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Johan Brännmark

Morality and the

Pursuit of Happiness
A Study in Kantian Ethics

Department of Philosophy
Lund University
Lund 2002
© Johan Brännmark
ISBN 91-628-5235-3
Printed by Media-Tryck, Lund University
Lund 2002
Table of Contents

1. Ethics and the Metaphysics of the Person 1

1.1 The History and Task of Moral Philosophy 2
1.2 The Idea of Reflective Equilibrium 7
1.3 Metaphysics: Revisionary vs. Descriptive 11
1.4 Descriptive Metaphysics and the Pythagoras Story 15
1.5 An Outline of the Argument 19

2. The Value of the Good Will 22

2.1 The Good Will and Human Dignity 23
2.2 Moore and the Idea of ‘Intrinsic Value’ 28
2.3 Organic Unities and Moral Goodness 35
2.4 The Disunity of ‘Good’ 39
2.5 Two Distinctions in Moral Theory 47
2.6 Kant and the Highest Good 51

3. Values and the Fabric of the World 58

3.1 Moorean Objectivism and the Naturalist Challenge 59
3.2 Quasi-Moorean Projectivism 64
3.3 Normativity, Sociality, and Reflexivity 70
3.4 Kant and the Problem of Freedom 75
3.5 The Teleological Conception of Freedom 79
3.6 Regarding Others under the Idea of Freedom 84
3.7 Social Constructivism 90
3.8 Truth and Progress 95

4. Persons and the Space of Reasons 99
4.1 Motivation and Normativity 99
4.2 The Humean Theory of Motivation 105
4.3 Reason and Deliberation 108
4.4 Explanation, Rationalization, and Justification 113
4.5 Brutes and Persons 119
4.6 The Dualism of Practical Reason 127

5. The Ideal of Happiness 135

5.1 Standard Positions and Standard Problems 136
5.2 Happiness: Subjectivism vs. Objectivism 143
5.3 Towards a Kantian Account of Happiness 149
5.4 The Role of Happiness in Deliberation 157
5.5 Why be Moral? 161

6. Morality as a Limiting Condition 167

6.1 Consequentialism: Impartiality as Impersonality 168
6.2 Reasoning and Immanent Detachment 176
6.3 Impartiality as Universalizability 181
6.4 Principles and Judgments 188
6.5 Leading a Moral Life 198
6.6 Virtue and the Highest Good 208


Paul Valéry says somewhere: A poem is never finished, it is abandoned in

despair. The same can be said of some works of philosophy. I have more
than once, when I have finished a book and finally sent it off to the
publisher, had the feeling: ‘If only I could rewrite it from the beginning,
now that I know how it should be done!’
– John Searle, Rationality in Action, i

I suppose that the time to let go of a work has come when you reach the point
where you feel that were you to rewrite it, you would not end up with a new
version of the same book, but with a new book. As for the piece I actually ended
up with, there are many people who have been invaluable in making it possible.
To begin with, the two persons who have been my supervisors: Ingmar Persson,
who first encouraged me to set out to write a Ph. D. thesis in philosophy, and
Wlodek Rabinowicz, who encouraged me to write about Kantian ethics and who
oversaw my writing of this particular work. I have learnt so much philosophically
from both of them and not just on matters having to do with my thesis. Also,
Wlodek’s detailed and perceptive comments on every part of my manuscript
were a tremendous help in laboring to prune the text into its final shape.
I am also very much indebted to the participants at the Higher Seminar in
Practical Philosophy at Lund University; not only have they patiently read and
commented on most of this thesis, they have also read and commented on a
number of preliminary papers where many of the ideas elaborated in this work
were first tried out: Dan Egonsson, Jeanette Emt, Birgitta Forsman, Ylva von
Gerber, Lena Halldenius, Victoria Höög, Magnus Jiborn, Mats Johansson, Jonas
Josefsson, Kutte Jönsson, Andreas Lindh, Jonas Olson, Erik Persson, Björn
Petersson, Ingrid Petersson, Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen, Caj Strandberg, Daniel
Svensson, and certainly a number of other occasional participants.
Finally, I must thank my family for their great love, care, and encouragement.
Their unwavering belief in me and my ability to finish this work has been a
constant source of support, especially at those times when I was perhaps not as
sure about this ability as I might appeared to have been.

Lund J.B.
April 2002

Note on References to Kant’s Works

All references to Kant are given parenthically in the text. The page numbers
cited are those in the Academy Edition, Kants gesammelte Schriften 1900-), except
for citations from the Critique of Pure Reason, where the page numbers given are
those of its first (A) and second (B) editions, and the Lectures on Ethics and the
Religion which are simply cited by the page number of the translations. Given
below are the abbreviations I have used in my references and the English
translations from which I have quoted.

G Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785), trans. H. J. Paton. London:

Hutchinson, 1956.
CPR Critique of Pure Reason (1781/1787), trans. Norman Kemp Smith. London:
Macmillan, 1928.
CPrR Critique of Practical Reason (1788), trans. Lewis White Beck. Indianapolis:
Bobbs-Merrill, 1956.
CJ Critique of Judgement (1790), trans J. C. Meredith. Oxford: Clarendon Press,
MM Metaphysics of Morals (1797), trans. Mary Gregor, in The Cambridge Edition of
the Works of Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996.
R Religions within the Limits of Reason Alone (1793), trans. Theodore M. Green
and Hoyt H. Hudson. La Salle, Ill.: Open Court, 1934.
TP ‘On the Common Saying: “That may be correct in theory, but it is of no
use in Practice’” (1793), trans. Mary Gregor, in The Cambridge Edition of the
Works of Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press, 1996.
LE Lectures on Ethics (1775-1780), compiled for publication by Paul Menzer in
1924, trans. Louis Infield. New York: Harper & Row, 1963.

1. Ethics and the Metaphysics of the Person

A critic who wished to say something against [the Groundwork of the

Metaphysics of Morals] really did better than he intended when he said that
there was no new principle of morality in it but only a new formula. Who
would want to introduce a new principle of morality and, as it were, be its
inventor, as if the world had hitherto been ignorant of what duty is or had
been thoroughly wrong about it?
– Critique of Practical Reason, 8n

Considering the bold statements Kant makes in the preface to the second edition
of the Critique of Pure Reason, about how his critical philosophy constitutes a
Copernican revolution within the field of theoretical philosophy, his modesty
about what he accomplishes in his practical philosophy is striking. Quite a few of
Kant’s readers would probably take a different view, sensing that the Categorical
Imperative, in spite of some superficial similarities with the Golden Rule,1 is a
radically distinct principle the application of which might in many cases yield
results that lie far beyond the bounds of common sense. Given that much of
modern moral philosophy has been devoted to finding a criterion of the moral
rightness of actions, it is perhaps not surprising if many have read Kant as above
all attempting to deliver a moral algorithm for us to use. Yet, he seems to deny
that this is what he is doing, since he apparently thinks that we already know
where our duty lies.
So what is he doing? In order to say something about this we will first have to
say something about the direction from which he approaches his subject matter.
Once we have done this, we will hopefully be in a better position to understand
the kind of project that Kantian ethics is essentially about and also see what kind
of methodological approach is best fitted to carry it out. This is what I attempt
to do in this chapter and with these pieces in place I will, in the remainder of this
work, turn to elaborating a Kantian conception of morality and defend it against
some other influential conceptions. The key tenet defended in this chapter is that
in the argument over which conception of morality that is the superior one,
attention must be paid to the underlying theories of the person that too often lie

1In his discussion of the Formula of Humanity Kant compares his version of the supreme
moral principle with the negative formulation of the Golden Rule and makes it clear that he
does not regard them as being different formulations of the same principle (G 430n).

merely implicit in most of the major ethical theories. It is a strength of Kant’s
moral philosophy that it takes this matter seriously and, at the end of the day, I
hope that this work will, if not convince the reader of the superiority of
Kantianism, at least make a good case for the importance of the nature of the
person for ethical theory.

1.1 The History and Task of Moral Philosophy

In a recent work on the philosophical background to Kant’s moral theorizing,
Jerome Schneewind distinguishes between two ways to approach the history of
moral philosophy, and thus two ways in which philosophers might understand
themselves as links in the chain of thinkers stretching back towards Socrates and
perhaps even further.2 According to what Schneewind calls the Socrates story moral
philosophy has, since the day that Socrates put his question about how we ought
to live, been in search of the basic ethical truths, i.e. on this story there is some
discovery to be made and it is the task of philosophers to make it. In bright
contrast to Kant’s remarks in the introduction to the second Critique, one might
put Schopenhauer’s lament in the introduction to his prize-essay On the Basis of

Naturally it is disheartening to reflect that ethics, this science directly affecting life, has
come off no better than has abstruse metaphysics, and that though it has been pursued
continually since Socrates founded it, it still seeks its first principle.3

If we share Schopenhauer’s belief in there being some substantial discovery left

to be made in ethical theory we must also, to some extent, see the history of
moral philosophy as a history of failures, indeed, as an extraordinarily long
history of failures (matched only by a few other philosophical disciplines). Given
such an outlook it is perhaps also easy to become pessimistic about its prospects
unless one, like Derek Parfit, can find some suitable scapegoat for this long
series of failures:

Disbelief in God, openly admitted by a majority, is a recent event, not yet completed.
Because this event is so recent, Non-Religious Ethics is at a very early stage. We cannot
yet predict whether, as in Mathematics, we will all reach agreement. Since we cannot
know how Ethics will develop, it is not irrational to have high hopes.4

2 The Invention of Autonomy (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998), pp. 534-8.
3 On the Basis of Morality, trans. E. F. J. Payne (Providence: Berghahn Books, 1995), p. 46.
4 Reasons and Persons (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), p. 454.

Although they differ in tone, what is expressed by both Schopenhauer and Parfit
is still the idea that there is some real progress left to be made within moral
philosophy and that, accordingly, moral practice still awaits this discovery. Given
the importance of ethical matters in our lives, this view thus sets a formidable
task for moral philosophy.
Schneewind contrasts this position with an opposing view, what he calls the
Pythagoras story,5 according to which the basic ethical truths have been known,
although perhaps not always satisfactorily explicated, for as long as human
beings have been living together. As Schneewind puts it, ‘[i]n the Pythagoras
story the point of sound moral philosophy is to combat the sinful efforts made
by some wicked philosophers to cloud our grasp of morality.’6 Now, while Kant
was certainly very respectful towards his fellow philosophers, even towards those
with whom he disagreed (a trait certainly not shared by Schopenhauer), it is also
quite clear that he sees most moral philosophers as fundamentally mistaken
about the nature of morality, the usual failure being that they do not keep
morality pure and thus end up in different forms of eudaimonism.
Corresponding to Schneewind’s distinction between two views on the history
and task of moral philosophy there is also a distinction between two ways of
seeing what the main difficulty in the moral life of an agent is. On the one view,
the main difficulty is to find out what it is that is right and wrong, i.e. the chief
problem with which we tend to wrestle is a deliberative one. On the other view,
the main difficulty is to actually do the things that we already know are right and
wrong, i.e. the chief problem with which we tend to wrestle is a motivational one.
Any reasonable person will of course realize that we face both problems, but
there remains a question of which is the primary one and on that point we can
surely disagree. Kant’s position on this matter is clear: he is an adherent of the

5 The reason why Schneewind calls the latter view the Pythagoras story is that in the 17th century
there was a discussion about whether Pythagoras had been Jewish; what was at stake in this
discussion was whether Greek philosophical thought was to be seen as original or whether,
through Pythagoras, it had been infused with Hebrew thinking, in which case even the wisdom
of the Greeks could be understood as ultimately emanating from God. Of course, for present
purposes, this particular question is of no interest; what is important is the tension between a
‘Socratic’ approach that proceeds as if there are some basic truths to be discovered and the
‘Pythagorean’ approach that proceeds as if there is some common unity which might perhaps
be explicated, but which can never deserve to be thought of as any form of real discovery. Both
approaches seem to rest on something like pieces of methodological faith: in the first case, faith
that there is something there in the subject matter of ethics that remains to be discovered; in
the second, faith that there is already in ordinary morality a common core of wisdom that
constitutes all that there is to know of importance on the subject matter of ethics.
6 Ibid., p. 546.

second view. It is a view that quite naturally falls in line with the Pythagoras
story; if we already know what is right and wrong (and in those cases where we
are uncertain or in disagreement, philosophical investigation will not yield any
resolutions anyway), there remains little of a strictly philosophical nature left for
the moral philosopher but to combat those philosophers who adhere to the
Socrates story, a struggle which can be conducted both by trying to point out
flaws in their theories and by trying to conceptualize common sense morality in a
way that shows its basic soundness. And it is here we find the answer to the
question of what Kant is doing.
In accordance with the above, the standpoint on which the present work
builds is that on substantive ethical matters Kantianism does not provide us with
anything new. Rather it presents us with a way of rationalizing a certain
understanding of the relation between morality and the pursuit of happiness,
namely of morality as constituting a limiting condition on our respective pursuits
of personal happiness. While Kantian ethics, at least as I read it, is quite
compatible with there being different norms in place at different times and in
different societies, there remains this structural feature that is imbued in
common sense and not just in the common sense of a certain point of space and
time, but of common sense in a broader meaning, a human one. Of course, we
all know that what is called common sense is something the exact contents of
which fluctuate over the centuries and our common sense is not the common
sense of 18th century Prussia. But this variance does not necessarily rule out the
possibility that there is a certain thread running through what can reasonably be
called common sense morality, although it does certainly indicate that if there is
such a thread then it cannot but be a highly general one and therefore probably
best understood as a set of structural features rather than some set of concrete
When Kant says that he does not present a new principle but only a new
formula, one might perhaps wonder what the original formula is, but such a
question would be futile since there is in this context no position from which
anyone has spoken, or will speak, in a way that can be taken as constituting the
original formulation with respect to which other phrasings are mere
reformulations. Yet, even if there is no original formulation that we can
articulate, we might still devise different formulas that we can reasonably
understand as expressions of the same general idea. One formula that I would
say falls quite well in line with what Kant is after is the principle live and let live. In
this case, it is more evident than with Kant’s principle that it is not a formula
from which we are to derive highly specific precepts, but rather a principle that
seeks to capture something like the spirit of morality. What both it and Kant’s
principle are rooted in is a picture of human beings as leading their lives beside

each other: we lead our lives in a shared social space and by the tracing of our
paths through this shared space we can block some paths for others or open up
new ones that would otherwise not have been available. What the principle of
‘live and let live’ involves is a certain kind of recognition, one of mutuality, of the
fact that we are fellow occupants of this social space, that you as well as I both
pursue happiness and that our pursuits are, in an important sense, of equal
standing. On the reading of Kant given here, his ethical project is accordingly
best described as explicating such a stance that we can, and should, take towards
our fellow occupants in the shared social space within which we lead our lives.
What this means is that the Kantian approach is centered round the agent’s
metaphysical conception of herself, or perhaps what an appropriate form of such
a conception would look like. Thus, it is a theory that largely falls within the field
of inquiry that Thomas Nagel has called ‘metaphysics of the person.’7 For Kant,
and for any other thinker whose approach is similar to his, ethical inquiry is not
an inquiry about the world; it is an inquiry about us, especially about that part of
us that might be called practical reason. It is about what it means to be a person
and what it means to act on reasons. The fact that it is the metaphysics of the
person that forms the core of the Kantian approach to ethics does however not
mean that it is something that we can delve exclusively into. Rather, if we look at
the argumentative structure of a work like the Groundwork, we can see that Kant
starts by trying to sort out the key features of commonsensical moral knowledge
and then turns to constructing a metaphysics of the person that will provide an
underpinning for this picture. Accordingly, there are two principal parts of
Kant’s ethical theory: (i) a general ontology of values and norms, and (ii) a
metaphysics of the person. For the Kantian project in moral philosophy to be
successful, i.e. in order for it to provide an underpinning of common sense that
rationalizes its general features, it needs to deliver these two components in a
way that captures the essential features of how we understand them
commonsensically and do so in a way that fits together as a whole.
The philosophical heart of the project clearly lies in the second part, the
metaphysics of the person. I would say that this is only as it should be, but given
that many moral philosophers aim primarily at delivering a general ontology of
values and norms it might perhaps be questioned whether it really is. Should
ethical enquiry not rather start with establishing which things have value? After
all, ethics deals with a practical subject matter and in order to be able to reason
well about what we should do we need to know what has value. But the point
here is not so much about where we should start our inquiry or what part of an
ethical theory that can be of most use to us, the point is rather about what it is

7 The Possibility of Altruism (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1970), p. 58

that forms the philosophical core of an ethical theory and, indeed, no ethical
theory can do without a theory of the person. If it appears to do so, it is just
because such a theory is simply silently presupposed. The reason for this
necessity is easy to identify: ethical ideals are supposed to either have or to be
able to get a grip on us. This is why every theory about ethical matters will, if it is
to make sense, have to rely at least on an implicit theory about the way we are as
persons. Of course, different ethical theories might present us with different
conceptions of the person, or at least imply such conceptions, but it is still a part
of ethical thought that cannot be truly circumvented, even though it can most
definitely be overlooked in the sense that one can go on philosophizing about
ethical matters as if there were no need to go into such things.
For the adherent of the ‘Pythagorean’ project an investigation into the
metaphysics of the person becomes a natural way to explicate why it is that there
are no great secrets to be uncovered in laying out a general ontology of values
and norms. After all, it seems quite reasonable that since we as human beings
have lived together for such a long time we should all have a fairly good grasp of
the metaphysics of the person, not perhaps a philosophical grasp, but the kind of
lived understanding that philosophical inquiry will have to track if it is to yield
insight into the matter. On the other hand, for those who wish to challenge
common sense morality, the metaphysics of the person will, at least potentially,
yield the kind of Archimedean point from which such a challenge can be
forcefully made. Philosophers like the aforementioned Schopenhauer and Parfit,
who both challenge common sense morality, anchor their challenges in radical
theories about the person. If it can be shown that our lived understanding of
what it means to be a person is after all fundamentally mistaken, then challenges
to common sense morality can make sense in a way that they can never do if
they just rely on appeals to isolated intuitions.
Still, I suspect that there is some resistance to the idea that ethical theorizing
need go into metaphysical matters. To some extent, this resistance might simply
be due to the fact that such a requirement would make life more difficult for the
moral philosopher. But perhaps it also has to do with the fact that although
metaphysics has to some extent been rehabilitated over the last few decades, it is
still a subject often looked upon with suspicion and philosophers tend not to
describe what they are doing as metaphysical even when it is the most
appropriate label. Thus, it is only natural that those who are skeptical towards
metaphysics in general might wonder if one really must go into matters like the
metaphysics of the person at all. I will now turn to consider a methodological
approach that in some eyes might hold out the promise of not having to go into
such matters, but which in the final analysis leads precisely in that direction.

1.2 The Idea of Reflective Equilibrium
Looking at the turn towards normative ethics, which might be dated to the early
1970s, the overall tendency within this turn was towards a narrow rather than a
broad approach to ethical matters. This can be most clearly seen in the growth of
the field that is often called ‘applied ethics,’ an epithet that is somewhat of a
misnomer since it suggests that one had something to apply, when the case was
usually rather that one simply looked at some isolated moral issue, such as
abortion, euthanasia, world hunger, or issues concerning the treatment of
animals, and then utilized a battery of more or less outlandish thought
experiments to test our intuitive responses and to move the reader in a certain
direction.8 If there was a key methodological idea at work here, it was that we
could make progress in our thinking about these concrete moral questions by
striving towards greater consistency: we take our intuitive moral responses as
working material and then try to prune them into better shape by subjecting
them to a battery of thought experiments.9
Although primarily a political philosopher, the person who most influentially
explicated a way of approaching normative matters that allowed such a great role
to be played by our intuitions was probably John Rawls. Instead of just implicitly
relying on an ideal of consistency, Rawls laid out his ideas about ethical inquiry
as striving towards what he called ‘reflective equilibrium.’10 What this means is
that we are to gradually bring our considered judgments, i.e. our most trusted
intuitions, and our principles to cohere with each other. As a philosophical ideal,
coherence is of course nothing new and the Rawlsian contribution is primarily
that he presented a view about what it is that is to cohere. A supposed
consequence of this methodological approach was what Rawls called ‘the

8 Some of the more well-known of these works are Judith Jarvis Thompson’s ‘A Defense of
Abortion’ in Philosophy & Public Affairs 1 (1971) and Peter Singer’s ‘Famine, Affluence, and
Morality’ in Philosophy & Public Affairs 1 (1972).
9 Shelly Kagan has called the technique employed in many of these works ‘contrast arguments’,

see ‘The Additive Fallacy’ in Ethics 99 (1988). The technique is this: There is some feature that
is present in the kind of cases that one is interested in, a feature that one finds either irrelevant
or relevant. One then devises an example of a different kind in which this feature can be clearly
seen to be relevant or irrelevant, and then contends that since the feature has this status in the
clear case it must also have it in the original category of cases, it is just that we failed to notice
it. While this technique might certainly be useful in getting us to look at matters with new eyes,
it does not prove anything about the relevance of the feature in the original kind of cases and to
think otherwise is precisely to commit what Kagan calls ‘the additive fallacy’.
10 A Theory of Justice (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1971), pp. 48-53. Rawls’ view

is that this is really the traditional approach from Aristotle down through Sidgwick, although he
recognizes that there are ‘elements of epistemological intuitionism’ in Sidgwick (p. 51).

independence of moral theory.’11 Rawls’ contention takes its cue from the
obvious fact that philosophy consists of a number of different disciplines:
metaphysics, epistemology, the philosophy of mind, the philosophy of language,
ethics, political philosophy, and so on. This is naturally a situation that can be
understood in a number of different ways and the relation between these
disciplines is a matter that has a profound impact on what philosophical inquiry
must be like in order to make sense.
One way of understanding this situation is that these different disciplines are
dependent on each other, an idea that can obviously be more or less strongly
phrased. The strongest possible would be that one could not delve into any
philosophical discipline without having to delve into them all: either philosophy
is oriented towards complete systems or it is not meaningful philosophy at all.
Another quite strong position is that there are some of these disciplines that are
fundamental and that must be adequately dealt with first, before we can say
anything meaningful at all in the other disciplines. As a global thesis about
philosophy, the first position is probably too strong to take seriously, but one
can certainly take seriously the idea that a meaningful investigation into ethics
necessarily presupposes at least some results in other philosophical fields. As for
this second position, one example would be Elizabeth Anscombe’s suggestion
that we must postpone serious moral philosophy until the day that we possess an
adequate philosophy of psychology.12 I would say that the main problem with
this position is that it is difficult to see how we could possibly arrive at a
satisfactory philosophy of psychology without having a fairly good picture of the
nature of morality since morality is far too much implicated in matters of action,
desire, the will, intention, and so on, for it to be possible to neatly separate these
two philosophical fields except perhaps for some fairly crude textbook purposes.
I take it that similar problems would probably mar any other effort to separate
out some issues that are to be resolved before we enter into ethical matters.
Rawls’ assertion of the independence of moral theory does of course run
counter to both of the views above and is naturally connected to his ideas about
methodology: since he sees little alternative to the procedure of striving towards
a reflective equilibrium, then that is what we will have to do if we are to do
moral theory at all. And if it is that which we are to do, then we have our material
already at hand: if we reflect we will come up with both a set of considered
particular judgments and a few alternative sets of principles that can be seen as

11 In his aptly titled 1974 APA Address ‘The Independence of Moral Theory’, reprinted in his
Collected Papers (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999).
12 ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’ in Collected Philosophical Papers, Vol. III: Ethics, Religion, and Politics

(Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1981), p. 38.

reasonable contenders for providing a counterpart to our considered judgments.
Accordingly, we do not have to stop doing moral theory until the results are in
from such philosophical fields as epistemology, the theory of meaning, or the
philosophy of mind.13 If Rawls is right in this, it would also seem that we could
do without going into such matters as the metaphysics of the person, something
which would certainly be neat since it is probably the area that more than
anything else constitutes a nexus where a plethora of philosophical issues in the
philosophy of mind, epistemology, and the philosophy of language all run
together and create a tangled web of philosophical difficulties.
However, while Rawls’ attempt at freeing moral philosophy from being
bogged down with a host of complex and philosophically far-reaching issues is
certainly understandable, it is more doubtful whether it is feasible. In fact, one of
the main criticisms that were directed against Rawls’ political philosophy was
that he actually presupposed a very specific metaphysics of the person, and an
implausible one at that. Indeed, the major issue in the so-called liberal-
communitarian debate of the 1980s was not so much concerned with any
specific questions of policy, but rather precisely with the metaphysics of the
person. Whether the kind of metaphysics of the person that was claimed to
underlie Enlightenment liberalism was that of an ‘unencumbered self,’14 an
‘emotivist,’15 or an ‘atomist’16 one, the general idea was still that liberals like
Rawls simply presupposed rather than argued for the universality of their
underlying conception of the person. Given that ethics and political philosophy
are similar in many ways, and indeed even overlapping in some, it seems
reasonable to assume that the same line of criticism is valid with respect to the
kind of moral philosophy discussed above.
Rawls’ own response to this was what might be seen as a retreat, but is
perhaps best seen as an explication of what his project had been about all along.
When he states his commitment to formulating a vision of liberalism that is
‘political, not metaphysical’17 one might perhaps be led to believe that he has
modified his position so that he no longer relies on any metaphysics of the
person at all, but this is not the case. Rather, the difference is not that he no

13 The three fields considered in more depth by Rawls in ‘The Independence of Moral Theory.’
14 Michael Sandel, ‘The Procedural Republic and the Unencumbered Self’ in Political Theory 12
(1984), but also Liberalism and the Limits of Justice, 2nd Ed. (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1998).
15 Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd Ed. (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press,

1984), Chapter 3.
16 Charles Taylor, ‘Atomism’ in Philosophy and the Human Sciences: Philosophical Papers 2

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1985).

17 ‘Justice as Fairness: Political not Metaphysical’ in Collected Papers.

longer has a metaphysics of the person but that he now fully acknowledges that
he cannot do without one. What makes Rawls reluctant to nevertheless speak of
his theory as metaphysical is that he makes no claim to universality with respect
to his underlying vision of the self or, for that matter, the more concrete political
conclusions he reaches. His present theory is therefore to be regarded more as
an explication of Western liberalism than an argument for it.
This does not mean that Rawls has abandoned the reflective equilibrium
approach, rather he has moved towards an approach that strives towards wide
reflective equilibrium. As outlined by Norman Daniels, such an approach does
not simply attempt a fit between judgments and principles, but also with the
relevant background theories.18 If we assume that these do not simply consist in
reformulated versions of the material already contained in our considered
judgments and principles, then they can provide us with an additional reason to
move towards certain equilibrium points rather than others, given that the
former cohere better with the relevant background theories than the latter.
Exactly which sets of ideas that will count as ‘relevant background theories’ is of
course a difficult matter to resolve, especially since the way that we lay them out
can beg questions against certain conceptions. Daniels points to the importance
in the Rawlsian framework of such things as ‘a theory of the person, a theory of
procedural justice, general social theory, and a theory of the role of morality in
society (including the ideal of a well-ordered society).’19
While there might be a number of background theories (some of which we
might not even be aware of as such because we take them too much for
granted), my contention here is that the metaphysics of the person is of pivotal
importance. When Rawls criticizes utilitarianism for not taking seriously the
distinction between persons20 he is certainly leaning on the fact that we have
many counter-utilitarian considered judgments about situations in which
utilitarianism asks us to sacrifice people for the greater good, but at least
implicitly he also leans on the fact that the kind of metaphysics of the person
that is able to cohere well with utilitarianism is a ‘container theory’21 that lies
quite far from our commonsensical views about the nature of the person. In the

18 ‘Wide Reflective Equilibrium and Theory Acceptance in Ethics’ in The Journal of Philosophy 76
(1979), p. 258. It should be pointed out that the distinction between narrow and wide reflective
equilibrium is first drawn by Rawls in ‘The Independence of Moral Theory’ (pp. 289-90), but it
is very doubtful whether he has the same distinction in mind as the one elaborated by Daniels,
cf. Folke Tersman, Reflective Equilibrium: An Essay in Moral Epistemology (Stockholm: Almqvist &
Wiksell, 1993), p. 25.
19 Ibid., p. 260.

20 A Theory of Justice, p. 27.

21 Cf. ‘The Independence of Moral Theory’, p. 298.

debate between different ethical theories, the metaphysics of the person thus
provides us with an additional battleground and, as Daniels notes, it is possible
that the dispute between such theories is more tractable than disagreements
about moral judgments and principles.22 Even if it turns out to be just as
intractable, what the ideal of wide reflective equilibrium still does is to raise the
stakes involved in ethical theory: to achieve reflective equilibrium becomes a
more difficult task simply because there is more that should be made to cohere.
It is quite conceivable that some theories, that might look like they can
satisfactorily account for our principles and judgments, will falter in providing an
account that fits with any reasonable theory of the person (or some other
relevant background theory). The conclusion, then, is that the Rawlsian
approach does not so much show us a way of doing ethical theory without going
into the metaphysics of the person, but rather shows us why it is so reasonable
to approach ethics by doing precisely that.

1.3 Metaphysics: Revisionary vs. Descriptive

Even though Rawls prefers not to speak about his position as metaphysical, it
would seem that what he really distances himself from is a foundationalist
approach. But is not metaphysics the foundationalist discipline par excellence?
Maybe in some sense of the notion, but clearly not in the sense that I am
interested in here. For while it might be the case that no moral philosophizing
can proceed without at least some implicit metaphysics of the person, it is
certainly the case that moral philosophizing need not be foundationalist.23 On
this matter, a useful distinction has been drawn by Peter Strawson, namely
between two kinds of metaphysics, descriptive and revisionary, where the former
is ‘content to describe the actual structure of our thought about the world’,
whereas the latter is ‘concerned to produce a better structure’.24 Given that we
accept something like this distinction, a Kantian might occupy either one of
these positions. As for Kant himself, Strawson names him, together with
Aristotle, as an example of a descriptive metaphysician. However, he also points
out that few philosophers are either wholly the one or the other; rather, it is a
question of the overall tendency in a philosopher’s thought.

22 Ibid., p. 262.
23 It is because Rawls had distanced himself from a foundationalist approach already in A Theory
of Justice that I find it fair to say that his more recent formulation of his approach should not be
considered as constituting a break with his former work, but rather as a clarification and a
24 Individuals - An Essay in Descriptive Metaphysics (London: Methuen, 1959), p. 9.

As an example of a leading moral philosopher who labors towards a
revisionary metaphysics of the person one might take Derek Parfit.25 Although
his work clearly falls within the consequentialist tradition, and even though it
bristles with innovative arguments, it still does not contain any attempt at
producing a logically binding argument for a consequentialist position. What
Parfit does is rather to provide a metaphysics of the person such that if one
accepts it, consequentialism will seem like the natural position to embrace. Parfit
seems to assume that a descriptive metaphysics of the person would be Cartesian
and he then proceeds to dislodge us from such a position. I will not follow Parfit
all the way to his conclusions, partly because I do not think that a satisfactory
descriptive metaphysics of the person would be Cartesian, but it must certainly
be admitted that his is a most powerful analysis of what it means to be a person,
and one that I will have reason to return to. Still, even though I attempt to
outline a vindication of common sense morality that is rooted in a descriptive
metaphysics of the person, the idea is not that every single commonsensical
moral judgment must be vindicated; once the underlying structures are laid bare
there might very well be moral implications that run counter to some presently
prevailing norms. But then again, as already noted, Strawson’s point is not that
metaphysics must be either wholly descriptive or wholly revisionary; rather, it is a
question of in which direction one is tending – although it might certainly be
noted that the more of a revisionary metaphysician one is, the more one must be
able to present some clue as to why we should change our views in such drastic
While Strawson’s introduction of the notion of descriptive metaphysics
probably did much to re-establish the idea that at least certain ways of doing
metaphysics might be philosophically legitimate, this very notion might also be
highly misleading since it can make it sound as if there is such a thing as a pure
description of our basic categories. But, as should be quite apparent when one
gives the matter some thought, the very fact that any descriptive metaphysics
inevitably involves a purification of commonsensical thought and practice means
that there is a process of selection at work: some things will be deemed more
important, others less; some structures will be deemed as basic, others not. In
such a process, it is difficult to see how it would be possible at all to proceed
without being guided by any philosophical ideals or methodological principles. I
would suggest that at the very least the descriptive metaphysician has to rely on
three such principles.

25 In the introduction to Reasons and Persons, Parfit acknowledges Strawson’s distinction and
affirms his own revisionist temperament: ‘Philosophers should not only interpret our beliefs;
when they are false, they should change them’ (p. x).

