Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Christine Korsgaard on Kant

Here is a quote written by Christine M. Korsgaard, from the introduction of Kant's Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1997, New York, Cambridge University Press)

“Being of absolute value, human beings should not sacrifice themselves or one another for merely relatively valuable ends. Since it is insofar as we are rational beings that we accord ourselves this absolute value, the formula enjoins us to respect ourselves and each other as rational beings. We should develop our rational capacities, and promote one another’s chosen ends. Respecting someone as a rational being also means respecting her right to make her own decisions about her own life and actions. This leads to particularly strong injunctions against coercion and deception, since these involve attempts to take other people’s decisions out of their own hands, to manipulate their wills for one’s own ends. Someone who makes you a false promise in order to get some money, for instance, wants you to decide to give him the money. He predicts that you will not decide to give him the money unless he says he will pay it back, and therefore he says he will pay it back, even though he cannot do so. His decision about what to say to you is entirely determined by what he thinks will work to get the result he wants. In that sense he treats your reason, your capacity for making decisions, as if it were merely an instrument for his own use. This is a violation of the respect he owes to you and your humanity.

 This example brings out something important about Kant’s conception of morality.  What is wrong with the false promise is not merely that he does not tell the truth. What is wrong with him is the reason that he does not tell the truth—because he thinks it will not get the result he want—and the attitude towards you which that the reason embodies. Even if he told you the truth, if it were only because he thought it would get the result he wanted, he would still be regarding you as a mere means. Instead, we must tell the truth so that others may exercise their own reason freely—and that means that, in telling them the truth, we are inviting them to reason together with us, to share in our deliberations. When we need the cooperation of others, we must also be prepared to give them a voice in the decision about what is to be done. This leads Kant to a vision of an ideal human community, in which people reason together about what to do. Because this is the community of people who regard themselves and one another as wends in themselves, Kant calls it the kingdom of ends.” (pp xxii-xxiii)

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