understanding, acceptance and application of these standards to one's circumstances of action figure in the origination of actions. This section will take up the most significant assertions made in the passage, which amount to an ideal of practical rationality. (1) First, it makes claims about the way in which rational conduct originates in the conscious activity of the agent. (2) In addition, it proposes a distinctive view about the nature of practical reasoning and the structure of justification, in which general normative principles play a central role. (3) What emerges is that for Kant, practical reason is in the business of evaluation and justification, and that its essential role is to produce judgments about the goodness of actions. Rational conduct is motivated by the recognition of an action as good in some respect, where the goodness of the action consists in the fact that it follows from a general normative principle, or is justified by reasons whose force can be recognized by others. This will be a property of anything we can recognize as a choice.

First, regarding the origin of actions, Thomas Nagel interprets the passage as pointing out that rational action requires a certain form of explanation. He writes:

Kant observed that rational motivation is unique among systems of causation because any explanation of action in terms of the theory refers essentially to the application of its principles by individuals to themselves in the determination of their actions.23

An agent's understanding of principles and reasons, and the resulting evaluative judgments, are the determining features of the causal process by which an action originates, and this must be reflected in any appropriate explanation of why the action occurred.24

To see how Kant understands the structure of practical reasoning, we should unpack his remarks that rational agency involves the ability to act "according to the conception of laws, i.e., according to principles." Kant is viewing practical rationality as the capacity to act from "objective practical principles."25These are normative principles, general in form, which state how an agent ought to act in a specified kind of situation.26 As normative, they correct against distortions in one's judgment about how to act that come from inclinations, or other subjective factors such as lack of information, limited foresight, and so on. Their objectivity consists in the fact that they yield results valid for anyone, and this will have two sides. When properly applied to a situation, they will yield a conclusion about action that will have motivating force for anyone in that situation. In addition, the force which these conclusions have for the agent (in the relevant situation) can be understood by anyone, including by agents not in the relevant It situation, is important for whom they not are reasons act. to note to27 that under objective practical principles Kant includes both principles that are conditionally valid as well as those that are unconditionally valid—in other words hypothetical well as categorical imperatives.28 A principle may make as claims about how one ought to act given the fact that one desires certain ends. It would be objective because it states how anyone with certain desires has (some kind of) reason to act in the kind of situation covered. Properly applied, it will yield conclusions about action that have force for anyone in that situation with the relevant desires; and the force of these conclusions can be understood by anyone, including those for whom they are not reasons to act (because they are not in that situation, because they lack or even disapprove of the assumed desires, etc.). In short, an objective practical principle translates facts about one's situation, and possibly one's ends and desires, into conclusions about how to act whose force can be understood by anyone.

By conceiving of practical reason, or will, as the ability to derive actions from principles, Kant suggests a model in which one arrives at a maxim or course of action by determining whether it is the correct instantiation of a normative principle judged to cover the situation in question. Deliberation proceeds by finding a principle covering the circumstances, and then determining what it requires in that situation. This process is open-ended in that the more general principles themselves may be evaluated by the same pattern of reasoning until one reaches an ultimate principle, which neither needs nor is susceptible to further evaluation. Though somewhat awkward as a picture of decision making, this conception does establish a plausible pattern for evaluating proposed actions: an intention already formulated can be assessed by seeing if it is the correct application of a general principle with justifying force for that kind of situation. Moreover, this is the pattern of reasoning that an agent might engage in when explaining why he did a certain action (either to others, or to himself viewing his action from a detached perspective).29

There are several points to note here. The first is that this conception locates choice within a thoroughly normative context, in that it sees it as motivated by what the agent takes to be a reason for acting. In this regard, practical reasoning should not be reduced to a kind of calculation or deduction (as might be suggested by one reading of "deriving actions from principles"). It does not simply select actions by deducing them from habitually followed rules, but is rather the ability to choose an action by seeing that it instantiates a normative principle taken to have justifying force. Practical reason evaluates according to normative principles. Second, since this pattern of reasoning may be carried out at higher and higher levels, the structure of practical reasoning leaves room for and creates a push towards ultimate principles that are a source of final reasons. This provides one ground for reading into the text the assumption that rational conduct is guided by some high level principles or ends. A rational agent will have a set of priorities and final ends that provide reasons for action in specific situations, as well as setting limits on the actions there are reasons to perform.

Third, because of their objectivity, the principles that figure in practical reasoning can ground justifications to others; indeed that is the primary impetus of objectivity in the practical sphere. To provide a justification for an action is just to support it with reasons whose force extends beyond the point of view of the agent for whom they are reasons to act. This one does by connecting an action (or maxim) with a general principle stating how anyone ought to act in a certain kind of situation. This provides support for the action which may potentially lead others to accept it (or may lead the agent to accept his own action when viewing it impartially, or from a later point in time). Kant expresses this by saying that objective practical principles issue in judgments of goodness of one sort or another (conditional or unconditional). To call an action or an end good in some respect is just to support it with reasons whose force can be understood by anyone—in other words to provide a justification, by bringing it under an appropriate principle. The goodness of a particular action is a function of the objectivity of the grounding normative principles.30

Fourth, these points make it plain that one pattern of reasoning serves the dual role of both guiding decision, and of justifying to others. It is distinctive of the Kantian view of rationality that there is a deep connection between motivation and justification: the same considerations by which an agent is motivated also provide some justification of the action to others. The rationality of choice lies in the fact that it is motivated by considerations whose force can be understood by anyone. In this respect it is built into the concept of a rational choice that it proceeds from the recognition of justifying reasons that can be stated in general form, or from judgments of goodness, and that these supply its motivation. It is in this sense that practical reason, as conceived by Kant, is essentially in the business of evaluation and justification.

To make this discussion less schematic and abstract, it may help to give some examples of principles from which an agent might act, which might figure in practical reasoning. Such principles might be formal, such as Kant's Hypothetical Imperative, or the standard principles of rational choice. But of greater interest are agents' substantive principles, which they take to state good ways of acting (to be objectively valid). These are principles accepted by an agent which are sources of reasons for the agent in particular situations, and which they might cite to others to justify their actions. Here some categories are needed, through their boundaries must remain approximate and inexact. One might first distinguish principles taken to represent objective, desire-independent values, e.g.:

(a) One should always be truthful, except when dishonesty is needed to resist manipulation or coercion against yourself, or harm to another.

(b) When someone on the street asks you for money, give what you can if they appear truly destitute, but not otherwise.

(c) Never respond to those Publisher's Clearing House mass mailings (since that simply plays into the crass commercialism of our society which ought to be resisted).

Some desire-dependent principles state generally reliable ways of satisfying desires that most people have, or might come to have at some point. These fit what Kant terms "counsels of prudence":

(d) Honesty is the best policy.

(e) Always respond to those Publishers Clearing House mass mailings; it takes little time and energy to fill out the form and you never know when you might win.

(f) Never give a sucker a break. (Since a sucker is an easy target, that is a generally effective way of furthering your ends.)

Other desire-dependent principles depend more openly on desires peculiar to specific individuals:

(g) When you see someone who is about to ask you for money, cross the street right away (so that you won't feel pressured to give, can avoid a disgusting sight).

(h) What is important above all else is leading a life of luxury and ease.

A principle that an agent accepts as objectively valid may or may not have the status that he or she takes it to have. A principle such as (c) might be viewed by the agent as unconditionally valid; but it might turn out to be no more than an expression of a value or a desire peculiar to the agent not universally supportable, and thus only conditionally valid. A principle such as (d) might simply be false if, in the circumstances intended by the agent, honesty is not the best way of furthering one's interests. (In that case, as stated, it would only be a subjective principle—a principle from which the agent acts, through not objectively valid.)

The last group do not appear to have much normative force; they seem more like characteristic principles of specific individuals, rather than principles that make claims about how people in general ought to act. But they may be viewed as (elliptical) hypothetical imperatives directed to individuals with certain desires (those undone by the sight of destitute people, or those who detest hard work, uncertainty and anxiety, etc.). If they in fact stated effective means of satisfying certain desires, and thus conformed to the Hypothetical Imperative, they would be objective practical principles. And they might have derivative normative force if they were instantiations for an individual of a higher level principle taken to have final justifying force, which (following Kant) could be termed the Principle of Happiness:

(PH) Act so as to maximize over time the satisfaction of your own desires, whatever they may be.

I include these latter examples to show that the justifying force of some conditional principles might be quite minimal. The reasons derived from a principle may at most render an action intelligible, and fall far short of giving others reason to accept or approve of the actions that fall under it. In cases of this sort, objectivity may amount to nothing more than an appropriate connection between an action and given desires and aims of an individual in a particular situation, that anyone can discern. For example, if your guiding aim is to lead a life of luxury and ease, that will be a source of reasons for you in specific circumstances, even if not good reasons. I, who favor penury and struggle (or perhaps as someone in great need), can appreciate that you have a reason not to be generous in some situation given this general aim, even though I may reject the aim from which these reasons get their force, and the actions to which they lead.

This passage stresses the ability to act from normative principles, but that does not exhaust Kant's understanding of practical rationality. Elsewhere in the Groundwork Kant articulates other aspects of his conception of rational agency, which appear fundamental notion.31 In a second be implicit to important passage in the preceding the introduction of the Formula of Humanity, Kant writes:

The will is thought of as a faculty determining itself to action in accordance with the representation of certain laws, and such a faculty can only be found in rational beings. Now what serves the will as the objective ground of its determination is an end. . . . [G] 427]

What this passage and the ensuing discussion add is that rational agency also involves the ability to set and pursue ends. In light of the preceding account of practical reason, this capacity must be understood as a responsiveness to objective value. The rational agent does not simply act so as to satisfy given preferences, but adopts ends (including objects of its preferences) for reasons which have force from the point of view of others. Thus, it involves the capacity to select ends viewed as good or worthy of choice, or to recognize or place a value on a state of affairs. To say that an end is adopted by being regarded as good or of value implies several things. An agent adopts an end because it instantiates a higher level end or value taken to be good per se (in which case the value of the end is derivative), or because it is taken to be good in itself. Once adopted, the end becomes a source of reasons for the agent which give it a degree of priority relative to one's other desires and ends. These reasons are desire independent to the extent that their force can remain constant despite fluctuations in the strengths of one's desires, and can override desires that may interfere with the pursuit of the end. They are sufficient both to initiate courses of action, as well as restrict other actions and pursuits that are inconsistent with an end. In addition, the agent's reasons for adopting an end should allow other agents to see why he takes it to be worthy of choice. Presumably its value to the agent can be recognized by others, and gives them a reason to respect the agent's pursuit of the end (though one that can be overriden in various ways).32

5. Practical Reason and Complete Justification

To understand how Kant locates the origin of moral principles in reason, we must consider how the above conception of practical rationality leads to a statement of the moral law. The view that I want to attribute to Kant is that the idea of a practical law is implicit in the nature of practical reason as a faculty that evaluates according to normative principles and constructs justifications. If so, the arguments of Groundwork I and II discussed earlier would give Kant what he needs. Recall his view that the idea of a practical law, or equivalently, the concept of a categorical imperative, yields a formulation of the only principle that can be a categorical imperative—that is, the idea of a practical law yields the Categorical Imperative.33 If this argument holds, and if the idea of a practical law may be derived from the nature of practical reason (as understood by Kant), then the Categorical Imperative would have been traced to the nature of practical reason. What we want to see here is how the Categorical Imperative can be viewed as the principle in which this conception of practical rationality is most fully expressed—say, as the principle by which the business of practical reason is most fully carried out or completed. Roughly, it is because movement towards the unconditional is built into the process of evaluation and justification, and it is by finding justifications that are unconditionally valid that the process is completed. But justifications of this sort require grounding in a practical law. Since the Categorical Imperative states the form that any practical law will have, it is the principle by which the business of practical reason is completed. In this way, the characteristics of moral evaluation are tied to the nature of practical reason, and shown to be expressed in the Categorical Imperative.