To begin with, descriptive metaphysics will hardly be able to get off the
ground if we do not accept a principle of rationalization, which involves a
methodological commitment to providing a picture of the underlying structures
of our thought and practices that makes sense of them. It might perhaps be
objected that this kind of principle is adopted by all metaphysicians since they all
attempt to provide a rational picture of reality. Nevertheless, there is a clear
difference between providing a rational ontology and providing an ontology that
rationalizes our everyday thought and practice. To accomplish the latter, it might
however be necessary to attempt a metaphysics that is locally revisionary in order
to rationalize the remainder of our everyday thought and practice (and this is
why descriptive and revisionary metaphysics should not be understood as
completely distinct, but rather as constituting two poles on a more or less
continuous scale).
Now, it might perhaps be said that someone like Parfit is in many ways
concerned with backing up commonsensical ideas (even if consequentialism runs
counter to some parts of common sense morality it clearly captures others) and
that it is thus merely in certain respects that he is revisionary. Perhaps one might
even say that what he tries to do is to rationalize common sense. Yet, while
Parfit is certainly no speculative thinker like Schopenhauer and can hardly be
regarded as that radical a revisionist, the point of a metaphysics that lies close to
the descriptive pole is still not so much to rationalize common sense as to
rationalize common sense. Accordingly, while the descriptive metaphysician will
certainly labor under a methodological commitment that might be called a
principle of minimality, according to which one should try to end up with as lean an
ontology as possible, i.e. one should stipulate as few categories as possible as the
basic building blocks, the difference between a descriptive metaphysician and a
revisionary one, e.g. Parfit, might be said to lie in how they treat this second
principle in relation to the first one. I would say that what distinguishes
descriptive metaphysicians is that for them, this second principle is, at least when
it comes to what we regard as important components of our thought and
practices, strongly subordinated to the first one. This means that when faced
with a choice between adopting a leaner ontology that stays true to most
elements of common sense, but which repudiates some important facets of it,
and a more complex ontology that retains these important facets as well, the
descriptive metaphysician will choose the latter.
Even if descriptive metaphysicians accept both of the above principles as
constraints on their undertakings, we might perhaps still find that there is
something lacking. After all, these principles leave open the possibility of
formulating a descriptive metaphysics that is both rational as a system and
ontologically lean, but which also runs at odds with those aspects of human

thought that are not directly involved in everyday life, such as the natural
sciences. One might perhaps even see the descriptive metaphysician as striking a
truly naïve figure since the fact that we have the sciences telling us a story about
the world means that we have access to something in contrast with which the
picture painted by the descriptive metaphysician is most likely a mere fiction, a
philosophical figment of the imagination. Drawn to its extreme, this idea would
imply that there is precious little, of any substance, for the philosopher to do;
conceptual analysis can for instance be little more than amateur linguistics. While
such extreme naturalism might have its adherents, it is not obvious that it is the
descriptive metaphysician who has a naïve view of philosophy; perhaps it is
rather the extreme naturalist who has a naïve view of science. After all, even the
‘hardest’ of natural sciences are still human efforts to come to grips with the
world and as such they do not exist in radical separation from everyday thought.
It is certainly the case that some aspects of everyday life are radically different
from some ideas within, say, quantum physics, but the categories we use to
describe the world even as scientists do still have their basis in everyday thought
and practice.
Thus, while descriptive metaphysics might in a narrow sense be understood as
a naïve form of anthropocentric conceptual analysis, there is room for a broader
approach in which the descriptive metaphysician attempts to anchor her analysis
in the bigger picture provided by the natural sciences, perhaps even to
understand the place of the natural sciences within human thought. It is still
anthropocentric, but it is anchored in an idea about how our grasping the world
cannot be anything but that: a grasping of the world. This latter kind of project is
certainly that of Kant, and while maybe not the Strawson of Individuals, then
certainly the Strawson of Skepticism and Naturalism. In fact, I would venture so far
as saying that on the narrow interpretation it does seem somewhat out of place
to speak about descriptive metaphysics at all; it would seem more reasonable to
simply see it as a form of rather broad conceptual analysis. Accordingly,
descriptive metaphysics proper should be understood as falling under a principle of
accommodation. This does not mean that a satisfactory metaphysics of the person
must be explicated in a terminology that is at every point immediately
translatable into the terminology of the natural sciences, but simply that, as a
whole, it should not be at odds with them.
Why not attempt more, why not aim at a unified theory? While such a goal
should not be ruled out on principle it is at the same time a goal which I find,
given the way things look now, hard to understand what it would mean to
achieve: I do not even have an idea of what such a theory would look like.
Strawson himself has put it nicely: ‘Let us settle, for the time being, for
“accommodation.” This is a blessedly diplomatic word. It allows for mutual

recognition, respect, a treaty, even some trade. We may, and perhaps must, be
finally content with this.’26

1.4 Descriptive Metaphysics and the Pythagoras Story

Even if we accept that descriptive metaphysicians are at a methodological
advantage with respect to the revisionists since they need not get a foothold
outside the practices in which we are situated, there is one worry that might
make us reluctant to pursue it anyway. After all, both our thinking and our
practices change constantly. As time goes by, we start employing new categories
and using old categories in new ways. If a predominantly descriptive metaphysics
is to be interesting at all, surely it cannot simply be a matter of capturing fleeting
features of our thought. Strawson’s response to such worries is this:

[T]here is a massive central core of human thinking which has no history – or none
recorded in the history of thought; there are categories and concepts which, in their most
fundamental character, change not at all. Obviously these are not the specialties of the
most refined thinking. They are the commonplaces of the least refined thinking; and are
yet the indispensable core of the conceptual equipment of the most sophisticated human
beings. It is with these, their interconnexions, and the structure they form, that a
descriptive metaphysics will be primarily concerned.27

It should be quite clear that if descriptive metaphysics is to be an interesting

project within the field of ethical theory, the Pythagoras story of the history of
moral philosophy should largely be the correct one. Not that descriptive
metaphysics actually presupposes the Pythagoras story, it is just that if the
Pythagoras story is false (and for it to be false it is not enough that there are
significant cultural variations in terms of concrete precepts, but that there is not
even a common structural core) then a descriptive metaphysics cannot yield
results of a truly human generality and thus hardly be of the same interest. Just
how much less interesting depends on how low a level of generality is involved.
For instance, Rawls’ theory of justice, at least in the developed form that it has
achieved with the publication of Political Liberalism, can be understood as
providing a descriptive metaphysics, together with a conception of justice, of
political thought and practice in the Western world. This is a level of generality
that still secures a sufficient degree of interest, but were it to drop below that, it
would become increasingly difficult to see the value in pursuing such a project of

26 ‘Reply to Susan Haack’ in Lewis Edwin Hahn (ed.), The Philosophy of P. F. Strawson (Chicago:
Open Court, 1998), p. 67.
27 Individuals, p. 10.

descriptive metaphysics at all. It should however be noted that the bare failure of
the Pythagoras story would not automatically mean that revisionary metaphysics
becomes viable, since there is still the problem with ascertaining where we can
get the foothold for such an enterprise. If a distinctly revisionary metaphysics is
to be a contender, it will have to win that status on its own merits, not simply by
reference to the fact that there is no interesting form in which descriptive
metaphysics can be pursued within this field of inquiry.
What may we hope for, then? The classical Kantian gloss on Strawson’s idea
about the ahistoricity of certain concepts is of course that certain concepts, or
categories, are conditions of the very possibility of experience, understanding,
reason, or morality as such. When Nagel sets out on his attempt at a metaphysics
of the person, he understands it (and thereby ethics) as an a priori branch of
psychology.28 Again, just as the notion of ‘metaphysics’ is apt to arouse
suspicion, so is probably the notion of the ‘a priori,’ especially if such conceptual
investigations are supposed to yield substantial results. While we might quite
naturally have a tendency to take certain of our own concepts as timeless
fundamentals, simply because we cannot conceive what it would be like to lead a
human life without them, the fact still remains that the conceptual apparatuses
which have been employed by different people at different times have varied
greatly and it might certainly be doubted if we can ever find some substantive
common core. More specifically, it can even more certainly be doubted that we
will find a Kantian core at the heart of every such conceptual apparatus.29 Still,
even if we recognize that that there are immense differences, it might perhaps be
wondered whether such conceptual relativism can be extended all the way down.
As human beings we are not some kind of completely disinterested and
disembodied beings for whom the world simply exists at a distance and may be
conceptually carved up in any which way. We are inextricably tangled up in the
world and even if we may interact with the world in a multitude of ways, and the
differences between such ways will call for differences in our conceptual
equipment, at the very least it remains a fact that we interact with the world and
that we use concepts in doing so, and there does also seem to be at least some
commonality in the modes that we do so. This need not mean that there are
certain concepts that every natural language simply will have; rather the point is

28Ibid., pp. 3-6.

29Cf. Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, Chapter 5, which contains a criticism of Gewirth’s neo-
Kantian (more neo than Kantian) position on the account that since Gewirth’s theory of the
necessary presuppositions of action involves the fairly modern notion of ‘rights’ as its
centerpiece it must fail to deliver a universally valid analysis because there are many cultures
which do not possess any such notion and where people have still managed to reason and act in
meaningful ways.

that we have reason to believe that there will be some features in human lives
that we will be able to find, in some form or other, in every human community.
Thus, we can say that the human life-world is such that there are some things
that even if they have, in some language communities, not yet been fully
conceptualized, they are still there, ready to be explicated.
As Strawson recognizes, even if there is such a thing as a common core of
concepts or categories, this does not imply that descriptive metaphysics can at
some point become completely over and done with. Since the critical and
analytical idiom of philosophy changes constantly, matters need constantly to be
re-thought and re-expressed in contemporary terms. Much of Kant’s idiom, to
take an obvious example, simply alienates a contemporary reader; in some
instances his terminology and ways of phrasing his ideas might perhaps even
tend to mislead contemporary readers into finding ideas in Kant that should not
be attributed to him. Yet, at least this is the underlying idea of this work, there
are profound insights in his thinking about ethics, insights that call out to be
rethought in a more contemporary idiom. I will, for example, try to largely do
without such notions as ‘noumenal’ and ‘phenomenal’, but also lessen the extent
in which ethical matters are expressed in terms of duty.30 However, any attempt
to reformulate the ‘essential elements’ in the thought of a historical figure is still
always a very precarious business. While an alien idiom might mislead us into
uncharitably reading bizarre ideas into a text, it might also lead us into charitably
reading in ideas the only fault of which is that they cannot reasonably be
attributed to the thinker in question; as Terence Irwin warns:

It is often wise to be skeptical about ‘charitable’ interpretations of a philosopher that

offer to restate his ‘essential’ doctrines in less ‘misleading’ terms. This sort of charity has
been lavished on Kant by critics from Schopenhauer to Strawson, and we may not
always agree with a critic’s view of what is the essential doctrine and what is merely the
misleading statement.31

30 The very word ‘duty’ has acquired a ring that is less than sublime. For instance, Marcia Baron
notes how one of her friends complained that hearing the word ‘duty’ made him think of the
Vietnam War and the draft, Kantian Ethics Almost without Apology (Ithaca: Cornell University
Press, 1995), p. 16. Indeed, one of the main problems with the word ‘duty’ is that it has a
history of having been used by governments in trying to encourage their citizens to sacrifice
themselves on the battlefield. Because of this persuasive use of ‘duty’, which did not become
prevalent until after Kant, the word ‘duty’ has now taken on a tone that unfortunately renders it
even philosophically unappealing, at least if we want to be able to move with relative ease
between the level of moral theorizing and the level of everyday moral practice and discourse.
31 ‘Morality and Personality: Kant and Green’ in Allen Wood (ed.), Self and Nature in Kant’s

Philosophy (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1984), p. 32.

The Kantian approach about to be outlined here is not as far removed from
Kant as is Schopenhauer, but probably not as close to Kant as is Strawson. It
should however be made clear that although this is a study in Kantian ethics,
what I am essentially trying to do is to put forward a position within the Kantian
tradition rather than to simply interpret Kant. The problem is just that Kantian
ethics is a peculiar tradition since it is held together not by any single core idea,
as is the case with consequentialism, but by its connection to a specific thinker.
Thus, even if my goal is not primarily interpretative, Kant himself naturally
occupies a central place and at times I do venture into some interpretative issues.
Although some readers might perhaps feel that there is too much of this, and I
can certainly have sympathy for such a point of view, I cannot ultimately say
much more to my defense than that I personally happen to find Kant interesting
enough to warrant this attention and that such an mixture of the argumentative
and the interpretative is by no means foreign to the recent wave of Kantian
ethicists that has brought Kantian ethics to the fore of the contemporary debate
in a way that makes it into something more than a theory used simply as a
textbook contrast to utilitarianism.
This recent Kantian renaissance, to which this work naturally owes much if
not everything, was very much needed since it made people actually read Kant
carefully and not just in the light of some standard picture of what he is about.
However, what one finds when one reads Kant is, I would say, both a source of
relief and despair. The relief comes from seeing that the ‘textbook Kant’ is
merely a one-dimensional construction; the ‘real Kant’ is much more rich and
subtle. The despair comes from realizing that while there are certainly several
distinct themes in Kant’s writings, there is no univocal doctrine set forth by him.
Indeed, his entire critical project evolved over the twenty or so years it occupied
him; it was not just a matter of drawing out the implications of his 1781 magnum
opus. When he wrote the first Critique, he did not envisage writing a second one,
and when he wrote the second one he did not envisage writing a third.
Although this does not mean that one cannot try to put together a consistent
ethical doctrine from the pieces provided by Kant, it does mean that such an
enterprise will always be a matter of construction rather than reconstruction.
Accordingly, although there is such a thing as a primarily interpretive approach
to Kant’s ethics, there is no such thing as a purely interpretive one. Nevertheless,
what I attempt here is not even predominately interpretative. My main interest in
Kant is ultimately as a source of ideas. There is nothing dogmatic about it, as if I
must always try to see to it that Kant always gets the last word on every issue, it
is just that I cannot help finding that Kant has interesting things to say on most
issues and that there is consistency enough between them to make it profitable
to work within a Kantian framework. Of course, given that my primary aim is to

attempt a systematic investigation into ethical matters, it might perhaps still be
wondered why I spend so much effort not only on Kant but on other historical
figures such as Sidgwick and Moore as well; I suppose that I have no conclusive
answer to this other than that I concur with Wilfrid Sellars when he points out
that ‘The history of philosophy is the lingua franca which makes communication
between philosophers, at least of different points of view, possible. Philosophy
without the history of philosophy, if not empty or blind, is at least dumb.’32
While philosophy would certainly be empty were it not for the fact that some
thinkers at some times put forward path-breaking ideas, the vast amount of labor
to be done in philosophy consists in working out the potentials of the ideas of
others. This is such a work and, as such, it is necessarily anchored in a certain set
of canonical texts.

1.5 An Outline of the Argument

The idea of a wide reflective equilibrium is that there are three different sets that
should be made to cohere, (i) considered judgments, (ii) principles, and (iii)
background theories. This work focuses on the latter two and more specifically
at working out a general ontology of values and norms together with a
metaphysics of the person that makes sense of this ontology. Roughly, the order
of exposition is that I begin with considering the ontology of value, then move
onto matters of the metaphysics of the person, and conclude with considering
matters that have to do with the ontology of norms (what Kant would call the
metaphysics of morals). This does not mean that I am uninterested in our
considered judgments; it is just that I will not go through the process of checking
the picture painted here against them.
I begin the argument proper in Chapter 2 by considering the Kantian notion
of the good will. My three main contentions here is (i) that modern moral
philosophy has been conducted under the spell of certain dichotomies that have
made us prone to misunderstand what Kantian ethics is about, (ii) that in
Anglophone moral philosophy there has also been an unfortunate tendency to
read Kant’s doctrine of the good will in the light of G. E. Moore’s thoughts
about the intrinsically good, and (iii) that if the value of the good will is to be
properly understood it must be interpreted in the context of Kant’s ideas about
the highest good, i.e. virtue and happiness in proportion to virtue.
Chapter 3 continues with matters having to do with value; more precisely it
delves into the question of whether an ontology of values can have any

32 Science and Metaphysics: Variations on Kantian Themes (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1968),
p. 1.

legitimate place within our overarching picture of the world, or whether, even if
it can, this can only be in some kind of secondary sense. I suggest that, on a
Kantian approach, the question of the status of value in the world is essentially
tied up with the status of freedom in the world and I proceed to tackle these
matters together. Kant’s own thinking on this is highly dualistic, revolving
around a distinction between the realms of freedom and nature respectively. I
provide a modified version of this theory, one that plays down the
noumenal/phenomenal distinction and that does not revolve as much around
the idea of autonomy as Kant’s own account. On this revised account, rather
than understanding human beings as occupying a place in the noumenal world,
they are understood as inhabiting, in Wilfrid Sellars’ terminology, the logical
space of reasons. I then proceed to argue that the normative entities that make
up the contents of this space are justly seen as real existences and that they, at
least for the most part, are socially constituted. It is then suggested that although
such a position leads to a form of relativism about normative entities, it does still
leave room for the existence of universally valid values, norms, and reasons in
the sense that these might be grounded in features having to do with the
conditions of possibility for being the kind of creatures that can be inhabitants
and constituting members of the space of reasons.
Chapter 4 continues the argument from the preceding chapter, but more
explicitly gears it towards the metaphysics of the person. The most important
issue in this chapter concerns the nature of reasons for action and reason as a
faculty. I argue against Humean approaches to these matters and then roughly
outline a Kantian metaphysics of the person. Given the background of the
argument in Chapter 3, this is however a theory that puts a greater emphasis than
Kant himself did on the social dimension that is involved in being a person. I
conclude by arguing in defense of the idea that there is a dualism of practical
reason and suggest that, pace eudaimonism, a complete ethical theory should give
an account of both action from self-interest and action from morality, showing
how they differ and how they are related to each other. I also point to how these
two sides of practical reason correspond to the two components of the highest
good as understood by Kant.
Chapter 5 returns to the matter of the highest good in the sense that it is an
investigation into the nature of one of its constituents, namely happiness. I argue
that the standard philosophical theories (or as they are perhaps better called:
conceptions) of happiness all fail to capture important features of the way we
commonsensically think about these matters. Above all, they fail to properly
account for the way in which a subject’s own opinions about what constitutes
her happiness are important in determining where her happiness actually lies.
Instead, I develop an account of happiness along the lines suggested by Kant,

who while he never set out an explicit theory of happiness still returned to the
topic over and over again and at least provided the outlines of a sound
subjectivist theory of happiness.
Chapter 6 turns to the second part of the highest good, namely morality. I
contrast Kantianism with the other leading theory, consequentialism, that
understands morality in terms of an ideal of impartiality and I argue that the
Kantian ideal, which can be called ‘impartiality as universalizability’ is superior to
the consequentialist one, which can be called ‘impartiality as impersonality’. I
then turn to elaborating a version of Kantian ethics that places its emphasis on
the Formula of Universal Law and I argue that it is reasonable to understand
maxims, or at least those maxims eligible for the universalizability test, as having
to do with the basic general principles according to which we live. This kind of
interpretation creates a large room for the exercise of judgment on the part of
the agent and I conclude that the standards according to which such judgment is
exercised are largely determined through our actual moral practices and

2. The Value of the Good Will

It is impossible to conceive anything at all in the world, or even out of it,

which can be taken as good without qualification, except a good will.
– Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 393

Anyone at least vaguely familiar with Kant’s ethics will immediately recognize
the opening line of the Groundwork. The bold assertiveness is certainly startling
and yet, if one as a reader navigates one’s way through the Groundwork one will
realize that Kant does actually not think of himself as making a bold assertion at
all; he is simply explicating what he takes to be the commonsensical view on
matters. The real philosophical work comes later, when he tries to provide a
rational underpinning for his vision of common sense morality.
That the real philosophical work lies elsewhere is at least a partial explanation
of the fact that, after having been introduced in such a conspicuous way, the
notion of the good will drops out of sight throughout most of the remainder of
the work. It vanishes out of sight to an extent that might perhaps even make one
wonder whether the notion of the good will is at all important in Kant’s moral
philosophy. Although other notions, which might be understood as belonging to
the same conceptual family as ‘the good will’, are subsequently introduced and
discussed, most notably ‘virtue’ (in the second Critique) and ‘disposition’
[Gesinnung] (in the Religion), it remains disputable just how important this whole
conceptual family is for Kantian ethics. But this much is abundantly clear: even
though, over the last few decades, a virtual Kantian renaissance has taken place
in ethical theory, remarkably few follow Kant’s example in taking as their starting
point the unique value of a good will. At least to a certain extent, this is probably
because philosophers who do normative ethics have tended to understand their
field of investigation as structured according to the possibilities opened up by
the question of moral rightness; they have been attempting to provide a criterion
of moral rightness for actions. Since moral goodness is usually understood as
having to do primarily with our motives or character, it becomes, at best, a
matter of secondary importance.1

1 A position which has primarily been challenged by virtue ethicists, although it should be
acknowledged that in response to such criticisms there are both consequentialists and Kantians
who have taken a greater interest in matters pertaining to character. For a consequentialist

What I will attempt in this chapter is a threefold task. First, I will try to show
that the kind of value involved in moral goodness is of a distinct kind; the value
of the good will cannot be subsumed under some other category of goodness.
Second, I will discuss the ways in which moral goodness have tended to be
overlooked as an important category and suggest that ethical theories cannot be
narrowly understood as simply being answers to a preordained question, but that
the normative outlooks encapsulated by different ethical theories are best
understood as also including views about what morality is essentially about. The
alleged centrality of the question of rightness, the question to which ethical
theories, narrowly understood, tend to be answers, is thus something that is
actually a part of those theories, broadly understood. Third, I will argue that an
adequate understanding of the value of the good will requires that it is
understood in the context of Kant’s theory of the highest good, which is a part
of his theory that also succinctly captures the Kantian view of what morality is
essentially about.

2.1 The Good Will and Human Dignity

While the fact that Kant begins the Groundwork by so firmly stating the
uniqueness of the value of the good will is one of the most well-known features
of his moral philosophy, the single idea that has probably had the most success
in seeping into general consciousness is his idea that persons, on account of their
humanity, have a dignity which means that we should never treat them solely as
means but always also at the same time as ends. Not that this idea is always
stated in Kant’s exact terms, but often enough it is at least expressed in phrases
that echo Kant’s own.
Among modern Kantians this idea is also a favorite, although it is often
framed in terms of value instead. For instance, Christine Korsgaard has tried to
argue that if we are to be able to recognize other values as real, then we must
recognize the value of our humanity as the sole unconditioned value, the only
intrinsic value,2 and Marcia Baron has presented an interpretation of Kantianism
that is built on the idea that persons have a value that is properly acknowledged

example see Julia Driver, Uneasy Virtue (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2001), for a
Kantian example see Barbara Herman, ‘Making Room for Character’ in Stephen Engstrom &
Jennifer Whiting (eds.), Aristotle, Kant, and the Stoics: Rethinking Happiness and Duty (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1996).
2 ‘Two Distinctions in Goodness’ in Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1996). For an updated, but more loosely Kantian, version see The Sources of
Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).

by honoring rather than promoting it.3 This way of understanding Kant makes it
sound as if the key element of a Kantian ontology of values, indeed the very
element that makes it interesting to understand Kantianism as a specific theory
to be placed against other theories such as utilitarianism, is that Kant accords
value to persons, or human beings. Yet, if Kant is serious about the special value
of the good will, there seems to be something peculiar about this exalting of the
value of humanity and its place in Kant’s ontology of values. Let us look at what
Kant says:

In the kingdom of ends everything has either a price or a dignity. If it has a price,
something else can be put in its place as an equivalent; if it is exalted above all price and so
admits of no equivalent, then it has dignity. /…/ Now morality is the only condition
under which a rational being can be an end in himself; for only through this is it possible
to be a law-making member in a kingdom of ends. Therefore morality, and humanity so
far as it is capable of morality, is the only thing which has dignity. (G 434-5)

As we can clearly see, the value accorded by Kant to persons is essentially tied
not so much to our capacity to set ends, but to our capacity for morality.
Additionally, it is about how matters are in the Kingdom of Ends that Kant is
talking. Since the Kingdom of Ends is something we partake in through morality
(because only morality involves the recognition of others necessary for
constituting the kind of collective assembly that a Kingdom of Ends is) and
since Kant’s position is that we should act as if we were law-making members of
the Kingdom of Ends we are also supposed to act as if other people were moral.
Thus, while the good will is the only thing that has an unconditioned value, we
are to act as if other humans are in possession of such a good will. This is why
being in possession of humanity is to be in possession of dignity. Even if the
dignity of humanity is the only value that we will have to consider when thinking
about others in our deliberations about how to act, this does not mean that it
should be understood as the fundamental value in a Kantian ontology of values;
that place belongs to the value of the good will.
Nevertheless, even if we accept this interpretation of the dignity of humanity
some difficulties still remain. It is one thing to say that we are to treat others as if
they were law-making members of a Kingdom of Ends, but Kant says something
more, he says that we should treat others as ends. While we might have some
grasp of what it means to treat others as means, it is not at all clear what it would
mean to treat them as ends, in fact this part of Kant’s ethics might even strike
the reader as quite unintelligible. In matters of action, an end seems to be what

3 ‘Kantian Ethics’ in Marcia Baron, Philip Pettit & Michael Slote, Three Methods of Ethics
(Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997).

one aims to achieve and how can one aim to achieve something like a person or
an abstract feature like ‘humanity’? It might be noted that this is not just a
question of the contemporary reader being confused concerning an aspect that
was altogether clear in meaning at the time Kant wrote. Even a commentator
like Schopenhauer (though not a philosophical contemporary of Kant still a
near-contemporary) found Kant’s phrasing of the second version of the
Categorical Imperative, the Formula of Humanity, as an ‘artificial and
roundabout’4 way of stating the simple idea that we should not just consider
ourselves but others as well. A somewhat later commentator like Sidgwick found
that ‘[t]he conception of “humanity as an end in itself” is perplexing: because by
an End we commonly mean something to be realised, whereas “humanity” is, as
Kant says, “a self-subsistent end”.’5 But given how patently absurd it would be to
regard something self-subsistent as something that we are to aim at bringing
about can this really be what Kant means?
It might perhaps be suggested that what we are facing here is a problem that
can easily be taken care of by a mere change in terminology. Could we not just
simply speak instead of persons as having value in themselves? After all, that
something can already exist and have value in itself is at least not a conceptually
incoherent idea. Nevertheless, it should be noted here that while such a change
of terminology might alleviate the air of paradox surrounding Kant’s position,
many might still feel that there is a fundamental flaw in his approach and the
worry that might be felt is not that far removed from Sidgwick’s. Overall, when
Kant thinks about what it is that has value, he seems to think of objects6 rather
than states of affairs. Irrespective of whether we use ‘value’ or ‘end’, or perhaps
even ‘purpose’, we face the same kind of problem. When we act, what we strive
towards is to realize states of affairs. Accordingly, to realize an end or to
promote a value would always seem to involve succeeding in creating some
specific state of affairs. Does it not, then, seem reasonable to say that states of
affairs, rather than objects, constitute the general metaphysical class of entities
around which theories about morality or practical reasoning should be built?
Now, I would like to suggest that there are actually two ways in which one
might use the notion of an ‘end’ with respect to an action.7 The first way is to
think of the end as that which is to be realized by the action. The second is to

4 On the Basis of Morality, p. 96.

5 The Methods of Ethics, 7th Ed. (London: Macmillan, 1907), p. 390n.
6 When I speak of ‘objects’ here I do so in a broad sense that includes properties as well; the

important thing is the idea that something other than states of affairs are bearers of value.
7 Elizabeth Anderson, Value in Ethics and Economics (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University

Press, 1993), pp. 19-20. For another example of the same basic point, see Alan Donagan, The
Theory of Morality (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1977), pp. 227-8.

think of the end as that for the sake of which the action occurs. For instance, if I
strive to preserve Venice, then the end that I seek to realize is a state of affairs in
which Venice persists; but it is also quite possible to say that when I strive in this
way it is for the sake of Venice – the city, not any states of affairs in which the
city is involved. Perhaps it might be to stretch ordinary language a bit to say that
in this latter case Venice is regarded as an end by me, but surely there is
something there to stretch our use of ‘end’ towards, something which is captured
by this latter use. If we can use ‘end’ in this way it is difficult to see that we could
not use ‘value’ in the same kind of way and I feel that even a notion like
‘purpose’ can be used analogously. Had for instance Lancelot at the end of his
life said that Guenevere had been the purpose of his life would that not have
made sense? (And not in the way that what he had striven for was a state of
affairs in which he and Guenevere would be united, but that it was for the sake
of her that he did the things he did.)
While it must be acknowledged that there is this distinction between two
senses of ‘end’, some might claim that in actuality the two always coincide and
that there is no sense in theorizing about something for the sake of which we act
that is distinct from the states of affairs which we hope to achieve with regard to
it. While we might often speak of objects as being what we value, such talk is
perhaps best regarded as a form of shorthand: what really has value is the states
of affairs in which the object is realized in certain ways, but since those states of
affairs usually exist in such an overwhelming multitude it is convenient to speak
of the object as what is valuable instead since the object is what ties the states of
affairs that we are interested in together. After all, even if Lancelot might have
done the things he did for the sake of Guenevere the person, his actual actions
always aimed at specific states of affairs.
When trying to answer the question of what kind of entities that should be
regarded as the primary bearers of value it seems reasonable that we should look
at how we reason when thinking about how to act. If I look at my own
experience, I must say that normatively my thinking is largely object-oriented.
What this means is that there is usually some object that serves as a source of
reasons for my actions. This does not mean that states of affairs do not matter, on
the contrary, they matter a great deal. Yet, if I look at the direction in which the
normativity involved in my thinking runs, it is from object to state of affairs
rather than vice versa. If we accept that whatever it is that has value is to be
understood as constituting a source of reasons, i.e. as something to which we can
trace those concerns that we find normatively relevant and valid when thinking
about what to do, then surely objects would seem to be more plausible
candidates for being the primary bearers of value. Although states of affairs are
what we directly aim at when we act, the distinctly normative part of

deliberation, i.e. the stage at which we weigh the importance of different
concerns, tends to be object-oriented. Furthermore, even when we act we are
usually only quite dimly aware of the concrete states of affairs that we try to
achieve. We have the kind of familiarity with the world that ensures that we
rarely need to make explicit what states of affairs we aim at and we can certainly
act purposively in a quite determined and steadfast way without having made
very much explicit about the concrete states of affairs we are striving to realize;
rather the purposiveness of our acting lies in letting ourselves be guided by the
normative light cast by the objects that we value.
Some might perhaps object that even if this would be correct as a
phenomenological analysis, it is nothing more than that. But it is not at all clear
that phenomenological points can be brushed aside without there being some
strongly objectivist grounds for doing so. If one, as a Kantian surely does,
regards the existence of values in the world as inherently tangled up with the
existence of us as valuers, then it is quite natural to think that the kind of beings
that we are largely determines the way that values exist, for instance whether they
adhere primarily to states of affairs or to objects. Accordingly, if we function in a
way that is primarily object-oriented rather than oriented towards states of
affairs, then it should not be a surprising result that the primary bearers of value
are objects rather than states of affairs. One might of course not be a Kantian,
but the same point holds for other forms of subjectivist positions. If, on the
other hand, one sees values as being metaphysically independent with respect to
us, the way that we think about value would certainly carry considerably less
weight in settling matters about the nature of value, just as our everyday thinking
about the relation between space and time might not be a definitive guide to the
true nature of the relation between space and time. However, if we wish to hold
this kind of strong independence thesis, then we must also accept the burden of
showing how we are to make sense of the existence of values at all and in what
way we are to be able to reach any conclusive views about their nature.
Even if we shun away from such a strong form of realism and take a more
pragmatic stance, adherents of the states of affairs interpretation might say that
since it is still always states of affairs that lie immediately before us in our
deliberative field of vision it is the value of these that are of primary interest to
us when we think about how to act – and if this is true, why bother about the
value of objects at all on a theoretical level? Our concrete deliberations might
perhaps be simpler if we sometimes think in terms of objects, but our theory will
be simpler if we restrict the bearing of value to states of affairs. We can thus also
get a simpler understanding of what it means to be valuable, namely to be
something that should be realized. If we postulate other things, that cannot be
realized, as possible bearers of value, we cannot have this simple theory of value.

Naturally, those theories that do rely on other things being the bearers of value
might perhaps capture important intuitions that we have, but since even such
theories view these values as important for the way we act and since it is still
states of affairs that we act to realize, we can always translate our talk about the
values of objects into talk about sets of states of affairs.
The problem with this argument is that while simplicity is a virtue in theories,
its value is a strongly conditioned one and, in this case, simplicity would be
bought at the price of begging the question against certain ethical theories. While
there might be some possibility to construct a non-consequentialist ethical
theory while still only relying on reasons having to do with realizing states of
affairs, it would become a very messy affair and any theory that we did in the end
manage to come up with would most likely strike us as quite unpalatable.
Accordingly, the idea that ‘we might as well focus on states of affairs anyway’ is
really biased in favor of consequentialism: it creates a playing-field that is in
principle open to non-consequentialists, but the ensuing match is fixed from the
outset. What might seem as a formal meta-ethical question (‘What are the
bearers of value?’) is thus really not one that can be meaningfully ventured into
without at the same time venturing into substantive ethical theorizing.
While there is obviously more to be said about these matters, it is time to
move on to other related issues and in doing so I must take a terminological
stance. Given what has been said, it seems that the reasonable thing to do is to
use an object-oriented terminology. In what follows, I will largely speak of things
when discussing what it is that is valuable. Of course, it should also be pointed
out that to conclude that it makes sense to see objects as ends is only a
preliminary: it remains to be shown what it means to treat persons as ends, but
that is a discussion that I will postpone until the final chapter. At this point, the
primary subject matter is still the value of the good will and it is now high time
to turn to the question of whether it makes sense to claim, as Kant does, that the
good will is the only thing that can be regarded as unqualifiedly good.