To develop this point, let us consider what is needed to arrive at justifications that are complete. The discussion of the last section shows that objective practical principles, and the justifications which they ground, need only be conditionally valid. The objectivity of a practical principle requires only that its application yield conclusions about action that have force for anyone in the relevant situation, and that their force can be understood by anyone. This allows that an objective principle may show that an action is a good thing to do, or that there are reasons to perform it, given certain further conditions (the agent desires certain ends, accepts certain values, etc.). Justifications of this sort are partial or incomplete, and the ways in which they are conditioned lay out directions in which development towards completion is possible. Complete justification is achieved by extending the normative force of reasons as far as possible in these directions.

We may distinguish two different dimensions along which justification must move to achieve completion. The first is the direction of finality. You may judge that an action is good as a means to an end, or relative to certain desires. In that case, there is reason to perform the action only if there is reason to pursue the end, or if the desires in question are good ones to act on. Or, you might judge that an action or an end is good in itself, but that there is reason to pursue it only if certain limiting conditions are satisfied. It is good "other things being equal"—i.e., if it is consistent with your other priorities, violates no prior obligations, etc. Such judgments lead one to look for further reasons beyond those initially advanced in support of the action—either to seek reasons for the end, in the first case, or to determine whether the limiting conditions are satisfied, as in the second case. In both cases a search is initiated for final reasons not in need of further support, which either provide positive support for the action, or show that it is fully consistent with other considerations that have priority.

The other direction is towards universal validity. What you take to be a sufficient reason for acting may fall short of giving others reason to accept what you do. You intend to do X because it promotes a life of luxury and ease, which is for you a final aim of overriding importance. (It will give you happiness, and after all, what else is there?) I can see why X is a good thing for you given your aims, but since I do not place the same value on the aim as you, I am not moved by your explanation. (Besides, X shows a disregard for my person.) Here your justification is shown to be conditional on an assumption that is not universally acceptable; specifically, I have no reason to accept it. Justification is complete in this direction when the objectivity of reasons has been pushed towards universal validity. That is, in addition to leading others to see why you take the action to be a good thing to do, your reasons lead them to see it as good and to accept it. In this case, an agent's reasons for acting are at the same time sufficient to give anyone reason to accept what he does.

One has travelled as far as one can in each direction when one arrives at reasons whose finality is universally valid. Such reasons are necessary, universal and take priority over others; that is, have the status of a practical law. They complete the process of justification in that they are sufficient to justify an action fully to anyone. This represents the most complete exercise of practical rationality, in that the normative features present in any reason are found in their most complete form, and the normal function of practical reason is carried out to a maximal degree.

I hope to have shown how, in Kant's view, moral choice builds on and extends a concern for justification and evaluation present in all forms of reasoning and choice. A strength of this interpretation is that it reveals a continuity between moral and non-moral choice that we tend to overlook due to various of Kant's dichotomies. It suggests, for example, that the psychology needed to explain how we can care about and act from the moral law is provided by the capacities constitutive of rational agency. Moral conduct requires no fundamentally different abilities or motives beyond those that go into the reasoned choice of actions and ends in ordinary contexts. What makes this possible, of course, is that Kant's conception of practical rationality already incorporates substantive ideals with a recognizably moral component. But that should not trouble us as long as the ideals are sufficiently fundamental to our way of viewing ourselves. Kant's project, as I have said, is not to derive the moral law from a morally neutral starting point, but to connect it with basic features of reasoning and choice, and to show how deeply embedded the elements of morality are in all forms of deliberation.

This paper has focused on the Formula of Universal Law. Since Kant derives three principal formulations of what he thinks is a single imperative, to complete the account begun here would require showing that the framework which it adopts may be extended to the other formulas and their equivalence. I will conclude with a suggestion about how this may be done, which I can only sketch here. It is that the alternate formulations of the Categorical Imperative express different aspects of a single conception of rational agency, and that we look to the relationships between these aspects of rationality to throw light on the equivalence of the formulas. We have seen that the core notion of practical rationality is the capacity to act from general normative principles which may be used to justify one's actions to others. The Formula of Universal Law may be regarded as the principle by which this capacity is most completely expressed, in that it embodies the ideal of acting from reasons that are unconditionally valid.

In representing the general form of a practical law, it states the ideal of complete justification. Rational agency also involves the ability to set and pursue ends, which in this context should be understood as the capacity to adopt ends viewed as good or of value. This aspect of practical rationality is most fully expressed in the Formula of Humanity, which states the requirement of guiding one's conduct by the recognition of an end of absolute value, that conditions the value of any end. Finally, the ideas of freedom and self-determination are built into this conception of practical rationality. The actions of a rational agent are self-determined in that they result from the agent's understanding and application to herself of reasons and principles that she accepts. The capacity to be guided by normative considerations makes one free by giving one the ability to choose actions other than those that would result from the balance of existing desires; you can do what you ought to do, regardless of what you desire. This aspect of practical rationality underlies the Formula of Autonomy. That the Formula of Autonomy follows directly from the Formula of Universal Law [G] 431-433] shows that autonomy is the foundation of morality—that moral principles must be such that we can regard ourselves as their authors and subject to them for that reason, and that when we act from the moral law we act with full autonomy. The latter point in particular must rest on the idea that in acting from reasons that are unconditionally valid, one's actions are most completely guided by one's capacity to act from reasons, and thus most completely self-determined. Thus the powers of freedom and self-determination implicit in all rational choice are most fully realized in morally good conduct. Kant thinks that the form of a practical law is identical with the form of volition in general, or the general structure of what it is to act from will.34

Here is a way of relating the different formulas by showing that each is the full expression of a different aspect of a single ideal of rational agency. It offers support for the contention that they are just different versions of the same Idea. One of the more remarkable features of Kant's theory is its attempt to demonstrate the deep connections between these ideals, and to weld them together into a single moral conception.35


1 Cf., e.g., Gl 389. References to the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals will be to the pagination in the Prussian Academy edition of Kant's Gesammelte Schriften, and are included in the body of the paper where possible. (Though I prefer Paton's title, the translation used is that of James Ellington.) Citations to other works of Kant give the page in translation, followed by the page in the Prussian Academy edition. The abbreviations and translations used are as follows:

Gl Grounding of the Metaphysics of Morals, tr. James W. Ellington, in Kant's Ethical Philosophy (Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Company, 1983).

KpV Critique of Practical Reason, tr. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956).

KU Critique of Judgment, tr. James Meredith (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1952).

MdS The Doctrine of Virtue: Part II of the Metaphysic of Morals, tr. Mary J. Gregor (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964)

Rel Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone, tr. T. M. Greene and H. H. Hudson (New York: Harper & Row, 1960)

2 Cf. Gl 412ff and 426ff, which precede, respectively, the statements of the first two formulations of the Categorical Imperative. In the first Kant writes that "the principles should be derived from the universal concept of a rational being in general, since moral laws should hold for every rational being as such." He then says that to carry this out, he will "present the practical faculty of reason from its universal rules of determination to the point where the concept of duty springs from it." In the second, Kant says that the moral law "must be connected (completely a priori) with the concept of the will of a rational being as such." The discovery of this connection requires a "step into metaphysics" and an investigation into the possibility of reason determining conduct a priori.

3 In the Preface, Kant writes that "the present Groundwork . . . is nothing more than the seeking out and establishment of the supreme principle of morality. . . ." (Gl 392) The "seeking out" of the supreme principle occupies the first two sections of the Groundwork; their concern is the proper formulation of the moral law (the content) and they leave open the question of its validity. For Kant, the latter is the question of whether the demands contained in our ordinary concept of morality are indeed valid and real: do they really bind us? (For different statements of the question of validity see Gl 426, 445, and especially 449ff: "But why should I subject myself as a rational being .. . to this law?" Why must "the universal validity of our maxim as a law be the restricting condition of our action"?) The moral law is not "established" until the third section, when this issue is addressed. My discussion will be limited to the arguments of the first two sections of the Groundwork.

Recent commentators concerned with Kant's derivation of morality from reason have tended to take the validity of the moral law to be the main issue, and have thus focused on the third section, and related arguments in the Critique of Practical Reason. See, e.g., Thomas E. Hill, "Kant's Argument for the Rationality of Moral Conduct," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66, nos. 1 & 2 (Jan/April 1985); Henry E. Allison, "Morality and Freedom: Kant's Reciprocity Thesis," The Philosophical Review 95, no. 3 (July 1986); and Christine M. Korsgaard, "Morality as Freedom" (forthcoming in Kant's Practical Philosophy Reconsidered, the proceedings of the 7th Jerusalem Philosophy Encounter). (But see also her "Kant's Formula of Humanity" (Kant-Studien 77, no. 2, 1986), which includes an account of how the Formula of Humanity is derived from practical reason.) However it is equally important to see how Kant derives the content of the moral law from a conception of practical reason. Indeed, the answer to this question may largely determine how the later issue ought to be treated.

4 "Truth, Invention and the Meaning of Life," in Proceedings of the British Academy, LXII (1976), p. 364n. For a recent discussion and response to Wiggins's critique of this project see David Gauthier, "The Unity of Reason: A Subversive Reinterpretation of Kant," in Ethics 96 (October, 1985): 83-86.

5 See Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1985), p. 28. Williams's discussion of Kant by and large assumes that Kant's conception of practical reason is morally neutral; see ch. 4. Gauthier also makes this assumption (see work cited above, p. 84).

6 Here note Kant's distinction between the "predisposition to humanity in man, taken as a living and at the same time a rational being" and the "predisposition to personality in man, taken as a rational and an accountable being." [Rel 21ff/26ff] The former is a conception of instrumental rationality in that it involves, among other things, the ability to set and pursue ends on the basis of their contribution to one's overall happiness, understood to involve the maximally harmonious satisfaction of given desires. The predisposition to personality is the basis of morality, and Kant stresses that it is a "special predisposition" not included in the first. I am indebted to Stephen Engstrom for discussion of this passage and related issues.

7 This point is made by Thomas E. Hill, Jr., "The Hypothetical Imperative," The Philosophical Review 82 (1973): 443, whose account I follow in this paragraph.

8 For textual evidence of this interpretation see MdS 56/395; while in the Introduction to the Metaphysic of Morals pure practical reason had been described as a "power of principles" [MdS 10/214], here it is called "a power of ends as such." See also the "Conjectural Beginning of Human History" where reason is viewed as the power to set ends beyond those given by instinct and inclination (and which can create new desires), as well as the power to make provision for future ends one may have; in On History, ed. Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis, IN: Bobbs-Merrill, 1975), 55/111-59/115. Though the uses of reason referred to here are not "pure," it is worth noting its independence from inclination, as well as the continuity between these uses of reason and the form of moral reasoning referred to at the end of the passage.

9 Cf. Gl 393-94, 397-401.

10 There is some ambiguity throughout the Groundwork as to whether Kant's primary focus is moral worth or moral rightness. I take it to be the latter, despite Kant's constant attention to acting from the motive of duty. Thus, I view the discussion of moral worth in the First Section as a step on the way towards a statement of the principle of right conduct. One aspect of Kant's theory that may promote this ambiguity is that the principle of right, in addition to outlining a procedure for evaluating actions, also determines the weight that moral reasons have relative to other kinds of reasons. Since moral worth is achieved by recognizing the priority of moral reasons and being motivated accordingly, considerations of right conduct lead naturally to considerations of moral worth.

11 In other words, moral deliberation will generally be about actions under descriptions, in which agents bring certain kinds of substantive considerations to bear on a situation (honesty, fairness, etc.). The Categorical Imperative is the schematic rendering of the reasoning implicitly used, which states its underlying form.

12 As he says, the "mere concept of a categorical imperative . . . [may] supply us with the formula containing the proposition that can alone be a categorical imperative"; and that "if I think of a categorical imperative, I know immediately what it contains." [Gl 420] I comment on this argument in n33 below.

13 Here see Kant's "third proposition" [Gl 400]: "Duty is the necessity of an action executed from respect for the law." While much is packed into this statement, I take the main idea to be that the concept of duty represents the special weight that those actions have which are done from the recognition that they are morally right. Thus Kant focuses on the "necessity" of actions selected by the balance of moral reasons—the fact that they ought to be done no matter what one desires most strongly, no matter how people tend to act in such situations, whether or not the action is sanctioned by existing social practices, etc.