2.2 Moore and the Idea of ‘Intrinsic Value’

The question of what, if anything, is unqualifiedly good, is clearly not uniquely
Kantian. In fact, if one reads Kant under the influence of 20th century
Anglophone moral philosophy, it is difficult not to note the resemblance with
another towering figure in the history of ethics, namely G. E. Moore. According
to Moore, one of the fundamental tasks of ethics was to become clear about
which things have what he calls intrinsic value. Not that philosophers before
Moore had not been interested in reaching results about which things are good,
but the publication of the Principia Ethica transformed the terminological and

methodological manner in which such investigations were pursued. As usual
when a new piece of terminology is introduced, it is tempting to start reading the
philosophers of the past through the philosophical lenses thus introduced.
Prior to Moore, moral philosophers tended to understand their task as trying
to discover the summum bonum. Kant noted that this notion is in fact ambiguous
since it might be taken to mean both the supreme good and the perfect good (CPrR
110). Briefly put, Kant’s own position was that virtue, which can be understood
as an empirical manifestation of the good will, constitutes the supreme good
since its value is not conditioned on anything else, but that the perfect good also
includes happiness. The latter has a value that is conditioned on virtue, the
function of which is accordingly to make us worthy of happiness.8 Moore seems
to understand Kant as attempting to give an answer to what is intrinsically good
and, where Kant notes an ambiguity in the notion of the summum bonum, Moore
notes a contradiction in Kant and comments on the matter:

Kant’s view that virtue renders us worthy of happiness is in flagrant contradiction with the
view, which he implies and which is associated with his name, that a Good Will is the
only thing having intrinsic value. It does not, indeed, entitle us to make the charge
sometimes made, that Kant is, inconsistently, an Eudaemonist or Hedonist: for it does
not imply that happiness is the sole good. But it does imply that the Good Will is not the
sole good: that a state of things in which we are both virtuous and happy is better in
itself than one in which the happiness is absent.9

Of course, not even a Kantian should rule out the possibility that Kant might be
flagrantly contradicting himself; but then again, not even a non-Kantian should
be as swift as Moore in concluding that this is what Kant does. One possible
rejoinder is that Moore is actually conflating two distinctions that need to be
kept separate from each other. Although ‘intrinsic value’ is sometimes treated as
being opposed to ‘instrumental value’, it has been argued by Christine Korsgaard
that such a characterization is misleading.10 Korsgaard agrees with Moore that

8 ‘Inasmuch as virtue and happiness together constitute the possession of the highest good for
one person, and happiness in exact proportion to morality (as the worth of a person and his
worthiness to be happy) constitutes that of possible world, the highest good means the whole,
the perfect good, wherein virtue is always the supreme good, being the condition having no
condition superior to it, while happiness, though something always pleasant to him who
possesses it, is not of itself absolutely good in every respect but always presupposes conduct in
accordance with the moral law as its condition.’ (CPrR 110-11)
9 Principia Ethica (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1903), pp. 174-75.

10 ‘Two Distinctions in Goodness’ in Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press. 1996). For an earlier statement of the same kind of observation, see A. C.
Ewing, The Definition of Good (New York: Macmillan, 1947), p. 114.

for something to have intrinsic value is for it to have a value that is not
dependent on anything outside the thing as such. Understood this way, the
proper contrast to intrinsic value would be extrinsic value, i.e. a kind of value that
is dependent on something that lies outside of the thing to which it belongs.
Instrumental value is certainly extrinsic, but the proper contrast to it is rather
final value.
Things that have final value might have such value in a way that makes it
intrinsic, but conceptually there is nothing in the notion of final value that rules
out that something has a value that is both final and extrinsic. It might just so
happen that every instance of final value is also an instance of intrinsic value and
that every instance of intrinsic value is an instance of final value; but even if that
would be the case, something that surely should be left open for investigation,
this is not something that is conceptually necessary. Accordingly, there is a
philosophical value in keeping these two distinctions apart. The relevance of this
with respect to Moore’s accusation against Kant is quite clear. There is nothing
peculiar about happiness being a part of the perfect good in the way Kant
outlines if this is understood as happiness having a final value that is extrinsic, i.e.
the final value that it can have is dependent on it being a part of a whole together
with virtue. Moore seems to think that since Kant views the good will, or virtue,
as the only unqualified good, he must also, if he is to be consistent, view it as the
sole final good: but given Korsgaard’s valid point, it would seem that rather than
Kant being guilty of a contradiction, it is Moore that is guilty of a conflation.11
However, while Korsgaard is correct on an analytical level, the use she is able
to make of these distinctions suggests that we do perhaps have reason to look
further into the matter. Korsgaard has two versions of her view about what fits
the bill of intrinsic value. The first12 starts from the idea that there must be
something that has intrinsic value for the extrinsically valuable must get its value
from some source, and the ability to project, or confer, value seems to be an
obvious candidate for being such a source of value. The problem is just that
Korsgaard not only treats this as an interesting candidate to be further
investigated, she seems to think it follows from the fact that we confer value,
that we are, so to speak, the sources of value, that we must ourselves be valuable.

11 There is an alternative way of reading Moore’s complaint, namely that since Kant must admit
that the highest good is also unqualifiedly good, the good will cannot be the sole unqualified
good. This is certainly a correct observation, but I do not think that it is what Moore is after,
his point is rather that Kant’s views about the highest good commits him to also holding that
happiness is an unqualified good, or as Moore would put it: has intrinsic value. At any rate, the
alternative version would be a trivial complaint compared to the charge that Kant cannot
accord value to happiness without contradicting himself.
12 Presented in ‘Two Distinctions in Goodness’.

This is however clearly a non sequitor. It might certainly be the case both that we
ourselves are valuable and that we confer value to other things, thus making
them valuable, but this remains to be shown and the picture of the relation
between our value and the value of other things suggested by Korsgaard is at any
rate a metaphysically peculiar one; she makes it sound as if we are some kind of
reservoirs of value and that we can then pour this normative substance on top of
things.13 She has however moved away from this view. The new position
adopted by her is that we as persons also confer value onto ourselves.14 On this
account of the value of persons there is a dependence relation, since this value
presupposes the existence of an attitude of valuing, but it is an internal relation
since the projector of value is identical with that onto which value is projected.
Since we as persons are thus not dependent for our value on anything outside
ourselves, our value is intrinsic in the Moorean sense. This is certainly a very neat
attempt at combining subjectivism with objectivism, but there are difficulties
with this view as well. The most obvious one is that when we think of things as
having intrinsic value, surely such value must have some form of intersubjective
validity and if the person is not already in hold of some value that she can
confer, then it is doubtful whether she can simply create such value ex nihilo in a
way that makes its existence intersubjectively valid. Even if Korsgaard’s
argument succeeds and she manages to show that we really must regard
ourselves as valuable (this is what to ‘confer value’ onto ourselves would mean in
this context) in order to intelligibly value the things we pursue, the problem with
this value that I presumably must accord myself is that others are not trapped in
the same way that I am within my own deliberative field of vision. Given this
fact, can we really take the value that we seemingly must accord ourselves truly
seriously or would we rather say that as a simple matter of fact we must behave
as if we ourselves are valuable? But then the Korsgaardian analysis seems to have
reduced value to a cognitive error, a form of deliberative blind spot that we
might have to live with in our own case, but which we can plainly see as just
what it is in others.15
Given the above, I would like to explore another way of making sense of the
difference between Kant and Moore. As is well-known, in his Principia Ethica
Moore offers a test for ascertaining whether things have intrinsic value. It

13 Jerome Schneewind, ‘Korsgaard and the Unconditional in Morality’, Ethics 109 (1998), p. 39.
14 The new position is developed in The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1996). For an explicit acknowledgment of this change of views, see ‘Motivation,
Metaphysics, and the Value of the Self,’ Ethics 109 (1998), p. 63
15 It should be made clear that Korsgaard is aware of this kind of problem and in the next

chapter, I will consider her strategy for dealing with it.

consists in considering whether a given thing would have any value if it existed
by itself, i.e. in what Moore calls ‘absolute isolation’.16 Kant does not offer us a
method in the Moorean way of explicitly setting out and naming a procedure,
but he does nevertheless use a quite specific one, namely what might be called
‘the method of combination’. It consists in considering different things that
might seem like candidates for having unconditioned value and then see whether
there are any combinations with other things that make these original things lose
their value (G 393-4). Kant considers talents of the mind, such as intelligence,
wit, and judgment, qualities of temperament, such as courage, resolution, and
constancy of purpose, gifts of fortune, such as power, wealth, and health – and
he finds that they are all alike in being fine and useful, but also in that they can
become instruments of immoral behavior. In such cases, they lose their value.
They might even directly worsen the situation since they make the immoral
person even more dangerous. An evil person who is intelligent, brave, powerful,
and wealthy is surely a terrible figure.
Even a reader unsympathetic to Kant’s project need not find these particular
results especially surprising or controversial since the value of the above-
mentioned features might very well be best understood as instrumental anyway
(and instrumental value is bound to be contingent). Kant does however also
consider another candidate, one that is hardly something that we are prone to
see as merely instrumentally valuable, namely happiness. We might perhaps not
agree on what happiness consists in, but whatever its constituents are, must its
value not be intrinsic? Some might even find it obvious that if there is any single
thing that is without a doubt unqualifiedly good, it is happiness. Yet, for Kant,
not even happiness can be considered good without qualification; and again it is
the possibility of being combined with immorality that is the problem. Unlike
some ancient philosophers, Kant has no problem with the idea that one can be
both happy and evil. On this point at least I think he is in concordance with
common sense and perhaps even his view that the value of happiness is
conditioned is commonsensical if we keep in mind that the question here is not
whether happiness is something we all consider as something we want to have,
but whether all instances of it has value. After all, one standard objection to
standard utilitarianism is that it assigns value even to perverted instances of
pleasure (e.g. the pleasure some torturers might take in their craft) and Kant’s
thinking seems to be in line with this kind of argument.
Since it is the possibility of existing in co-presence with an evil will that rules
out all the candidates considered this far, the obvious candidate for being good
without qualification is the good will. It is the only thing that per definition

16 Principia Ethica, p. 187.

precludes being able to coexist with immorality. There might, of course, be other
factors with which the good will can coexist and which thus could spoil its value
and Kant considers what is probably the most reasonable candidate for fitting
this bill, namely the possibility that a good will, due to unfortunate
circumstances, does not succeed in carrying out its good intentions. But he finds
that ‘even then it would still shine like a jewel for its own sake as something
which has its full value in itself’ (G 394). We must keep in mind that this does
not mean that it does not matter whether we succeed or not; success in moral
undertakings usually means that some final value is brought about or preserved
and so a good will plus success is certainly better than a good will without
success. All it means is that the nature of the value of the good will per se is such
that it is not conditioned on success. At this point, we are of course dealing
simply with appeals to our intuitions and they are always difficult to prove
anything conclusively from, but is not Kant’s position, when we think through
what it means, actually quite sound and in accordance with common sense?
If we compare Kant’s method with the Moorean test then there is surely an
obvious problem with the latter in that it rests on a highly questionable
assumption. After all, do we have any independent reason for thinking that just
because a certain thing has value when existing alone, it will also have this value
when accompanied by other things? The idea behind the Moorean test is
presumably that if a thing has value when alone, then that value springs from its
internal properties and since it keeps these in all circumstances where it remains
identical to itself then it should also keep its value in all circumstances where it is
identical with itself. This might perhaps sound reasonable and I suspect that
many philosophers have simply taken it for granted. Nevertheless, the kind of
things that we tend to assign value to are not ontologically robust in the sense
that their significance as objects is always constant at the core; we always
encounter them as deeply situated in some context or other. Take, for instance, a
thing like friendship. We can certainly consider friendship in the abstract, but
what we have then is merely a very thin structure, which might be what defines
something as an instance of friendship, but which is still so underdescribed that
while we might perhaps be able to say something about the inherent tendency, in
terms of value, of friendship ‘as such’, it is difficult to see how we could
extrapolate from this to any conclusions about the value of every instance of
friendship. For a concrete friendship to exist at all it must be fleshed out beyond
the thin structure which defines it as friendship to begin with, and there are just
so many ways in which this structure can be fleshed out. Why think that we can
draw conclusions about the value of every such instance simply by considering
friendship in the abstract?

The fact that Moore’s method of absolute isolation must be rejected as a
conclusive test does not mean that we have to give up the idea that there might
be at least something that has a value that it keeps no matter how it is situated. It
would however seem that the only plausible test for such value is the one utilized
by Kant, namely that of placing the candidate in diverse contexts. Of course, this
test is in one sense less satisfactory than Moore’s since it is open-ended; there is
an infinite number of contexts and whereas the method of absolute isolation
only requires of us that we place our candidate in one of them, Kant’s method of
combination would seem to leave us with an infinite task. However, although
there is in theory an infinite number of possibilities to be covered, there is little
ground for the belief that this prevents us from being able to at least reasonably
regard some things as having absolute value. Perhaps we would ideally like to
place our candidates in all conceivable contexts; but not only is this hardly
practical, it is not even especially meaningful since we do already have a good
grasp of what kinds of contexts are potentially relevant. Indeed, of all the infinite
modifications we can make of the contexts that we conceive, there are not very
many that strike us as reasonable candidates for having an impact on the status
of the things we might regard as reasonable candidates for being put to the test
to begin with. Given that we have the kind of normative competence that makes
us eligible as judges in the test procedure at all, it seem very unlikely that we
would make startling discoveries underway.
To have a value that is absolute, or as Kant puts it in the opening sentence of
the Groundwork: without qualification, is to have a value that cannot be spoiled,
no matter what context the thing which has the value is put in, i.e. it is a value
that is not conditioned or dependent on anything. But while this way of putting
it is intuitively graspable, I do think that there is, in the notion of ‘dependence’,
an ambiguity that needs to be explored.17 Take for instance the value of courage.
We certainly admire courage. Perhaps we even sometimes continue to admire
courage in villains, but if we do, I still suspect that this only applies to some
villains. The daring cat burglar might have a certain beguiling charm, the daring
child molester is however hardly someone about whom we would say ‘Ah yes, he
does all those terrible things, but you still have to admire his courage’. Some
villains are just impossible to romanticize about. And yet, there is something
about courage as such, the ability to stand up against dangers, which we do find
admirable. Thus, it would seem that we would like to say that courage as such is
admirable, even valuable, it is just that the courage of certain persons, such as
detestable villains, is not. The value of courage seems to be dependent on
outside factors in a negative rather than a positive way and, accordingly, I think

17 Cf. Jonathan Dancy, Moral Reasons (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), pp. 55-6.

that we should be able to distinguish between a weak and a strong sense of
‘intrinsic value’. I will refer to the weaker sense as ‘intrinsic value’ and the
stronger sense as ‘absolute value’, the latter being a subset of the larger class of
‘intrinsic value’:

Absolute value: A thing has absolute value when there is nothing outside it that
either the presence or absence of which is a condition of its value.18

Intrinsic value: A thing has intrinsic value when there is nothing outside it the
presence of which is a condition of its value.

That which has absolute value certainly has intrinsic value, but that which has
intrinsic value need not have its value in an unqualified sense. While it is not in
need of having its value conferred on it by anything outside it, there is still some
thing, or some things, that can blot out this value. This means that there is a
sense in which its value is relative, since it is relative to the absence of something,
like an evil will, and if we understand the issue of intrinsic vs. extrinsic value to
be a matter of the features that one might cite in favor of something having value,
i.e. the supervenience base consists simply in good-making properties and not
non-bad-making properties as well, there is nothing peculiar about widening the
notion of intrinsic value so that negative dependence does not rule out having
intrinsic value (whereas positive dependence would make the value in question
extrinsic (which in turn is fully compatible with it being a final value)).
I suspect that if we draw this kind of distinction and take it seriously we will
find that many of the things that we might otherwise, for instance if we employ
Moore’s method of absolute isolation, be inclined to judge as having intrinsic
value in the strong sense, i.e. what I call ‘absolute value’, would more properly be
regarded as intrinsic values in the weaker sense. There is, however, one device
that might be employed by the Moorean to avoid having to move in such a
direction, and I will now turn to consider it.

2.3 Organic Unities and Moral Goodness

As anyone familiar with the Principia Ethica will know, Moore is no stranger to
the fact that how things are combined matters greatly for what value things will

18 This definition lies close to the one Moore gives of intrinsic value in ‘The Conception of
Intrinsic Value,’ Philosophical Studies (London: Kegan Paul, 1922): ‘To say that a kind of value is
“intrinsic” means merely that the question whether a thing possesses it, and in what degree it
possess it, depends solely on the intrinsic nature of the thing in question.’ (p. 260).

have. He pays much attention to the phenomenon that he calls ‘organic unity,’ to
the fact that the value of a whole need to equal the sum of the value of its parts.
Yet, for Moore, not even incorporation into an organic unity can however
change the value of a thing qua the thing that it is. The organic unity effect is
only something that occurs on the level of the whole qua whole. Thus, what we
get is an additional value, to be added to the value of the individual things that
make up the whole. This way of understanding organic wholes should however
not be taken as the only possible one. In a recent paper, Thomas Hurka has
distinguished between two ways of accounting for organic unities: the Moorean
one, which he dubs the ‘holistic’ interpretation, and a ‘conditionality’
interpretation, which he associates with Korsgaard’s Kantian approach.
According to the latter interpretation, parts can change their value when they
enter certain wholes.19
What is at stake here is the interpretation of the kind of cases that Kant
considers when trying to give intuitive support for his thesis that only the good
will has absolute value. If the Moorean approach to organic unities is plausible,
then there is room to interpret these cases as ones where the combination of an
evil will and some other thing creates an additional value that on the level of the
total whole, i.e. the holistic whole plus the component parts, matches the value
of the other thing in a way that makes the value of the whole as bad as the
negative value of the evil will (or perhaps even somewhat worse), i.e. rather than
the value of, say, happiness being blotted out by the co-presence of an evil will,
its positive contribution is countered by the additional negative value of the
whole qua whole. By postulating such holistic effects, it would accordingly seem
that the Moorean could always get the same net result as the adherent of the
conditionality interpretation. This versatility makes it difficult to see how the
dispute between these two models can be settled by appeals to our intuitions
about concrete cases. It would thus seem to be a good idea to approach the
matter in a somewhat broader way.
Organicity is traditionally understood as a mode of formation that is
contrasted with a mechanic mode. More specifically, the notion of an organic
whole is tied to that of an organism. Kant’s definition of organism is this: ‘an
organized natural product is one in which every part is reciprocally both end and
means’ (CJ 376). Although such a view is certainly primarily formulated with
respect to biological phenomena, Kant is open to the possibility that we might
analogously understand society as an organic whole, one where ‘no member
should be a mere means, but should also be an end, and, seeing that he
contributes to the possibility of the entire body, should have his position and

19 ‘Two Kinds of Organic Unity,’ The Journal of Ethics 2 (1998).

function in turn defined by the idea of the whole’ (CJ 375n1). This latter way of
using the idea of organic unity is one that was common among the British
Idealists, who dominated English philosophy around the time when Moore
wrote the Principia Ethica. There is therefore nothing peculiar about Moore using
the notion of organic unity; it was certainly very much in the air at the time when
he wrote his book. Yet, both the biological employment of the notion of organic
unity and the analogous political employment of it have to do with contexts
where there is a causal interaction between parts and even though we might
loosen the notion of organic unity and allow that certain kinds of value
compounds might be called organic unities, it still remains a fact that on the
Moorean story there is something blind about the way in which holistic value
effects arise, a blindness that runs counter to the very idea of organicity.
One way of understanding the place of the doctrine of organic unities in
Moore’s theory is that organic value is something he simply has to throw in to
patch up deficiencies that are really due to system errors in his overall theory. He
wants to be able to draw certain conclusions about certain concrete issues and
must postulate holistic value effects in order to be able to do so. Moore is
however not alone in this; as noted by Elizabeth Anderson, consequentialists
regularly ‘derive the “right” results by appealing to occult calculations or
mysterious intuitions of brute facts about organic intrinsic values.’20 She
compares this tendency to the pre-Copernican practice of drawing epicycles to
account for the seemingly peculiar behavior of the planets.21 For all the ingenuity
that might be employed in such efforts, the fact remains that they are but
desperate attempts to patch up theories that are flawed to the core. In order to
see this more clearly we might do well to consider one of Moore’s most well-
known examples of an organic whole, one that is presented when he outlines a
way in which vindictive punishment might be justified.
As might be expected, we do not get any argument or elucidation of why
things are as they are. Moore just states his view: ‘The infliction of pain on a
person whose state of mind is bad may, if the pain be not too intense, create a
state of things that is better on the whole than if the evil state of mind had existed
unpunished.’22 It should be noted here that Moore tries to establish the
reasonableness of vindictive punishment without any notion of desert. Usually
this notion is used to provide a rationale as to why punishment might be
justified, but in Moore’s case the exposition makes the whole matter look like a
fluke: a set of values that we simply intuit as appearing together. Behind all this

20 Ibid., p. 89.
21 Ibid., p. 90.
22 Principia Ethica, p. 214.

oddness is of course the Moorean insistence of the primacy of the good over the
right, a structural feature of his theory that makes it impossible for him to
provide any reasoned account of these matters since such an order of
explanation precludes any substantial conception of desert.
On the Moorean approach there is this thing called ‘value’ and the only
difference that exists between different instances of value is that they are either
greater or lesser, i.e. a purely quantitative difference. This kind of approach
makes it difficult to develop any picture of how different matters of value fit
together as wholes in any other way than that we happen to look at them as
compounds. Accordingly, the person who attempts to develop an ontology of
values within a Moorean framework does really become like a pre-Copernican
astronomer, simply noting what he sees and thinking that the orbits of the
planets must be just like that, no matter how many epicycles he has to draw. Just
as we get no story from the pre-Copernican about what lies behind the peculiar
behavior of the planets, we get no story from the Moorean about what lies
behind the peculiar effects that arise from certain combinations.
In contrast to Moore, Kant’s approach represents an attempt to understand
what is happening rather than just noting what we intuit. Although he is still
interested in what we intuitively think about different matters of value, this
interest is coupled with an attempt to think about our relation as thinkers,
observers, and agents to the values which we appear to find when we think
about different situations. Compare, for instance, Moore’s remarks on vindictive
punishment with Kant’s approach to the matter of the relation between virtue
and happiness. Kant’s point is that the good will makes us worthy of happiness,
i.e. he has an idea about the nature of the value that is involved in one of the
parts of the highest good, an idea that serves to explicate the nature of the value
of the highest good as a whole. Of course, we might not share Kant’s intuitions
about the value of the good will or the value of happiness, but at least he tries to
explicate the dynamics of value that is involved, while the Moorean approach
simply notes in an impressionistic manner that certain holistic effects arise.23
This difference between Kant and Moore also gives us ground for querying
whether Korsgaard’s position does not, even though she is at pains to distance
herself from an orthodox Mooreanism, involve a reading of Kant that is still too

23 Anderson makes a similar point when she notes how the Moorean approach ‘mirrors the
norms of appreciation for objects in a museum’, ibid., p. 120, although even in a museum there
is the possibility of more sophisticated analyses than what the Moorean impressionism allows.
For an amusing account, quoted at length by both Anderson and Alasdair MacIntyre, of the
inarticulate modes of persuasion in the discussions of the Bloomsbury group (Moore’s gasps of
incredulity, Strachey’s grim silences, etc.), see John Maynard Keynes, ‘My Early Beliefs,’ Two
Memoirs (New York: Augustus M. Kelley, 1949), p. 85.

Moorean in the sense that it treats value as too homogenous a thing. There is no
notion of desert at work in Korsgaard’s analysis: for her the absolutely good is
humanity, understood as the capacity to confer value onto things, and the
centrality of morality in Kant’s theory of value is thereby lost. As a criticism
against Korsgaard the point that she is not Kantian enough is naturally of limited
value since her approach is largely the same one as mine here, trying to reach a
reasonable position on ethical matters by drawing on Kantian materials. Still,
given that one has methodologically committed oneself to taking Kant with a
special seriousness not accorded other philosophers, the fact that he seems to
have an approach even more different from Moore’s than Korsgaard assumes is
at least a reason to delve deeper into what these further differences might yield
that is of philosophical value. The suggestion that I will pursue here is that in
contrast to Moore and most of those who have labored in the long philosophical
shadow cast by him, Kant rejects the idea that there is a strong form of unity in
the notion of ‘good’. What this means is that there is no such thing as being
good period, at least not in the sense that we can speak of something being good
without saying anything about the kind of goodness we are talking about.

2.4 The Disunity of ‘Good’

If we wish to say anything of substance about different kinds of goodness it
would perhaps seem that we must, at least to some extent, be able to analyze
‘goodness’ as such. And yet, as is well-known, another key part of the Moorean
legacy in moral philosophy is the idea that ‘good’ is a simple, non-analyzable
property24 – not that everyone would agree with Moore on this point, but his
stance is at least one that most would acknowledge that you must position
yourself in relation to when discussing the matter.
Of course, in his attack against analyses of ‘good’, what Moore is primarily
objecting to is what he calls naturalism, i.e. attempts to analyze ‘good’ in non-
evaluative terms, and this specific part of Moore’s position lies close to the
classic Humean idea about a gap between the descriptive and the normative.
Such a position does not preclude the possibility of analyzing normative notions
in, at least partly, normative terms. Indeed, Moore himself understood ‘right’ as
meaning something like ‘conduciveness to the good.’25 Perhaps this latter kind of
analysis does not really deserve to be seen as a form of analysis proper, but
rather as something like an explication of rightness, yet that is of lesser interest
here. The point is rather that Moore would seem to think that rightness is at least

24 Ibid., pp. 9-10.

25 Ibid., pp. 18, 25.

explicable whereas ‘good’ is not. To some extent, this differentiation makes
sense since while goodness is for him something we simply intuit (thus leaving it
ripe for an analogy with other (allegedly) simple and non-analyzable qualities like
‘yellow’), rightness is something we figure out through a process of computation.
The ability to simply apprehend goodness, analogous to our ability to simply
apprehend colors, is however a deeply problematic ability since we would hardly
like to stipulate some kind of sixth sense. If there is a moral sense, then it must
rather consist in some kind of Bildung that enables us to judge wisely. But such a
form of moral sense is not as naturally paired with the idea that goodness is a
simple property. Accordingly, those who like W. D. Ross26 turn against Moore’s
differentiation and argue that ‘right’ is just as non-analyzable as ‘good’ strike me
as going in the wrong direction, at least if ‘non-analyzable’ is understood as
meaning that something is inexplicable in the sense that we cannot even analyze
it in partly normative terms. The more properties we claim to be non-analyzable,
the more we mystify how we can have a grasp of the concepts corresponding to
those properties. It might also be noted that Moore himself is, by way of his
analysis of ‘right’, actually committed to at least a partial analysis of ‘good’: since
rightness is about promoting the good, it would seem that one key aspect of
‘good’ is that being good has to do with being an appropriate object of
promotion. However, even if we accept this, the Moorean idea that goodness is a
unitary property is still viable since this kind of analysis, or explication, does not
in any interesting sense open up for there being different species of value:
goodness is a single homogenous property just as rightness is a single
homogenous property.
This Moorean picture of two homogenous properties is certainly attractive
since it makes life easier for the moral philosopher; according to it the task at
hand would be simply to say something abut the good and the right and their
relation to each other. It might be noted that both Moore and Ross are pluralists
about the things that are good, it is just that they, and those who follow their
lead, are monists about what it means for something to be good. If, on the other
hand, there are different species of value, there might be interesting relations
between different species of goodness and a satisfactory ethical theory would
accordingly have to involve a higher degree of complexity than the kind of
consequentialist approach which Moore exemplifies, or even the deontologist
one represented by Ross.
In order for it to be philosophically meaningful to distinguish between
different kinds of value, it should be possible to say something more about what
it means to have a certain value and why it is important to keep different forms

26 The Right and the Good (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), Chapter 1.

of value distinct. This need not necessarily mean that we must be able to provide
some kind of reductive analysis of each and every kind of value, but at least we
should be able to say something about the contexts where they are relevant and a
few words about how different contexts are related to each other (if they are
related, that is). There are many contexts in which we use the notion of ‘good,’
but since the subject matter here is ethical theory it is perhaps not necessary to
attempt to explicate all such uses of ‘good’. There are however a couple of
candidates that should for historical reasons be taken seriously. One is the
prudentially good which has to do with what makes our lives go well. Another is
the morally good, which is of course the kind of goodness so cherished by Kant.
A third is what might be called functional goodness, which has to with
functioning well and which is, of course, an important part of Aristotle’s ethical
theory. While Moore and Ross make it sound as if there simply this slot ‘the
good’ which is part of any ethical theory and which is to be filled with a list of
empirical items, it is not evident that all these three forms of goodness are good
in the same way, for instance that the essence of their value lies in being
appropriate objects of promotion.
Given Kant’s view on the special value of the good will, we should not be
surprised to find him among those who maintain that there is a contrast between
different ways in which things can be good and there is indeed one passage
where he clearly voices such a view, namely when he deplores the poverty of
Latin as compared with German:

The German language has the good fortune to possess expressions which do not permit
this difference [between senses of ‘bonum’ and ‘malum’] to be overlooked. It has two
very different concepts and equally different expressions for what the Latins named with
the single word bonum. For bonum, it has das Gute and das Wohl; for malum, das Böse and das
Übel or das Weh. Thus there are two very different judgments if in an action we have
regard to its goodness or wickedness or to our weal or woe. (CPrR 59-60)

It is interesting that the same characteristic of German is noticed by Franz

Brentano as well, although in his eyes as a highly unfortunate feature. More
precisely, it is the lack of a single contrary to ‘gut’ that he finds deplorable since it
might mislead people into not seeing the essential unity of the concept of ‘good’.
Brentano invokes Aristotle’s dispute with Plato in NE I and distinguishes
between two ways of seeing ‘good’, as univocal in the strict sense or as univocal
in an analogous sense.27 But what is really at stake here? What would it mean for
‘good’ to be univocal in a strict rather than an analogous sense?

27The Origin of our Knowledge of Right and Wrong, ed. Oskar Kraus, trans Roderick Chisholm &
Elizabeth Schneewind (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1969), p. 75.