In this passage Kant focuses on the motivational state which is the appropriate response to (full recognition of) moral reasons as a way of bringing out their defining features. But he could also have looked simply at what is implied by the concept of a duty, insofar as the necessity and universality of particular duties are a part of their content. This Kant does, I believe, in the Preface [389], when he says that "the common idea of duty" must carry with it "absolute necessity." Kant's preference for the "subjective route" (through attention to the characteristic motivational attitude) might be explained by the fact that much of the First Section works through an appeal to moral experience. The defining features of morality are not just described; Kant wishes to elicit through examples a recognition of them that has motivating force.

14 That is, "conditions only contingently related to the will," or "contingent subjective conditions that differentiate one rational being from another." See KpV 18f./20f.

15 I am calling necessity and absolute priority what I take to be slightly different features contained in Kant's usage of "necessity" [Notwendigkeit]. For brevity, I will generally refer (as he does) simply to the necessity and universality of moral reasons, or to their unconditional validity.

16 Any practical principle is going to be universal in that it applies to anyone who satisfies its conditions. Universality in this sense is, of course, not sufficient to make a practical principle a law. (In fact, this is better called its "generality".) Here it is worth noting that the distinction between principles and ends is not important in the derivation of a practical law. To show that there is an end which has an intrinsic and absolute value (i.e., one which takes priority over and limits other forms of value) is to have established the existence of a practical law. This, of course, is what Kant does in his derivation of the Formula of Humanity, and it explains in part why the first two formulas are equivalent. What is crucial to the concept of a practical law is the notion of absolute value, and this can be expressed equally in a principle that yields determinate prescriptions with overriding weight, or in the idea of an end of absolute value.

17 Here I suggest that we need to complete Kant's argument by showing how the idea of unconditional validity leads to the universality tests that he adopts in various texts. This involves determining the implications of the Moral Law when applied to the general circumstances of human life. One would proceed by showing how universality tests might be derivable from the idea of reasons that justify one's actions fully to anyone in conjunction with general facts about human beings and human social existence. Attention to general human needs, to the fact that we live in the society of others and are dependent on certain forms of social cooperation, to the ways in which social practices operate and to social interaction in general, and so on, might make it plain why the Formula of Universal Law is required by the idea of unconditional validity. For example, facts about how social practices deliver the benefits that they do, and about the degree of adherence that is required for them to operate, might explain where the Contradiction in Conception test comes from, or why fairness is required by full justifiability to anyone. In addition, the primary concepts may have implications for the construction of universality tests; we want forms of reasoning that are aimed at uncovering reasons that anyone can accept.

18 Cf. Gl 408-09, 411-12, 425-27; see also 389-90.

19 Kant raises the possibility that the concept of morality might lack objective reality, though not always in the same sense, at Gl 402, 405, 407-08, 421, 425, and 445. He writes that "mere conformity to law as such" must be the principle of the will "if duty is not to be an empty delusion [ein leerer Wahn] and a chimerical idea [chimärischer Begriff] [402]; and that the objective of the step into practical philosophy in the Second Section is to "obtain information and clear instruction regarding the source of its own principle and the correct determination of this principle in its opposition to maxims based on need and inclination, so that reason . . . may avoid the risk of losing all genuine moral principles through the ambiguity into which it easily falls." [405] Here his point is that our concept of duty requires that we treat moral considerations as unconditionally valid, which presupposes that they originate in reason a priori. (Somewhat optimistically he thinks that clarity about the fact that moral requirements originate in reason is enough to get us to accept the practical impact of their having the status of law.) See in particular 408: ". . . unless we want to deny to the concept of morality all truth and reference to a possible object, we cannot but admit that the moral law . . . [holds] for all rational beings generally, and that it must be valid not merely under coningent conditions and with exceptions, but must be absolutely necessary."

It seems that different questions about the "reality" of the moral law are left open at different stages of the argument, and that both Groundwork II and III address a question of whether the moral law might only be an empty idea. The First Section articulates some of the essential features of moral claims, as we understand them; but they would still be illusory unless they originate in reason. The Second Section is a more detailed analysis of the concept of morality that shows that duties must be expressed in categorical imperatives [Gl 425] and that the autonomy of the will must be the foundation of morality [Gl 445], and gives the proper formulation of the moral law. It addresses the issue left open by the First Section by tracing the Categorical Imperative to the nature of practical reason [Gl 412-16, 420ff], but stops short of establishing the validity of its requirements for us. [Gl 425, 440-45] That requires a "synthetical use" of reason, presumbly one which shows that we have the rational nature presupposed by the moral law, and is the subject of the Third Section.

20 Here I am in agreement with Thomas Hill, who argues that Kant is not addressing the moral skeptic, but rather an audience with ordinary moral concerns "whose moral commitment is liable to be called into question by philosophical accounts of practical reason which imply that morality could not be grounded in reason." See "Kant on the Rationality of Moral Conduct," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66 (1985): 4.

I might add that, if Kant is not addressing an audience which is initially indifferent to moral concerns, then his conception of reason need not be devoid of substantive ideas (of the person, or of agency). Indeed a theory that does proceed from such a starting point is likely to obscure the way of viewing persons to which Kant thinks that moral thought provides access.

21 This is the "natural dialectic" within practical reason which Kant describes as "a propensity to quibble with these strict laws of duty, to throw doubt upon their validity or at least upon their purity and strictness, and to make them, where possible, more compatible with our wishes and inclinations. . . ." [Gl 405; see also Gl 424f. and KpV 16/16.]

22 Ideally the notion of rational agency will be a foundation that really supports and animates the structure. That is, it does not just yield the basic principle; it will also figure in the application of the principle to concrete situation, and thus hold a substantive role in the moral conception which it grounds. The conception of rational agency should be an ideal that we can plausibly apply to ourselves and others in normal social interactions, which will have implications for how individuals are appropriately treated. (Certain ways of treating others recognize their rationality in the relevant sense, and an understanding of the conception of rational agency should guide one's judgments, and make one better at applying the principle.)

23The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1970, 1978), p. 22. See also Thomas
E. Hill's discussion in, "Kant's Argument for the Rationality of Moral Conduct," pp. 8-9. He notes that a rational agent is able

to make things happen in such a way that the appropriate explanation is reference to the principles, laws, or reasons on which the person acted. Principles, even laws, enter into the explanation of why a rational agent did something ... as the agent's guiding "ideas" or rationale, not as empirically observable regularities among types of events.

Cf. also H. J. Paton, in The Categorical Imperative (University of Pennsylvania Press, 1971), pp. 81-82.

24 Of course, other forms of explanation are possible, but they no longer view the causality as rational. Many people would agree that such explanations are incomplete because they ignore aspects of an agent's perspective on his or her conduct, which are central to the agent's self-conception. For a discussion of this point in a different context, see H. L. A. Hart on the "internal aspect of rules," and his argument that certain positivist accounts of law fail by ignoring it: The Concept of Law (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1972) pp. 55-57, 81-82, 86-88, 99-102. See also Nagel's recent discussion in The View From Nowhere (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986) pp. 141-43, 150-52.

25 The text is made somewhat unclear by a terminological slide from "objective laws" to "objective principles," or "imperatives." He may appear to define rational agency as the capacity to act from practical laws (i.e., categorical imperatives), but the context makes it clear that he intends the weaker definition as the capacity to act from objective practical principles, which, as I explain, include both hypothetical and categorical imperatives. (The first interpretation would make rational agency a moral capacity by definition.) A similar ambiguity is seen in the definition of practical principles early in the second Critique. (KpV 17ff/19ff) Here Kant begins by distinguishing practical laws from maxims, or subjective principles of action—i.e., those actually adopted by an agent. But it becomes clear that the distinction in which he is interested is between subjective principles of action and objective practical principles valid for any rational being, including both practical laws and valid prudential precepts.

How Kant distinguishes subjective and objective principles has been the source of a certain amount of confusion. See, e.g., Bruno Bauch, Immanuel Kant (Berlin und Leipzig: De Gruyter, 1921), pp. 304-08.

26 Thus, a practical principle does not simply state a characteristic way of acting, or a rule to which an agent's behaviour conforms. That would assimiliate practical laws to the model of laws of nature. Rational conduct presupposes not just that behaviour conform to a principle, but that it be guided by an awareness or acceptance of that principle. It provides a description of the behaviour that the agent would apply to himself, which could be used to state his intentions, or would be accepted as relevant to evaluation of the action.

27 Here I draw on Nagel's discussions of objectivity; see The View From Nowhere, pp. 152-54.

28 Hypothetical Imperatives are objectively valid, in that they embody claims about the means needed to achieve a given end that are true for anyone. However they give reasons conditionally, in that they lead to determinate prescriptions only in conjunction with facts about an individual's desires. Thus, hypothetical imperatives are practical principles that are objectively, but conditionally valid, stated in imperative form for finite rational beings. For discussion, see Thomas E. Hill, "The Hypothetical Imperative," The Philosophical Review 82 (1973): 440 ff; and Henry E. Allison, "Morality and Freedom: Kant's Reciprocity Thesis," The Philosophical Review 95 (1986): 399-400.

29 It is implausible to think that an agent must consciously go through such a process in deciding how to act, but that need not be Kant's view. Rather, a structure of this sort may be implicit in practical reasoning, and presupposed by what agents offer as justifications for their actions. Thus I would argue that Kant views a maxim (first person principle stating an agent's underlying intention) as providing a prima facie justification for an action. But since it must instantiate a general principle stating how anyone ought to act in order to function in this way, some such principle is presupposed in the background. It is enough for Kant's purposes that this structure be brought into play in assessing proposed alternatives; it need not describe how an agent arrives at these alternatives.

30 Thus Kant writes:

That is practically good which determines the will by means of representations of reason and hence not by subjective causes, but, objectively, i.e., on grounds valid for every rational being as such. [Gl 413]

What is good is also "practically necessary"—an action supported by an ought-judgment of some kind. Cf. Gl 412. See also KpV 60ff/58ff, esp. 62/60: "What we call good must be, in the judgment of every reasonable man, an object of the faculty of desire . . . ;" and KU § 4.

31 See also Gl 448:

Now we cannot possibly think of a reason that consciously lets itself be directed from outside as regards its judgments; for in that case the subject would ascribe the determination of his faculty of judgment, not to his reason, but to an impulse. Reason must regard itself as the author of its principles independent of foreign influences.

Here Kant views rationality as a power of self-determination.

32 In support of this interpretation of the attitude of rational agents towards their ends, note that when Kant discusses the adoption of ends he standardly refers to their value or worth [Wert], He asks whether it is conditional, relative or absolute [Gl 428ff]; he also refers to the question of whether an end is "reasonable and good" and comments on the importance of "judgments regarding the worth of things which might be chosen as ends." [Gl 415]

For a more complete discussion of this passage than I am able to provide here, see Christine Korsgaard, "Kant's Formula of Humanity," secs. III-V. One of her aims is to clarify how the traits of rational nature (what she terms its power to "confer value") are the source of its unconditional value. Briefly, the argument (as I understand it) is that rational nature is an end of absolute value because it is a precondition of the existence of any ends. Without the ability to pursue ends for reasons and to confer value on the objects of our desires, there could be no valuable ends. Since rational nature is an end of absolute value, it imposes limiting conditions on choice which must always be respected.

33 This argument would appear to begin by defining a categorical imperative as one that states an unconditionally valid requirement on action. Kant writes:

For since, besides the law, the imperative contains only the necessity that the maxim should conform with this law, while the law contains no condition to restrict it, there remains nothing but the universality of law as such with which the maxim of the action should conform. This conformity alone is represented as necessary by the imperative. [Gl 420-21]

I gloss this passage as follows. A categorical imperative will contain a law—that is, a substantive requirement on action that applies without restriction to anyone. In addition, it specifies the priority which this requirement has with respect to one's desires and ends: it states the necessity of acting consistently with this particular law. The Categorical Imperative—as the principle underlying all particular categorical imperatives, which states their general form—can only contain the necessity for conformity to law as such. It states the requirement of acting from reasons that satisfy the criteria of necessity and universality, or are sufficient to justify one's action fully to anyone. So the supreme practical law says: act from maxims that have the form of law.

34 In these remarks about autonomy I simply summarize the directions that Kant's thought takes. I intend to examine them more critically in another paper.

35 I received support for this paper from a National Endowment for the Humanities Summer Stipend (# FT-29143-87). I am also indebted to Stephen Engstrom, Hannah Ginsberg, and Christine Korsgaard for discussion of various topics within Kant's philosophy during the writing of this paper, which have no doubt influenced its present form.

J. B. Schneewind (essay date 1992)

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SOURCE: "Autonomy, Obligation, and Virtue: An Overview of Kant's Moral Philosophy," in The Cambridge Companion to Kant, edited by Paul Guyer, Cambridge University Press, 1992, pp. 309-41.

[In the following essay, Schneewind discusses Kant's conception of autonomy and the moral agent, and the ground of his obligation to the moral law.]

Kant invented a new way of understanding morality and ourselves as moral agents. The originality and profundity of his moral philosophy have long been recognized. It was widely discussed during his own lifetime, and there has been an almost continuous stream of explanation and criticism of it ever since. Its importance has not diminished with time. The quality and variety of current defenses and developments of his basic outlook and the sophistication and range of criticism of it give in a central place in contemporary ethics.1 In the present essay I offer a general survey of the main features of Kant's moral philosophy. Many different interpretations of it have been given, and his published works show that his views changed in important ways. Nonetheless there is a distinctive Kantian position about morality, and most commentators are agreed on its main outlines.2


At the center of Kant's ethical theory is the claim that normal adults are capable of being fully self-governing in moral matters. In Kant's terminology, we are "autonomous." Autonomy involves two components. The first is that no authority external to ourselves is needed to constitute or inform us of the demands of morality. We can each know without being told what we ought to do because moral requirements are requirements we impose on ourselves. The second is that in self-government we can effectively control ourselves. The obligations we impose upon ourselves override all other calls for action, and frequently run counter to our desires. We nonetheless always have a sufficient motive to act as we ought. Hence no external source of motivation is needed for our self-legislation to be effective in controlling our behavior.

Kant thinks that autonomy has basic social and political implications. Although no one can lose the autonomy social arrangements that is a part and of the the nature actions of of rational others agents, can 3encourage lapses into governance by our desires, or heteronomy. Kant, as we shall see, found it difficult to explain just how this could happen; but he always held that the moral need for our autonomy to express itself was incompatible with certain kinds of social regulation. There is no place for others to tell us what morality requires, nor has anyone the authority to do so—not our neighbors, not the magistrates and their laws, not even those who speak in the name of God. Because we are autonomous, each of us must be allowed a social space within which we may freely determine our own action. This freedom cannot be limited to members of some privileged class. The structure of society must reflect and express the common and equal moral capacity of its members.

Kant's interest in the social and political implications of autonomy is shown in many places. In the short essay "What is enlightenment?" Kant urges each of us to refuse to remain under the tutelage of others. I do not need to rely on "a book which understands for me, a pastor who has a conscience for me." We must think and decide for ourselves. To foster this, public freedom of discussion is necessary, particularly in connection with religion. An enlightened ruler will allow such discussion to flourish, knowing he has nothing to fear from it (7:35, 40ff / H 3-4, 8ff). Later in "Perpetual Peace" Kant expressed the hope that eventually all states will be organized as republics, in which every citizen can express his moral freedom4 publicly in political action (7:349ff / H 93ff).

What stands out in Kant's vision of the morality through which we govern ourselves is that there are some actions we simply have to do. We impose a moral law on ourselves, and the law gives rise to obligation, to a necessity to act in certain ways. Kant does not see morality as springing from virtuous dispositions that make us want to help others. He sees it as always a struggle. Virtue itself is defined in terms of struggle: It is "moral strength of will" in overcoming temptations to transgress the law (Morals, 7:405 / 66-7). Law is prior to virtue, and must control desires to help others as well as desires to harm.

It has sometimes been thought that the salience of law and obedience in Kant's view shows that he had an authoritarian cast of mind. Some unpublished early notes show quite clearly that the moral stance behind his emphasis on obligation was very different. "In our condition," he wrote around 1764,

when universal injustice stands firm, the natural rights of the lowly cease. They are therefore only debtors; the superiors owe them nothing. Therefore these superiors are called gracious lords. He who needs nothing from them but justice and can hold them to their debts does not need this submissiveness.5

A society built around the virtues of benevolence and kindness is for Kant a society requiring not only inequality6 but servility as well. If nothing is properly mine except what someone graciously gives me, I am forever dependent on how the donor feels toward me. My independence as an autonomous being is threatened. Only if I can claim that the others have to give me what is mine by right can this be avoided. Kant makes the point even more plainly in a comment written a few years later:

Many people may take pleasure in doing good actions but consequently do not want to stand under obligations toward others. If one only comes to them submissively they will do everything; they do not want to subject themselves to the rights of people, but to view them simply as objects of their magnanimity. It is not all one under what title I get something. What properly belongs to me must not be accorded to me merely as something I ask for.7

Kant did not deny the moral importance of beneficent action, but his theoretical emphasis on the importance of obligation or moral necessity reflects his rejection of benevolent paternalism and the servility that goes with it,8 just as the centrality of autonomy in his theory shows his aim of limiting religious and political control of our lives.


Kant's attribution of autonomy to every normal adult was a radical break with prevailing views of the moral capacity of ordinary people. The natural law theorists whose work was influential through the seventeenth and much of the eighteenth centuries did not on the whole think that most people could know, without being told, everything that morality requires of them. The lawyers were willing to admit that God had given everyone the ability to know the most basic principles of morality. But they held that the many are unable to see all the moral requirements implicit in the principles and often cannot grasp by themselves what is required in particular cases. Like Kant later, the natural lawyers thought of morality as centering on obligations imposed by law. For them, however, God is the legislator of moral law, and humans his unruly subjects. Most people are unwilling to obey the laws of nature, and must be made to do so through the threat of punishment for noncompliance. This view was built into the concept of obligation as the natural lawyers understood it. They held that obligation could only be explained as necessity imposed by a law backed by threats of punishment for disobedience. They would accordingly have thought Kant's view that we can make and motivate ourselves to obey the moral law not only blasphemous but foolish.9 They would also have wondered what kind of account of moral necessity Kant could give, once he refused to appeal to an external lawgiver or to sanctions.

A number of philosophers before Kant had begun to reject the natural lawyers' low estimate of human moral capacity, and to present theories in which a greater ability for self-governance is attributed to people. A brief look at the philosophers whom Kant himself has told us were important in his development will help us see how far beyond them he went.10

In deliberate opposition to natural law views, the British philosophers Shaftesbury and Hutcheson portrayed virtue rather than law and obligation as central to morality.11 They argued that to be virtuous we have only to act regularly and deliberately from benevolent motives that we naturally approve. Because approval is naturally felt by everyone, and because we all have benevolent motives, we can all equally see and do what morality calls for, without need of external guidance or of sanctions. Christian Wolff, whose philosophy dominated German universities when Kant was a student, tried to reach a similar conclusion by a different route.12 He argued that we can be self-governed because we can see for ourselves what the consequences of our actions will be, and can tell which action will bring about the greatest amount of perfection. Since we are always drawn to act so as to bring about what we believe is the greatest amount of perfection, Wolff says we are bound or necessitated to do what we think will be for the best. And this seems to him to explain the necessity we call "moral," or our moral obligation. In political matters we are obligated or obliged to act by sanctions imposed by a political ruler; but in morality we oblige ourselves to act through our perception of perfection. Hence in morality we are self-governed. We need no sanctions to move us to act for the best.13

Kant came to hold that neither of these kinds of moral theory was acceptable. They imply that the only necessity involved in morality is the necessity of using a means to an end you desire. If you do not want the end, there is no need for you to do the act that leads to it. But Kant thinks it is just a contingent empirical fact that you have the desires you have.14 If so, then on these views it is a matter of happenstance whether or not someone is bound by any moral necessity. Obligation becomes a matter of what one wants to do. But true moral necessity, Kant held, would make an act necessary regardless of what the agent wants.

One philosopher prior to Kant, the Lutheran pastor C. A. Crusius,15 had taken moral necessity to be independent of our contingent ends. There are, Crusius said, obligations of prudence, which arise from the need to act in a certain way to attain one's end. But there are also obligations of virtue, or moral obligations, and these make it necessary to act in certain ways regardless of any of one's own ends. Both the knowledge of these requirements and the motive to comply with them are available to everyone alike because certain laws are incorporated in the structure of our will, and carry their own impetus to action. Because everyone has a will, everyone can always know what morality requires; and when we act accordingly we are determining ourselves to action. Crusius thus explains the idea of moral obligation in terms of an unconditional necessity, and claims that because this necessity binds our will by its own nature we need no external guidance or stimulus to be moral. Crusius's aim in asserting our high moral capacity was in fact to show that we are fully responsible for our actions before God. He took the laws structuring our will to obligate us because they are God's commands; and he believed that obedience is our highest virtue. If Crusius provided Kant with some of the tools he used to work out his idea of autonomy, he was not the inspiration for that idea.

It took a radical critic of society, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, to suggest the idea. Rousseau convinced Kant that everyone must have the capacity to be a self-governing moral agent, and that it is this characteristic that gives each person a special kind of value or dignity.16 Culture in its present corrupt state conceals this capacity of ours, Rousseau thought, and society must be changed to let it show and be effective. In the Social Contract he called for the construction of a community in which everyone agrees to be governed by the dictates of the "general will," a will representing each individual's truest and deepest aims and directed always at the good of the whole. The general will would have to be able to override the passing desires each of us feels for private goods. But, Rousseau said, "the impulse of appetite alone is slavery, and obedience to the law one has prescribed for oneself is freedom."17 Previous thinkers had frequently used the metaphor of slavery to describe the condition in which we are controlled by our passions, but for them the alternative was to follow laws that God or nature prescribe. Rousseau held that we make our own law and in doing so create the foundation for a free and just social order. This thought became central to Kant's understanding of morality.


The problem Kant faced was to show how such lawmaking is possible. In particular he had to explain how we can impose a necessity upon ourselves. If my obligations arise simply through my own will, how can there be any real constraints on my action? Can't I excuse myself from any obligations I alone impose? Rousseau had nothing to suggest beyond the thought that conscience is a sentiment that moves us without regard for our own interest; and we have already seen why Kant could not accept that suggestion. Someone might not have conscientious sentiments, or might get rid of them. Then on such a view no obligations bind her. Moral necessity could not be explained on that basis. Kant eventually found an explanation by comparing moral necessity to the necessity involved in the laws governing the physical universe. Kant was a Newtonian. He held that the sequence of events in the world is necessary. But its laws involve no commands and no sanctions. Morality, however, is not science. Science shows us how the world has to be. Morality tells us how it ought to be. How can the model of scientific laws help us understand morality?

Kant had read Rousseau and rethought morality before he came to the breakthrough that led to the critical philosophy.18 In developing his new view of morality he used the tools the critical standpoint gave him. In the Critique of Pure Reason he argued that perceptual experience of the world shows only what does happen. Since laws say what has to happen they must involve a nonexperiential, or a priori, aspect, and it must be this that explains the necessity they impart. How is this nonexperiential aspect of lawfulness to be explained? The mind, Kant answered, involves the activity of imposing different forms of order on the perceptual material that its passive receptivity gives it. The forms of order are not externally imposed on the mind. They are an aspect of itself, the aspect through which it makes experience lawful. And they are "pure" or devoid of any empirical content in themselves. Their constitution is independent of their actual forming of perceptions into lawfully ordered sequences.

The question then is whether there is an aspect of the mind that does for action what the mental activities revealed in the first Critique do for experience. Thinking in terms of separate faculties of the mind, Kant attributes the initiation of action to the will, responding to desires. Desires, he assumes, are not rational as such. They arise in us because we are finite beings, with bodily and other needs. If there is to be rationality in action, the will must be its source. Kant therefore equates the will with practical reason. Does the faculty of practical reason have an inherent structure in the way that the faculty of pure reason does? If it does, and if it imposes form on the givens we feel as desires, then we have a clue to an explanation of exactly how and why we are autonomous. Taking the activity of practical reason as the source of the necessities that we impose on our willed behaviour would show that these necessities are no more escapable than those that give structure to the physical world. They could therefore constitute our morality.