If the concept of ‘good’ is to have an essential unity then what that must
mean is that the full explication of its normativity is to be the same in all
contexts of application. Brentano certainly thinks that this is the case and his
analysis of goodness is that for something to be good is for it to be a worthy
object of love.28 One might perhaps still want to leave open the possibility that
there are some uses of ‘good’ that are not relevant for the purposes of analysis.
More specifically, if this kind of analysis is to be reasonable at all then it should
probably be confined to being an analysis of non-derivative goodness. However,
while there might be some obvious examples of derivative forms of goodness,
instrumental goodness being an example that comes immediately to mind, it
would be inappropriate to be dogmatic about what kinds of goodness are
derivative and which are non-derivative. The reason is that if there is to be any
point to the analysis one should not from the outset beg the question against
potential dissenters. A more reasonable approach is rather to look carefully at
those instances of goodness that seem to run counter to the proposed analysis
and think about whether they can be understood as derivative forms of goodness
in some plausible sense. This being said, I would like to distinguish between four
positions that one might take on the question of the unity or disunity of ‘good’:
(i) Strong unity thesis: Goodness is a single homogenous property. On one reading of
Brentano’s analysis it falls within this category. But while ‘love’ might strike the
casual reader as a specific attitude Brentano actually defines it in a way that
leaves it meaning no more than simply a pro-attitude.29 Since he is prepared to
acknowledge that there is a variety of emotions that we might have with respect
to an object it would seem that there is room to say that goodness is not a single
property since there is a possibility to claim that one might differentiate a
number of kinds of goodness based on different kinds of appropriate attitudes.30
An example of someone who does more clearly seem to adhere to the strong
unity thesis is Philip Pettit, who has an approach to goodness that is closer to
Moore than to Brentano since it is framed in terms of a response rather than an
attitude: the appropriate response with respect to that which is good is to
promote it.31 Of course, Pettit’s view does leave open that in concrete situations

28 Ibid., p. 18.
29 Ibid., p. 16.
30 This is certainly how A. C. Ewing’s very similar analysis in The Definition of Good should be

understood since he both distinguishes between a number (ten) different senses of good (pp.
112-7) and points out that on his analysis, goodness will naturally have different senses
‘according to the pro-attitude in question’ (p. 183).
31 ‘Consequentialism’ in Peter Singer (ed.), A Companion to Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers,

1991) and ‘The Consequentialist Perspective’ in Marcia Baron, Philip Pettit & Michael Slote,
Three Methods of Ethics (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1997).

it might be appropriate with a wide variety of attitudes and other responses, but
then these are always derivatively appropriate, i.e. their aptness is due to their
tendency to, in the end, promote the good. Unless Pettit would say that
‘promoting’ can be further specified in ways that can be understood as tied to
different areas of application for ‘good’, and there seems to be no reason to
think that he would claim this, his position is a clear-cut example of a strong
unitarian approach to the good. The problem is just that such a position is not
very plausible. Pettit’s only real argument is that it is a simple position and while
simplicity is surely a virtue in philosophical theories, the point of Occam’s razor
is surely lost if it is wielded like an axe. The virtue of simplicity quickly loses its
luster if we are forced to adopt a number of highly artificial analyses to explain
the way that we think and feel about the good in different circumstances. This is
a point I have already argued in section 2.1 and Pettit is thus a good example of
someone who understands value as supervening primarily on states of affairs.
(ii) Weak unity thesis: Goodness is a single genus, although there are different species of it.
As suggested above, this is probably how Brentano’s analysis is best understood.
According to it, the essential feature of goodness is to be a worthy object of pro-
attitudes, but different kinds of goodness differ as to what kinds of attitudes are
appropriate in relation to that which is good in the relevant sense. For instance,
for an object to have aesthetic goodness might make it worthy of admiration or
contemplation while for something to be prudentially good might make it
worthy of pursuit or desire. However, if Kant is correct, then moral goodness
has a distinct normative element that it does not share with other forms of
goodness, namely as having to do with the agent’s worthiness of happiness.
Brentano’s analysis is certainly very flexible since the love of which he speaks
covers many different concrete kinds of attitudes, but the one thing that
responses grounded in the recognition of something as good must have in
common is that they are capable of being understood as at least some form of
pro-attitude. Yet, it is difficult to see how this can be done in the case of moral
goodness without robbing it of what makes it what it is. The reason is that the
essential feature of moral goodness, namely that it makes us worthy of
happiness, cannot be understood as a specification of ‘being a worthy object of
pro-attitudes.’ Thus, if Kant is right in his view on moral goodness, the weak
unity thesis must be rejected.
(iii) Weak disunity thesis: Goodness is not a single genus, but all forms of goodness still
share in a particular normative property. This position means that while we accept that
there is a general property common to all relevant forms of goodness, some
forms of it are such that their normativity is not just not fully specified by this
property: they are more complex. Take Kant’s view of moral goodness as an
example. While, as noted above, its essential feature is to make us worthy of

happiness, Kant would hardly claim that it is not a worthy object of pro-
attitudes; there is probably nothing in the world, or even out of it, that is for him
as worthy of having pro-attitudes directed towards it as is moral goodness. Thus,
according to this interpretation of the Kantian position the distinctness of moral
goodness is compatible with there being a single property common to all forms
of goodness, it is just that all the differences that exist between these different
kinds cannot be understood as mere specifications of this property.
The problem with this position is that there are some forms of goodness that
seem somewhat difficult to make room for even within this kind of slimmed-
down Brentano-style analysis. The most obvious candidate is functional
goodness, e.g. the goodness of a fine hammer or a well-functioning machine. The
adherent of a Brentano-style analysis might of course say that when objects really
do exemplify functional goodness, then they are also worthy of love. But is it
natural to say so? Sure, a good hammer is nice to have around when I need one,
but am I really supposed to have any kind of deeper appreciation of it than just
plainly seeing it as a fine example of its kind? Possibly, ‘worthy’ can be
understood in a weak sense, meaning only that if I form a pro-attitude towards a
good object then it is appropriate, rather than the stronger reading which would
mean that if something is good then I should form a pro-attitude towards it.
Nevertheless, in the case of functional goodness there are some instances where
even the weak interpretation seems clearly wrong.
While we might find some useful objects worthy of certain pro-attitudes,
some objects are such that we do not approve of their uses at all. A well-
functioning thumbscrew might certainly be good as far as thumbscrews go, but
can we reasonably say that it is a worthy object of a pro-attitude? One might
possibly claim that the appropriate response to such an object is a mixed one, a
certain admiration of its technical excellence is compatible with a sense of
disgust with respect to its purpose. Still, to admire the functional excellence of a
thumb-screw is to direct one’s mind towards something that is inherently tied to
acts of torture; functional goodness in a thumb-screw does not have to do with
it being a shiny show-piece of engineering and metallurgy, but with being an
effective instrument of causing pain in a controlled manner. If we understand
what it means for a thumbscrew to be a good example of its kind, what we must
admire is precisely its ability to perform this very task, something that seems to
be an unreasonable object of admiration. The example of the thumbscrew also
suggests that this kind of goodness can hardly be understood as derivative since
there is no goodness from which the goodness of the excellent thumbscrew can
be traced. There is an end that some people see as valuable and to which one
might think that the goodness of the excellent thumb-screw can be traced, but
since the goodness of the thumb-screw is not dependent on this end being truly

valuable it can hardly be understood as derived from such a value. If one
nevertheless tries to maintain a Brentano-style understanding of goodness in the
face of examples like this, then surely it is one’s philosophical pre-commitments,
and not common sense, that are speaking.
(iv) Strong disunity thesis: Goodness is not a single genus and there is no property in which
all forms of goodness share. Of all the four positions outlined here this is naturally the
one that is most difficult to argue against since there cannot be any specific
counter-example to it. Furthermore, given the ubiquity of the word ‘good’ in
everyday discourse and the extremely long stretch of time over which different
uses of ‘good’ have been able to evolve it would perhaps even be quite surprising
if under the surface complexity of everyday usage we were to find any interesting
form of unity. Still, from a philosophical point of view this kind of resignation in
the face of ordinary language would simply reduce the philosopher to a second-
rate linguist at best. Thus, within a philosophical context I find it reasonable that
this should not be the default position against which one must argue by example
in order to abandon. Rather, we should be able to take a unity thesis as a
philosophical default position and then the adherent of the strong disunity thesis
should argue by example in order to move us towards this position. As already
suggested there is such a case to be made, thus suggesting that this is
nevertheless where we ought to land. Perhaps it is this kind of position that
Brentano thinks of when speaking of an analogical unity of ‘good,’ but it remains
to be seen whether the notion of ‘analogy’ is really of any use to understand
these matters. Georg Henrik von Wright, who is an example of a proponent of
the strong disunity thesis, considers the idea that ‘good’ might be an example of
Wittgensteinian family resemblance, but although he does not reject such an
interpretation as unreasonable he does so not see it as promising either.32
For present purposes it is however not important to go deeper into these
matters, what is important is rather that there is a disunity of ‘good’ since the
Kantian position that I seek to elaborate here presupposes that the notion of
moral goodness is sui generis. It should however be noted that this is quite
compatible with both weak and strong disunity and that even the strong disunity
thesis, at least as understood here, is of course quite compatible with there being
some property that many senses of ‘good’ share – thus even allowing that strong
disunity is compatible with moral goodness not being a sui generis form of
goodness. There are nevertheless, as pointed to above, good reasons to accept
the strong disunity thesis and I suspect that the Kantian case is still somewhat
strengthened by this fact since if we are convinced that goodness cannot be
completely univocal because some other forms of goodness clearly cannot be

32 The Varieties of Goodness (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1963), pp. 16-7.

fitted into a Brentano-style analysis (which as far as I know is the only one
flexible enough to be a serious contender on this matter), then our resistance to
the idea that ‘morally good’ is sui generis is probably lessened since in that case we
do not have an overarching unity of goodness anyway.
Even so, it would perhaps have been fine if I could at this point produce
some separate argument establishing that ‘morally good’ must be understood in
the Kantian way. But one should remember what the project here is, namely not
one of piecemeal conceptual analysis but one of descriptive metaphysics. Thus,
what is at stake here is not so much to produce an item by item analysis of the
key moral concepts, one that captures every nuance of how we use them in
everyday discourse, but rather to discuss what a reasonable ontology of values
would look like. As a piece of descriptive metaphysics such an ontology must of
course take its cue from the way that we speak and think about such matters in
everyday life, but it should also make sense as a whole. As already pointed out,
what a descriptive metaphysician cannot do is to claim at any point that people
in general are fundamentally mistaken. Kant might of course be wrong, but given
the methodological approach utilized here the only real test there can be of the
Kantian picture of moral goodness is to what extent the whole of which it is a
part succeeds in rationalizing common sense morality as a whole.
When attempting, within the framework of a descriptive metaphysics, to
develop an ontology of values and norms the Kantian should say that there are
at least two distinctions that must be drawn in order to map the domain of value.
The first is between ethical and non-ethical value, where the former is of direct
relevance to practical reasoning and the latter is not. Non-ethical value is
probably divided into several different kinds of value, the division of which I will
however not enter into here, although aesthetic value is certainly an important
form of value. That a value is non-ethical does not mean that it cannot be
ethically relevant, but that in order for it to become ethically relevant it must be
related to some ethical value. The second distinction is between two kinds of
ethical value, the prudential and the moral, which of course correspond to the
two components of the highest good. I will have a little more to say about value
in general in the next chapter, but for now at least this much can be said with
certainty: the position that goodness is univocal in a strict sense presupposes that
moral goodness is not regarded as a distinct form of goodness. Many thinkers in
the Moorean tradition have taken precisely this position; even when they have
been pluralists who recognized that a thing like virtue is good, they have seen it
as yet another thing the existence of which is to be promoted. Thus, while one’s
favored ethical theory might be pluralistic in the sense that it allows that many
different things can be good, it would still be a monistic theory, in another sense,
since they would be good in the same way. But if there is such a thing as a

specifically moral kind of goodness, and at least common sense does seem to
involve such an idea, then this form of monism is clearly a mistake.

2.5 Two Distinctions in Moral Theory

The kind of mistaken monistic view on the nature of value that Moore and
Brentano are examples of might not always have been as explicitly set out by
those who have adhered to it and not all have adhered to it; but unfortunately it
was still an underlying idea of much 20th century moral philosophy. This can
clearly be seen if we turn our attention to the way philosophers have tended to
see what kind of issue is primarily at stake in normative ethics, something which
can be appreciated by looking at the way ethical theories have been divided into
main types. Two major distinctions have been used to draw the battle lines of
20th century normative ethics. The first is the distinction between teleological
and deontological theories, which was first introduced by J. H. Muirhead33 and
more recently explicated by John Rawls.34 The second is the distinction between
consequentialist and non-consequentialist theories, which was first introduced by
Elizabeth Anscombe.35
If we begin with the first distinction, it is quite clear that someone like J. H.
Muirhead only recognizes two ethical vocabularies, those of ‘right’ and ‘good’
respectively, and it was in the context of such an outlook that the distinction
between teleological and deontological ethical theories was formulated, the idea
being that there are two basic kinds of ethical theories, those that, like the
utilitarians and the British idealists, accord primacy to the good, and those, like
Bishop Butler, Kant, and W. D. Ross, who do not. Accordingly, Muirhead
understands concepts like ‘virtue’ and ‘worth’ as falling in the same category as
all other concepts of ‘good’. Now, it is of course possible that these concepts will
not have any significant status in the definitive ethical theory, but surely that is a
matter which must be resolved at a later stage, not settled at the beginning of
inquiry by an attempt to push all ethical theories into two neatly distinct
categories. At the very least, Kant’s contrast between moral goodness and
prudential goodness should be taken seriously at the outset of investigation.
More often than not, such investigation simply proceeds as if the prudentially
good is what good in general is about. Rawls differs from Muirhead to the extent

33 The distinction is explicitly set out in his short monograph Rule and End in Morals (Oxford:
Oxford University Press, 1932), although it is clearly anticipated in his earlier textbook The
Elements of Ethics, 3rd Ed. (London: John Murray, 1910).
34 A Theory of Justice, pp. 24-5.

35 ‘Modern Moral Philosophy,’ p. 36.

that he does recognize that there are three main conceptual families in ethics,
concepts of value, right, and moral worth respectively, but he also concludes that
‘[t]he two main concepts of ethics are those of the right and the good; the
concept of a morally worthy person is, I believe, derived from them. The
structure of an ethical theory is, then, largely determined by how it defines and
connects these two basic notions.’36 Based on this, not surprisingly, Rawls sees
two main kinds of theory. There are teleological theories where ‘the good is
defined independently from the right, and then the right is defined as that which
maximizes the good’37 and there are deontological theories that ‘either does not
specify the good independently from the right, or does not interpret the right as
maximizing the good’.38
Given this outlook, Kant is clearly a deontologist, as is the traditional way of
seeing him. But at the same time, philosophers like Aristotle and F. H. Bradley,
both of whom would at first sight seem to be prime examples of a teleological
approach, become difficult to place satisfactorily. The reason is that both of
them specify the human good in terms of concepts that are moral to their
character – in Aristotle’s case it is the virtues that are regarded as constitutive
parts of eudaimonia39 and in Bradley’s case there is the prominence he gives to the
duties belonging to one’s station in his delineation of what is involved in human
self-realization.40 So, are utilitarians the only teleologists and is the difference
between Kant and Aristotle negligible? The answer will of course depend on the
direction from which one approaches the matter, but one thing is certainly clear:
Kant himself saw his ethical theory as radically different from eudaimonism.
The problem with Rawls is that in spite of all his sympathies for Kant he is
still so very swift in pushing the concept of moral worth41 to the side even if it is

36 Ibid., p. 24.
37 Ibid., p. 24.
38 Ibid., p. 30.

39 NE 1098a17-19. For a discussion of this, see Gregory Velazco y Trianosky, ‘What is Virtue

Ethics all About?’, American Philosophical Quarterly 27 (1990), who distinguishes between
teleological and deontological virtue ethics (where Aristotle is an example of the latter on
account of the fact that he understands the virtues as constitutive parts of happiness).
40 See especially ‘My Station and its Duties’ in Ethical Studies, 2nd Ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press,

1927). It should perhaps be pointed out that although Bradley’s name is usually strongly
identified with the somewhat parochial morality of this essay, it is immediately followed by an
essay, called ‘Ideal Morality’, that adds a cosmopolitan element to Bradley’s theory. However,
even if this latter essay modifies Bradley’s position, it is still clear that the fulfillment of one’s
social duties is seen by him as an important element in self-realization.
41 In order to avoid any misunderstandings it should be pointed out that Kant does not have

any distinction between ‘worth’ and ‘value’, he just uses ‘Wert’ throughout. English translators
do however vary, depending on the context, between rendering ‘Wert’ as ‘worth’ or ‘value’.

obvious that it is a concept that is of central importance to Kant.42 Kant does
not merely differ from teleologists, e.g. utilitarians, in that he does not specify the
good independently of the right, he conceives value in an altogether different
way and therefore any attempt to simply read his ethical theory as an answer to a
contemporary question is doomed to misrepresent him. A Kantian like
Korsgaard follows Rawls in claiming that there are three main ethical conceptual
categories: ‘the rightness or justice of actions, policies, and institutions; the
goodness of objects, purposes, lives, etc.; and the moral worth or moral
goodness of characters, dispositions, or actions.’43 One might perhaps think that
Korsgaard, who is clearly interested in formulating a theory that lies close to
Kant himself, would not neglect the third category, but when she declares where
her interest lies, then it is with the second category: ‘the kind of goodness that
marks a thing out as worthy of choice.’44 As already noted, the one thing that
Kant grants value without qualification is something that falls in the third
category. Of course, this does not mean that Korsgaard must fail in her efforts,
although as we have seen there is reason to think that she does, but it is evident
that she will fail to provide a theory of value that is able to make sense of the
pivotal role played by moral goodness in Kant’s ethical thought.
If we turn to the second distinction, the one between consequentialist and
non-consequentialist theories, it is quite clearly devised to be of use in the debate
over utilitarianism and its extended family. Here it is more difficult to find
canonical statements of what consequentialism is, especially since the person
who introduced the notion used it in a way that is clearly different from how it
tends to be used now,45 but essentially a consequentialist position is one which
traces the rightness of actions to the impartial betterness of consequences.46
Since non-consequentialism is essentially an anti-utilitarian camp (in
contemporary ethical theory consequentialism can probably be seen as the ghost
of utilitarianism), philosophers like Kant, Aristotle, and Bradley do not sit as ill

42 Rawls is however quite clear about the centrality of the good will in Kant’s moral theory in

his Lectures on the History of Moral Philosophy, ed. Barbara Herman (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 2000), pp. 154-56.
43 ‘Two Distinctions in Goodness,’ p. 249.

44 Ibid., p. 249.

45 Anscombe’s view of consequentialism is that it stands opposed to the idea that there are

moral absolutes. Again, we can see how the way in which one draws the main battle line of
ethics reveals more about the theorist drawing the distinction than about ethics as such. While
Anscombe takes moral absolutism very seriously most philosophers do not and so they see no
problem in lumping together moral absolutism with theories like that of W. D. Ross (while
Anscombe saw the difference between Ross and someone like Sidgwick as negligible).
46 Although this tracing might take paths that run through rules or motives of the agent.

together when lumped together there. On the other hand, it is still yet another
way of forgetting about the important role that might quite reasonably be
accorded to the concept of moral worth. Furthermore, this distinction shares
with the first one a common presumption about the essence of ethical theory,
namely as focused on the question of what we ought to do. The task at hand then
becomes focused on formulating a criterion of rightness (or perhaps a decision
procedure). It seems quite fair to say that this view on ethical theory has, at least
during the main part of the 20th century, been philosophical orthodoxy. It also
seems to be a key element behind the idea that there is such a thing as applied
ethics, the very notion of which implies that not only can philosophers discuss
practical ethical issues but that they are, at least ideally, in possession of a kind of
theory that can be applied somewhat like physicists can apply their theories and
construct lunar shuttles (or whatever).
This kind of understanding of the point of ethical theory is easily projected
across the works of historical writers and Kant is certainly not uninterested in
matters of right and wrong. Nevertheless, to simply interpret the Categorical
Imperative as a criterion of moral rightness would be highly deceptive. We
should not lose sight of the fact that the Categorical Imperative pertains not to
actions, but to maxims. It is a criterion, yes, but it is a criterion by which we
judge the principles according to which we act, not the actions themselves. It
should be readily admitted that Kant himself makes it easy for us to lose sight of
this since he fluctuates between judging maxims, judging persons, and judging
actions. Yet, if we focus on the fact that the Categorical Imperative is a test of
maxims, we will undoubtedly see that it is not an especially effective test of
actions. For those thinking that the business of moral philosophy is to give us an
algorithm of right action, and accordingly to partake in generating new moral
knowledge about how to act in a diversity of circumstances, the Categorical
Imperative is surely a let-down and Kant’s own excursions, in the Metaphysics of
Morals, into more practical issues must seem lackadaisical at best. But is it Kant
that is giving a poor answer or these people who are asking an inappropriate
question or approaching a reasonable question in an exaggerated way?
It should be pointed out that the view that ethics is essentially about the
question of rightness is one that has become increasingly challenged over the last
few years. Today, many philosophers take their cue from Socrates and believe
that the basic question of ethics is one about how we ought to live.47 From a Kantian
perspective, this kind of shift is a step forward, but also a step that might lead to
an eudaimonist approach; and while it might be true that eudaimonism is the

47See Bernard Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1985), Chapter 1.

classical way of seeing things, it is also a position from which Kant explicitly
distances himself. In contrast to the eudaimonist aspiration to tell us about
where our happiness lies and to include morality as a part of happiness, Kant’s
suggestion is that morals is ‘the introduction to a science that teaches, not how
we are to become happy, but how we are to become worthy of happiness’ (TP
278), which is certainly a way of thinking that lies closer to the Socratic model
than to the ideal of delivering a criterion of rightness, but which nevertheless
stand for a distinct approach.
What lesson should we draw from these remarks? One is that attempts at
categorizing ethical theories are rarely, if indeed ever, innocent. They regularly
involve assumptions with respect to which certain theories will simply look
awkward and, thus, the question is begged against them. The other is that Kant’s
ethical theory is distinct in a way that makes it inappropriate to simply subsume
it under some generic category like ‘deontological’. For Kant the category of
moral goodness is of pivotal importance both in the sense that he sees it as
essentially different from other kinds of goodness and in that he sees the very
point of morality as inextricably tied up with it. Since this distinctness of
Kantianism is not always appreciated, not even by modern-day Kantians,48 this
also means that the potential of Kant’s ethical thought has not yet been fully
explored. Irrespective of what we in the end think about what it can yield, it
would therefore still be a sound idea to try taking seriously Kant’s idea that
morality is about making us worthy of happiness. If nothing else, we might
follow him a bit down that road and see where it leads.

2.6 Kant and the Highest Good

While Kant does open the Groundwork with his striking remarks about the
unqualified value of the good will, and certainly returns to the matter at times, it
is still a part of his thinking that is not given its proper setting until the second
chapter of the Dialectic of Pure Practical Reason in the second Critique. It is
there that Kant gives his lengthiest exposition of the doctrine of the highest
good. Kant claims that the highest good has two parts: (i) virtue, and (ii)
happiness in proportion to virtue. Together they constitute the highest good in
the sense that the person who has both of them is not lacking in anything, i.e.
together they constitute the complete human good. Not that this is a very
informative position since we have been told precious little about what
constitutes happiness, which is that thing which most analyses of the summum

48Although see Barbara Herman, ‘Leaving Deontology Behind,’ The Practice of Moral Judgment
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1993).

bonum try to spell out. But then again, Kant’s analysis of the highest good is not
supposed to be informative, at least not in the sense that Aristotle’s is, the point
is rather to explicate the difference between his position and the kind of
eudaimonism which he sees as prevalent among other ethical theorists. As is
well-known to Kant’s readers, his emphasis on morality as conditioning the value
of one’s happiness is not just about the importance of us acting in accordance with
morality. Moral goodness requires something more, namely that we act out of
morality, or to put it in Kant’s own terms, out of duty. The problem is just that if
virtue requires a neurotic preoccupation with the idea of doing one’s duty, the
Kantian picture of the moral life will become a highly unattractive one.49 Even if
we accept Kant’s view of morality as making us worthy of happiness, would we
not be prone to say that a person who throughout her life unreflectively simply
acts in accordance with the precepts of morality would still be worthy of
happiness? Surely it cannot be required that one must explicitly keep thinking
about one’s duties round the clock.
The idea that Kantian ethics embraces an unreasonably strong presence of the
motive of duty in our motivations does however get most of its fuel from a few
passages in the beginning of the Groundwork rather than from the discussion of
virtue and the highest good in the second Critique. But if we see both works as
expressing the same basic idea of the centrality of moral goodness, then it would
seem reasonable to read the beginning of the Groundwork in the light of the later
development of Kant’s views in the second Critique and the Religion,50 although
since the Groundwork was written before these works and sets the agenda for
them it does still seem a good place to start. On the matter of the good will it
seems reasonable to say that the will can be good in at least two important
senses. To begin with there is the most obvious sense, namely that when I will
something I might do so in a morally appropriate manner or not, and in the
former case my will is good. But if we are interested in moral goodness as a
component of the highest good, we would like to have an understanding of it as
a general characteristic of an agent rather than as something that one can be at
one moment and fail to be in the next. And even in the Groundwork Kant is
clearly concerned with the overall moral quality of individuals (G 397, 399). This
naturally brings us to the second sense in which the will can be said to be good

49 This is, of course, a version of the familiar point made by writers like Michael Stocker, ‘The
Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories’, The Journal of Philosophy 73 (1976), and Bernard
Williams, ‘Persons, Character, and Morality’ in Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1981).
50 Especially since the kind of criticism that is directed against Kant on this matter is not new;

Schiller formulated a version of it already in Kant’s lifetime and Kant explicitly mentions and
responds to Schiller in one passage of the latter work (R 18-9n).

and which has to do with something like the basic disposition of a person,
something to which Kant refers in the Religion as Gesinnung (R 20-1). To have a
good Gesinnung is to have a moral frame of mind, it involves a deep resolve not
to let one’s personal inclinations move one to act contrary to the moral law.
Given that the importance of virtue in our lives is about it being a condition for
the value of our happiness it would also seem appropriate that we focus on the
person as a whole, not just on momentary choices. Naturally, if we want to judge
a person as a whole, and in general the persons we are to judge are ourselves, we
would then look at how this person has willed over the course of her life and
then say something about the overall character of her will.51
On the second reading of what having a good will is essentially about, there is
no obvious place for ideas about the centrality of occurrent thoughts about duty
propelling the agent forward. Rather, if we look at what is important for Kant,
and what should be important for Kantians in general, it is that true moral
goodness is principled. The focus does accordingly not lie on what is going on in
the foreground of our deliberations but on what lies in the depths of our hearts.
We should follow F. H. Bradley in distinguishing between principles that are in
one’s mind and those that are before one’s mind.52 To be motivated in the sense
that Kant is interested in is thus not about having the thought of duty hovering
in one’s deliberative field of vision, but rather that the fundamental principles
underlying one’s deliberations involve a firm commitment to living and choosing
in accordance with the dictates of morality, i.e. it is a matter of a moral resolve
rather than a moralistic fixation.
Now, it is certainly a matter of debate to what extent the concept of the
highest good is an important one or not in Kant’s moral philosophy as a whole.

51 As is familiar to readers of Kant his attitude when it comes to judging persons as wholes

involves some metaphysically quite radical ideas, namely that we view a person’s phenomenal
character as the product of a single noumenal choice. Following Karl Ameriks, ‘Kant on the
Good Will’ in Otfried Höffe (ed.), Grundlegung zue Metaphysik der Sitten: Ein kooperativer Kommentar
(Frankfurt a.M.: Vittorio Klostermann, 1989), I think we can distinguish between two ways in
which we can understand what Ameriks calls the ‘whole character’ view (p. 54), that moral
goodness is an overall characteristic of an agent. On the first version, which can perhaps make
sense if we stress the idea about a single noumenal choice of character, we are either all good or
not good at all. On the second version, moral goodness is something we have given that we
have achieved a sufficient degree of moral quality of character. Ameriks tends towards the latter
view as an interpretation of Kant, and as such it might be difficult to reconcile with all that
Kant has to say on the matter, but if our interest is to construct a reasonable Kantian position it
is quite clear that it the best candidate of the two.
52 Ethical Studies, 2nd Ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1927), p. 195. For a similar distinction,

although framed in terms of the role of desire in deliberation, see Philip Pettit & Michael Smith,
‘Backgrounding Desire’, The Philosophical Review 99 (1990).

Kant himself obviously finds it of the highest importance, although one reason
for this is surely that it is an essential part of his attempt to provide a rational
ground for religious belief. Still, those who wish to argue that the doctrine of the
highest good is not important must do so from grounds independent of Kant’s
own views and the idea that the notion of the highest good is an unimportant
one is surely colored by what one takes the subject matter of ethics to be. If one
thinks that it is an inquiry into the question of which actions are right then the
doctrine of the highest good is simply an unnecessary add-on. What is important
then is clearly the Categorical Imperative and the question of how maxims
should be formulated, rather than Kant’s not entirely convincing attempts to
justify the belief in God. However, Kant’s own project is more ambitious than
this. As already pointed out he seems to think that the matter of ascertaining
what to do is not an important philosophical concern; not because it is not
important per se, but because it is something that we are already competent at.
Rather, his project is to make sense of morality, to demonstrate that it has a
substance that goes beyond mere custom and to show how morality fits into a
more general picture of the world; and in this attempt at formulating a complete
world-view, the doctrine of the highest good might even be said to serve as the
Though sympathetic to Kant, I must say that I find it difficult to take
seriously the Kantian project in all its breadth, or at the very least I find it
impossible to attempt an elucidation of it in this work. But at the same time, I
cannot say that I have ever seen anything that has convinced me to take seriously
the idea that philosophy can settle real-life moral quandaries. Accordingly, even
if I know of no definitive way to lay down once and for all ‘what ethics is really
about’, I cannot for myself find anything for it to be about except to say
something about the light in which we should generally see moral matters and the
general stance we should have in relation to others. If ethics is understood in this
way, then for a Kantian approach to ethics the doctrine of the highest good will
be important since it is there that Kant gives a picture of how morality and the
pursuit of personal happiness fit together.
It is a plain fact that among those Kantians who attempt to ‘modernize’
Kant’s theory the notion of the highest good is one of those features that are

53The wide impact of the doctrine of the highest good is not seen if one merely focuses on the
second Critique; but if one takes into account the turn the critical project takes in the third
Critique, especially in the Critique of Teleological Judgment, and also the way Kant in some of his
more popular essays understands human history, it becomes hard to underestimate the
importance of the highest good. For an example of a contemporary Kantian who brings out
how Kant’s moral philosophy is fitted into this wider picture, see Paul Guyer, Kant on Freedom,
Law, and Happiness (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000).

regularly lost in the modernization process. There are several reasons that make
this quite understandable, although to do without the notion of the highest good
ultimately still amounts to a serious loss for the project of Kantian ethics. What
binds these reasons together is that they have to do with a failure to separate out
what is philosophically interesting in Kant’s ideas about the highest good from
that which is part of his attempt to incorporate Christianity into his philosophy. I
realize of course that the very idea of such a separation runs counter to Kant’s
own intentions, but there are still good reasons to go through with it. One is that
for an ethical theory to be taken seriously today it must be formulated in a
strictly secular way. Another is that precisely those parts that are the most
objectionable about the highest good have to do with Kant’s attempt to align his
moral theory with Christianity. So, what are these problems, then?
The first has to do with his way of justifying the practical postulates of God
and immortality. Given the contingencies of life in the empirical world, it seems
reasonable to assume that we will not achieve the kind of proportionality that is
called for in the highest good, especially not if we are to aim for the conjunction
of full virtue and full happiness. Kant thus introduces the idea that we must
think of our lives as continuing eternally so that we might be able to conceive of
our lives as infinitely approximating true virtue (CPrR 114-19). But what kind of
existence does Kant have in mind here? If it is supposed to be infinite then it
would presumably have to break beyond the bounds of the empirical world, but
since it is our embodiment, our very belonging to this world, that makes it
impossible for us to achieve true virtue, it would seem that the idea of moral
progress only makes sense within the precise circumstances where it cannot be
infinite. Additionally, our potential for happiness is tied up with our
embodiment. A pure will, what Kant calls a ‘holy will’, would not have any
inclinations and while incapable of being anything but moral, it would thus also
be incapable of achieving happiness. The ideal of the highest good would
accordingly be an appropriate ideal only within the confines of the empirical
world, i.e. human existence as we know it. Kant’s reason for introducing the
postulates seems to be that we cannot aim at the highest good if it is not
realizable and while there is perhaps a sense in which this is true, it does still
seem that the highest good can play the role of a regulative ideal in our lives even
if we will never be able to achieve it perfectly.
A second problem is that, once the idea of God is introduced in this way, it
might seem as if Kant introduces an element of heteronomy since it might sound
as if the moral life must hold the promise of happiness in order for morality to
be justified in our eyes. I think that Kant is innocent of this since our postulation
of God presupposes that we are already moral. It is not intended to, and indeed
cannot even be intelligibly used that way, serve in coaxing the immoral into

becoming moral. Still, the introduction of God into the theory might mislead us
into understanding the Kantian notion of desert in an inappropriate way.
Although Christian thought is multifaceted, I would still say that traditionally the
idea of God is connected with a spectator-centered notion of desert: our judge is
an external one and we strive to satisfy this external judge so that he might reward
us. The question put by an agent living under such a judge is ‘How should I be in
order to become worthy of having happiness bestowed upon me?’ But what
Kant stands for, with his emphasis on our autonomy, is rather an agent-centered
notion of desert. The question the Kantian agent puts to herself is ‘How should
I be in order to be worthy of the happiness that I may gain if I succeed in my
pursuits?’ – it is a question put in the midst of my pursuit of happiness, not
antecedently to it with respect to an afterlife.
I suspect that one reason why someone might find it dubitable to understand
moral goodness as ‘worthiness to be happy’ might be that such a position seems
to underwrite a judgmental attitude towards others, as if we are constantly to
monitor the level of their virtue and measure it against the level of their
happiness, perhaps even try to lower the latter if the former is lacking. To
assume such an attitude towards others would be to assume what has
traditionally been understood as the business of God and it is probably a move
that comes natural if we think in terms of the spectator-oriented approach to
desert for which God stands.54 I would not venture as far as saying that the
agent-centered notion of desert is incompatible with the postulate of the
existence of God, but since the presence of God might mislead us into missing
the real nature of the Kantian approach to desert, I do still find that to remove
God from the theory does in this context serve the purpose of increasing the
clarity in a Kantian theory of ethics.
If to be moral is to be as if one were a member of a Kingdom of Ends and if,
as suggested in section 2.1, the Kingdom of Ends is an ideal realm where
everybody are moral, then to live as if one were a member of that realm is to live
as if everybody were moral, and thus worthy of happiness, even if they in
actuality are not.55 This does not mean that we cannot help people to become

54 Though if one has such a view one might find it completely inappropriate for us to take a
judgmental attitude towards others since we are at such a radical epistemic disadvantage
compared with God.
55 Given this view, since the ‘as if being moral’ way of viewing a person is a component of the

moral frame of mind, there is an asymmetry between oneself and others in the following way:
oneself is the only individual which one cannot properly relate to as a moral being without
actually being moral, i.e. oneself is the only individual which one cannot properly relate to as
worthy of happiness without actually being worthy of happiness (since it is only when one
already is moral that the ‘as if’-stance is legitimate).

moral if they want our help, that we must instead pretend that they already are,
but it does mean that ultimately the judge which everyone has to face, when it
comes to the question of one’s moral worth, is oneself. Indeed, Kant is very
clear about the essential moral asymmetry between oneself and others, for
instance when he maintains that the two ends that are also duties ‘are one’s own
perfection and the happiness of others’ (MM 385). Naturally, even if I am not to view
myself as the supreme moral judge of others, they still have to face themselves
and from their perspective the same kind of essential asymmetry is in place with
respect to me.
Now, I will have more to say about both the pursuit of happiness and how to
become worthy of happiness (and in this context the latter means: how to
become able to properly understand oneself as being worthy of happiness) in the
two final chapters; but in order to be able to explicate these matters I will,
however, first have to develop a picture of the metaphysics of the person and
this is something that I will try to do over the course of the following two
chapters. Since the kind of picture that I am after is one that accords a pivotal
place to the normative as a defining characteristic of the kind of life-world that
one occupies as a person, I would like to start with some more general
considerations concerning the existence of value, ethical or otherwise, and how it
can be fitted into a world which can easily be seen as inherently dead in terms of
normativity. This will also enable us to see more clearly the importance of having
a metaphysics of a person, since, as we shall see, if we want to take the existence
of values in the world seriously, it is in the metaphysics of the person that values
have to be anchored.

3. Values and the Fabric of the World

We may and should explain all products and events of nature, even the
most purposive, so far as in our power lies, on mechanical lines – and it is
impossible for us to assign the limits of our powers when confined to the
pursuit of inquires of this kind. But in so doing we must never lose sight of
the fact that among such products there are those which we cannot even
subject to investigation except under the conception of an end of reason.
These, if we respect the essential nature of our reason, we are obliged,
despite those mechanical causes, to subordinate in the last resort to
causality according to ends.
– Critique of Judgement, 415

In an attempt to briefly characterize the difference between ancient and modern

moral philosophy, Christine Korsgaard suggests that while the ancients thought
that values were more real than the things which surround us, and the
philosophical mystery was to explain why the world is characterized by change
and imperfection, we moderns have a completely different view, ‘the world has
been turned inside out,’1 the mystery now is how values can be intelligibly fitted
into the world at all. Korsgaard’s picture certainly captures something, but it
might be fleshed out by noting another important difference, namely in views on
causality. One great transmutation of thinking that characterizes the passage to
modernity was the change from an understanding of causality that was
predominately telic to one that was mechanical. To a large extent this was a change
that had to do with the way we explain natural occurrences, but it was also a
change that affected the way that the human will was dealt with in moral
philosophy and with which problems were considered to be the central ones
with respect to it. I do not have the space here to argue my point, although I do
think such an argument could be made, but for ancient philosophy the key
problem about the will was that of weakness of will and this was only natural
because given a telic notion of causality it becomes a mystery why we fail to be
drawn towards the good. (Indeed, given a picture of the world as a telic order, it
is striking how we human beings seem to be alone in so consistently failing to
exist in accordance with our telos.) For modern philosophy, the key problem
about the will has been that of freedom of the will and this is only natural because

1 Sources of Normativity, p. 4.

given a mechanical conception of causality, which is backward-looking, a
discrepancy is introduced between how we understand the causes of action and
the forward-looking mode in which we deliberate about how to act.
In modern moral philosophy we thus have two mysteries, of value and
freedom respectively, which both involve an inconsistency between the way that
we experience our situation, namely that there are values and that we are free,
and the picture of the world painted by the modern scientific world-view. While
there are many moral philosophers who discuss the mystery of value and many
who discuss the mystery of freedom, and even some who discuss both of them,
although usually as separate issues, I would suggest that what characterizes the
Kantian approach is that it treats these two mysteries as fundamentally
conjoined. Thus, in what might be called the Kantian gambit, the pieces are
positioned in a way that invites us to try to unlock two of the most fundamental
problems of moral philosophy at the same time. I will start by looking at values;
this will naturally lead over into a discussion of freedom, and then I will attempt
to outline an account that secures a reasonable place in the natural world for
both values and freedom.