To translate this idea into a moral theory, Kant had to show that the main concepts of morality can be explained in terms of a self-imposed necessity. We can begin to see how he does this by examining the way he relates three ideas central to morality: the ideas of the moral worth of an agent, of the Tightness of an action, and of the goodness of the states of affairs that are the goals or outcomes of action.

One way of relating these ideas is to take as basic the goodness of states of affairs that can be brought about by human action. We consider, say, that being happy, or having fully developed talents, is intrinsically good. Then a right act can be defined as one that brings about good states of affairs, or brings them about to the greatest extent possible; and a good agent is one who habitually and deliberately does right acts. In such a scheme, right acts will have only an instrumental value, and we can and indeed must know what is good before we can make justifiable claims about what acts are right. Such a scheme is common feature of the work of Kant's predecessors. Kant rejected it.

He rejected it because it makes autonomy in his sense impossible. Suppose that a kind of state of affairs is intrinsically good because of the very nature of that kind of state of affairs. Then the goodness occurs independently of the will of any finite moral agent, and if she must will to pursue it, she is not self-legislating. Suppose the goodness of states of affairs comes from their conformity to some standard. Then the standard itself is either the outcome of someone's will—say, God's—or it is self-subsistent and eternal. In either case, conformity to it is not autonomy.19 Conformity would be what Kant calls heteronomy.

An alternative way of relating the three moral concepts became available to Kant through the idea that moral necessity, as embedded in the laws of morality, might have a pure a priori status akin to that of the necessity characterizing Newton's gravitational laws. While the mind imposes necessity in both cases, in morality the relevant aspect of mind is the rational will. This leads Kant to take the concept of the good agent as basic. Think of the good agent as one whose will is wholly determined a priori, and think of the pattern of that determination as the moral law.20 Then we can say that it is necessarily true that whatever acts such an agent does are right acts; and whatever states of affairs such an agent deliberately brings about through those acts are good states of affairs. Kant makes it clear in the second Critique that this is his position:

the concept of good and evil is not defined prior to the moral law, to which, it would seem, the former would have to serve as foundation; rather the concept of good and evil must be defined after and by means of the law.

(Practical Reason 5:62-3 / 65)

For Kant then the Tightness of acts is prior to the goodness of states of affairs, because only outcomes of right acts can count as good states of affairs. We do not discover what is right by first finding out what is good. Indeed we cannot determine what states of affairs are good without first knowing what is right. In order to know what is right all we need to know is what the perfectly good agent would do. Then whenever there is an act that a perfectly good agent could not omit, it is an act anyone in those circumstances has to do.21

Kant thinks one more step must be taken before we can obtain a full account of the moral concepts. So far we have considered a will completely determined by its own inner lawfulness. Because this law is a law constituting practical reason, such a will—unlike ours—would be perfectly rational. We finite beings do not have what Kant calls a "holy will," a will so fully determined by its inner lawful constitution that it acts spontaneously and without struggle. Our desires clamor for satisfaction whether they are rational or not. Hence for us the operation of the law in our rational will is not automatic. We feel its operation within us as a constraint, because it must act against the pull of desire. In finite beings, Kant says, the moral law "necessitates," rather than acting necessarily (Groundwork, 4:413-14 / 81). The terminology is not helpful, but Kant's thought here is familiar. If you were perfectly reasonable, you would go to the dentist to have that aching tooth looked at; and if you don't go because you fear dentists, you will find yourself thinking that you really ought to go. This is a prudential illustration of something that holds in the purely moral realm as well. When we see a compelling reason to do an act we are reluctant to do, we may not do it; but we admit we ought to.

The term "ought" is central to our moral vocabulary because the tension between reason and desire is central to our moral experience. "Ought" can be defined, on Kant's view, by saying that whatever a holy will, or perfectly rational will, necessarily would do is what we imperfectly rational agents ought to do (Groundwork, 4:413-14 / 81; Practical Reason, 325: / 32-3; Morals, 6:394-5 / 54-5). When we speak of our obligation to do something, we are referring to the necessity of a given act, without specifying which act is necessary; and to call an act a duty is to say that it is an action that is obligatory. It is Kant's belief in the importance of struggle in the moral life that leads him to his view that virtue cannot be defined as a settled habit or disposition. God, Kant thinks, necessarily acts morally and for that reason cannot have virtue. Only beings who find morality difficult and who develop persistence in struggling against the temptations can be virtuous. We finite beings will never get to the point at which we do not need the strength to resist desire. We are neither angels nor animals. Virtue is our proper station in the universe (Morals, 6:405-9 / 66-71).


If we grant Kant his account of the central moral concepts, we want next to know what the moral law is, and how and to what extent it can serve as a principle for showing us what we ought to do. Many critics, from Hegel to the present, have argued that Kant's principle cannot yield any results at all, because it is a formal principle.22 Are they right?

I have tried to explain why, in order to assure the autonomy of the moral agent, the moral law must be pure and a priori. This means, Kant insists, that the law must be formal Like the logical law of contradiction, which rules out any proposition of the form 'P and not-P', the moral law must not itself contain any "matter" or content. Nonetheless Kant thinks form without content in morality is as empty as he thinks it would be in our experience of nature. There must be content, Kant holds, but it can only come from outside the will—from desires and needs, shaped by our awareness of the world in which we live into specific urges to act or plans for action. Our finitude makes the needy aspect of the self as essential to our particular mode of being as is the free will. It takes the two working together to produce morality. But all that the moral law can do is to provide the form for matter that comes from our desires.

Our urges to act come to the will through what Kant calls "maxims." A maxim is a personal or subjective plan of action, incorporating the agent's reasons for acting as well as a sufficient indication of what act the reasons call for. When we are fully rational, we act, knowing our circumstances, in order to obtain a definite end, and aware that under some conditions we are prepared to alter our plans. Because circumstances and desires recur, a maxim is general. It is like a private rule. A maxim might look like this: If it's raining, take an umbrella in order to stay dry, unless I can get a ride. We often don't think explicitly about the circumstances or the contingencies when we are acting, and Kant does not always include them in his examples of maxims. Sometimes we don't even think of the purpose or goal of an action, only of what we are intent on doing. But if we are rational our action always has a purpose, and we are responsive to the surroundings in which we act. A full maxim simply makes all this explicit. A rational agent tests her maxims before acting on them. To do so she uses the laws of rational willing.

Kant thinks there are two basic laws of rational willing. One governs goal-oriented action generally, and is easily stated:

Who wills the end, wills (so far as reason has decisive influence on his actions) also the means which are indispensably necessary and in his power.

(Groundwork, 4:417 / 84-85)

This simply says that when a rational agent is genuinely in pursuit of a goal, she must and will do whatever is needed to get it. Otherwise she is not really pursuing the goal. Now whenever there is a law determining a perfectly rational being to action, there is a counterpart, couched in terms of "ought," governing the actions of imperfectly rational beings such as ourselves. Kant calls such "ought" counterparts of the laws of rational willing "imperatives." He uses this term because the laws of rational willing appear as constraining us in the way that commands do. The "ought" counterpart of the law of goal-oriented willing is easily stated:

Whoever wills an end ought to will the means.

Kant calls it the "hypothetical" imperative. It is hypothetical because the necessity of action that it imposes is conditional. You ought to do a certain act if you will a certain end.23

Given Kant's claim that means-ends necessity is inadequate for morality, it is plain that he must think there is another law of rational willing, and so another kind of "ought" or imperative. The kind of "ought" that does not depend on the agent's ends arises from the moral law; and Kant calls the imperative version of that law "the categorical imperative." The moral law itself, Kant holds, can only be the form of lawfulness itself, because nothing else is left once all content has been rejected. The moral law can therefore be stated as follows:

A perfectly rational will acts only through maxims which it could also will to be universal law.

When this appears to us in the form of the catgorical imperative, it says:

Act only according to that maxim through which you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law.

(Groundwork, 4:421 / 88)

We might think of Kant as recommending a two-stage testing of maxims. First test a maxim by the hypothetical imperative. Does the proposed act effectively bring about a desired end? If not, reject it; and if it does, test it by the categorical imperative. If it passes this test, you may act on it, but if it does not, you must reject it. It is not hard to see how to apply the test of prudential rationality. The question is whether the test of morality, the categorical imperative, actually enables us to decide whether or not we may act on a maxim.

Kant gives us a formulation of the categorical imperative that he thinks is easier to use than the one I have already cited:

Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.

(Groundwork, 4:421 / 89)

Now suppose you need money. You think of getting some by asking a friend to lend it to you, but you have no intention of ever repaying him. You plan to make a false promise to repay. Your maxim (omitting circumstances and conditions) is something like this: Use a lying promise to get money I want. Suppose this passes the prudential test. You then consider whether your maxim could be a universal law of nature, whether there could be a world in which everyone was moved, as by a law of nature, to make lying promises to get what they want. It would have to be a world in which it is prudentially rational to make a lying promise to get money. Well, if everyone made lying promises it would be pretty obvious, and people would stop believing promises. But in a world where no promises are trusted, it cannot be rational to try to use a promise in this way. Thus you cannot coherently think a world for which your maxim is a law of nature. You are therefore not permitted to act on it (Groundwork, 4:422 / 89-90).

Another example shows a different way in which the categorical imperative works. I pass someone collapsed on the street, and decide not to help him. My maxim is something like this: Ignore people in need of help, in order not to interfere with my plans. Kant says that I can coherently conceive of a world of people indifferent to one another's distress. But he believes that I cannot will the existence of such a world. Look at it this way. As a rational agent I necessarily will the means to any of my ends. The help of others is often a means I need for my own ends. So it would be irrational to will to exclude the help of others as a possible means when I need it. But if I universalize my maxim, I will to make it a law of nature that no one helps others in need. I would therefore be willing both that others help me when I need it and that no one help others when they need it. This is incoherent willing. Hence I may not act on my maxim (Groundwork, 4:423 / 90-91).24

When we use the categorical imperative in these cases we suppose that we are examining a maxim embodying the agent's genuine reasons for proposing the action, rather than irrelevancies (such as that the act will be done by a gray-bearded man) that might let it get by the categorical imperative. A vocabulary for formulating our plans is also presupposed (though that vocabulary itself might be called into question, as when we reject racist language).25 Given these assumptions, the examples show that if maxims of the kind they involve are what the categorical imperative is to test, then the moral law is not empty. There are at least some cases in which we can assess the moral permissibility of a plan simply by considering its rationality, without basing our conclusion on the goodness or badness of its consequences. The Kantian position is a real option for understanding morality.


The categorical imperative can be formulated in several ways. Kant thinks they are all equivalent, and insists that the first formulation, the one we have been considering, is basic. Though the others bring out various aspects of the moral law, they cannot tell us more than the first formula does. It concentrates on the agent's point of view. The second formulation draws our attention to those affected by our action:

Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end.

(Groundwork, 4:429 / 96)

Kant is saying that the ends of others—if morally permissible—set limits to the ends we ourselves may pursue. We must respect the permissible ends of others, and we may make others serve our own purposes only when they as moral agents assent to such use, as when someone willingly takes a job working for another. Thus we may not pursue our own ends if they impermissibly conflict with the ends of others.26 We are also to forward the ends of others, a point to which I will shortly return.

The third formulation instructs us to look at agent and recipient of action together in a community as we legislate through our maxims:

All maxims as proceeding from our own law-making ought to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends as a kingdom of nature.

(Groundwork, 4:436 / 104)

Here we are told always to think of ourselves as members of a society of beings whose permissible ends are to be respected, and to test our maxims by asking whether, supposing the maxims were natural laws, there would be a society of that kind.27

Because the richer formulations of the categorical imperative can take us no further than the formula requiring us to test our maxims by asking if they could be universal laws, we must ask how well that principle can serve to show us the way through all of our relations with one another.

The categorical imperative clearly requires a kind of impartiality in our behavior. We are not permitted to make exceptions for ourselves, or to do what we would not rationally permit others to do. But it would be a mistake to suppose that Kantian morality allows for nothing but impartiality in personal relations. The maxim "If it is my child's birthday, give her a party, to show I love her" is thinkable and willable as a law of nature, as are some maxims of helping family members and friends rather than helping others. Of course our actions for those we prefer must be within rationally allowable limits, but within those limits Kantian ethics has nothing to say against the working of human affection.

A broader point is involved here. Although the categorical imperative operates most directly by vetoing proposed maxims of action, it is a mistake to suppose that it does nothing more. It is usually true that from its prohibitions alone no positive directives follow. Whatever is not forbidden is simply permitted. Sometimes, however, a veto forces a requirement on us. Where what is forbidden is not doing something—for instance, not paying my taxes—the veto requires me to do something, to pay my taxes, because it is not permitted not to do so. Beyond this, the categorical imperative can set requirements that are not so specifically tied to prohibitions. Kant gives us more detail on this in the Metaphysics of Morals.

He there divides morality into two domains, one of law or right (Recht), and one of virtue (Morals, 6:218-21/16-19). The domain of law, which extends to civil law, arises from maxims that are vetoed because they cannot even be thought coherently when universalized. The rejection of such maxims turns out to provide a counterpart to the recognition of the strict rights of others. We may not interfere with their legitimate projects, may not take their property, and so on. The domain of virtue involves maxims that can be thought but not willed as universal laws. Most of what morality requires as action rather than abstention is a requirement of virtue.

We have already seen why Kant thinks we cannot will a maxim of universal neglect of the needs of others, even though such a maxim is thinkable as a law of nature. Now the denial of this vetoed maxim is not the maxim "Always help everyone." It is rather the maxim "Help some others at some times." Kant thinks that further argument from this point will show that it is morally required that one of our own ends be to forward the ends of others. He thinks it can be shown in similar fashion that we must make the perfection of our moral character and of our abilities one of our ends (Morals, 6:384-8 / 43-7).

The differences between the domain of law and that of virtue are significant. To be virtuous, I must be acting for the sake of the good of another, or for my own perfection, and viewing these ends as morally required. In the domain of law it does not matter why I do what I do, so long as I abstain from violating the rights of others. Because the motive does not matter in legal affairs, if I do not perform as I ought, I can rightly be compelled to do so. I obtain no moral merit for carrying out legal duties. I simply keep my slate clean. In the domain of virtue, by contrast, there is nothing to which I can be compelled, because what is required is that I have certain ends, and ends must be freely adopted (Morals, 6:381 / 39). Moreover in the realm of virtue there are no requirements about specific actions. It is up to me to decide which of my talents to improve, where my worst moral failings are, and how, when, and how much to help others. Of course I may only do what is permissible within the limits of my legal duties. But the more I make the required ends mine, the more I will do. In the realm of virtue, moreover, I can become entitled to moral praise through my efforts for others. My merit increases as I make their goals my own.

Kant thus makes a place for a concern for human well-being as well as for negative respect for rights.28 What is to be noted is that he does not base the requirement of concern for others on the goodness of the results virtue brings about. And he does not require us to bring about as much happiness (or as much of our own perfection) as we possibly can. He allows that we will have permissible ends that will compete for time and resources with the morally required ends. Morality does not tell us how to decide between them. It only tells us that we must pursue the required as well as the personal ends, staying always within the limits of justice.

How adequate, then, is the categorical imperative as a moral guide? One might wish to reject the whole vocabulary of law and obligation, and with it Kant's principle, on the grounds that it gives a skewed and harmful portrayal of human relations.29 But even if one does not wish thus to set aside or subordinate the moral concerns that led Kant to make that vocabulary central, one must allow that there are problems with Kant's claims for the categorical imperative. I note only two.

First, Kant held that his principle leads to certain conclusions that many sensible people do not accept, such as that lying, suicide, and political revolution are always prohibited. If his inferences to these moral conclusions are valid, then his principle is questionable. If he is not right, then a question must be raised about his claim that his principle is so easy to apply that an ordinary person, "with this compass in hand, is well able to distinguish, in all cases that present themselves, what is good or evil, right or wrong. . . ." (Groundwork, 4:404 / 71-2). It is not clear that any single principle can do all that Kant claims for the categorical imperative.

Second, if the adequacy of the categorical imperative for cases involving only relations between two people is hard to determine, its adequacy for helping settle large-scale social issues is even more so. Kant thought that individual decision making would be able to guide people to coordinated action on matters of general concern. This seems extremely doubtful. It does not follow, however, that there is no way of revising the Kantian principle so that it might handle such issues in a way that preserves the intent of Kant's own formulation.30


Kant held that the proper way to proceed in moral philosophy is to start with what we all know about morality and see what principle underlies it. The Groundwork accordingly begins with an examination of commonsense opinion. From it Kant extracts the motive that is central to morality as well as the basic principle of decision making.

He begins with the claim that we all recognize a kind of goodness different from the goodness of wealth, power, talent, and intellect, and even different from the goodness of kindly or generous dispositions. Under certain conditions any of these might turn out not to be good. But there is another kind of goodness that stays good under any conditions. This is the special kind of goodness a person can have. It is shown most clearly, Kant thinks, when someone does what she believes right or obligatory, and does it just because she thinks it so. Someone lacking kindly feelings, pity, or generosity, and not even caring about her own interest any more, may nonetheless do what she thinks right. The special sort of merit we attribute to this person is the goodness central to morality. It is best thought of as the goodness of a good will (Groundwork, 4:393-4 / 61-2).

Reflection on the agent of good will brings out an important point. Her value does not depend on her actual accomplishments. And because she is moved by a desire to do the act or to bring about its results, her value cannot depend on the results she intended either. Her value must depend, Kant says, "solely on the principle of volition" from which she acted. And the only principle available, because she is not moved by the content of her action, must be formal. The agent of good will must therefore be moved by the bare lawfulness of the act. Kant puts it by saying that she is moved by respect or reverence (Achtung) for the moral law (Groundwork, 4:400 / 68).

Commonsense beliefs about the moral goodness of the good agent show us, Kant thinks, that the categorical imperative is the principle behind sound moral judgment. Kant also thinks he obtains from beliefs about the good agent his view about the motivation proper to morality. Historically the latter was as revolutionary as the former, and systematically the two aspects of the theory are inseparably linked. But the motivational view leads to some new problems for Kant.

The psychological doctrine prevalent in Kant's time held that what motivates us in voluntary rational action is desire for good and aversion to evil. Granting that people often fail to pursue the good either through mistake or through perversity, the view implies that if we do not act from a desire for some perceived good, we are acting wrongly or at least irrationally. Of course it was allowed that people sometimes do their duty just because they ought to. But since doing one's duty was understood to be productive of good—the good of the community—even conscientious action was seen as motivated by desire for the good.31

Crusius broke with this tradition when he said that we could obey God's laws simply because they are ordained by him.32 Kant's assertion that in obeying the dictates of the categorical imperative we could be motivated by what he called respect for the law accepts this decisive break with the older view. Respect, as we have seen, is a concern not for the ends or goods of action, but for the form. So when we are moved by it, we are not pursuing good. But neither are we acting wrongly or irrationally. The central moral motive therefore does not fit the standard pattern.

Respect is unlike other motives in two further ways. First, it is a feeling that arises solely from our awareness of the moral law as the categorical imperative. And it always arises from such awareness. While other motives may or may not be present in everyone at all times, every rational agent always has available this motive, which is sufficient to move her to do what the categorical imperative bids. Second, other motives, such as fear of punishment, greed, love, or pity, can lead us to act rightly. But it is merely contingent if they do. Love, like greed or hatred, can lead one to act immorally. The sole motive that necessarily moves us to act rightly is respect, because it alone is only activated by the dictates of the categorical imperative.

It is easy to see the place of respect in Kant's portrayal of autonomy. Respect provides an answer to the claim, made famous by Hume but probably known to Kant through work by Hume's influential predecessor Francis Hutcheson,33 that reason cannot motivate us. On the contrary, Kant replies: Practical reason generates its own unique motive. External sanctions, of the sort the natural law theorists thought indispensable to give obligation its motivating power, are unnecessary, at least in principle, because we all have within ourselves an adequate motive for compliance. Respect also makes up for the inequities of nature. Some people are naturally loving, friendly, and thoughtful. Nature has not been so generous to others. If only natural motives were available to move us to do what morality requires, then some, through no fault of their own, would be unable to comply with it. Kant's doctrine implies that no one need be prevented by the niggardliness of nature from attaining moral worth.

If the attractions of the doctrine of respect are plain, it nonetheless gets Kant into difficulties. It leads him to think along the following lines. If I act from any motive other than respect, I am simply doing something I find myself wanting to do. My action may be right, but if so that is merely contingent. Even if it is, I show no special concern for morality when I am moved by my desire. All that is shown by a right act done from a nonmoral motive is that morality and my interest here coincide. Consequently I deserve no praise unless I act from respect. Action from respect is the only kind of action that shows true concern for morality. No other motivation entitles me to count as a virtuous agent.

As critics have frequently pointed out, this seems a paradoxical position.34 It seems to make almost every aspect of character unimportant to morality, because it denies any moral worth to actions springing entirely from feelings of love, loyalty, friendship, pity, or generosity, and seems to rule out mixed motives as sources of moral worth.35 Worse, it suggests that kind or loving feelings can get in the way of our achieving moral merit. If merit accrues only when we act from a sense of duty, it seems that human relations must be either unduly chilly or else without moral worth. Did Kant really hold this view? There are passages that suggest he did,36 and others where he asserts a much more humane view.37 The most plausible alternative to the extreme position is one that allows conditional mixed motives: I may have merit when moved by the motive of pity, say, if I allow pity to operate only on condition that in moving me it leads me to nothing the categorical imperative forbids, and if respect is strong enough in me to move me were pity to fail. Because the texts show a change of mind, the best interpretation depends on systematic considerations, of which not the least is whether one accepts Kant's belief that there is a unique and supremely important kind of merit or worthiness, the moral kind.


So far I have tried to explain the principle Kant takes to be central to morality and the motivation he thinks is unique to it. I have said nothing about the justification he thinks he can give for claiming that the principle really holds. We are thus at the point Kant reaches toward the end of the second part of the Groundwork. He there says that so far all he has done is to show what ordinary moral consciousness takes morality to involve if there is such a thing. But is there? A parallel question about prudential rationality would be easy to answer. The law of prudence is true by definition, or analytic. To say someone is a "perfectly rational agent" simply means (in part) that she "uses the means needed to attain her goals." But the moral law is not analytic. The concepts "completely good will" or "perfectly rational agent" do not include "acts only through universalizable maxims." And we cannot base the moral law on experience. It is a necessary proposition, and experience alone never grounds such propositions. What basis then is there for the moral law?38

The problem as Kant sees it is to discover something through which we can join the subject of the moral law—"perfectly rational agent"—and its predicate—"acts only through universalizable maxims." He sees a possible solution in the idea of freedom of the will. Freedom has a negative aspect: If we are free, we are not determined solely by our desires and needs. But freedom is more than the absence of determination. A will wholly undetermined would be random and chaotic. It would not allow for responsibility, nor consequently for praise and blame.39 The only viable way to think of a free will, Kant holds, is to think of it as a will whose choices are determined by a law that is internal to its nature. Such a will is determined only by itself, and is therefore free. But we have already seen that the only self-determined actions are actions done because of the universalizability of the agent's maxim. So if we could show that a rational will must be free, we would have shown that a rational will acts only on universalizable maxims.40 We would have proven the first principle of morality.

Given Kant's Newtonian model of the physical world, a strong claim about freedom of the will raises problems. Our bodies as physical objects are subject to Newton's laws of motion. If they are moved by our natural desires, this is unproblematic, because desires themselves arise in accordance with deterministic laws (as yet undiscovered). Morality, however, requires the possibility of action from a wholly nonempirical motive. We never know whether real moral merit is attained, but if it is, the motive of respect must move us to bodily action, regardless of the strength of our desires. Is this possible?