3.1 Moorean Objectivism and the Naturalist Challenge

Looking at the way we talk about values, it is striking how we often seem to talk
about them much in the same way that we talk about plain objects like rocks,
trees, and stars. When we talk like this, it is not just a question of occasional
lapses where we mindlessly babble on as if values are really there in the way that
rocks, trees, and stars are. Our talk is situated within a web of practices and
beliefs that involve constant affirmations of the independence of values. Thus, if
we are misguided in the way that we talk, we would seem to be fundamentally
misguided. That we are misguided is the position of J. L. Mackie, and though
there are few philosophical adherents to his position, its very possibility certainly
sets a significant philosophical challenge.2 But given that we do talk about, and
experience, values as if they are simply ‘out there’, one possibility that should be
taken seriously is that this is because values actually are ‘out there’ in some
ontologically respectable sense. As noted already in the previous chapter, G. E.
Moore is probably the philosopher who has made the most notable attempt at
providing a conceptual gloss on this common picture. Although he hardly
regarded all values as truly robust, something that I suppose very few people do,
he did identify a special category of supremely robust values: the intrinsic, i.e. a

2 Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1977). This position is usually
referred to as ‘the error theory’.

kind of value that is completely independent on anything outside the object
which has the value. This does not mean that such values are part of the world in
quite the same way as other properties, rather value is said to be a non-natural
property that supervenes on the natural.3 Certainly, there does seem to be
something special about values since unlike other properties, such as ‘flat’ and
‘round’, they are normative, i.e. they make certain patterns of behavior
appropriate and others inappropriate.
Of course, Moore is unable to give the least bit of proof for the real existence
of any intrinsic values; but since we probably want to believe in them, we might
perhaps be satisfied if it is an intelligible and coherent position. Accordingly, we
should not be surprised to find someone like Mackie attempting not to disprove
it, but to make it hard for us to believe in it. His most well-known attack goes
under the name of ‘the argument from queerness’. It has two parts: one
metaphysical, which is centered on the claim that ‘if there were objective values,
then they would be entities or qualities or relations of a very strange sort, utterly
different from anything else in the universe,’ and one epistemological, which is
centered on the claim that ‘if we were aware of them, it would have to be by
some special faculty of moral perception or intuition, utterly different from our
ordinary ways of knowing everything else.’4 If we begin with the metaphysical
side of the problem, the queerness of values has to do with the combination of
an existence that is independent of us and their authoritative prescriptivity, i.e.
that they makes demands on us. Other things operate on us through causal
mechanisms, so there is nothing peculiar in there being an interaction between
us and features ‘out there’ in the world, but these other features can hardly be
understood as making demands on us. Gravitation does not ask us to remain on
the ground.
If we move to the epistemological part of the problem, it is quite obvious that
even though they are clearly responsive to the natural features of the world,
other animals do not recognize values, nor do many humans, e.g. infants.
Somewhere along the line, both collectively as an evolving species, and
individually as psychologically developing persons, we apparently attain the
ability to do so. But what kind of ability is this? If values really are, as Mackie

3 Moore himself does not use the actual notion of ‘supervenience’, although there are many
passages that indicate that it is still a Moorean notion, e.g.: ‘It is impossible that of two exactly
similar things one should possess [value] and the other not, or that one should possess it in one
degree, and the other in a different one’, ‘The Conception of Intrinsic Value’, p. 261.
4 Ibid., p. 38. This is one of two arguments that Mackie presents against objectivism; the other is

an argument from relativity, which simply consists in pointing to the great diversity in
conceptions of values and norms: if there were a realm of values with which we were in touch,
human beings should be more in agreement about these matters than we actually are.

puts it, part of the fabric of the world,5 then to attain this ability must be
something like acquiring a sixth sense. Indeed, as discussed in the previous
chapter, Moore suggests a way of discovering whether something has what he
calls intrinsic value, the method of absolute isolation. Aside from the fact that
this procedure does not seem apt even given Moore’s framework (Kant’s
method of combination is clearly superior), the very idea of such a procedure
revealing truths about values, rather than just clarifying our attitudes, seems to
presuppose that we have the ability simply to intuit value. One might perhaps
think that the objectivist can always drop this kind of intuitionist epistemic
device. His is, after all, a thesis about ontology, and epistemic devices need not
form an integral part of his theory: the question of which things are part of the
fabric of the world is one thing, the question about how we best learn about the
contents of the world is another. Still, if the objectivist cannot specify some way
in which we can get in touch with this realm of objective values, then it becomes
unclear what role they can play in our lives.
Additionally, not only are intrinsic values mysterious, they hardly seem
necessary in order to explain such phenomena as morality.6 One might put
forward good socio-psychological reasons why we start thinking that there are
values out there. On the collective side of the matter, it would seem to be a
useful fiction in the maintenance of social order, while on the individual side we
are socialized into thinking this way. This is of course a far too simplistic picture,
but it does give an idea of the kind of explanation one could give and whichever
way it may turn out in the end, something that is an empirical matter, the gist of
such a picture is simple: valuings are an inherent part of human life, but we do
not need to assume the antecedent existence of values in order to explain that
fact. Call this the naturalist conclusion.
On this picture, naturalism amounts to the position that the fabric of the
world is a fabric of causal relations. Thus, if anything is to earn its place in the
fabric of the world, it must do so by it being shown how it plays a causal role in
the world or, at the very least, how it is explicable in causal terms. Indeed, the
very idea of ‘the world’ suggests a hanging-togetherness that the notion of
causality can be used to explain: the world forms a whole by its parts being
bound together through a web of causal interactions. It might be noted that on
this account, someone like Aristotle would count as a naturalist; it is just that he
has a thicker conception of the fabric of the world on account of having a
notion of telic causality in his ontological repertoire. One could of course further
strengthen the notion of naturalism by saying that a naturalist position should

5 Ibid., p. 15.
6 Cf. Allan Gibbard, Wise Choices, Apt Feelings (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1990), pp. 30-5.

not involve anything but a mechanical notion of causality since anything else is
mere superstition. However, while it might certainly be the case that the very
idea of telic causality is simply superstitious, would it still not be better to say
that the picture of the world which includes only mechanical causality is a
superior form of naturalism rather than to build this notion of causality into the
very concept of naturalism? If nothing else, it would seem to be a bit
presumptuous to say in advance of our investigations into the world exactly how it
must be causally structured.
This account also makes room for a modest ontological respectability even
for some qualitative properties, e.g. secondary properties like colors, due to the
fact that they ride piggyback on ascertainable causal processes. However, even
this modest ontological respectability presupposes that we can form some idea
about the underlying causal processes and the problem about fitting values into
the fabric of the world in any ontologically respectable sense is that, unlike
colors, they have no causal story to ride piggyback on. Hence the mystification
of values involved in Mooreanism. Of course, we do have the possibility to tell
certain causal stories about values, it is just that they will be biological,
psychological, and sociological stories about our evaluative practices and these
accounts seem to rob values of their special authoritative prescriptivity. Thus, we
seem to be faced with a dilemma: either we insist on the authority of values, but
end up mystifying them, or we demystify values, but end up deauthorizing them.
Of course, philosophers cannot resist dilemmas like this: is it not conceivable
that we can give an account of values that renders them demystified and yet with
their authority intact? There would not seem to be any conceptual impossibility
in doing so and it is, accordingly, the project that I intend to pursue here. But
before doing so, I would like to delineate a few features that a satisfactory
account of values should make sense of:
(i) The practicality of values. Recognizing that something is valuable is not like
recognizing that something is yellow. The latter is something one might simply
note; values are something that is essentially normative. Whether we choose to
understand normativity as some grand sui generis phenomenon or simply in terms
having to do with desires and the like, the fact remains that normative matters
would seem to have some essential connection with the affective and/or the
(ii) The external ‘feel’ of values. While we might feel in our breasts the impact of
the values we recognize, this recognition is usually directed away from ourselves.
Thus, even if we argue that our coming to recognize values is a process which
springs from things having to do more with ourselves than with the world as
such, we should be able to say something that makes sense of the fact that our
attention is still directed towards the world.

(iii) The descriptive structure of moral argument. As already noted, when we talk
about normative matters, we at least talk as if we ascribe certain properties to
things in the world. If we attempt to account for (ii) in a way that really involves
some properties ‘out there’ in the world this part should be fairly unproblematic;
we should be able to read what might be called ‘the ethical proposition’7 as
having descriptive purport. If we attempt to do otherwise, for instance to
understand the ethical proposition as expressing conative or affective attitudes,
we need to make sense of the way we talk and argue about normative matters in
some other way.8
(iv) The intersubjective validity of values. When we are convinced that something is
of value, then we tend to find that there is something wrong about others if they
do not come to see things our way (alternatively there might be something
wrong about us, although if we are convinced about a normative matter this will
just be something that we might recognize as a possibility and hardly our
preferred explanation of the disagreement).9
(v) The sense of discovery with respect to values. When one comes to change one’s
mind about matters of value, one tends to experience this reaching of a new view
as making a discovery, i.e. of coming to recognize a value that was already there,
waiting to be recognized. One such important pattern of thought is that most of
us have ideas about moral progress that, at least implicitly, involve a conception
of an independent standard against which changes in evaluative outlooks can be
measured. For example, we would probably want to say that slavery is simply
wrong and that it was wrong even before we thought it was wrong. When people

7 Cf. Simon Blackburn, Ruling Passions (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1998), Chapters 3-4.
8 The main difficulty with non-descriptivist analyses of value statements is the problem to
account for what is often called ‘embedded uses,’ i.e. such uses of value terms that are non-
assertive to their nature. It is for instance part of our moral practices that we often reason
hypothetically, sometimes even deductively. Since such embedded uses of value terms cannot in
any easily explicable way be understood as expressing emotions or issuing prescriptions and
since the structure of these reasonings is such that they presuppose that the meanings of the
value terms involved are constant throughout, it does seem as if our actual use of value terms
has descriptive purport. Those who persist in their non-descriptivism might of course invent
ways of understanding embedded uses, for a good example see Allan Gibbard, ibid., Chapter 5,
but all such attempts will involve taking a decisive leap from trying to understand how we
actually do use value terms, which is what I think non-descriptivists originally tried to do, to
something very different, the exact point of which remains unclear.
9 Mackie actually distinguishes between objectivity of values and intersubjectivity of values and

clearly states that his argument is only meant to establish that values are not objective (ibid., p.
22); but on the other hand, he simply views intersubjectivity as actual agreement between
subjects. I see no point in defining in advance exactly how intersubjective validity is to be
understood, but it can definitely mean more than merely actual agreement.

changed their minds about slavery that was a change from incorrect to correct
beliefs, similar to when people went from thinking of the Earth as flat to it being
To a certain extent, these features overlap; perhaps one might even think that
most of them can be subsumed under the idea about the external ‘feel’ of value
and that is probably correct, given that one understands this notion broadly. But
it is still important to lay them out in this way since in trying to make sense of
the phenomenology of values it is far too easy to interpret their external ‘feel’ in
too narrow a way just so that one will be able to conclude that one’s favored
theory is able to make sense of this external ‘feel’.
The order in which I will proceed for the remainder of this chapter is the
following: I begin by considering an approach that might be called quasi-
Moorean projectivism, which I understand as an individualistic theory, i.e. one
that tries to make sense of values by reference to how our individual evaluative
attitudes work. It turns out that this approach has difficulties similar to those
that I have already pointed out in Korsgaard’s theory of value. However, unlike
Korsgaard, the quasi-Moorean projectivists have not really attempted to address
this issue and, accordingly, I then turn to a discussion of her attempts to
compensate for these deficiencies by grafting a Wittgensteinian theory of reasons
to her theory of value. The upshot of this discussion is that Korsgaard seems to
be correct in emphasizing the social dimension of normative matters, but that
there also appears to be a problem in grafting such an emphasis onto a Kantian
theory since Kantianism places such great importance on the freedom of the
individual. I therefore take a look at the Kantian approach to freedom and
elaborate an account of it that will not stand in the way of an understanding of
normativity that emphasizes its social dimension. I then turn to a discussion of
social constructivism with respect to normative matters and argue that such a
position is superior to quasi-Moorean projectivism, but that it still suffers from
some difficulties which call for another kind of approach.

3.2 Quasi-Moorean Projectivism

As we have seen, the natural world seems able to go on quite happily without
any mysterious entities called ‘values’. This conclusion is not unsatisfactory from
a purely scientific point of view, one from which we merely seek to explain what
happens; but as human beings we tend to take these values seriously and
perhaps, if we reach the naturalist conclusion, the ways in which we behave and
talk about matters of value will actually be undermined.
In the face of this some philosophers have adopted what is often called a
projectivist stance, the basic idea of which is that the realm of values is some kind

of quasi-world that we superimpose on the natural world and which through this
act of superimposing attains enough of an ontological respectability in order for
us to continue thinking and talking about values in the way that we do. The locus
classicus of projectivism is a short passage in § 21 of the first appendix in Hume’s
Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, where he speaks about how taste, which
‘gives the sentiment of beauty and deformity, vice and virtue’, has ‘a productive
faculty, and gilding or staining all natural objects with the colours, borrowed
from internal sentiment, raises, in a manner, a new creation.’
Few philosophers today talk about sentiments. They would probably rather
talk about desires or preferences instead. Whichever way one puts it there is
however one danger that has to be steered clear of and it has to do with the fact
that an important part of the external ‘feel’ of values is that we tend to think of
them as being part of the input rather than the output of our deliberative
processes. Thus, if values are to be tied to preferences, then preferences must be
understood as input into the deliberative process and we cannot, accordingly,
simply understand preference as revealed preference in the way that economists
tend to do. Still, that should probably not trouble us since it is precisely the
phenomenology of valuing that we need to make sense of and the doctrine of
revealed preferences is not meant to be a phenomenologically sensitive account
at all.
Now, what the projectivist must do is to add something to the pure naturalist
story that makes sense of the external ‘feel’ that values have when we think
about them as deliberators. This task might look daunting. After all, an
important part of this external ‘feel’ is that we have a sense of independence
concerning at least certain values. Just as the tree in the quad is supposed to be
there even when we do not look at it, values are supposed to be there even if we
happen to cease recognizing them or before we started to recognize them. But
according to projectivism, even if it grants ‘in a manner’ a form of existence to
values, this existence would seem to be completely dependent on the act of
valuing. This seems to fit badly with the way we feel that important values would
not lose their validity simply because we changed our minds.
One approach, pioneered by Simon Blackburn, is to seize Moore’s notion of
supervenience and try to show how a projectivist can legitimately use it.10 The
basic idea of supervenience is that a valuable object keeps its intrinsic value as
long as it keeps its intrinsic natural properties, and what Blackburn’s move
amounts to is that the kind of projection that is involved when we value an

10Spreading the Word (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1984), Chapter 6. Blackburn actually claims that
the projectivist can make better sense of supervenience than the Moorean, but that is
something that we need not go into here.

object spreads that value across all possible worlds in which the object exists,
thus including those worlds where we do not value the object. This suggestion
has recently been elaborated by Wlodek Rabinowicz and Toni Rønnow-
Rasmussen.11 They distinguish between the supervenience base and the
constitutive ground of a value. While the supervenience base consists of those
properties on which the value is superimposed, the constitutive ground contains
the attitude responsible for the superimposing. What this means, is that my
attitude is not a condition of the value in the sense that it features among the
reasons why I find the object in question valuable. The fact that I value
something is not a part of why I value it. This is why the value sticks with the
object even in such possible worlds where I no longer have any kind of pro-
attitude towards it.
As can easily be seen, this kind of projectivism is framed in a quite different
conceptual apparatus than Hume’s. In spite of the fact that it repudiates the
strong objectivity ascribed to values by Moore, it still seeks to employ essential
parts of the Moorean terminology and might thus actually be understood as
providing us with a new way of looking at the archetypal Moorean situation that
is featured in his method of absolute isolation, one that does much to demystify
the scene. Rather than being a peculiar epistemic device, it becomes a schema of
the ontic relation between subject and value. This might seem innocent enough,
but I would suggest that the borrowing of this metaphysical terminology makes
it sound as if these writers can grant values an air of ontological respectability
that is not really backed up by the ontology at their disposal. Neat as the
suggestion about projecting value over the whole set of relevant possible worlds
is, I thus find it difficult not to simply see it as a form of philosophical sleight-of-
To begin with, it must be questioned whether the ‘projection’ metaphor is not
simply inappropriate here. A flashlight or a movie-projector can certainly be said
to project things onto the world, but it is quite obvious that we do not ‘gild or
stain’ the world with values in that way. There are no magical value-beams
emanating from our eyes. Thus, there is an obvious tension in the projectivist
approach. On the one hand, there is a desire to present a scientifically
respectable ontology; on the other hand, the desire to continue to speak as if one
were a bona fide Moorean. Hume’s remark that moral sentiment ‘raises, in a
manner, a new creation’ is surely suggestive, but the problem is that ‘in a
manner’ must be cashed out and if projectivists are not prepared to back it up by
some story about how we literally add something to the natural world, then they

11‘A Distinction in Value: Intrinsic and For its Own Sake’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 100
(1999), pp. 36-37.

have real philosophical work left to accomplish before they can earn the right to
their metaphor. Blackburn tries to do this through his philosophy of language,
trying to show how we can systematically talk as if values were objective (indeed,
this is what ‘projection’ amounts to in his approach), but even if such a project
can be carried out, something which remains to be shown, it would still not
make phenomenological sense of the external ‘feel’ of values.
When it comes to Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen they take their cue
from Korsgaard’s thoughts about ‘sources of value’ and ‘conferring’ and claim
that there is an ambiguity in her notion of ‘source of value’, an ambiguity they try
to sort out by their distinction between supervenience base and constitutive
ground. Now, I agree that there is a serious ambiguity in Korsgaard’s
terminology, but I fail to see how this distinction sorts it out. The real ambiguity
is between a literal and a circumlocutory reading of these notions. On the literal
reading, there really is a metaphysical substance ‘value’ which has some kind of
‘source’ from which it can be ‘conferred’. On the circumlocutory reading, it is
just a metaphysical-sounding way of expressing something that is not
metaphysical, but rather a psychological phenomenon. Since Rabinowicz and
Rønnow-Rasmussen try to resolve the ambiguity in Korsgaard by giving us two
metaphysical-sounding notions instead, they can only be said to aggravate the
In another paper, Rabinowicz has argued that the existence of values is
something that makes sense only from within the internal perspective of the
valuer and that transcendence destroys values.12 Yet, the very notion of
‘constitutive ground’, at least when used in a subjectivist model, presumes that
we take a transcendent perspective, a perspective from which there, accordingly,
is no value to be constituted. What we can speak about from the transcendent
perspective is how a certain attitude involves the subject thinking that certain
properties make an object valuable. But this also means that the whole story
about projecting over possible worlds will at best amount to nothing more than
a phenomenological description of what the valuer is doing – it is thus not
anything that can be used to address worries about whether subjectivism
undermines the phenomenology of valuing. And since we hardly start thinking
about possible worlds in this way without being self-conscious about ourselves
as valuers and our relation to what we value, it is doubtful if what we get here is
even a sound phenomenological description. While there surely is a kind of
transcendent perspective sub specie aeternitatis from which values simply disappear

12‘Value Based on Preferences: On Two Interpretations of Preference Utilitarianism’, Economics

and Philosophy 12 (1996), p. 19. This paper is co-authored with Jan Österberg and they each take
their own different positions in it.

out of sight, and which is such that we probably cannot demand of a theory that
it should be able to show how values are to make sense from within it, there is
also the kind of weak transcendence that takes place within the internal
perspective. This is where one thinks seriously about one’s life and one’s
pursuits, what really is of value and what is not. This is the kind of self-conscious
stance from which matters of value are truly important to us, but also precisely
the perspective to which subjectivism seems to pose a threat. It is a perspective
that is reflexive enough to leave room for us being self-conscious about our
desires and philosophical enough for us to be able to think the undermining
thought that if subjectivism is correct, the reason why certain things appear to us
as having value is just because we happen to prefer them.
Rabinowicz claims that ‘the value grounded in this way is not world-bound
and contingent. It exhibits all the necessity that is characteristic of intrinsic
value.’13 But what kind of necessity is this, when the value in question only exists
in the subject’s eyes (and as long as he does not realize this)? And in what sense
are we justified in speaking of this value as ‘grounded’? Even if we accept that
there is a distinction to be drawn roughly where Rabinowicz and Rønnow-
Rasmussen draws it, we would like some reason why it should be understood as
a distinction between supervenience base and constitutive ground, rather than
between, say, imaginary base and, say, appreciative ground, i.e. a distinction
between the features which the subject sees as good-making in the object, and
the (psychological) features that make the subject see something nice in the
object. Assume that we encounter a person who truly felt that his evaluative
opinions were threatened by the rejection of Moorean objectivism – does it not
seem wildly implausible that he or she would be calmed by the assertion that
value is projected even across such worlds where he or she does not value the
object in question? It would be like telling such a person that if she thinks that
the thing would be valuable in other possible worlds, then she thinks that the
thing is valuable in other possible worlds – or that as long as one is not bothered
by the subjective component in values, one is not bothered by it. Accordingly,
we get a strange relation between the way projectivism explicates the constitution
of values and how values are experienced by the persons facing them. Values are
normative entities, which means that they make certain demands on us and part
of these demands is that we are supposed to have certain attitudes towards
them.14 On the projectivist story we thus get a form of evaluative bootstrapping:
we have an attitude towards an object that makes this object have a property

13‘Value Based on Preferences’, p. 22n12.

14Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen are explicit about their adherence to this view, ibid., pp.

which in turn makes the attitude appropriate. Think of the moment where one
comes to appreciate something as valuable. It seems quite reasonable that this
involves forming a preference for the thing in question. But what comes first?
Intuitively one would say that the value is prior to the preference. Yet, according
to the projectivist, the value is not ‘there’ until after the preference has been
formed, since it is only then that the constitutive ground of the value is
established and the thing in question set ablaze with normativity. This problem
becomes especially visible in cases where one is hesitant about whether a thing
has value or not; one is looking for a decisive feature and the decisive feature is
in reality whether one decides to value the thing or not. Is it possible to avoid
this charge of bootstrapping? Rabinowicz acknowledges that there is a problem
with hitherto unrecognized values, but argues that this can be solved by recourse
to what we would prefer under some suitable set of circumstances.15 In that case,
something can have value without someone actually valuing it. But this will
surely not do since it internalizes the question of whether something has value or
not. I might naturally take seriously preferences that I would have if better
informed, but then it is because I presume that were I thus informed I would
have come to realized certain things about what objects are valuable and why –
otherwise the preferences I would have under some such ideal set of conditions
are simply different preferences than the ones I have now. The question of what
has value is not a question of what I would as a simple matter of fact happen to
want were I different in certain respects, at least not if we want a picture that
makes sense of the external ‘feel’ of values.
But there is more. If the projection is not to be understood literally, it remains
to be shown how the value that we ‘project’ achieves some kind of
intersubjective validity. If that cannot be done, we will hardly make sense, in any
interesting way, of the external ‘feel’ of values. We will at best provide an
account of how certain blind spots are inherent to the internal perspective of a
valuer. Now, clearly, if I ‘project’ values onto the world they are in some sense
‘there’ for me, but if I am not literally adding something to the world, then in
what sense can such values be said to be ‘there’ for others as well? This is an
issue that projectivists all too often fail to address. Perhaps many of them would
be satisfied by saying that all values are simply values for someone, but I fail to
see how this could amount to more than saying that all valuings are valuings of
someone. It would not give any kind of ontological respectability to values and is
thus quite inadequate if we want to give an account of the external ‘feel’ of

15 ‘Value Based on Preferences’, p. 21.

3.3 Normativity, Sociality, and Reflexivity
Quasi-Moorean projectivism actually suffers from a difficulty similar to the one
already pointed out as a serious problem for Korsgaard’s approach to values.
However sympathetic one might be to the idea that human beings have value
and that we are in some way erring if we do not recognize this value in others as
well as in ourselves, there must be some argument as to why we should
recognize this value in others. Korsgaard is, as has already been pointed out,
acutely aware of this fact and she does have a strategy to deal with it. The key
element of this strategy is an attack on the idea of agent-relative reasons.
Of course, we often think that something can be ‘a reason for me, but not a
reason for you.’ The problem is just that such ideas might make my reasons too
much into my reasons, i.e. lead to a privatization of reasons. In arguing against
this approach, Korsgaard draws a parallel between the nature of linguistic
meaning and the nature of reasons. She refers to Wittgenstein’s private language
argument and points to how, on her interpretation of it, the reason why a private
language does not make sense is that the meaning of words is essentially
normative; this means that there must be some possibility of error, which in turn
rules out individual control over the meaning of words. This establishes the
public nature of the space of linguistic meaning and it is important to note that
our connection to this space is not contingent in the sense that we can opt in
and out of it (we might of course become incapable of sharing in it, but that is a
different matter); as Korsgaard puts it: ‘Philosophers have been concerned for a
long time about how we understand the meaning of words, but we have not paid
enough attention to the fact that it is so hard not to. It is nearly impossible to
hear the words of a language you know as mere noise.’16
We must, Korsgaard argues, understand the normativity of reasons
analogously; to take something as a reason cannot be something that is simply
under my control, because if it were I could never be wrong in taking something
as a reason, and thus it would not make sense to see reasons as normative in any
interesting sense of the word. She gives a few examples to illustrate what she
means. Take, for instance, a situation where you are walking and someone calls
on you to stop. Is it then really possible to not take this as giving you a reason to
stop? To not do so, Korsgaard suggests, would be to simply treat it as a piece of
noise. For if you understand what this call means, you also understand that you
have a reason to stop. Of course, you might be in a hurry and on some
important business, so this reason might be overridden; but that does not
remove the fact that you have a reason to stop. Another example is that of a

16 Sources of Normativity, p. 139.

torturer and his victim. The latter asks the former ‘How would you like it if I did
that to you?’ Now, presumably you would not be a torturer if such a thing really
made you stop, but the important point is this: ‘We do not seem to need a
reason to take the reasons of others into account. We seem to need a reason not
to.’17 As words force their meaning upon us, reasons force themselves upon us.
In the case of reasons, this is never the end of the matter since reasons might
always be met by reasons; but the space in which this occurs is still a public one.
The problem with this argument is that words and reasons, while sharing
many features are not completely analogous. The practices involved in using
words and in giving reasons are different in many ways. In using words to
describe things, there is a single dimension in which our uses might be apt or
not. However, in giving reasons there are two dimensions in which they might
be apt and this has to do with the fact that reasons are inherently situated in
practices of giving and taking. They are argumentative even in the case of a single
person. Practical reasoning often takes the form of an internal dialogue, arguing
back and forward as if one suffered from a mild form of split personality; but
there is certainly nothing pathological about it. That the space of reasons18 in
which deliberation takes place is a space of giving and taking things as reasons
means that even in the case of one person there is a step between suggesting
something as a reason and actually taking it as a reason. There is a reflective gap
between the two, a gap which Korsgaard makes quite a big deal about in other
places, and rightly so, but which she now seems to want to simply slide by. If I
understand the other I cannot but understand her as giving a reason, but the step
from there to embracing it as a reason for action is one that is not bridged by the
mere inability to counter it with some other reason; this inability only becomes
obligating if I have already entered into a relation with her as two persons who
are reasoning together. This mode of relating to others might certainly be
understood as the default mode of relating to them, but it is also one that I can
opt out of with respect to certain people. Opting out does not mean that I must
simply hear them as uttering mere noise. I can see perfectly well what they are
doing, they are attempting to offer me reasons, it is just that we do not stand in
the kind of relation to each other from which the game of giving and taking
reasons is a natural extension; and so their reasons fall flat to the ground.

17Ibid., pp. 140-1.

18The notion of a ‘space of reasons’ is borrowed from Wilfrid Sellars, ‘Empiricism and the
Philosophy of Mind’ in Herbert Feigl and Michael Scriven (eds.), Minnesota Studies in the
Philosophy of Science, Vol. I: The Foundations of Science and the Concepts of Psychology and Psychoanalysis
(Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1956). In more recent years, it is a notion that has
been employed by John McDowell, Mind and World (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University
Press, 1994).

This weakness in Korsgaard’s account is accentuated by her insistence on the
importance of what she calls practical identity for our taking things as reasons.
What she refers to by this notion is ‘a description under which you value
yourself, a description under which you find your life to be worth living and your
actions to be worth undertaking.’19 Of course, this is hardly ever anything that
lies in the foreground of deliberation, rather the idea here is that it provides a
necessary background to deliberation. This practical identity is not something
that exists independently of reasons or antecedently to reasons. Rather, it and the
things we take as reasons exist in a dialectical relationship: one’s practical identity
structures one’s deliberations (which are oriented around reasons), but is also, at
least in the long run, molded and reshaped by how one’s deliberations turn out.
It seems reasonable to think that the more determinate one’s practical
identity, the more rigid will one’s deliberative field of vision be, but no human
being has such a determinate sense of who she is that she is closed off from
unexpected results of her deliberations, results that might make her rethink who
she is and reevaluate herself, her life, and her undertakings. Above all, it seems
reasonable to think that one’s deliberative horizon stretches beyond those
structurings that have to do with one’s practical identity in the sense that my
deliberative field will overlap with the deliberative fields of others and, thus,
there will be places where reasons that are grounded in my practical identity turn
out to be able to interlock with reasons that are rooted in the practical identity of
others and by the way of such deliberative bridges I might come to see things
from another light, incorporate new features as ones that I take as reasons and,
in the end, also be transformed as who I am. Although this kind of effect can at
times be dramatic, for instance in conversions from one frame of mind to
another, it is also something that on a smaller scale occurs on a day-to-day basis
(if not perhaps every single day). The problem for Korsgaard is that while one’s
practical identity is best understood as situated in this kind of social network of
reasons, this need not mean that every single reason that exists in this human
network as a whole must be taken as a reason given any practical identity situated
in the network. Of course, given a reasonable familiarity with the social setting in
which one lives, one will certainly be able to see that certain people count certain
things as constituting reasons in certain contexts, and that this makes sense from
their perspectives, while at the same time one does not oneself take these things
as reasons. One’s horizon of understanding the behavior of others as intelligible
surely extends beyond one’s own deliberative horizon.
Accordingly, there would be something seriously wrong with the torturer if he
was utterly unable to recognize his victim as attempting to offer him a reason to

19 Ibid., p. 101.

refrain, or with the person that is called on to stop if she did not recognize her
caller as offering her a reason to stop. But from there to taking it as a reason is a
considerable step – not necessarily considerable in the sense that it need take
much time and effort; when someone for instance calls on us to stop we usually
do so without much thought. Yet, our practice of taking someone calling on us
to stop as providing a sufficient reason to stop surely depends on the fact that
we know that when people do so it is usually a good idea to stop. What might
look as something simply forcing itself upon us is still a matter of us having a
deeply entrenched policy to take it as a reason. Were it the case that we were
constantly called upon to stop without there being anything in it for us were we
to do so, we would probably grow almost deaf to such calls, much in the way
that the torturer grows deaf to the calls on him to stop.
I use the word ‘almost’ quite intentionally here; for while I am not convinced
by Korsgaard’s way of analyzing the sociality of reasons, she is on to something
important. Even if we were to cease heeding people’s calls on us to stop, we
would not just simply grow deaf to them; there would be a certain discomfort in
not heeding them. Were we truly to grow deaf, as perhaps some torturers truly
grow deaf to the calls from their victims, then that would not just be a matter of
simply choosing not to regard something as a reason, it would be essentially
connected to a coarsening of our sensitivities. One way of understanding this is
through making clear that while one’s practical identity is indeed a description
under which one values oneself, finds one’s life worth living, and one’s actions
worth undertaking, this practical identity is not simply just situated in a social
network of reasons, it is as such an essentially social phenomenon.
The reason for this is that we become persons through a social process and
even though a Kantian wants to emphasize individual freedom and reflective
distance from one’s concrete identity, this freedom and reflective distance
cannot be understood as preexisting the concrete self that one is. As George
Herbert Mead puts it:

The self, as that which can be an object to itself, is essentially a social structure, and it
arises in social experience. After a self has arisen, it in a certain sense provides for itself
its social experiences, and so we can conceive of an absolutely solitary self. But it is
impossible to conceive of a self arising outside of social experience. When it has arisen
we can think of a person in solitary confinement for the rest of his life, but who still has
himself as a companion, and is able to think and to converse with himself as he had
communicated with others.20

20Mind, Self & Society, ed. Charles W. Morris (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1934), p.