In the first Critique Kant argued that no theoretical proof (or disproof) of free will can be given. In the Groundwork Kant thinks he can give at least indirect support to the claim that we are free. When we as rational beings act, he says, we must take ourselves to be free. He means that whenever we deliberate or choose we are presupposing freedom, even if we are unaware of the presupposition or consciously doubtful of it. More broadly, whenever we take ourselves to be thinking rationally (even about purely theoretical matters) we must take ourselves to be free, because we cannot knowingly accept judgments determined by external sources as judgments we ourselves have made. Now anything that would follow about us if we were really free still follows for practical purposes if we have to think of ourselves as free. Because freedom entails the moral law, we must think of ourselves as bound by it (Groundwork, 4:447-8 / 115-16).41

Can we both take ourselves to be free and believe theoretically in a deterministic universe? Kant's answer appeals to his first Critique. Theoretical knowledge has limits: It applies only to the world as we experience it, the phenomenal world. We cannot say that the determinism holding in the realm of phenomena holds beyond it as well, in the noumenal world. If we think of ourselves as belonging to the noumenal as well as the phenomenal world, then we can see how in one respect we may be beings bound in a web of mechanistic determination, while in another respect we are the free rational agents morality supposes us to be. Our theoretical beliefs and our practical presupposition of freedom do not come into any conflict.

There are many difficulties with this argument. One of them is this. The argument seems to suppose that we are free just when we are acting rationally. But then if we act irrationally, we are not free. Immoral action is, however, irrational. So it seems to follow that we are responsible only when acting as the moral law requires, and not responsible when we do something wicked. Kant might have had a reply to this objection, but if so he did not give it. In his later writings, he introduced a distinction between the will and the power of choice (Wille and Willkür), which was meant to remove the problem.42 He held that the will is simply identical with practical rationality and is therefore the home of the moral law, but that we have in addition a power of choice, whose task is to choose between the promptings of desire and the imperatives stemming from the will. It is in the power of choice that our freedom, properly speaking, resides. The will itself is neither free nor unfree.

Kant not only developed his view of free will considerably; he changed his mind about how to argue in support of it.43 In the Critique of Practical Reason Kant continued to hold his earlier view that if we are free we are under the moral law, and if we are under the moral law we are free. But he now argues that what he calls "the fact (Faktum) of reason" is what shows us that we are free. There is considerable difficulty in clarifying just what Kant supposes the fact of reason be be.44 One possible interpretation starts with Kant's claim that the fact of reason is revealed to us through our moral awareness that we are bound by unconditional obligations. Because we know we are bound by such obligations, we know also that we can do what we are obligated to do. This means that we can do it, no matter what the circumstances and no matter what has gone on before. In other words awareness of categorical obligation contains awareness of freedom. But it is awareness of freedom as it expresses itself in imperfectly rational beings. The fact of reason, we might take it, is pure rationality displaying itself as immediately as it can in imperfectly rational beings.45

In the Critique, therefore, Kant treats freedom as the ground of our having moral obligations, and our awareness of categorical imperatives as the ground of our knowledge that we are free. He thus gives up the one attempt he made to support the principle of morals by appeal to something other than itself—rationality in general—and he uses our awareness of morality as a foundation from which we can extend our understanding of ourselves and our place in the universe.46

Kant is not here retracting the claims he made in the first Critique about the limits of knowledge. Our justified assurance that we are free is not theoretical knowledge. While we are entitled to that assurance for practical purposes, we cannot infer from it anything of pertinence to our theoretical understanding of the world. Indeed Kant thinks that without the positions established in the theoretical Critique the moral outlook he aims to defend would be impossible. Unless we see that knowledge is limited, we will think that the kind of theoretical knowledge science gives us is all the knowledge there can be. Then a theoretical understanding of our own behavior will become inevitable. Kant held that if we think of ourselves solely in empirical and deterministic terms we will necessarily think of ourselves as heteronomous, as moved by our desires for this or that, and never solely by respect for law. This thought would be debilitating to our effort to be moral.47 But the first Critique showed that the deterministic stance of theoretical reason is valid only within the bounds of experience. Theoretical reason has no jurisdiction over the beliefs morality requires us to hold.


Kant calls this the primacy of practical reason (Practical Reason, 5:119-21 / 124-6). If the categorical imperative requires us to think of ourselves and the world in certain ways, then the limitations on speculative reason cannot be used to deny that we have any warrant for those beliefs. Our nature as rational agents thus dominates our nature as rational knowers. There are two matters, other than freedom, on which practical reason requires us to accept beliefs that can be neither proven nor disproven theoretically. One concerns our hopes for our own private futures, the other concerns our hopes for the future of humanity. In one case we are led by morality to have certain religious beliefs; in the other, to have certain views about history and progress.

In the second Critique Kant argues not only that we must think of ourselves as free moral agents but also that we must see ourselves as immortal, and as living in a universe governed by a providential intelligence through whose intervention in the course of nature the virtuous are rewarded and the vicious punished. We must have these beliefs, Kant holds, because morality requires each of us to make ourselves perfectly virtuous—to give ourselves a character in which the dictates of the categorical imperative are never thwarted by the passions and desires. And it also requires that happiness be distributed in accordance with virtue.48 The former cannot be done in a finite amount of time, so we must believe that we each have something like an infinite amount of time available for carrying out the task, or at least for approaching closer and closer to completion. The latter is not possible if the mechanisms of nature are the sole ordering force in the universe, nature being indifferent to virtue and vice. Hence we must believe that there is some nonnatural ordering force that will intervene to bring about what morality requires (Practical Reason, 5:122-32 / 126-36).

In his essays on history49 Kant argues that theoretical reason can never determine whether mankind is progressing or not. War and the innumerable ghastly ways in which people mistreat one another seem sometimes to be waning, sometimes to be increasing, sometimes simply to go through an endless see-saw of more and less. But morality requires us to try to bring it about that there is peace in the world, and that the standing form of government is everywhere one in which individual autonomy is publicly acknowledged and respected. We must therefore believe that it is possible to bring this about, and we must see history as moving, however slowly, and at whatever cost to innumerable individuals throughout countless generations, in this direction. Thus within the world constituted by theoretical reason, practical reason directs us to form a moral world by imposing moral order on the whole of human society as well as on our individual desires.

Kant is not saying that moral agents come to believe these propositions about religion and history through arguments. He is saying rather that each moral agent will find herself acting as if she saw the world as Kant's propositions portray it. Morality, as Kant understands it, makes sense only if certain background conditions are met. Unless these conditions hold, a form of pointlessness threatens action dictated by the categorical imperative; and the rational agent cannot act while thinking her action pointless. The belief in freedom is needed first of all, because otherwise we would lack the assurance that we can do what the categorical imperative requires. The other morally required beliefs ward off a different kind of pointlessness.

What is evident in all of these other beliefs to which we are led on practical grounds alone is a concern for human happiness. Kant is often thought to hold that happiness is not valuable, and even to have ignored it wholly in his ethics. This is a serious mistake. It is true that for Kant moral worth is the supreme good, but by itself it is not the perfect or complete good.50 To be virtuous, for Kant, is to be worthy of happiness: And the perfect good requires that happiness be distributed in accordance with virtue (Practical Reason, 5:110-11/114-15). Happiness, or the sum of satisfaction of desires, is a conditional good. It is good only if it results from the satisfaction of morally permissible desires. But it is intrinsically valuable nonetheless. It is valued by a rational agent for itself, and not instrumentally.51

Atheism and meaninglessness in history threaten to make morality pointless. A holy will necessarily aims at the perfect good, and we imperfect beings therefore ought to do what we can to bring it about. But it seems simply irrational to devote serious effort to bringing about a goal that one believes cannot be brought about. If reason showed the perfect good to be a required but unattainable goal, reason would be at odds with itself. The moral agent, knowing herself required to act in ways that make sense only if certain ends can be achieved, finds herself simply taking it that the world must allow the possibility of success. Since this attitude is not translatable into theoretical knowledge, the agent cannot have any details about how her effort will help bring about the ends. All that is needed is the confidence that it will. Philosophy helps, Kant thinks, by showing that nothing can prove the attitude unwarranted.52


1 Contemporary English-language study of Kant's ethics owes a great deal to the important commentaries of H. J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative (London: Hutchinson, 1946), and Lewis White Beck, A Commentary to Kant's Critique of Practical Reason (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960), both of which helped stimulate German scholarship as well. John Rawls's widely read A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971) showed one direction in which Kantianism could be revised, and was a major impetus to the use of Kantian insights in developing general ethical theory and in handling concrete current issues.

2 Although Kant did a great deal of thinking about ethics during his early years, he wrote little about it before the publication of the first Critique. That Critique contains some discussion of moral philosophy, but the major works are the following:

Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), reference to Akademie edition volume and page followed by the page number of the translation by H. J. Paton, The Moral Law (London: Hutchinson, 1948).

Critique of Practical Reason (1788), references followed by page numbers of the translation by Lewis White Beck (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1956).

Metaphysics of Morals, in two parts, known as the Doctrine of Right and the Doctrine of Virtue, which were published separately in 1797; references when quotations are from the Doctrine of Virtue followed by the page number of the translation by Mary Gregor (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1964).

Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793), references followed by the page number of the translation by Theodore M. Greene and Hoyt H. Hudson (1934; 2d ed., New York: Harper & Row, 1960).

Kant's essays on history and politics are important sources as well. There are two useful collections: Lewis White Beck et al., Kant on History (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1963), and Ted Humphrey, Perpetual Peace and Other Essays (Indianapolis: Hackett, 1983). References are followed by "H" and page number from the Beck translation.

Volumes 27 and 29 of the Akademie edition of Kants gesammelte Schriften contain over a thousand pages of student notes on Kant's classes on ethics, which he taught between twenty and thirty times from 1756-7 to 1793-4 (see Emil Arnoldt, Gesammelte Schriften [Berlin: 1909], Vol. V, p. 335). The earliest notes come from 1763-4, the latest from 1793-4. Notes taken in 1780-1 are available in English: Lectures on Ethics, trans. Louis Infield (originally 1930) (New York: Harper & Row, 1963).

The student notes offer many insights into Kant's ethical thought, but they also pose several new interpretative problems. In this essay I concentrate on the published works.

3 Not only humans: Kant thinks any rational agents would be autonomous.

4 The term "his" is used advisedly here: Kant had unfortunate views about women. He also thought servants were not sufficiently independent to be entitled to full political status.

5 This is from marginal notes Kant jotted down as he was reading Rousseau's Social Contract and Emile during 1763-4 (20:140-1; I have added some punctuation). It is largely from these notes that we know of the considerable impact that Rousseau had on Kant.

6 20:36, "kindnesses occur only through inequality."

7R 6736, 19:145.

8 See Kant's late remarks on servility in Morals, 6:434-6; 99-101; see also Thomas E. Hill, Jr., "Servility and Self-Respect," Monist 57 (1973): 87-104.

9 In the essay "On the Common Saying: 'That may be true in theory but it does not work in practice'," Kant says that in connection with our moral self-legislation "man thinks of himself according to an analogy with the divinity" (8:280 n.). The essay is translated in Hans Reiss, ed., Kant's Political Writings (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1970).

10 The standard work on the development of Kant's ethics is Josef Schmucker, Die Ursprünge der Ethik Kants (Meisenheim am Glan: Anton Hain, 1961). There is no reliable study of the subject in English.

11 For selections from Shaftesbury and Hutcheson, see. D. D. Raphael, The British Moralists, 2 vols. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1969), and J. B. Schneewind, Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant, 2 vols. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990). Their works were available in German, and Kant owned the translations of Hutcheson's most important writings.

12 There are no studies of Wolff in English, and little of his work has been translated. Lewis White Beck, Early German Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1969) discusses his general philosophy but says little about his ethics. For an excellent study of the early German enlightenment and Wolff's place in it, see Hans M. Wolff, Die Weltanschauung der deutschen Aufklärung (Bern, 1949). For selections in English of his ethics, see Schneewind, Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant, Vol. I.

13 These views are compendiously presented in Christian Wolff, Vernünftige Gedancken von der Menschen Thun und Lassen (1720).

14 Kant holds that it is necessarily true that each of us adesires his or her own happiness, and he sometimes equates happiness with the satisfaction of the totality of our desires. But no single desire is a necessary feature of any particular individual. This is a point on which many of Kant's recent critics, particularly those sympathetic to Aristotle, disagree with him. They would argue that some desires or motives or active dispositions are essential to the individual identity of the person. See, e.g., Jonathan Lear, Aristotle: The Desire to Understand (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988), p. 189. Kant would think that if you must have some specific effective desire then you are not free with respect to it. Kant does not think, as some of his critics believe, that the free will constitutes the whole identity of each individual. But he does think that whatever constitutes individual identity does so only contingently.