As Mead understands the adult individual, she is characterized by a dialectic
between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’, where the latter is a social product constituted by an
organized set of attitudes of others, and the ‘I’ is the reflective response to this.21
Thus, what we have here are two sides to being self-conscious, on the one hand
being an object, a ‘me’, on the other being constantly responding and, in a
certain sense, transcending this object. The practical identity of which Korsgaard
speaks should be read in the light of this understanding of the ‘me’, and the
reflective distance the Kantian keeps reminding us of should be understood as
the ubiquity of the transcendence of the ‘I’. Of course, this social dimension of
the self is something that Kant himself is not known to dwell on; in fact, a
sentimentalist like Hume is much more prone to draw our attention to it, for
instance with his comments about how ‘[i]n general we may remark, that the
minds of men are mirrors to one another, not only because they reflect each
others emotions, but also because the rays of passions, sentiments and opinions
may be often reverberated, and may decay away by insensible degrees’22 and how
‘[m]en always consider the sentiments of others in their judgments of
themselves’.23 There is, however, nothing in such Humean remarks that the
Kantian cannot accept. Rather, the difference lies in the Kantian’s insistence on
the importance of the reflective distance between the ‘I’ and the ‘me’.
Indeed, it does not seem far-fetched to suggest that the sense of normativity
that an adult human has is rooted precisely in this capacity for ‘stepping back’.
Some might, like Hegel, resent this Kantian insistence on a reflective gap and
dream of a mode of existence where there is no ‘ought’ but just an ‘is’24 and it is
certainly understandable why Hegel wishes for a closure here since there seem to
be no guarantee that this reflective opening will lead anywhere at all; rather, we
might just be left with a gaping wound in our selves, the essential unrest of one
who is perpetually always something of a stranger even to herself. On the other
hand, would there not be something inhuman about such a closed existence?
Moreover, it should be remembered that what the Kantian insists on is the
importance of the capacity for reflectively distancing oneself from who one is and
what one is doing. The extent to which one should actually do it is, of course,
something that also needs to be addressed, but it is something that will have to
wait for a while. For now, the important thing is that this capacity is not some

21 Ibid., pp. 173-75.

22 A Treatise of Human Nature, ed. L. A. Selby-Bigge & P. H. Nidditch (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1978), p. 365.
23 Ibid., p. 303

24 See especially the second section of The Spirit of Christianity and its Fate in G. W. F. Hegel,

Early Theological Writings, trans. T. M. Knox (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948).

isolated phenomenon; it permeates the meaning of the entire deliberative field
through the way that it opens up a horizon of questioning.
The capacity for reflective distance allows us to question the way that we lead
our lives and I take it that most people find at least a certain modicum of such
reflection as important for leading a fully human life. However, the traditional
Kantian story insists on more than just the importance of this capacity; it also
insists on a certain way of understanding human freedom, one that lies far from
the emphasis on the social nature of the space of reasons that I have tended
towards in this section and which I would like to develop further. Can there
really be any room within a Kantian theory for this strong emphasis on the
social? To ascertain the answer to this question, we must look further into the
nature of human freedom.

3.4 Kant and the Problem of Freedom

I have already argued that the main problem with Moorean objectivism is that it
relies on a dualism between facts and values that mystifies the existence of
values, that places them in a relation to the empirical world that leaves them
hanging on a rather thin thread: a mere flick of the wrist, Occam’s razor in hand,
and we are rid of them. It is not difficult to see that the freedom of the will
stands in much the same peril. And if Moore puts values at peril much through
his dualism, it might worriedly be noted that Kant’s philosophy is among the
most dualistic of all philosophies. As any reader of Kant will soon notice there is
a plethora of dualisms throughout his writings: the phenomenal and the
noumenal, freedom and nature, the categorical and the hypothetical, the rational
and the sensuous, duty and inclination, and so on. Of all these distinctions it is
of course the one between noumenon and phenomenon that occupies the
central place since it is in terms of this one that other distinctions tend to be
interpreted (and here ‘interpreted’ should not be understood as ‘reduced to’ but
rather that it is through having a connection traced to this distinction that other
distinctions tend to be fitted into the Kantian system). Unfortunately, it is also
this distinction that is the most difficult to grasp, something which is in part
surely due to the fact that, in contrast to most of the other distinctions, we have
absolutely no pre-philosophical understanding of it.
The best way to approach the interpretation of the distinction is probably, at
least in the present context, to look at what problem it is to solve, or resolve, in
ethics, namely the tension between freedom and necessity. This is a tension that
Kant dealt with already in the first Critique, more specifically in his discussion of
the Third Antinomy which consists in a thesis that affirms the necessity of
assuming the existence of a causality of freedom and an antithesis according to

which everything that takes place in the world does so in accordance with the
laws of nature. Kant’s resolution, as is well-known, is to argue that in the realm
of appearances the laws of nature reign supreme, while we must still assume a
causality of freedom as a cause of the natural order. This need however not
mean that human action proves an exception to natural causality and in his
attempts to explicate the workings of this causality of freedom in human beings,
Kant pursues two lines of reasoning, both of which involve the idea of a
reciprocal relation between freedom and morality. These two lines of reasoning
do however run in opposite directions.
In the Groundwork, Kant uses this idea to ground the moral law: since the
moral law is the law of a free will, we must act in accordance with the moral law
in order to be free. The problem with this argument, as has been pointed out
forcefully by Sidgwick,25 is that it renders the notion of responsibility, which is of
pivotal importance in ethics and clearly connected with freedom, useless since
the bare fact that we act contrary to the law is, then, sufficient proof that we are
not acting freely and thus cannot be held accountable for our actions. In fact, we
can only be held accountable in those cases where there is little point in holding
us accountable, namely when we act rightly.
The second line of reasoning is presented in the second Critique; there it is our
acting on the moral law rather than the freedom of the will that is taken for
granted, and Kant argues for the actuality of the freedom of the will by appealing
to our acting on the moral law. The idea here is not that we are only free when
we act out of morality, but rather that since those instances when we do act out
of morality proves the actuality of a causality of freedom, we must interpret
those cases where we do not act out of morality as ones where we let ourselves
be carried to action by our desires, i.e. even if there is a sense in which we do not
act freely in these cases, the actions in question are still ones that we can be held
accountable for since in a deeper sense we have in this case chosen not to let the
causality of freedom have an effect on happenings in the world. The problem
with this line of argument is the opposite one than what was the case with the
argument in the Groundwork. There the problem was that too few of our actions
are such that we can be held accountable for them, here the problem is that we
can be held accountable for too many of them.
It has been suggested by quite a few Kantians that one of the fundamental
problems that lies in coming to appreciate Kantianism correctly lies in that we
tend to read Kant as presenting us with a two-world ontology, whereas we
should read him as presenting us with two aspects under which the one world

The Methods of Ethics, 7th ed., Appendix: ‘The Kantian Conception of Free Will’ (originally in

Mind 13 (1888)).

can be considered.26 Not that Kant can be held blameless for this
‘misinterpretation’ since he often writes as if it is a matter of two worlds, that
sometimes even interact causally with each other, and some key passages can be
interpreted in both ways. Take the following example:

[A rational being has] two points of view from which he can regard himself and from
which he can know laws governing the employment of his powers and consequently
governing all his actions. He can consider himself first – so far as he belongs to the
sensible world – to be under laws of nature (heteronomy); and secondly – so far as he
belongs to the intelligible world – to be under laws which, being independent of nature,
are not empirical but have their ground in reason alone. (G 452)

Is it the fact that we really do belong to two worlds that makes it possible for us
to take these two different standpoints, or is it the fact that we can take these
two different standpoints that makes us able to think of the world in two
different ways and thus, in a sense, constitute them as distinct realms? As it
stands, I would say that this passage tends towards the first position, but it is
possible that a case could be made for the other one. Luckily, this is a question
that we need not enter further into here. Since both interpretations involve the
two standpoints, there is good reason to look further at what is involved in the
difference between them. It would seem that one is the standpoint of the observer,
a scientific, or perhaps a third-personal, point of view. The other is the
standpoint of the agent, a practical, or perhaps a first-personal, point of view
from which we deliberate about what we ought to do.
Among contemporary Kantian ethicists it is probably Christine Korsgaard
who has most unequivocally emphasized the crucial nature of this distinction
between standpoints. She fastens on Kant’s remark that we must act under the
idea of freedom (G 448) and understands it in terms of a difference between a
first-personal and a third-personal perspective.27 While we might often think
about ourselves in terms of what causes us to behave in certain ways rather than
others, all such thinking is completely beside the point when we are faced with
making a decision: no matter how skilled our predictions are it is not they that

26 The leading exponent of this view is Henry Allison, Kant’s Transcendental Idealism: An
Interpretation and Defense (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983) and Kant’s Theory of Freedom
(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), but see also Lewis White Beck, ‘Five Concepts
of Freedom in Kant’ in Jan Srzednicki (ed.), Stephan Körner – Philosophical Analysis and
Reconstruction: Contributions to Philosophy (Dordrecht: Nijhoff, 1987), and Christine Korsgaard,
‘Creating the Kingdom of Ends: Reciprocity and Responsibility in Personal Relations’ in
Creating the Kingdom of Ends.
27 Sources of Normativity, pp. 12-4.

move us to action. While we might theoretically recognize the philosophical
problem about the reconciliation of freedom and necessity, each and every
philosopher, even the sternest of determinists, must still deliberate and decide
from a first-personal relation to the action under consideration, thus deliberating
under the idea of freedom.
Nevertheless, while Korsgaard is surely capturing something essential about
what it means to be a person and about the phenomenology of practical
reasoning, there is a significant problem here and it is, in fact, exactly parallel to
the problem that confronted her theory of value. Even those who are
sympathetic to the project of establishing some form of reality for the freedom
of the will would likely be prone to experience a certain unease when
contemplating Korsgaard’s Kantian solution; the reason is that it seems to make
freedom into something like an optical illusion brought about by a deliberative
blind spot. Korsgaard’s response is that this kind of response presupposes that
‘real’ is defined as ‘what can be identified by scientists looking at things third-
personally and from the outside.’28 Again, the problem here is one of
intersubjective validity, and temporally probably even intrasubjective validity.
The first is the most obvious: while we might have little choice but to act under
the idea of freedom, we seem to be under no such compulsion to regard others
under this idea and they do not seem to be under any compulsion to view the
very same act that we must regard under the idea of freedom as anything but a
product of natural causes. Indeed, given that the idea of freedom is tied to a
first-personal mode of thinking, they seem to have little choice but to see our
actions as completely determined. Additionally, once we ourselves have chosen
and acted, our situation would seem to be exactly like that of the others. Given
this, can we really view this freedom, the idea of which we have to deliberate
under, as anything but an illusion?
The problem in tying the ‘reality’ of freedom to the first-personal is that it
might even make it impossible to regard others under the idea of freedom since
we clearly cannot relate to others in a first-personal way and the third-personal
perspective would seem to be one from which we would see others as simply
causal products of their background, with as much freedom of choice as a
weathervane. Korsgaard’s response to this is that although we obviously cannot
take a first-personal relation to others, there is still something else than the third-
personal mode of relating to them, namely the second-personal: to relate to the
other as a ‘you’ is to address her in a way that treats her as a subject, not just an
object.29 In many ways this kind of account comes close to Martin Buber’s

28 Ibid., p. 96.
29 ‘Creating the Kingdom of Ends’, p. 205.

distinction between two fundamental modes of relating to that which is other to
oneself, namely the I – It relation and the I – Thou relation, where the former
involves relating to the other as a ‘something’ and the latter relating to the other
as a ‘someone’.30
Still, even if there is something like a second-personal mode of relating to
others, there does still seem to be room to claim that we are faced with an
important asymmetry. While the first-personal relation to our actions is
something which we not only can take but which we in fact cannot, at least not
at certain points of time such as when we are about to decide what to do, avoid
taking, the second-personal relation to others seems to be something that we can
adopt, but not anything that we cannot avoid adopting. Of course, the mere fact
that we can avoid to think in a certain way need not normally imply that there is
something illegitimate or illusory about it, but since in this case the reality of
freedom is asserted on the basis that we cannot think otherwise and since we can
think otherwise when it comes to others this not only gives us the problem of
how to show those who do not treat others as persons that they should do so, it
will actually undermine the behavior of those who do treat others as persons.

3.5 The Teleological Conception of Freedom

In an attempt to distinguish between different conceptions of freedom in Kant’s
writings, Lewis White Beck has pointed to the existence of another conception
of freedom that Kant never fully explicates but which he nevertheless operates
with in the third Critique, more specifically in the resolution of the Antinomy of
Teleological Judgment. As pointed out by Beck, this antinomy is analogous to
the Third Antinomy in the first Critique, but the reconciliation it requires is
between mechanical and teleological law, i.e. between mechanical causes and final
causes, and the shape that this reconciliation takes is not ontological, but
methodological.31 Wherein does the difference between mechanical and final
causes lie then? To cite a mechanical cause is to say that something happens
because of something else whereas to cite a final cause is to say that something
happens for the sake of something else. Today, people do perhaps mostly
associate telic causality with Aristotle and think of it as an entirely outmoded
model of explanation and, in a certain sense, Kant would agree: telic causality has
no place within the natural sciences. The problem is just that we still need to
understand many natural phenomena in terms of telic causality; not just in the

30 See I and Thou, trans. Ronald Gregor Smith (New York: Scribner’s, 1958), Chapter 1.
31 ‘Five Concepts of Freedom’, p. 44.

sense that we understand events in this way, but also that our very way of
conceptualizing nature involves a host of functional concepts.
Be this as it may, if we move from our attempts at comprehending nature to
human action, we must clearly acknowledge that we often explain our behavior
in terms of final causes. Note that the difference between mechanical and telic
accounts of behavior is not a difference between the conscious and the
unconscious. It is not at all uncommon that we come to see in retrospect that
the reason why we did something was not what we thought at the time of acting.
Neither is this a phenomenon that is restricted merely to trivial matters; it might
very well have to do with central concerns in our lives such as love, where we
might sometimes act for the sake of some romantic interest without ourselves
always realizing that this is the case. When we do come to realize such hidden
motivations this revelation need not at all be couched in mechanical terms. Of
course, they might be, but often enough they take a telic shape: we discover what
we really were aiming at (i.e. our behavior was still purposive, just not in the way
we ourselves thought). In fact, this actually falls quite well in line with Kant’s
thinking about action since he is very open to the fact that the principles
underlying our behavior might be opaque to us (G 398-9; MM 446).
Now, when we address other people and ask them for reasons why they did,
or are about to do, some action, we do not expect them to cite any mechanical
cause, we do not expect to hear what pushed, or even more peculiar: is about to
push, them into action, but rather to be told what the reasons for the sake of
which they acted were. Moreover, while we invariably comprehend many natural
occurrences in terms of telic causality, these are still final causes that are strictly
defined by the function that we ascribe to the objects involved in the
occurrences in question. Human beings differ in that the way in which they act
according to telic causality is not linked to them being defined by a certain
function, at least not in any apparent way. Human beings invent their own final
causes and what these causes will be is something that varies from person to
person and from situation to situation. If we understand freedom not as freedom
from causality (which is an idea that is somewhat difficult to understand and, to
the small extent that one can understand it, does not seem to give us a palatable
form of freedom anyway), but rather as freedom from mechanical causation,
then if we can secure a place for telic causality it would seem that we could have
a teleological conception of freedom.
The question of freedom under discussion here is, of course, about the
freedom of the will and, before we proceed further, it might therefore be
appropriate to say a few words about the will. It is a subject that I will look more
into in the following chapter, but it should be noted already now that for Kant,
to be in possession of a will is essentially about being able to act on conceptions

of laws. This capacity has two elements, the first is that one acts on maxims, the
second that one is able to reflectively endorse these maxims. Kant’s position is
that while we do not always reflectively endorse our maxims, we still always act
on maxims. This means that there is an ever-present principled dimension in our
actions. The typical structure of a maxim is telic: ‘do x in order to a’. Although
we rarely, even if we are Kantians, explicitly interpret the behavior of others in
terms of maxims, we can still be understood as doing so when we regard their
behavior as purposive, i.e. as goal-driven, and evaluate the reasonableness of
their actions in terms of the extent to which these actions achieve the goals for
the sake of which they act.
It should be noted that maxims, however oriented they might be towards
particular situations, are always framed in general terms and this is why there is a
principled dimension in acting on maxims: the particular maxim always
transcends the particular situation, it always ‘spills over’ in terms of implications
for other similar situation. Additionally, to interpret an action as grounded in a
certain maxim rather than some other is something that we must always
approach through a cluster of counterfactuals. This epistemic condition fixes the
nature of maxims so that any given maxim always rests on a network of
counterfactual assumptions about behavior in other situations. Accordingly, to
act on a maxim is always to take up a preliminary position in a space of reasons.
It is important to note the ‘preliminary’ here, since this is something that occurs
even when we do not explicitly reflect over choices. We do of course have the
ability to do so, and then we might move into actively shaping the position we
take in this space of reasons, but that is another matter; for now the important
point is that we cannot but take up some such position.
This does not mean that we cannot view actions in any other way. We might
for instance cite backgrounding factors having to do with previous experiences
of the subject, perhaps his conditions of upbringing, and maybe even some
physiological factors. It should however be noted that if the above is read in the
light of the move Kant makes in the resolution of the Antinomy of Teleological
Judgment, the characterization of maxims given here is, at any rate, not meant to
be strictly ontological, but rather as explicating what lies implicit in, as Howard
Caygill puts it in his analysis of Kant’s third Critique, a certain ‘horizon of
interpretation’.32 What Beck is trying to outline is a Kantian understanding, and
underpinning, of our everyday practices of interpreting the behavior of others.
He distinguishes between two such approaches and contends that each
presupposes a specific methodological postulate:

32 Art of Judgement (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1989), pp. 376-7.

(a) Postulate for the scientific explanation of human actions: In natural sciences
always seek natural causes, and do not admit non-natural causes in the explanation of
natural phenomena (including human actions).
(b) Postulate for ethical and practical decisions: Act as if the maxim of your will
were a sufficient determining ground for the action undertaken.
(Corollary: Postulate for the normative evaluation of another’s action: Judge as if the
maxim of the will were a sufficient determining ground for the action in question.)33

Involved in the second approach is a teleological conception of freedom that

Beck understands as what he calls a ‘concept of postulated freedom’. The reason
why he understands it as a concept of freedom is that since it takes the maxim
seriously as causally effective, this postulate involves seeing the will as causally
effective. It might of course be objected that this postulated freedom is simply
something illusory, a mere fiction, as is evident from the use of ‘as if’ in Beck’s
formulations. Beck himself points out that such a reading presupposes
mechanical determinism as a metaphysical truth in comparison with which the
postulated freedom of (b) can hardly be seen as anything but a mere fiction. But
the point here is that mechanical determinism is not understood as a
metaphysical truth; rather than being a constitutive principle of the world, it is a
methodological principle that is constitutive of a certain practice, science, that we
employ in coming to grips with the world. As such methodological principles
they do not stand in contradiction to each other since they are not making
opposite statements about the world; they are just two ways in which we can
come to grips with the world, the one being superior in some contexts, the other
superior in others. In relation to the previous discussion of naturalism, it might
be noted that Peter Strawson has distinguished between two kinds of naturalism,
a ‘reductive’ (or ‘strict’ or perhaps ‘hard’) variant which recognizes as respectable
no perspective expect that which is represented by the natural sciences, especially
physics, and a ‘liberal’ (or ‘catholic’ or perhaps ‘soft’) variant, which recognizes
the scientific take on the world but which also holds that there is another take on
the world that is compatible with, but irreducible to, the scientific one.34
Beck draws a comparison between his account and the complementarity of
the wave theory of the electron and the particle theory; taken abstractly they
might be seen as contradicting each other, but they never contradict each other
in any concrete observational situation since in any given one, the electron is

33Ibid., p. 45.
34 Skepticism and Naturalism: Some Varieties (London: Methuen, 1985). Strawson points out that
he uses ‘catholic’ and ‘liberal’ in ‘their comprehensive, not in their specifically religious or
political, senses’ (p. 1). For a similar distinction, see John McDowell, ‘Two Sorts of Naturalism’
in Mind, Value, and Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998).

either best understood as acting like a particle or like a wave.35 The question is
however whether this parallel is especially apt. The choice between the wave
theory and the particle theory in a specific observational situation is, as far as I
can see, never a live question. However, in the case of actions, the relation
between our two possible horizons of interpretation seems considerably more
complex. To begin with, there does in many cases appear to be a choice between
them and in some we might even feel genuinely disconcerted about which one
we should adopt. It should be noted here that in this circumstance there is good
reason to use the word ‘disconcerted’ rather than something like ‘puzzled’. The
reason is that this choice of approach, or standpoint, is also something that in
turn can be interpreted in terms of either standpoint. Adopting the scientific
horizon of interpretation means that we will not look at the action in a
normative light; but the mere possibility to interpret this choice of standpoint
from within the horizon of postulated freedom means that there is an
inescapable normative import in this very choice. There is truth in the Sartrean
idea that determinism is an attitude of excuse: if we adopt the scientific horizon
of interpretation, matters of blame and guilt become irrelevant, which means
that we have in effect taken a stand on the question of responsibility. Thus, if we
allow that the horizon of postulated freedom is a legitimate one, it will dominate
the choice of which standpoint we should adopt in any given concrete situation
with respect to the action in question. This clearly has no equivalent in the case
of the choice between the wave theory and the particle theory.
Yet, this is not the only difference. With respect to human action, the two
standpoints are clearly intimately tangled up with each other. This can most
clearly be seen when we think about the scientific attitude. While it is certainly
true that we might adopt it, it is also modeled on physics (which it probably must
be, since it is surely from the standpoint of physics that we tend to make
statements about what is ‘really real’ and what is not). There are however many
things that are parts of the furniture of the world of everyday life and which have
no place in the story that physics has to tell about the world. Actions are an
obvious example of this; while a scientific approach might certainly employ
‘action’ as an analytical category, it is still quite apparent that were it not for the
fact that we had access to the other horizon of interpretation we would not be
able to pick out any actions at all from the sub-atomic swirl that physics seems
set to end up with as the ultimate ‘substance’ of the world.36 Accordingly, even if

35Ibid., p. 47.
36It might be noted that the reason why the category of (mechanical) causality is understood by
Kant, in the first Critique, to be a necessary one, is that the very identification of particular
events presupposes the web of causality as a grid within which these events can be placed and

we might at times be able to adopt a strictly scientific perspective on certain
human actions, the very possibility of this stance is parasitical on the order of
meaning that is connected with the other horizon of interpretation.
One thing that lies in the Kantian insistence on the importance of the
category of maxims (even if we rarely use the word ‘maxim’) is thus an idea that
has been explicated by Alasdair MacIntyre as the fact that the category of
‘intelligible actions’ is prior to the category of ‘actions’.37 At first glance, this idea
might perhaps even seem absurd since the former is clearly a more complex
notion than the latter, but this is just a mistake. Concept-formation should not
be understood as always moving from the atomic to the complex. Most concepts
are formed within a network of other concepts, where this network opens us
certain proto-conceptual spaces as meaningful entities. Once these spaces are
conceptually appropriated, new spaces might open up and whether these lie at a
more simple or a more complex level is an open question. What we have here
are two notions of ‘action’, a narrow according to which only those humanly
produced events that can be understood as grounded in maxims are actions, and
a broader according to which all humanly produced events can be understood as
actions. The latter is the notion that is the primary one from the scientific
standpoint (although the first one might also in some form be utilized there), but
since it is conceptually posterior to the first one, the scientific horizon of
interpretation with respect to human actions presupposes the horizon of
postulated freedom.38

3.6 Regarding Others under the Idea of Freedom

The participant attitude involved in the second horizon of interpretation is not
just something that interprets a world already given. Rather, many of our
interactions presuppose it and, in turn, such interactions are constitutive of the
social world in which we make our choices and perform our actions. This is
probably most clearly seen in the importance of what Peter Strawson has called
‘reactive attitudes’, i.e. feelings of resentment, blame, and so forth.39 Strawson

thus distinguished (space and time, as forms of intuition do of course also create a grid, but in
order to carve up the content of this grid in a meaningful way something more is required and
the category of causality provides us with that). Analogously, the category of telic causality is
necessary in order for us to pick out actions as meaningful objects of explanation.
37 After Virtue, pp. 206-10.

38 Although he does not go into this in ‘Five Concepts’, Beck is not oblivious to it; he discusses

it in The Actor and the Spectator (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975), Chapter 4.
39 ‘Freedom and Resentment’ in Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays (London: Methuen,


distinguishes between three kinds of reactive attitudes. The first are the personal
ones, which have to do with our reactions to the attitudes and behavior, whether
benevolent, malevolent, or indifferent, of others towards us. Resentment is an
example of such an attitude. The second category consists of the vicarious
attitudes, which are generalized analogues of the personal attitudes; they are
reactions to the behavior of others towards further others. The third are self-
reactive attitudes, which are associated with demands on oneself for others:
feeling bound or obliged, guilty or remorseful, and so on.
These attitudes form an essential part of many interactions between humans;
indeed, it is difficult to see how anyone could become an adult human being
without being immersed in the network of interactions that is characterized by
their existence. For instance, Mead’s idea about the internalization of the
generalized other is clearly connected to this process; through this internalization
the attitudes of one’s community become part of the individual and as Mead
puts it ‘only through the taking by individuals of the attitude or attitudes of the
generalized other toward themselves is the existence of a universe of discourse,
as that system of common or social meanings which thinking presupposes as its
context, rendered possible.’40 The attitudes to which Mead refers include more
than the reactive ones, but the reactive ones form an essential part of them.
Now, it is quite clear that the reactive attitudes are very much involved in
those practices that have to do with matters of responsibility; this, and the fact
that they are attitudes that are appropriate within a participant attitude to social
life, points towards an understanding of what it means to regard another under
the idea of freedom. It might perhaps be objected that we often harbor these
sentiments towards other people without having taken the slightest consideration
as to whether they are free and responsible persons or not and that it would
therefore seem that these attitudes are independent of such matters. This
position thus rests on a presumption that judgments and sentiments can be
neatly separated, a view that is hardly plausible. If I behave in certain ways
towards another person, for instance by blaming her for certain actions, then I
can reasonably be said to implicitly judge her as a responsible person given that I
am generally competent within the sphere of the relevant family of reactive
attitudes (which means that I do not, for instance, systematically have reactive
attitudes towards flowers or cows, etc.).
When we first raised the problem affecting Korsgaard’s position on freedom,
namely that it did not provide us with any reason why we should regard others,
or indeed ourselves at other points of time, under the idea of freedom, then the
way we raised the question made it sound as if our options were more open than

40 Ibid., p. 156.

they really are. If freedom is understood in terms of the postulated freedom of
the non-scientific horizon of interpretation, then it is clear that in general we
cannot but view others under this idea of freedom; they would not even make
sense to us as acting human beings otherwise. If, to borrow an example from
Strawson,41 someone treads on my hand then my resentment will harbor a
recognition of the freedom and responsibility of the other. Of course, on closer
inspection I might abandon this attitude of resentment, for instance if I find out
that this someone was actually sleep-walking; but the point here is just that the
default position is to regard the other as free, in the sense that I regard her as a
being who acts on maxims, and that this is the only stance that one can live as a
default horizon of interpretation with respect to human beings.
That it is a default stance means that rather than it being the case that we need
a reason to adopt it, we need reason to abandon it. And there might certainly be
such reasons. In fact, even though an immersion into this repertoire of reactive
attitudes are part of what constitutes one as a civilized being, it is still the case
that in many cases, the only civilized option in interpreting certain instances of
behavior is to adopt what Strawson calls ‘the objective attitude’ towards others.42
This is especially the case in some quite serious situations of relating to the
behavior of others. For instance, on closer examination, we might find that some
criminals have a background that makes it impossible to take seriously telic
accounts of their actions. What we in effect do in such cases is that we shift
from trying to comprehend their actions in a telic way to giving mechanical
account of them. Certainly, to do so is to adopt, as Sartre would have it, an
attitude of excuse since it involves an exemption of what must be the normal
mode of interpretation; but in certain cases this does still strike us as the only
civilized thing to do. It should be noted that there might exist cases where the
persons in question themselves may want to explain their actions in terms of
their doing something for the sake of something rather than because of
something, but that they do this is hardly surprising given the difficulty that lies
in removing oneself from a first-personal mode of relating to one’s own actions.
In contrast, theirs are cases where we find it difficult to adopt a second-personal
mode towards them. As we saw in our discussion of Kant’s metaphysical
conception of freedom, one problem with it was that it yielded a far too
encompassing understanding of what we are responsible for and, thus, it is only
welcome if we could conceptualize freedom in a way that does not lead to such
an absurd inflation of responsibility. But while this is true, there remains to be
said something about what it is that makes the objective attitude appropriate in

41 Ibid., p. 5.
42 Ibid., p. 12.

certain cases; since both it and the participant attitude are understood as
grounded in methodological principles rather than metaphysical facts, the
resolution of this question can hardly have to do with some deep metaphysical
difference between those whom we regard under the idea of freedom and those
that we do not. Yet, there must be some difference if the choice to make this
distinction is to be possible to be made in a responsible way at all. Since the
approach outlined here suggests that the methodological principle of postulated
freedom should be regarded as a constitutive principle for the social realm of
interpersonal relations, i.e. without this methodological principle there would be
no social realm, it seems reasonable to tie the resolution of this question about
differentiation to the matter of sociality.
The difference between the deranged, or otherwise unfree and non-
responsible, and the normal lies in that the latter is socially integrated in a shared
space of reasons. It is also here that we can find the most significant difference
between the account of freedom outlined here and what might perhaps be
understood as a more orthodox Kantian position, a difference which, even
though this can certainly be called a Kantian theory, centered as it is on the
notion of ‘maxims’ and with its incorporation of elements from the third
Critique, actually tends in what might be understood as a communitarian
direction. What I mean by this is that, according to the account outlined here,
actual judgments about whether to consider someone under the idea of freedom
or not cannot be settled simply by looking at some set of formal conditions of
choice. Rather, even though there is a certain formal framework within which we
must address these matters, the answer to whether a certain action is free or not
must in the final analysis be sought in the actual reasons that are valid in the
social space where the act is situated. Take, for instance, this case from a
standard textbook in biomedical ethics:

An involuntarily committed mental patient wishes to leave the hospital, although his
family is opposed to his release. The patient argues that his mental condition does not
justify confinement. However, after one previous release, he plucked out his right eye,
and after another release he severed his right hand. The patient functions competently in
the state hospital, where he sells news materials to fellow patients and handles limited
financial affairs. The source of his ‘problems’ is his religious beliefs. He regards himself
as a true prophet of God and believes that ‘it is far better for one man to believe and
accept an appropriate message from God to sacrifice an eye or a hand according to the
sacred scriptures rather than for the present course of the world to cause even greater
loss of human life.’ Acting on this belief, he engages in self-mutilation.43

Tom L. Beauchamp & James F. Childress, Principles of Biomedical Ethics, 4th ed. (New York:

Oxford University Press, 1994), p. 280.

Should we regard these acts, and intentions, of self-mutilation under the idea of
freedom? Or should we take the objective attitude, protect him from himself,
and perhaps wonder how we should cure him from this propensity? On a strictly
formalist theory we would list certain conditions (like whether his beliefs and
desires form coherent systems, whether he has deliberated thoroughly, etc.), and
it is certainly possible that on some such theories we would get the result that he
should not be regarded under the idea of freedom, which I take it must surely be
the correct answer. The problem is just that this is a kind of judgment that we
would reach anyway, on material rather than formal grounds and cases like this
are such that we will tend to construct our formalist theories to give the right
answer in them. The account given here goes in a different direction: it gives a
formal framework that makes sense of the way in which we can rely on our
substantive intuitions about cases like this.
It should be noted that this does not mean that we can rule out such a person
from being regarded under the idea of freedom in all possible contexts. The
extent to which we can rule him out depends on the shape of the space of
reasons within which he is situated. We can take a different case, also from
biomedical ethics, namely that of the attitude taken by Jehovah’s Witnesses
towards blood transfusions. This is clearly an attitude that is quite unreasonable
from the perspective of most of us. Does this mean that the civilized thing to do
is not to regard them under the idea of freedom? This is considerably more
doubtful than in the case of the self-mutilator and it does not have to do with
the danger involved (in those cases where the attitudes of Witnesses on these
matters become relevant the danger is naturally severe). Rather, the difference is
that the Witnesses make up a social group, a community of thinking where they
reason together and thus constitute a shared space of reasons. It is also the case
that the space of reasons shared by Jehovah’s Witnesses in many ways interlocks
with key components of the space of reasons in which all contemporary
Westerners share, namely that which draws on the Christian heritage and which
involves at least remnants of a world-view that valorizes sacrifices made out of
faith. Of course, the self-mutilator also sacrifices himself out of faith, it is just
that he does not, due to the private nature of his beliefs, share in our space of
reasons sufficiently enough so that he can draw on this potential. Thus, contrary
to the result yielded in his case, it does in fact seem quite reasonable to regard at
least adult Jehovah’s Witnesses under the idea of freedom and thus take a
respectful stance towards their wishes on matters having to do with blood
transfusions. Likewise, if we leave the area of biomedical ethics for a while, the
reason why we find it impossible to regard certain criminals, like psychopaths,
under the idea of freedom is that their motivational and justificatory structures

are largely asocial; we might perhaps reason with them, in the sense that we can
communicate with each other, but what we cannot do is to reason together with
them. Accordingly, on this reading, autonomy, in the sense of being governed by
reason and thus acting freely, is not something that an individual human being
can ever have simply by herself in some automatic fashion, but is rather always
also rooted in the participation in a shared space of reasons.
Of course, given this picture there is a rather difficult question of how much
overlap there must be in order for reactive attitudes to be appropriate, in order
for it to be meaningful to say that we can be co-reasoners or co-inhabitants of
some specific space of reasons. There is unfortunately no reason to expect that
there is some neat criterion that we can use to determine this matter, especially
since it seems to be a matter of differences in degree rather than differences in
kind. But, then again, we should perhaps not expect there to be some strict
criterion since we do tend to relate to others in an impure manner, in a way that
is a mixture of the telic and the mechanical. Of course, this is just what we would
expect given that we accept that the everyday mode of relating to the world is
thick in the sense that the normative and the descriptive are interwoven with
each other. This fits well with the phenomenology of our reactive attitudes since
while sticking strictly to the objective attitude might sometimes be the only
civilized thing to do, we often take a more moderate approach, letting our
reactive attitudes be tempered by what we see when looking at things with the
objective attitude. If the extent to which we regard a piece of behavior under the
idea of freedom is linked to our reactive attitudes, it would thus seem reasonable
to say that we can allow gradations in freedom. This would be a clear advantage
with the approach outlined here since orthodox Kantianism usually tends
towards an either/or-approach to the question of whether an action is free or
not, and this does not fit well with our everyday thinking and practices. Take, for
instance, the way children gradually come to occupy the same space of reasons
as us. Given the either/or-approach there must be some fundamental breaking-
point where we start considering them as altogether free and before which they
are to be regarded as altogether unfree. But not only would any such picking out
of a concrete point of time be arbitrary, it would not fit with how we actually
gradually come to regard children more and more under the idea of freedom,
until we finally regard them as equals, i.e. as full co-inhabitants of our space of
reasons.44 Now, given that freedom becomes intelligible within a social setting, it
might certainly be wondered whether the same strategy will work for values, and
it is to this question we now turn.