15 Crusius was a leader of the anti-Wolffian movement. His moral philosophy is contained in his Anweisung, vernünftig zu leben (1744). There is good discussion of his general position in Beck, Early German Philosophy. For translated selections, see Schneewind, Moral Philosophy from Montaigne to Kant, Vol. II.

16 There is considerable difficulty in interpreting Rousseau's influence on Kant. As indicated above, the most important evidence comes from the notes Kant made when he first read Emile and the Social Contract during 1763-4 (20:1-192). One of the most frequently quoted notes compares Rousseau's clarification of the hidden aspects of human nature to Newton's uncovering of the hidden aspects of physical nature (20:58-9). Another is more personal: "I am myself a researcher by inclination. I feel the whole thirst for knowledge and the eager unrest to move further on into it, also satisfaction with each acquisition. There was a time when I thought this alone could constitute the honor of humanity and I despised the know-nothing rabble. Rousseau set me straight. This delusory superiority vanishes, I learn to honor men, and I would find myself more useless than a common laborer if I did not believe this observation could give everyone a value which restores the rights of humanity" (20:44).

17Social Contract, I.viii.§ 4, in On the Social Contract, ed. Roger D. Masters, trans. Judith R. Masters (New York: St. Martin's Press, 1978), p. 56.

18 In the 1763-4 notes (see note 5 in this chapter) there are several attempts to formulate the principle behind what Kant later called the categorical imperative. There are also clear indications both of the distinction between it and the hypothetical imperative and of the idea that the former is central to morality.

19 Those who insisted that God laid down the laws of morality by absolute fiat argued that unless that were true, God would be limited by something external to himself. They thought that even eternal moral standards would be an intolerable constraint on God's absolute freedom.

20 Pure theoretical reason is an activity determined apriori, and one might think of one of its patterns of activity as embodying the "causal law." The causal law, in this sense, explains why every event must have a cause, but does not alone tell us what event causes what other event; to obtain this knowledge we need data of experience in addition. Similarly, as I explain later, the moral law does not by itself tell us which specific acts are obligatory; we must use it to test maxims in order to learn what we ought to do.

21 Some theorists have taken the Tightness of acts as basic, defining a good agent as one who has a conscious habit of doing such acts, and good states of affairs as those intended to be the outcome of right acts. This view tends to go along with intuitionist explanations of how we know what is right. Thomas Reid's Essays on the Active Powers of Man (1788) offers one theory of this kind.

22 A brilliant account of Hegelian objections of this kind, as well as other criticisms, is given in F. H. Bradley, Ethical Studies (1876; 2d ed., Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), ch. 2. The literature on the subject is extensive. The best book in English is Onora (O'Neill) Nell, Acting on Principle: An Essay on Kantian Ethics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975), to which I am much indebted. For a sample of other criticisms of Kant see C. D. Broad, Five Types of Ethical Theory (London, 1930), ch. 5. See also the articles by Jonathan Harrison, "Kant's Examples of the First Formulation of the Categorical Imperative," Philosophical Quarterly 7 (1957); Julius Ebbinghaus, "Interpretation and Misinterpretation of the Categorical Imperative" (1959), reprinted in Robert Paul Wolff, ed., Kant: A Collection of Critical Essays (Garden City, N.Y.: Anchor/Doubleday, 1967), pp. 211-27; Jonathan Kemp, "Kant's Examples of the Categorical Imperative," Philosophical Quarterly 8: 63-71 (1958); Nelson Potter, "Paton on the Application of the Categorical Imperative," Kant-Studien 64 (1973): 411-22; Ottfried Höffe, "Kants kategorischer Imperativ als Kriterium des Sittlichen," Zeitschrift für philosophische Forschung 31 (1977): 354-84; and the following books: Paton, The Categorical Imperative; Marcus G. Singer, Generalization in Ethics (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1961); Bruce Aune, Kant's Theory of Morals (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 1979); and John Atwell, Ends and Principles in Kant's Moral Thought (Dordrecht: D. Reidel, 1986).

23 The formula given indicates the essential form underlying all particular hypothetical imperatives ("If you want to preserve your health, you ought to go to the dentist"). What makes an imperative hypothetical is not the appearance of an "if clause in its formulation. Such clauses might appear in categorical imperatives: "If you are asked a question, you ought to answer truthfully." And they need not appear in hypothetical imperatives: "Eat whenever you are hungry." The sole defining feature of a hypothetical imperative is that it obligates the agent to an action only on condition that the agent has desire for something that the action would bring about. For an excellent discussion, see Thomas E. Hill, Jr., "The Hypothetical Imperative," Philosophical Review 82 (1973): 429-50.

24 There are many other views about how universalizability or the application of the formula of universal law should be understood. For an excellent discussion, see Christine Korsgaard, "Kant's Formula of Universal Law," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66 (1985): 24-47.

25 See Barbara Herman, "The Practice of Moral Judgment," Journal of Philosophy 82 (1985): 414-35.

26 See Christine Korsgaard, "Kant's Formula of Humanity," Kant-Studien 77 (1986): 183-202.

27 Kant seems to assume that those who apply the categorical imperative to their maxims will come out with answers that agree when the maxims tested are alike.

28 He also shows how the basic principles of morality can be extended to handle cases where agents do not comply with the moral requirement of acting from respect for the law. The treatment even of those who are indifferent to morality falls under an extension of the moral law.

29 For strong representations of this point of view, see Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue (Notre Dame, Ind.: Notre Dame University Press, 1981), and Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985).

30 For an excellent example of an attempt to use the Kantian thinking to deal with a major social issue, see Onora O'Neill, Faces of Hunger (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1986).

31 If you obey the natural law only because of fear of God's sanctions, you are still motivated by desire for good—the good of avoiding punishment.

32 There are unclear and wavering anticipations of the Kantian move in Pufendorf and Samuel Clarke, but Crusius was the first to make the point central to his moral psychology.

33 See Dieter Henrich, "Hutchenson und Kant," Kant-Studien 49 (1957-8): 49-69, and "Über Kants früheste Ethik," Kant-Studien 54 (1963): 404-31.

34 The poet Schiller first made this kind of criticism. Schiller's and related objections are discussed at length in Hans Reiner, Duty and Inclination (The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1983). A considerable literature has grown up on the subject. For recent discussion of it, see Michael Stocker, "The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories," Journal of Philosophy 73 (1976): 453-66; Richard Henson, "What Kant Might Have Said: Moral Worth and the Overdetermination of Dutiful Action," Philosophical Review 88 (1979): 39-54; Barbara Herman, "On the Value of Acting from the Motive of Duty," Philosophical Review 90 (1981): 359-82; Marcia Baron, "The Alleged Moral Repugnance of Acting from Duty," Journal of Philosophy 81 (1984): 197-220; Judith Baker, "Do One's Motives Have to be Pure?" in Richard Grandy and Richard Warner, eds., Philosophical Grounds of Rationality (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986), pp. 457-74; and Tom Sorrell, "Kant's Good Will," Kant-Studien 78 (1987): 87-101.

35 Kant says that action from any of these desires is heteronomous. This is not because he thinks the desires are not part of the self. It is because through these desires action is governed by something other than the self. In these desires the self pursues good and avoids ill. It is therefore governed by the features of things that make them objects of desire or aversion, and these features are, of course, independent of our wills. Thus in describing heteronomy Kant speaks of the object determining the will "by means of inclination (der Neigung) (Groundwork, 4:444 / 111).

36 He rejects the feeling of love as a proper moral motive (Groundwork, 4:399 / 67); he usually treats the passions and desires as if their aim is always the agent's own pleasure or good (e.g., Groundwork, 4:407 / 75); and at one point he says it must be the wish of every rational person to be free of desire (Groundwork, 4:428 / 955-6).

37 This is particularly evident in the Religion. See 6:28 / 23, where the natural dispositions in human nature leading us to sexual activity and to strive for social superiority are said to be dispositions for good, though they can be misused; and 6:58 / 51: "Natural inclinations, considered in themselves, are good, that is not a matter of reproach, and it is not only futile to want to extirpate them but to do so would also be harmful and blameworthy."

38 Kant here raises the questions of whether a transcendental deduction of the moral law is possible. The problem differs from that involved in constructing a transcendental argument for, say, the principle that every event must have a cause. We experience a spatiotemporal world of stable and interacting objects, and can therefore ask under what conditions such experience is possible. But we are so far from experiencing a stable moral world that we cannot point with certainty, Kant thinks, to even one case where someone was motivated by respect alone.

39 Freedom of that kind, Kant thinks, would be terrifying, not something to cherish. See 20:91 ff., 27:258, 1320, and 1482.

40 On the thesis that a free will and a will governed by the moral law are one and the same, see Henry E. Allison, "Morality and Freedom: Kant's Reciprocity Thesis," Philosophical Review 95 (1986): 393-425, and, more fully, the same author's Kant's Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990).

41 For an attempt to unpack this difficult argument, see Thomas E. Hill, Jr., "Kant's Argument for the Rationality of Moral Conduct," Pacific Philosophical Quarterly 66 (1985): 3-23; and Allison, Kant's Theory of Freedom, ch. 12.

42 See Religion, 6:21-6 / 16-21; Morals, 6:213-14 / 10-11; 6:225 / 25.

43 For discussion, see Karl Ameriks, Kant's Theory ofMind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982), ch. 6.

44 For valuable assistance, see John Rawls, "Themes in Kant's Moral Philosophy," in Eckart Förster, ed., Kant's Transcendental Deductions: The Three "Critiques" and the "Opus postumum" (Stanford, Calif: Stanford University Press, 1989), pp. 81-113; Henry E. Allison, "Justification and Freedom in the Critique of Practical Reason," ibid., pp. 114-30; and the discussion of both papers by Barbara Herman, ibid., pp. 131-41.

45 See Dieter Henrich, "Der Begriff der sittlichen Einsicht und Kants Lehre vom Faktum der Vernunft," in Die Gegenwart der Griechen im neueren Denken, ed. Dieter Henrich et al. (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr Paul Siebeck, 1960), pp. 77-115; and "Die Deduktion des Sittengesetzes," in Denken im Schatten des Nihilismus, ed. Alexander Schwann (Darmstadt: Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellschaft, 1975), pp. 55-112.

46 Whether this marks the failure of an attempt to ground morality or a wise realization that morality needs no grounds beyond itself is of course a matter of considerable philosophical disagreement. For extended discussion, see Gerold Prauss, Kant über Freiheit als Autonomie (Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klostermann, 1983).

47 The second Critique is a critique of practical reason generally, and not only of pure practical reason, because it examines, among other things, the claim of empirical practical reason—means/end reasoning—to be the only practical reason there is. The establishment through the fact of reason of pure practical reason disproves this claim.

48 "The proposition: Make the highest good possible in the world your own final end! is a synthetical proposition a priori, which is introduced by the moral law itself (Religion, 6:7 n. / 7 n.). Kant's argument for this is to say the least unclear. For further discussion see the essay by Allen Wood in the present book.

49 In addition to the collections cited in note 2, see the important essay "An Old Question Raised Again: Is the Human Race Constantly Progressing?" in the Streit der Fakultäten (7:77-94); a translation is included in the Beck collection and in The Conflict of the Faculties, trans. Mary Gregor (New York: Abaris Books, 1979).

50 Kant repeatedly criticizes the Stoics for making the mistake of thinking virtue the perfect good. The Epicureans, he held, made just the opposite mistake, taking happiness to be the complete good. His view synthesizes the two in the proper way (Practical Reason, 5:111-13 / 115-17).

51 A basically virtuous person takes as her fundamental maxim to pursue her own good only on condition that doing so meets the requirements of morality. A basically vicious person reverses the order, and takes as fundamental the maxim of doing what morality requires only if it is not in conflict with the pursuit of her own good. See the discussion in Religion, 6:36-7 / 31-2 and 6:42-4 / 37-9.

52 I should like to thank Richard Rorty, David Sachs, Larry Krasnoff, Paul Guyer, Fred Beiser, and Richard Flathman, who read this essay at various stages of its development and made helpful suggestions.


Principal Works


Further Reading