44 Cf. Strawson, ‘Freedom and Resentment’, p. 19.

3.7 Social Constructivism
If we look at the Western philosophical tradition there is certainly a cluster of
problems and key arguments that run as important threads throughout its
history, but there are also more subtle, and yet pervasive, tendencies. They are
characterized not by the way that they are explicitly laid out in philosophical
texts, but by how they nevertheless tend to shape the way we think about many
philosophical issues; they are recurrent themes in the ways in which we illustrate,
and thus make intelligible, abstract philosophical theories and the ways in which
we formulate key examples for use as arguments. Since being fed a one-sided
diet of examples will tend to lead to one-sided philosophical thinking, it might be
of some use to say a few words about two such tendencies that have had much
influence on the way we think about values.
The first is the hegemony of vision. To a certain extent, this might simply be
due to human beings trusting this particular sense more than our other senses,
but the fact remains that epistemological thinking is largely framed in terms that
have to do with vision, especially when it comes to conceptualizing the
appearance/reality-distinction. Look at any work in this field and you will surely
be fed a one-sided diet of examples and illustrations: shadows on cave walls,
sticks in water, etc. If we turn to moral philosophy, there is the constant
tendency to compare ethical properties with colors; whether the philosopher is a
firm subjectivist like Hume, a hard-boiled objectivist like Moore, or something in
between like McDowell, this tendency remains – in spite of the fact that when
you think about the matter, it would seem that on a phenomenological level our
apprehension of moral qualities is nothing like our apprehension of colors. And
yet, this analogy keeps rearing its head. The second tendency of the
philosophical tradition is a fixation with nature: there is a constant disregard of
social phenomena. Just take the very notion of ‘naturalism’. When Moore wants
to single out the special status of values, this could surely have been done in
many ways, and yet he nevertheless chooses to do it through a distinction
between natural and non-natural properties. And those who regard themselves as
sober thinkers who will have none of mysterious normative or mental entities do
of course call themselves ‘naturalists’ as if anything but nature is mysterious and
suspect. Even a philosopher like Hegel, who certainly takes the social realm very
seriously, cannot keep himself from conceptualizing the social world of Spirit as
a ‘second nature’.45

45Elements of the Philosophy of Right, trans. H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1991), § 4, and ‘The Phases of World History’ in Lectures on the Philosophy of World History, trans.
H. B. Nisbet (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1975), p. 208.

Now, as we have seen, projectivism is riddled with difficulties and it might
perhaps even be wondered if it is not simply a position that is the result of
people having been misled by an unsuitable metaphor. The projectivist theme in
moral philosophy is clearly tied up with both of the above tendencies. On the
one hand, there is the idea of ‘gilding and staining’, which clearly invokes the
analogy with color; on the other, there is the idea of a realm of solid facts,
nature, pre-existing human thinking and on which the realm of values is super-
imposed. In contrast to this, the social world is one that we do not directly
perceive with our senses and one where this kind of dualistic separation of the
factual and the normative seems quite out of place. Since projectivism fails and
the non-Moorean non-Mackiean is left with the task of making sense of the
external ‘feel’ of values, it would accordingly seem that one possibility that needs
to be considered is to view values as a form of social facts, i.e. as entities which
are constructed through the way we think and behave together as members of a
shared social setting. Social facts are not robust in the sense that they can be
identified from a physicist’s point of view, but neither are they as fickle as
individual fancies since they are held in place collectively.
Due to its overuse in some academic circles, the very mention of a notion like
‘social construction’ might perhaps seem initially unappealing to many,46 but
excesses notwithstanding it remains exceedingly clear that we live in a world that
is tremendously rich in social constructions, things that exist because we together
think and behave in certain ways. For instance, as an employee of a university I
would hardly claim that it, or the subject of philosophy for that matter, really
does not exist. Nor would there be much point in claiming that the money in my
pocket is not really worth anything or that there is really no such thing as my rent
being due at the end of the month. Neither could I claim without a quite hollow
ring that countries like Sweden or Brazil really do not exist or that Brazil did not
really beat Sweden in the 1958 World Cup final. There is certainly a sense in
which I could maintain all this, since all of these things are not part of the fabric
of the world as characterized by the science of physics. Still, such a position
would amount to a rather silly view about existence. We live in a world of social
constructions. Even physics as a subject is one of them. Of course, this is not

46 Especially since it is a notion often used in a subversive way, to undermine our belief in the
reality of whatever is singled out as an object of social construction. In his recent book The
Social Construction of What? (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1999) Ian Hacking uses
‘social constructionism’ to name this kind of subversive approach. Although the ‘social
constructivism’ I am discussing here also entails that many of the things we take for granted are
not inevitable facts-of-life, it closes in on its subject matter from the other direction: not to
unmask something as being not as solid as it is often made out to be, but rather to show that
certain things are not as vaporous as one might sometimes think they are.

the place to go into the details of social ontology; the main point is just that
social constructivism can make intelligible the way that values are independent of
what the single individual might think or feel. It thus also allows the kind of
deliberative space that is needed for the possibility that individuals can discover
the value of certain things or realize that they were previously deluded. An
obvious parallel is to language. That certain noises and marks have meaning is
entirely a human affair, but it is also an essentially social affair. I cannot single-
handedly make a word mean a certain thing. If I blatantly deviate from common
usage, then I am wrong, and if I am wrong, there is room for me to discover
how I really should go about.
It might perhaps be objected that it is not at all obvious that the existence of
values and reasons can be parallel to the existence of universities and soccer
teams, and to a certain extent this is a correct observation. But as has been
pointed out by John Searle, a significant part of the institutions that make up the
social world are defined by the way in which certain positions are imbued with
specific deontic powers.47 For instance, the Presidency of the United States is, at
least partially, defined by the rights and obligations that the holder of this office has
and these are, in turn, embedded in a rich fabric of rights and obligations that
belong to other positions in the institutional structure that constitutes the
government of the United States. The holders of positions in this structure can,
by making certain moves, create reasons for action that are valid for other agents
in this structure. Additionally, there are clearly many values imbued in the roles
and offices within this structure, values that give a point to the actions
performed by people in it and which we must grasp in order to understand the
goings-on in these structures. However, the social realm is not just a matter of
grand institutions like the government. On an everyday level, I do as a
participant in our shared practices constantly create reasons for actions by
making certain moves. For instance, to use one of Searle’s examples, if I order a
beer, I have also created a reason to pay for that beer.48 Reasons that are created
in this way are, of course, not reasons in any mysterious metaphysical sense; in
the final analysis they exist because people collectively believe them to exist and,
at least generally, behave accordingly – but is there any ground for not regarding
them as real existences?
When things happen in these social structures, then in many cases there is a
quite intelligible sense in which they happen because they should happen. The
realm of social institutions is a realm where telic accounts of what is going on are
entirely apt. It is just that there is nothing mysterious about the normativity

47 The Construction of Social Reality (New York: Free Press, 1995), pp. 100-01.
48 Rationality in Action (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 2001), pp. 27-8.

involved in these goings-on. Indeed, if we want to, we could always say that an
agent does what he does because he thinks that he ought to do it, though this
kind of explication is perhaps best kept for those cases where the agent in
question is mistaken. For instance, if you ask me why I paid for the beer and I
answer ‘because if you have ordered a beer, you ought to pay for it’, then it
would only seem quaint to respond to me ‘ah, but the real cause was that you
thought that you ought to pay for it’. After all, we are not talking here about
physical causes for my muscular movements – since the objects of the social
realm exist precisely because we think that they exist, it is simply unnecessary,
and perhaps even misleading, to keep adding clauses about what we think when
accounting for particular occurrences within this realm. Were I however wrong,
e.g. in this particular pub the first beer is always on the house, then it does seem
apt to explain my action by what I thought was the case, but as long as
everything goes on in accordance with the normal functioning of our institutions
and practices, it is not the thing to do. It might perhaps be objected that this is
nothing more than methodological advice; but, as already pointed out, in the
realm of human actions, there is no clear-cut boundary between the
methodological and the ontological since what is takes shape through the way
that we think about it. And as participants in this social realm the act of
understanding people’s actions in terms of what these people think is the case is
an act the purport of which is to put in question the normality of functioning in
the case under consideration.
Now, in the previous chapter I discussed the Brentano-style analysis of what
it means for things to be good, namely to be worthy objects of pro-attitudes.
Although this analysis might not do for all senses of ‘good’, it still seems to
capture many such senses and we have seen that one problem with quasi-
Moorean projectivism is that it fails to make sense of this ‘worthiness’. How
about social constructivism? Brentano emphasizes the importance of how we
intuit the correctness of certain instances of love and hate49 and this certainly
provides some phenomenological gloss on the idea of worthiness, but if it must
be backed up by a strong form of epistemic intuitionism, it becomes quite
unpalatable. If we take a social constructivist perspective, things do however
look different. We can still say that things like our attitudes and behavioral
patterns are essentially involved in constituting values. But what the social
dimension brings with it is an attitudinal and behavioral feedback loop that
creates a sense of correctness that lies in the falling in line with them, much in
the way that a sense of correctness arises in the individual when a group of
people, to which she belongs, are clapping their hands or making music together

49 Ibid., Appendix 9.

and, after an initial moment of disorder, fall into the same rhythm. Thus, just as
in the case with quasi-Moorean projectivism, our attitudes are understood as
being involved in both an act of constituting the value in question and in
appreciating it.
There is however an important difference. While social constructivism also
holds that values are constituted by attitudes, the act of constitution is a
collective one, i.e. it is the work of a plural subject,50 while the normativity that
lies in the correctness part directs itself against the attitudes that we hold as
individual subjects. Of course, this means that while values have a robustness vis-
à-vis the individual valuer, this robustness is lost on the social level and this is
probably an important reason why many people will feel dissatisfied with social
constructivism. I will consider such worries in the next section; for now I would
like to stress some of the things that I still find that it is quite unproblematic to
say that social constructivism nevertheless delivers. There are at least two
important components of the social world that are clearly part of the ethical
domain, taken in a wide sense, and which social constructivism can surely
account satisfactorily for:
The first category is norms of etiquette. These might perhaps not be what moral
philosophers take the keenest interest in since they are in many ways quite trivial
and in many others quite arbitrary. But neither of these two points, however
legitimate, can remove the fact the rules of etiquette are normative and that they
guide our behavior in virtually all our interactions with other people. Thus, while
they might not have the same qualitative importance as some moral rules, they
surely have an immense importance if we look quantitatively at these matters. It
also seems quite clear that the rules of etiquette are constituted not by any
individualistic acts of projection, but through a communal holding of attitudes
and shared behavioral patterns.
The second category is what might be called social ideals and duties, i.e. the
normative demands and standards of excellence that come with our social roles,
whether it be as teachers, students, parents, friends, neighbors, athletes, citizens,
or politicians. Again, these are aspects that most moral philosophers disregard,
perhaps because they appear to us as somehow inauthentic duties and ideals, not
really moral. A Kantian would certainly be the first to agree that there is a more
strict use of ‘moral’ according to which these aspects are not moral; but they are
nevertheless an important part of what makes up the mores of human societies.
Not that there have not been any philosophers that have emphasized their
importance; Hegel is, of course, the obvious example here with his insistence on
ethical life [Sittlichkeit] as the highest form of morality, but there are also those,

50 This notion is taken from Margaret Gilbert, On Social Facts (London: Routledge, 1989), passim.

like Bradley and Strawson, who appreciate this importance while still realizing
that their is something more to morality.51 Whatever one might think about that,
the fact still remains that a great amount of the ways in which we behave and the
ways in which we judge the behavior of others is guided by our immersion into
this world of social duties and standards of excellence.
However, it might be objected, I previously criticized projectivism for trading
on an ambiguity between phenomenological description and metaphysical
affirmation, but is there not something similar at work here? Does not this kind
of approach oscillate between the sociological and the metaphysical? To a certain
extent, yes, there is tension between these two, but some such tension is nothing
but what we should expect since the point here is trying to steer a path between
mystifying normativity in a way that simply makes it unintelligible and
naturalizing it in a way that makes values into something illusory, something that
has no ontological respectability. The problem I have with projectivism is
precisely that it makes the external ‘feel’ of values come out as something like an
illusion due to a blind spot in the individual valuer. Now, I cannot say that social
constructivism rules out the stance that values are simply illusions, but what it
does is to raise the stakes for that kind of naturalist: if one is to say that being
socially constructed means being illusory, there is just so much more that one
must claim to be illusory. In contrast to projectivism, social constructivism
provides us with a sense in which we do actually literally add something to this
world. Unlike projectivism, it makes good on its metaphor.52

3.8 Truth and Progress

Now, neither norms of etiquette or social duties and ideals of excellence are part
of the fabric of the world in the way that it would be characterized by physics,

51 For Bradley’s view, see ‘Ideal Morality’ in Ethical Studies; for Strawson’s, see ‘Social Morality
and Individual Ideal’ in Freedom and Resentment and Other Essays.
52 But might one not conceive of a social projectivism that can draw on some of the advantages

of understanding the constitution of values as being done by a plural, rather than an individual,
subject? It should be noted that even though they tend to write as if they have an individualist
model in mind, Rabinowicz and Rønnow-Rasmussen nowhere commit themselves to it and
Rabinowicz has, in conversation, pointed out to me that he is perhaps more inclined towards a
social model. Nevertheless, the key element of the projectivist position is still the idea that our
projecting value over other possible worlds provides a rationale for taking seriously the value
that we project in this world – which is simply the wrong way to go. What we need is an
approach that enables us to understand how we literally add something to this world, and once
we move in that direction we will end up with a constructivist rather than a projectivist

but they are clearly vital components in the fabric of the social world. When
making judgments about them it certainly seems fair to say that we express a
variety of different attitudes. Yet, at the same time it would seem that when we
do so judge, we still assert matters of fact. While the constitution of the social
world indubitably involves our sentiments, it does not follow from this that the
ethical proposition is simply an expression of sentiment. Rather, it would seem
that once constituted, the social world contains facts for ethical propositions to
be about. Given the sociality of human beings and the recursive nature of the
attitudes involved in constituting these facts, there is no mystery in there being
an essential connection between the world of values and norms and our
sentiments and reactive attitudes. This social world is constituted in a way that
weaves together the factual and the normative, especially since many of the
concepts that are involved in constituting the social world are functional. For
instance, we cannot understand what it means to be a policeman without
understanding that certain things are marks of a good policeman and others
marks of a bad one.
For us living inside this social world there will be certain socially constituted
facts that can reasonably be taken as quite plainly factual, but others will also
have a deep deontic pull on us that makes it appropriate to speak of them, at the
same time, as values. In order to navigate this social world and judge correctly in
particular cases we must be in touch with our own sentiments, reactive attitudes,
and other conative states that are important in constituting the social world. For
a normal human being to reach conclusions about such matters is thus never a
question of ‘mere’ apprehension, but neither is it not a matter of apprehension at
all. We might not have any sixth sense with which we apprehend social facts, but
we do still apprehend them. Of course, not all human beings always function
normally. One’s mind might, for instance, be clouded by depression or some
other form of accidie. It would however still seem that if such a person no longer
cares about normative matters, he might still have a certain capability left for
understanding the social world. For the non-expressivist the judgment of such a
person is qua judgment just like the judgment of any other, but the expressivist
must give a reading of it that understands it as radically different; it is certainly
not expressive of a sentiment in the person who judges. Yet, I suspect that we
would say that the problem with such a person is not that he has lost his
knowledge of what is right and wrong, it is just that he is lacking in motivation.
What this suggests is that while the act of asserting ethical propositions is
something that is normally connected with expressing sentiments, it is still not
essentially a matter of it.
The constructivist interpretation of such lack of motivation is tied up with a
specific hypothesis, namely that when we fail to be motivated by ethical

knowledge then that is essentially a failure of sociality. Luckily, this is a quite
reasonable hypothesis. Not only does the depressed person suffer from a failure
of sociality, but so does the other figures usually considered in this context, the
psychopath and the amoralist. We can thus conclude that there is little reason to
insist on an expressivist reading of the ethical proposition; rather, we can have
the essential connection between our sentiments and the normative on the level
of the whole, i.e. we would have no system of values and norms without a system
of sentiments, without having to say that this connection is necessary on the
level of the individual ethical proposition.
But are these aspects of the social world really normative in the sense that we
are interested in here? After all, it would seem that even if they de facto guide our
behavior, do they not still leave open the question of whether we really ought to
do as they command? Does not the picture given here obliterate the difference
between moral norms and positive law? Would we not say that the one has a
kind of fundamental normativity that the other has not? Perhaps ‘fundamental’
must here be understood as having to do with a difference in depth, rather than
being of some mysterious metaphysical kind. Many surface social facts are
constituted in a way that connects them to formal institutions that can, if abiding
by certain procedures, change them. Positive law is an example of this. Other
aspects run deeper and do not fall under any such formal arrangements; indeed,
they might even constitute the conditions of legitimacy of such arrangements.
Perhaps one could understand moral values and norms as deep in this sense.
Still, even though there is a difference in depth between different normative
components of the social order, even the most pervasive of socially established
values and norms might be challenged by single individuals. It also seems that
when individuals do so, they might very well have a strong sense of being correct
in spite of having views that run counter to common views. We should however
keep in mind that the social order is incredibly complex. To put it bluntly, the
normative world that we inhabit as social beings is a mess. Although some
conservatives might perhaps dream of a lost social order in which everybody
knew their place, i.e. had a robust sense of identity and of how they fitted into
the larger social structures in which they were embedded, such dreams can at
best be myths. There has never been and will never be a social order of this kind
since the social world is not anything that has been designed by a single creator
at a single point of time and then released into the natural world, it is something
that has evolved over a long stretch of time, through countless actions and
interactions and through an endless number of conflicts and contestations.
Yet, it is also quite obvious that the social world is not an utter chaos; there is
some structure to it. This combination of order and disorder makes the space of
reasons essentially dynamic. Even while it is through an immense amount of

shared attitudes and behavioral patterns that we constitute the social world and
its values and norms, its messiness means there is room for exploration and even
for what might reasonably by understood as discoveries. Naturally, the
explorations that are in question here are not like those of Columbus or
Magellan; it is rather a question of us, the creators of the social world, never
being able to fully fathom all the possible implications of the ways in which we
constitute this world. If we consider a few examples, like the abolishment of
slavery and the emancipation of women, that we might consider as genuine steps
forward (although especially in the latter case much still remains), then many
people who lived at pivotal points of time in these processes might when they
changed their minds have had a sense of having discovered something, even if
they lived at those early stages where they were fairly alone in holding these
progressive views. Nevertheless, even though they dissented from common
opinion, is it not reasonable to understand them as drawing the implications of
the values and norms that people in general were all already participating in
constituting? Thus, there is the possibility of a sense of correctness, connected to
an act of dissent, that can nevertheless be understood as validated by being
possible to be traced back to that deeper sense of correctness that can be
understood as constituted, and validated, through a harmony of attitudes and
behavioral patterns.
Even if social constructivism leaves this kind of ample room for argument,
criticism, and even discoveries, can it really give us all we want? While I do think
that I have tried to give as sympathetic an account of social constructivism as is
possible, I cannot but feel that there is still something missing here. It does give
a sound account of the immense mass of small things that make up the bulk of
our normative lives, but certain values have a ‘feel’ that at least gives them an
appearance of transcending any given concrete social order. There is an ideality
about certain values that seems to escape the constructivist schema, basic moral
values being the most obvious example, and it is difficult to see how social
constructivism can capture this. Still, even if social constructivism does not, in
the final analysis, deliver all that we would want, it is still an important part of a
complete ethical theory since it makes sense of significant parts of the values and
norms that we adhere to and it does so in a way that demystifies them, while still
letting them retain a considerable authority. I also find that once this account of
the majority of values and norms is in place it has a spillover effect: it renders
values and norms in general less suspect. Or to put it differently, it shows how
there is a perfectly good sense in which values and norms are part of the fabric
of the world.

4. Persons and the Space of Reasons

Reason is impelled by a tendency of its nature to go out beyond the field of

its empirical employment, and to venture in a pure employment, by means
of ideas alone, to the utmost limits of all knowledge, and not to be satisfied
save through the completion of its course in [the apprehension of] a self-
subsistent systematic whole.
– Critique of Pure Reason, A797 / B825

On the account given in the previous chapter, values are on a metaphysical level
inherently tied to the way that we, as human beings, function: without human
beings, or some creatures with enough resemblance to us, the world would be
normatively dead. What this suggests is that if we want to ground the universal
validity of at least some values or reasons, we should turn to consider universal
features about how we function as persons rather than to an investigation of the
world as such. Furthermore, since values and reasons are matters that primarily
play a role in practical reasoning, the obvious place to look when attempting
such a project is into the nature of that aspect of the person that might be called
the faculty of reason. This is the task that I will attempt in this chapter and in so
doing I will try to lay the ground for the final two chapters, on happiness and
morality respectively.
I will however begin with considering the most significant challenge to the
hope of grounding morality in the nature of reason, namely the Humean
approach to the metaphysics of the person in general and to the nature of
practical reason in particular. I will give some reasons for rejecting Humeanism
in favor of an alternative approach. In the light of the flaws of the Humean
position, I will then turn to outlining a Kantian metaphysics of the person and
argue that such an approach leads to the endorsement of a view held by
Sidgwick, namely that there is a dualism of practical reason. I contend that while
this kind of dualism might seem unattractive on account of it leaving us with a
picture of the agent as fundamentally split, it is still superior to a monistic theory.

4.1 Motivation and Normativity

Philosophical thinking about human motivation and practical reasoning has for
some time been taking place under the aegis of a particular set of ideas which

would seem to form a coherent whole. They might be differently formulated in
different contexts and by different writers, but as a starting point for the
discussion we can take, loosely formulated, these two main ideas:

(i) The Humean theory of motivation: when we act we are driven by a combination of
some conative state which gives the original impulse for action and some
cognitive state which directs this impulse in a certain direction.

(ii) Instrumentalism about normative reasons: what we ought to do has only to do with
how to best achieve what we want and not about what we ought to want in
the first place.

It is easy to see how these can be thought to fit together. If action is desire-
driven it would seem only natural to understand the cognitive part of the
process, i.e. the part that might be conceived of as practical reasoning, as
concerned with simply ascertaining the best means to achieve that which one
already wants. That there should be two theories in this way might also seem
quite appropriate since this corresponds to an ambiguity in the notion of a
‘reason’ that has been pointed out by a number of writers, namely between
motivating reasons and normative ones. Given that we operate with this duality,
it is certainly neat if we can conceive of reasons in the normative sense in a way
that matches reasons in the motivating sense.
On the other hand, what we get on the traditional understanding of the
instrumentalism associated with Humeanism is a very thin version of practical
reasoning, so thin that it might in fact be wondered whether it leaves us with an
account according to which practical reasoning is normative at all. After all, on
the Humean account, in saying that something is rational we are not giving any
first-order justification of a certain choice, we are simply making a claim about a
relation between means and ends. This also means that in issuing a judgment
about a certain course of action being irrational, we are not issuing any kind of
genuine reproach. We are simply saying that given the goal this person is trying
to achieve, this specific action will not accomplish it at lesser cost than another
alternative open for him. And that is all.
Given that one would want to sort out our linguistic practices with respect to
notions like ‘reason’ and ‘rational’ this could seem like an unfortunate result.
Allan Gibbard has, for instance, objected to the purely instrumental conception
of rationality in much the same way that expressivists have objected to naturalist
understandings of moral notions, namely that it does not capture the
commendative force of judgments about the rationality of actions. Gibbard,

accordingly, suggests a non-cognitivist analysis of rationality instead.1 While this
is not the place to go into the details of Gibbard’s view, it is still interesting to
note that philosophers have tended to be much more relaxed about naturalizing
standards of rationality than standards of morality. If we look at the way we use
notions like ‘rational’ and ‘irrational’ in everyday discourse it is quite clear that we
use them in much more diverse ways than in standard philosophical usage. This
need not deter philosophers from letting us all know what ‘rationality’ is really
about, but it does perhaps give us some reason to pause and consider exactly
what it is that a philosopher is offering when laying out a theory about reason in
general and practical reason in particular. Though not a Humean in the
traditional sense, Gibbard is actually a good example of a philosopher who
approaches ethics in a way similar to Hume himself, namely in trying to
understand rationality and morality as human phenomena and therefore not
being foreign to the idea of mixing conceptual analyses with arguments and ideas
from sociology, anthropology, and evolutionary biology.
Many others, who also labor in the Humean tradition, do however still want
to distinguish sharply between motivating and normative reasons, even though it
would actually seem that on a more strict Humean picture the very notion of
‘normative reasons’ is a puzzling one. To a certain extent, this might be due the
fact that there is an additional ambiguity at work here, namely that ‘normative
reasons’ might be understood both as what Thomas Scanlon calls ‘operative
reasons’,2 i.e. what the agent takes as reasons for doing what she does, and what
might be called ‘justifying reasons’, i.e. reasons that actually justify what the agent
does. The bona fide Humean might possibly allow that there are such things as
operative reasons (indeed it seems hard to deny that there are such things
although, as we shall later see, the existence of them might not be readily
compatible with the Humean theory of motivation) and we might, of course,
then go on to study the way in which people feel a need to justify their actions
and how certain features are used by them in trying to do this, but what we can
never say is that they are really justified since in that kind of robust sense there is
no such thing as normativity.
Seeing this might help to understand just how radical strict Humeanism is. In
one of his most famous passages Hume pointed out how one cannot go from a
simple ‘is’ to an ‘ought’,3 i.e. from a set of strictly descriptive premises we cannot
draw a normative conclusion. What this means is that from the following two

1 Ibid., Chapter 1.
2 What We Owe to Each Other (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), p. 19.
3 Treatise, p. 469.

(P1) I have a desire for x.
(P2) The most efficient means to get x is to φ.

I cannot draw the conclusion ‘I ought to φ’. Of course, given that I actually desire
x, then it is very likely that my holding (P2) to be true, will cause me to actually φ.
But there is nothing (robustly) normative about it. We might of course say things
like ‘If you want to have x, then you ought to φ’, but we are then issuing
statements that are simply mock-normative in that they are translatable in an
uncomplicated way to a set of purely descriptive set of statements about means-
end relations.
Given the ambiguity involved in the notion of a ‘normative reason’, one
might perhaps wonder whether instrumentalists about normative reasons are not
simply trying to have it both ways, on the one hand chastising the categorical
normativity of Kantianism as mysterious, while on the other still wanting to be
able to talk about what we really ought to do.4 The problem is that to say that we
ought to do what will best satisfy our desires is to introduce a substantive norm
from out of nowhere. Accordingly, rather than underpinning instrumentalism, a
bona fide Humeanism would seem to undermine it, and if we want to say that we
really do have reason to do what will best satisfy our desires, we still owe an
account that makes sense of the normativity involved in this. There is also an
additional problem with the combination of the Humean theory of motivation
and instrumentalism, namely that normativity would seem to require some
deliberative gap between what we want to do and what we ought to do; and if
what we ought to do simply tracks what we want to do the most, this gap
collapses: we ought to do whatever it is that we want to do.
It should however be pointed out that instrumentalism is in fact just a
member of a larger family of theories about normative reasons, what might be
called internalist theories. A leading internalist, Bernard Williams, has presented
the following criterion for it being true that A has a reason to φ: A has a reason
to φ only if he could reach the conclusion to φ by a sound deliberative route
from the motivations he already has.5 As it stands, being only a necessary
condition, this is rather to be understood as a constraint on what can count as
being a reason for an agent rather than a full-scale theory about what actually are

4 Cf. Christine Korsgaard, ‘The Normativity of Instrumental Reason’ in Garrett Cullity and
Berys Gaut (eds.), Ethics and Practical Reason (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997), and Jean
Hampton, The Authority of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998).
5 ‘Internalism and the Obscurity of Blame’ in Making Sense Of Humanity (Cambridge: Cambridge

University Press, 1995), p. 35.

an agent’s reasons. As we can see, this formulation creates a certain gap between
what a person actually desires at the time of acting and what he has reasons for
doing. This means that one can have a reason, in the internal sense, to do
something without being aware of the fact that one has such a reason and
without being affected by that reason. As already noted, that there is some such
gap is clearly a must for something to be an account of normative reasons. More
precisely, what this kind of broad formulation opens up for is a distinct form of
normativity, namely what can be called the pragmatic oughtness of good advice.
Take one of Williams’ own examples: A person desires to drink gin and tonic.
He has a bottle in front of him. He believes that it contains gin, but in fact, it
contains petrol. Williams points out that ‘it is just very odd to say that he has a
reason to drink this stuff, and it is natural to say that he has no reason to drink
although he thinks that he has’.6 This is the kind of situation where there is room
for someone to be in a position to say things that must count as good advice to
the person who is about to act.
Williams is clear about the fact that one’s subjective motivational set can
include a vast diversity of things, ‘such as dispositions of evaluation, patterns of
emotional reaction, personal loyalties, and various projects’7, but his position is
still one according to which certain things might be resolutely sorted out as
irrelevant considerations since internalism about reasons still leaves us with what
might called an agent-centered conception of the space of reasons in which we
move when we deliberate. To borrow another example from Williams, when
Owen Wingrave’s parents think that their son has good reason to join the army
(because of the family tradition and so on) there is clearly a routine internalist
take on this situation according to which they are simply wrong (because there is
no inclination towards the military life in Owen’s subjective motivational set).
It is an open question whether there are certain things that just happen to be
part of everyone’s motivational set and Williams’ internalist requirement does
accordingly not rule out that certain moral norms have universal validity.
Nevertheless, to many people, internalism about normative reasons might still
seem to threaten the authority of morality. They might find that we should not
have to look into the motivational sets of people to know whether they have
reason to follow the norms of morality, that is something we simply have. An
example of this would be Derek Parfit who does not see the normative reasons
that we have as connected to our motivational sets, but to irreducible normative

6 ‘Internal and External Reasons’ in Moral Luck (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1981),
p. 102.
7 Ibid., p. 105.

truths8 and who follows this up with the further claim that ‘normative truths are
of a distinctive kind, which we should not expect to be like ordinary empirical
truths’.9 This seems to amount to a very sturdy brand of moral realism, which of
course means that he shoulders a rather heavy metaphysical burden. How are we
to look for these special normative facts? There is an obvious risk here that if
reasons are not to be anchored in our motivations they will have to be anchored
in some kind of intuitions instead and we will perhaps risk landing in the kind of
position chastised by Mackie, except that it is framed in terms of reasons rather
than values.
On the other hand, as already pointed out in connection with
instrumentalism, it is difficult to see how the internalist can fully escape the
problems faced by the externalist. While it is easy to accept that there is such a
thing as the pragmatic oughtness of good advice, it becomes more difficult to see
how this should be worked out in detail. The moment that we introduce a gap
between what I want at the moment of action and what I should want, we will
necessarily also introduce a specification of what makes this gap come into
existence; and if we are to do this in a systematic way we will end up introducing
some form of idealized conditions that inevitably embody certain norms.
Williams suggests some idealizing conditions and he is followed by Michael
Smith, who wants to draw more far-reaching consequences from them.10
Another example in the same vein is Richard Brandt’s ideal of cognitive
psychotherapy.11 In addition to sneaking certain norms in through the backdoor,
such proposals can also usually be criticized for being vague and thus not giving
us a good enough picture of what reasons we will actually end up with (in all but
trivial cases it is far from obvious where these educational procedures, which we
in the real world never go through anyway, will take us). And then there is also
the further problem that the more advanced and comprehensive these ideal
procedures are, the more one is removed from the intuitive plausibility of
internalism about reasons: if the reasons I end up with are too different from the
wants in my own present motivational set, it becomes difficult to see why I
should care especially about what, for instance, some very different ideal version
of myself would want, even if there is a long and winding educational path to
that state.
If any attempt to work out a general conception of the oughtness of good
advice will involve the introduction of norms that run counter to the bona fide

8 ‘Reason and Motivation’, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, Suppl. Vol. 71 (1997), pp. 108-9.
9 Ibid., p. 121.
10 The Moral Problem (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1994), Chapter 5.

11 A Theory of the Good and the Right (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1979).

naturalist Humean project, this means that the difference between internalists
and externalists about reasons should not be understood as a difference between
anti-realism and realism, but between two realist approaches. Furthermore, on
both accounts it is quite possible that moral norms lack an adequate grounding –
although internalism about reasons does certainly look as a more obvious
candidate for leading to moral anti-realism.
This means that externalism seems to be more attractive for the would-be
moral realist; but it is not a position without difficulties. While it might be the
case that even internalism about normative reasons is not a part of the strict
Humean project, it would still seem that internalism is a position that is
compatible with the Humeans theory of motivation since the pragmatic
oughtness of good advice is certainly grounded in the fact that the things that
might be cited as advice in this sense would tend to speak to us as beings of
desire rather than on a more strictly cognitive level. If we want to break the
appeal of internalism, it would thus seem that we should focus on breaking the
appeal of the Humean theory of motivation and its demotion of reason to being
no more than the handmaiden of desire.

4.2 The Humean Theory of Motivation

Before going into the so-called Humean theory of motivation that would seem
to be the natural companion to an internalist conception of reasons for action a
few clarifications should be made. To begin with: Just as ‘Kantian ethics’ need
not mean ‘Kant’s ethics’, ‘the Humean theory of motivation’ need not mean
‘Hume’s theory of motivation’. Just as the interest I take in Kant here is primarily
philosophical rather than exegetical, so is the case with the interest I take in
Hume. I have no interest in trying to establish what the Humean theory of
motivation really consists in and what its exact relation to Hume’s writings are.
Rather, I will rest content with drawing a distinction between two ways in which
one could be a Humean; the first one is reminiscent of Hume himself, while the
second is an attempt to capture contemporary Humeanism, of which the early
Donald Davidson and, more recently, Michael Smith might be taken as
examples. At any rate, here are the two varieties of Humeanism that I will

(i) The Reason-Passion Model: There are two parts of the human mind involved in
action: reason and the passions. Reason is separate from our motivations and
has exclusively to do with information processing. Reason is thus
motivationally inert and can only show the ways in which the motivational
force of the passions can be released into action.

(ii) The Belief-Desire Model: There are two mental states involved in action. On the
one hand, there are beliefs, states that purport to represent the world as it is.
On the other hand, there are desires, states that represent how the world is to
be. Effective motivation is grounded in desire, although it can be channeled
through means-end beliefs.

Even though there is a key idea that unites these two models, the separateness of
the cognitive and the motivational, there is still a difference in the way that they
are framed. While the reason-passion model takes it stand on a macro level, the
belief-desire model does it on micro level. While the reason-passion model is
faculty-oriented, the belief-desire model is oriented towards mental states. It is of
course possible to subscribe to both the belief-desire model and the reason-
passion model (a metaphysics of the human mind can clearly contain both
faculties and mental states), but it should be made clear that accepting one of
them does not commit one to accepting the other, although the relation between
them is surely asymmetrical in the sense that while it is difficult to see how a
faculty-oriented approach could do without mental states, an approach oriented
towards mental states might very well do without postulating any faculties.
Additionally, if we look at the belief-desire model, there are two important
ways of further developing it and we need to distinguish between these. That the
notion of ‘desire’ is often a useful one and that desire plays a key role in human
motivation is clear, but that is something many anti-Humeans would
acknowledge as well. The question is rather how we are to understand the
precise place and role of desire in practical deliberation:

(i) The Path Thesis: Whenever a person intentionally performs an action the
primary motivating reason consists in a desire and an appropriate means-end

(ii) The Source Thesis: Whenever a person intentionally performs an action the
founding motivating reason is a desire the motivating force of which is
channeled towards the action in question via appropriate means-end beliefs.

It should be noted that the first position, which is roughly the one adhered to by
Davidson in his classic essay ‘Actions, Reasons, and Causes’, is quite compatible
with the original source of motivation lying in reason alone. In contrast to this,
Hume’s own position is of a stronger kind, as is made clear in one of his most
well-known and quoted passages:

Ask a man why he uses exercise; he will answer, because he desires to keep his health. If you then
enquire, why he desires health, he will readily reply, because sickness is painful. If you push your
enquiries farther, and desire a reason, why he hates pain, it is impossible he can ever give
any. This is an ultimate end, and is never referred to any other object.12

Here we see how a chain of passions can be unraveled until we reach a basic
passion that rests on nothing. But one could certainly grant that desire is part of
what constitutes one’s primary motivating reason and still imagine a similar
chain, ending in something like a dictate of pure practical reason. While for many
contemporary anti-Humeans it is the belief-desire model that is the focus of their
attention, this is not the case with the Kantian, since for the Kantian it is the
status of reason as a faculty that is at stake and if we consider the belief-desire
model from a Kantian perspective the important question is to what extent it
stands in the way of a more robust conception of reason than the one
exemplified by the reason-passion model. However, even if we do not want to
postulate such a faculty, we could still accept the Path Thesis and distinguish, as
Thomas Nagel does, between motivated and unmotivated desires – where the
former are consequences of our coming to recognize something as being
justified.13 Even though modern-day Humeans might like to distance themselves
from Hume’s own brand of faculty psychology, it still seems clear that if
Humeanism is to present a real challenge to externalism about normative
reasons, it must embrace the Source Thesis. Together with it, the belief-desire
model rules out the kind of more robust conception of reason that the Kantian
would like to have. This also means that one way to argue against this position is
to claim that we have grounds for accepting a fuller account of reason than is
allowed by this combination. Before doing so, I would however like to first
mention some methodological concerns.
The Humean theory of motivation is somewhat of the philosophical default
position, but at least the reason-passion model is also a theory that one might
expect most people would find quite startling when they first become acquainted
with it, and the reason is that the Humean idea that reason is motivationally inert
runs against the commonly held view that there is an inherent tension between
reason and our inclinations. Indeed, most people would probably say that they
have at times experienced a battle between reason and passion. Hume does of
course deliver an alternative account of such phenomenological observations (in
terms of a battle between calm and violent passions), but this does not remove
the fact that as a metaphysician of what it means to be a person, Hume surely

12 An Enquiry concerning the Principles of Morals, ed. Tom L. Beauchamp (Oxford: Oxford
University Press, 1998), Appendix I, § 18.
13 The Possibility of Altruism, pp. 29-30.

belongs to the revisionary camp, as does any contemporary Humean who
embraces the Source Thesis.
It should also be pointed out that just because a philosopher sounds as if he
or she is saying something controversial, his or her actual position need not
contain anything that really is genuinely radical and subversive. This might sound
trivial, but the point is just that whenever a philosopher says something that
sounds controversial there is reason to be especially wary since controversial
points usually turn out to be based on shifts in the use of key terminology. It is
far too easy to take a notion used more or less in everyday life, analyze it in a way
that in effect alters its meaning, and then pronounce that people are confused
because they use the notion as they do. Once such terminological matters are
sorted out, the controversial might very well turn out to be quite trivial.
Revisionism, if it is to be viable, must rely on more than mere assertion. For
instance, just because Hume says that ‘[r]eason is, and ought only to be the slave
of the passions, and can never pretend to any other office than to serve and obey
them’,14 that does not mean that he is right and, however eloquent he is, it had
better not be the case that his well-known slogan is based merely on the bare
stipulation of another account of reason than the one that lies implicit in our
everyday thought and practices. This being said, the question to be considered
now is whether the Humean theory of motivation presents a good way of
conceptualizing the mind on matters of motivation and action. I hope to show
that it does not.

4.3 Reason and Deliberation

While both Humeans and Kantians might speak of a faculty of reason, there is
today still a tendency to avoid speaking in terms of faculties. It should however
be pointed out that if we as descriptive metaphysicians choose to understand
what it means to be a person partially in terms of faculties, we do so because
there are certain kinds of operations and processes that occur in our daily life
and which can helpfully be summarized in terms of these faculties. Of course,
the Humean should probably be understood as a revisionary metaphysician and
it is perhaps a little more plausible to interpret the revisionist as needing a
somewhat more robust form of faculty psychology, one that is committed, in
some appropriately stronger sense, to the psychological reality of the faculties in
At any rate, one question that might be raised with respect to the Humean
account of reason is whether the purity of this faculty is really matched by a

14 Treatise, p. 415

purity in the kind of processes with respect to which it can be meaningful to
speak of a distinct faculty of reason at all. This charge against Hume goes back at
least to T. H. Green who rejects the idea that there are distinct processes of
reasoning completely disengaged from desire or affect. There is no purely
speculative thinking, just as little as there is any purely practical thinking:

The exercise of the one activity is always a necessary accompaniment of the other. In all
exercise of the understanding desire is at work. The result of any process of cognition is
desired throughout it. No man learns to know anything without desiring to know it. The
presentation of a fact which does not on the first view fit itself into any of our
established theories of the world, awakens a desire for such adjustment, which may be
effected either further acquaintance with the relations of the fact, or by a modification of
our previous theories, or by a combination by both processes.15

Green’s idea is that reason or understanding cannot be purely representational.

In sorting through and sorting out the information we get through our senses,
motivational elements are constantly, and necessarily, at work. A distinct faculty
of reason that would be purely speculative and motivationally inert is an
impossibility, for such a faculty would be cognitively inert as well. This does not
mean that we cannot distinguish between practical and speculative thinking: we
desire and we understand, but in Green’s words ‘we must not imagine Desire
and Intellect, as our phraseology sometimes misleads us into doing, to be
separate agents or influences’.16
If we speak, as we do, of certain individuals as being endowed with reason
then this should not be taken as if there is within this creature’s mind, or indeed
brain, a distinct module that other creatures lack, but where everything else is
pretty much the same. Instead, we should take it to mean that this individual’s
mind in general operates in certain ways that justify ascribing ‘reason’ to it. At
the very least, a necessary presupposition for a mind to have reason is that it is
self-conscious. It is also a mind that has concepts, i.e. a creature with reason is
not only capable of perceiving, it is capable of perceiving-as. It is able not just
plainly to see an object and respond to what it is sees in a purely instinctive
manner, but to see the object as something, e.g. to see the tree as a tree. Such a
capacity enables it to distinguish between reality and appearance.
While the Kantian emphasizes the reflexivity of the human mind, the
Humean tends to neglect it. Since we have already seen, in the previous chapter,
how the experience of freedom is tied up with this reflexivity, it should not come
as any surprise that an account that neglects this aspect will have difficulties in

15 Prolegomena to Ethics, 5th ed. (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1907), § 134, p. 151.
16 Ibid., § 129, p. 146.

making sense of the way in which we sometimes decide what to believe. Not that
we are able to simply decide that we should believe whatever we wish, but there
are clearly cases where we have different alternatives which are all supported by
some evidence and where we have to decide what to believe. When we talk like
Humeans about beliefs, things sound as if a ready-made billiard ball, not p, just
comes rolling into the mind, knocking away another billiard ball, p; but things
are not that simple. The mind is not merely some passive receptacle. There are
matters of interpretation and weighing of evidence involved in many instances of
coming to believe things, and even if these processes are not explicit, as a being
of reason they are still implicit in my thinking.
Hume bluntly states that ‘[r]eason is the discovery of truth or falsehood.
Truth or falsehood consists in an agreement or disagreement either to the real
relations of ideas, or to real existence and matter of fact.’17 If this account were to
be true only true beliefs would be reasonable and while it might be plausible to
claim that if a belief is to count as knowledge it must be true, such a demand
seems excessive when it comes to the question of whether a particular belief is
reasonable or not. Surely, that is a matter of the evidence. Accordingly, if reason
is to be identified as a distinct faculty, and even if we are to understand it as
narrowly occupied with only beliefs, then its operations should be understood as
concerned with assessing and weighing together reasons for believing one thing
rather than another.
Although it might be a bit construed to speak, as Green does, in terms of
desires as playing a role in processes of reasoning, there is still in such processes
a linkage between reasons and aspects that might in a very broad sense be called
motivational. When I finally reach the conclusion that a certain belief is justified,
then, if my mind is functioning properly, that belief will force itself on me. The
very thought that something is justified will have something which can be
likened with a motivational pull. Indeed, certain instances of coming to believe
are quite action-like: they might concern accepting an unwelcome conclusion and
the sense in which I then feel committed to embrace the conclusion is very
similar to obligation. For a being to be governed by reason does not merely
mean that she mechanically adopts certain beliefs but that she wonders what she
is justified in believing and insofar as a certain belief is justified then she adopts it
– or, to put it differently: in a being governed by reason, her beliefs track the way
she judges that she is justified in believing. Of course, in a similar way, if we
allow this kind of role for reason we should be able to say that in a being
governed by reason, her desires track the way that she judges that she has reason
to desire (or perhaps better: to act).

17 Treatise, p. 458.

The difference here spans both the theoretical and the practical; Hume is a
representative of an empiricism which has a picture of the human subject as at
root a passive observer, as essentially just taking in a ready-made world, while
Kant is a representative of a constructivist tradition who sees human subjects as
engaged in actively shaping the life-world in which they conduct their affairs. It
is clear that the ground for the non-role of Humean reason in the practical
sphere is laid in its modest role in the theoretical sphere. Since the conclusion to
be drawn from the above is that Hume’s picture of reason as a distinct and
motivationally inert faculty is deeply flawed and must be rejected in favor of a
more robust conception, it should come as no surprise if such a conception also
would allow for a more active role for reason in the practical sphere. However,
as should be quite apparent, the critique à la Green that can be directed against
Hume is specifically directed towards the reason-passion model, not the belief-
desire model. The adherents of the latter could very well admit that beliefs and
desires are both inextricably involved in processes of speculative as well as
practical thinking, but insist that the individual states themselves are either purely
cognitive or purely motivational.
In contrast to the reason-passion model, with its insistence on reason as
incapable of getting into a conflict with passion, the belief-desire model is hardly
as unsettling to common sense. Indeed, at least initially, many would probably
find it quite commonsensical. This does however not mean that it is without
difficulties and an initial problem has to do with characterizing the very states of
mind the model utilizes: beliefs and desires – what is the difference between
them? The most common way of drawing this distinction is in terms of so-called
‘directions of fit’ concerning the proposition that gives them content. Desires
aim to make the world fit in accordance with their propositional content,
whereas beliefs aim to fit themselves in accordance with the world. This way of
putting things does however run the risk of making it sound as if beliefs and
desires are some kind of mini-agents and it is probably somewhat too
metaphorical. Yet, the main point of ‘directions of fit’ talk can be made in a less
metaphorical way. According to Michael Smith the difference between a belief
and desire amounts to

a difference in the counterfactual dependence of a belief that p and a desire that p on a

perception with the content that not p: a belief that p tends to go out of existence in the
presence of a perception with the content that not p, whereas a desire that p tends to
endure, disposing the subject in that state to bring it about that p.18

18 Ibid., p. 115.

The use of the word ‘tends’ is to be noted. It is quite clear that often when we
believe that p and perceive that not p, the belief that p does not simply go out of
existence, it might take many such perceptions – and perhaps even some further
evidence if it is a matter of a strongly held belief. Likewise, a perception that not
p can sometimes cause a desire that p to go away (for instance when one has
tried one’s best to achieve p and then discovers that not p). This does not mean
that Smith’s view is wrong, only that there are many modes of functioning that
reside in the background of the mind and yet are still presuppositions for much
else that goes on in it; as long as such matters are not fully explicated, it is very
difficult to evaluate just what this view of beliefs and desires really implies. Now,
Smith himself does briefly comment on a suggestion made by Philip Pettit that
we need to distinguish between desires and habits of inference,19 the idea being
that the latter, such as drawing conclusions in accordance with modus ponens, are
not beliefs but cannot simply be subsumed under ‘desires’ either. Smith’s
response20 is that instead of seeing habits of inference as something separate,
they should be seen as internal to the dispositions that constitute beliefs. He
speaks of ‘packages of dispositions’ as constitutive of believing and desiring.
Now, assume that a person, or perhaps a tortoise, believes that p→q and
believes that p, but does not believe that q. What would we say about such a
person? My suggestion is that we would say that his powers of reasoning are
defective, but Smith must say that it is his beliefs that are defective.21 Which
belief: that p→q or that p, or both? Surely, Smith’s analysis simply gets too
construed at this point. The only reasonable recourse is to accept that we cannot
reduce everything in the mind to beliefs and desires. There is a background of
mental mechanisms for managing them: principles of thinking that govern the
thought of a being in possession of reason. However, if we grant this then we
will also have to grant that even though most beliefs are motivationally inert and
can only influence action together with some desire, some beliefs may very well
have the capacity to influence action without getting any help from antecedent
desires but in working together only with the background of mental managing
mechanisms (which we might perhaps, somewhat like Green, speak of in terms
of desires, but of which such talk would be a bit artificial). I would say that there
is a particular class of beliefs that fit in with this, namely what might be called

19 The Common Mind (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1993), pp 18-9.

20 Ibid., pp. 209-10.
21 Actually, Smith uses the phrase ‘defective believer’, but given his line of analysis he should

speak of defective beliefs instead. If there is to be any point to his way of analyzing motivation
he should be able to accomplish it using only micro-level notions like beliefs and desires, not
resorting to macro-level notions like ‘believer’.

‘reason beliefs’,22 i.e. beliefs that there is something which speaks in favor or
against something. This class contains thoughts that move a being of reason
because of the principles according to which such a mind operates.

4.4 Explanation, Rationalization, and Justification

Let us step back somewhat. Before saying anything about which theory of
motivation that we should adopt, it would seem fair to ask what it is that we look
for in a theory of motivation. To begin with, it seems plain enough that a theory
of motivation should be useful in explaining people’s actions. Of course, we can
explain actions in a number of different ways. We might for instance give an
account of a person’s childhood, pointing to how certain factors there initiated
the causal chain that led to her present action. Alternatively, we could perhaps, if
we had sophisticated enough instruments, give an account in terms of certain
electro-chemical occurrences in the person’s brain. While explanations like these
would certainly allow us to understand actions, at least at times, there is still
something that seems to be lacking in them. They treat the person in question as
an automaton and her actions like any other events – perhaps as events the full
explanation of which is a very complex matter, and thus very difficult, but still as
plain events. We do however tend to see actions as a special category of events.
Briefly put, the main difference would seem to be that whereas other events
simply happen, actions are such that there is a perspective on them from the
point of view of the preceding link in the causal chain, the person who chooses
and performs the action.
Explanatory usefulness can hardly give a theory of motivation more than a
place in the philosophical toolbox, so it would seem that we want something
more. A possible suggestion here is that a philosophical theory of motivation
should make sense of the intentionality that characterizes much of human action.
It is fairly clear how the belief-desire model could be understood to provide a
schema for intentional action since citing a fitting belief-desire pair for an action
makes it intelligible as a purposive action, it rationalizes the action. Thus, what
makes something into a theory of motivation, in this sense, is that it attempts to
give explanations in terms of reasons, and ‘reasons’ are here conceived of as the
agent’s reasons for acting as she does. Such reasons make sense of an action in a
way that other explanations, e.g. neuro-physiological, do not. They make the
action into something more than a causally explicated event: they make it
reasonable. Davidson puts it as follows:

Cf. David McNaughton and Eve Garrard, ‘Mapping Moral Motivation’, Ethical Theory and

Moral Practice 1 (1998), p. 48.

A reason rationalizes an action only if it leads us to see something the agent saw, or
thought he saw, in his action – some feature, consequence, or aspect of the action the
agent wanted, desired, prized, held dear thought dutiful, beneficial, obligatory, or
agreeable. We cannot explain why someone did what he did simply by saying the
particular action appealed to him; we must indicate what it was about the action that

It should be noted that when Davidson formulates his theory he does so in

opposition to writers who do not see rationalization as a form of causal
explanation.24 The reason why one could be disinclined to believe this is that one
sees rationalization as strongly tied to matters of justification and since the
relation between justifying reasons is logical rather than causal, it might seem to
be a category mistake to think of rationalization as a form of causal explanation.
Yet, it is also easy to see why one might want to go along with Davidson in
understanding rationalization as a species of causal explanation. After all, we are
going to have a variety of causal explanations anyway and if rationalization is
simply one of them it saves us the trouble of drawing the philosophical map to
include other, categorically different, ways of making actions intelligible. There is
also the apparent fact that we tend to see our deliberations as having causal
power. At the same time, it is however not difficult to form suspicions about the
Davidsonian project: in trying to formulate a model that is to be both a species
of causal explanation and that qualifies as rationalization, one might wonder if it
will not fail to fully be one, or perhaps even both, of them. With respect to the
question of causal efficacy, we run into problems about the mind-body problem
and mental causation, problems that we can perhaps steer clear of if we
understand rationalization as something very different. Nevertheless, what I
would like to focus on here is the issue of whether the belief-desire model really
provides a good schema for rationalizing actions.
What about practical reason – does the Davidsonian position imply an
instrumentalist picture? It would seem that it does not since, even if Davidson
uses a notion like ‘rationalization’, his is not a theory about whether these
reasons are good or not. It does not presuppose instrumentalism, although it is of
course a theory that fits well with it. This does however raise an interesting
question, namely where the notion of ‘rationalization’ should be fitted in if it
would turn out that rationalization is not best understood as a form of causal

23 ‘Action, Reasons, and Causes’ in Essays on Actions and Events, 2nd Ed. (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 2001), p. 3.
24 This idea was at the time prevalent among post-Wittgensteinian philosophers of action, the

chief representative being Elizabeth Anscombe, Intention (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1957).

explanation. Many writers on the subject operate with a distinction between two
kinds of reasons, explanatory (or motivating) and justificatory (or normative).
On a loosely Humean position the latter are counterparts of the former, which
of course means that they are similar to them in content. For instance, when
Michael Smith states that ‘normative reasons are propositions of the general
form “A’s φ-ing is desirable or required”’25, this is something he does without
much argument or indeed without much consideration of alternatives. However,
when you consider the matter, it seems obvious that this is not what normative
reasons look like. If anything, the kind of general proposition identified by Smith
is the conclusion of a process of practical reasoning, the kind of judgment for or
against which normative reasons are offered. Of course, we certainly say things
like ‘I have reason to φ’, and such judgments might perhaps be understood as
judgments to the point that φ-ing is desirable, but are not normative reasons
supposed to be able to be input into our practical deliberation rather than the
outcome of it? 26
Now consider Davidson:

Corresponding to the belief and attitude of a primary reason for an action, we can always
construct (with a little ingenuity) the premises of a syllogism from which it follows that
the action has some (as Anscombe calls it) ‘desirability characteristic’. Thus there is a
certain irreducible – though somewhat anemic – sense in which every rationalization
justifies: from the agent’s point of view there was, when he acted, something to be said
for the action.27

How should we understand this ‘something to be said for the action’ other than
that from the agent’s point of view there were certain reasons for performing the
action, reasons that belong to a wholly different category from both the fact that
he had a certain belief and a certain desire or from the judgment that the action
was desirable. It would seem, then, that Davidsonian primary reasons only
rationalize an action insofar as there are these other reasons in the light of which
the action was seen as the thing to do from the point of view of the agent.
Warren Quinn has provided an instructive example of a case where all we
have is a brute desire that might certainly be used to explain a person’s actions
but does nothing to rationalize them. The example is about a man who has a

25 Ibid., p. 96.
26 Only a few paragraphs down from the place where Smith analyses what it is to be a
normative reason, he slides to talking about having reason to φ, The Moral Problem, p. 97. This is
clearly a slide from talking about the input, normative reasons, in the deliberative process to the
output, what we have reason to do.
27 Ibid., p. 9.

strong urge to turn on radios whenever he encounters them. He does however
not want to hear anything on the radio; he is just simply disposed to turn them
on.28 Clearly, in such cases, pro-attitudes paired with means-end beliefs can do
little to rationalize the behavior in question. While Hume has accustomed
philosophers to the idea that there are loose ends at the top of people’s
deliberative hierarchies, these blind top desires are usually thought to be for
things like pleasure, i.e. things that few would dispute are worthwhile to pursue.
Such desires also tend to be quite general and the desire to turn on radios is
clearly different in this sense, but from the Humean perspective this cannot be
the vital difference since there is nothing in the Humean approach that
necessitates that our blind desires should be general. It is just that, statistically at
least, highly specific desires normally tend to be circumstantial rather than
standing ones. Quinn’s example showcases a person that has a standing desire,
but where we find that something is wrong since the object of this desire is not
logically connected to other features in the space of reasons: it just is.
Consider again, for a moment, Hume’s famous passage in the Enquiry:

Ask a man why he uses exercise; he will answer, because he desires to keep his health. If you then
enquire, why he desires health, he will readily reply, because sickness is painful. If you push your
enquiries farther, and desire a reason, why he hates pain, it is impossible he can ever give
any. This is an ultimate end, and is never referred to any other object.

This susceptibility to why-question is surely characteristic of the kind of behavior

that we call intentional,29 but there is nevertheless an ambiguity in Hume’s
example. On a bona fide Humean account, the links in the chain leading from the
general to the specific are psychological, i.e. they trace a causal flow of motivating
power from the general to the specific, but when you read the text it is easy to
read it as being about a person who gives reasons as to why he is justified in
desiring certain things, and while the relation between exercise and health is
causal, the relation between the value of health and the value of exercise can
surely not be understood as causal, but must be understood as logical. If we then
ask what rationalizes the action, the only reasonable answer would be that it is
this logical chain rather than any causal story about how some basic desire has
caused another desire that has caused another desire and how finally a desire
together with an appropriate means-end belief has caused some action of the
agent. Were the latter the case there should be no problem with rationalization in
Quinn’s example, but there clearly is.

28 ‘Putting Rationality in its Place’ in Morality and Action (Cambridge: Cambridge University
Press, 1993), pp. 236-37.
29 Cf. Anscombe, Intention, § 5.

One might, thus, wonder whether Davidsonian explanations really amount to
anything more than elliptical rationalizations: they often suffice because when
considering normal people we can, once we know what they desire, always ‘fill
in’ an appropriate set of reasons grounding the desire. Remember that these
explanations are supposed to be rationalizations and it seems reasonable that
part of the rationalizing force of citing belief-desire pairs is that they imply that
there are what Anscombe calls desirability characteristics. Of course, normally
we need not cite these (just as we need not always cite both the belief and the
desire), but when they are not there, it would seem that we have an incomplete
form of rationalization. There is still a sense in which the behavior in question is
purposive, but if it is not a matter of rationalizable behavior then it becomes
questionable what it is that the Davidsonian model captures. Given this it seems
reasonable to classify, as Thomas Scanlon does, normal desires as judgment-
sensitive attitudes, i.e. as ‘attitudes that an ideally rational person would come to
have whenever that person judged there to be sufficient reasons for them and
that would, in an ideally rational person, “extinguish” when that person judged
them not to be supported by reasons of the appropriate kind.’30
The problem with internalism about normative reasons is that it gets things
the wrong way around. Indeed, Williams himself has actually made a similar
complaint, together with Amartya Sen, in a discussion of those welfare
economists that base values on choices:

It is not by any means unreasonable to respond to the question: ‘What should I choose?’,
by answering, ‘Whatever is most valuable’. But to respond to the question, ‘What is most
valuable?’, or even ‘What is most valuable to me?’, by answering, ‘Whatever I would
choose’, would seem to remove the content from the notion of valuing, even when
qualifications are added to the supposed choice in the form of ‘under ideal conditions’ or
‘with full understanding’. Basing choice on valuation is cogent in a way that basing
valuation on choice is not. 31

The quandary put forward in this passage is reminiscent of the question put to
Euthyphro by Socrates: ‘Is the pious being loved by the gods because it is pious,
or is it pious because it is being loved by the gods?’32 With respect to Williams
the question can be put as ‘Is something a sound normative reason because the
fully rational person would be motivated to act upon it, or would the fully

30 Ibid., p. 20.
31 ‘Introduction: Utilitarianism and Beyond’, in Amartya Sen and Bernard Williams (eds.),
Utilitarianism and Beyond (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1982), pp. 12-13.
32 Euthyphro, trans. G. M. A. Grube, in Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper, (Indianapolis:

Hackett Publishing, 1997), 10a1-3.

rational person be motivated to act upon it because it is a sound normative
reason?’ The idea is that the link between value and choice has been inverted by
many welfare economists and although Williams’ discussion on internal reasons
is framed in terms of reasons rather than values, it is difficult to see that the
same basic point does not apply to it as well.
Of course, once we drop the idea that the Davidsonian theory provides a
model for the rationalization of actions, there is little attraction left to it since as
a mode of explaining actions citing a Davidsonian primary reason is not really
much of an explanation. To answer ‘Why did X turn the dial on that radio?’ with
‘Because he had a desire to turn on the radio and a belief that turning the dial
would accomplish this’ does not amount to much. All it adds, apart from that
which I can already have observed, is that there was no misunderstanding – he
did not for instance want a drink and believe that he would get it by turning the
dial: he just wanted to do what I saw him do. It would in fact seem that in the
case of blind desires the only way to make them intelligible is by other forms of
explanation, e.g. psychoanalytical or neuro-physiological.
To sort things out, I think it would be useful to move away from the binary
distinction between two kinds of reasons and to distinguish between three
different kinds instead and that we understand these as corresponding to three
different modes of accounting for actions. The three modes are: (i) explanation,
(ii) rationalization, and (iii) justification. The crucial category here is the second,
since the two other are fairly straightforward: explanatory reasons cite features
the relations between which are causal and justifying reasons cite features the
relations between which are logical. I would suggest that accounts of
rationalization will tend towards grouping rationalization together with one of
the other two modes. We can go both ways, but as we have seen, the
Davidsonian model suffers from severe difficulties and it would thus seem
reasonable to draw our understanding of rationalization towards the justificatory
pole (and thus understand as logical the relations between the features cited in
What this means is that we should understand the features cited by bona fide
rationalizations as what Scanlon calls an agent’s operative reasons, entities which in
a normally functioning human being always lay claim to being good reasons;
although since there is the possibility of a gap between what an agent takes as
constituting a good reason and what actually is one, there is room to distinguish
between the merely operative and truly justifying reasons. Of course, the notion
of justification occupies a key constitutive role in setting up the space of reasons
within which we move not only as speculative thinkers but as agents as well. To
judge that something is right is precisely to judge that it is justified. I have already
argued that being moved by the belief that something is justified is a constitutive

feature of a being of reason. There must accordingly be a connection between
having the belief that something is justified and being moved in certain ways. If
we judge that a certain belief is justified then, to the extent that we are beings of
reason, we will be moved towards adopting that belief. If we judge that a certain
course of action is justified then, to the extent that we are beings of reason, we
will be moved towards adopting that course of action. Now, might it not be
objected that there is an important difference between adopting a belief and
adopting a course of action in that the latter, in contrast to the former, does not
occur automatically? Obviously, there is a difference between them, but not a
difference in kind. Instead, the difference lies in that in matters of action there is
a significantly greater degree of inertia involved. It simply takes more to be
moved the full distance when it comes to action. The step from the belief that p
is a justified belief to the belief that p is a quantitatively lesser step than the step
from the belief that φ is a justified course of action to doing φ. Were a being of
reason to exist in a world completely free from inertia, to φ would flow just as
automatically from the belief that φ is a justified course of action as the belief
that p would flow from the belief that p is a justified belief. Yet, even in a world
like ours, one of significant inertia in terms of action, the impulse is still there
and that is all that is required.
For persons governed by reason, to embrace the objects of their desires
involves taking up positions in the space of reasons and the desirability
characteristics of these objects are operative reasons that can be cited to
rationalize their actions. Whether these operative reasons are good reasons is, of
course, a matter for further discussion. In the previous chapter I discussed how
we can understand values as socially constructed and if we adopt such a position
we can naturally understand reasons as oriented around these social structures
rather than around the subjective motivational sets of individuals. Nevertheless,
while such a position does not imply the individualistic relativism of reasons that
characterizes internalism, it would seem to imply a social relativism that from the
perspective of the moral universalist will also be an unattractive position. The
question, then, is this: are there not any reasons that are good reasons for agents
simply because they are agents?

4.5 Brutes and Persons

While we can see actions as mere events and try to make them intelligible simply
as such, we cannot take just any event and understand it as an action. Only those
events that are actualized by certain kinds of beings can qualify as actions and, as
Davidson and others have suggested, intentionality certainly seems to be an
important feature in this context. However, as we have seen, the belief-desire

model is not a satisfactory way of understanding human action since it fails to
capture the role played by reasons. On the other hand, some non-human
creatures might be cognitively and conatively advanced enough to be
characterizable as capable of intentionality while it is clear that reasons have
absolutely no role to play in their lives. This makes it fitting to distinguish
between two different kinds of intentionality:

(i) Brute intentionality: Characteristic of beings who are capable of purposive

behavior, but who have no sense of justification

(ii) Reasoned intentionality: Characteristic of beings capable of purposive behavior

and who have a sense of justification, something which means that their
beliefs and desires involve having taken stands in the space of reasons.

One way of understanding the difference between brutes and persons is of

course that persons are beings that have what brutes have but then also a little
extra added on top of it. When Derek Parfit opens his magnum opus with the line
‘Like my cat, I often simply do what I want to do’33 he is making a statement
typical of this kind of stance, which, I suppose, is a very common stance to take.
For instance, John Searle has wryly noted that ‘[o]ne way to describe the
Classical Model [of rationality] is to say that it represents human rationality as a
more complex version of ape rationality’.34 There is however another take on the
matter, one that I would say that Kant is a representative of, but which one need
not be a Kantian to adopt, namely that the difference between the person and
the brute is such that it permeates even those features that the person and the
brute might superficially be taken to have in common. The features essential to
being a person are not merely a set of add-ons: they involve an altogether
different mode of being.
While both brutes and persons are characterized by having both conative and
cognitive states with respect to the environment in which they are situated, this
does not mean that these are identical states. It is clearly true that even a simple
brute might be conceptualized as believing certain things, e.g. a cat might be said
to believe that if it sits outside the door and meows it will be let inside, but this is
a way of believing that is fundamentally different from when a person believes
something. For a person to believe always involves taking up a position in the
space of reasons, i.e. it is something which is inextricably bound up with
justification. Of course, this does not mean that persons always think about

33 Reasons and Persons, p. ix.

34 Rationality in Action, p. 5.

matters of justification when coming to believe things, but when they acquire
new beliefs these are always integrated into a framework of other beliefs, many
of which they have thought about in terms of what is justified. There is also a
contestability about her beliefs: they are open to questioning, of being subjected,
if perhaps not all at once, to the game of giving and taking reasons.
The difference between brutes and persons does, thus, not lie so much in the
moment of action but in the way in which one’s actions are integrated into one’s
life as an agent. This means that the difference does not lie in some additional
phenomenal quality, but rather in the underlying commitments that characterize
the intentionality of persons. The agency of brutes can be understood fully in
terms of the two states that the belief-desire model operates with, although it
should perhaps be pointed out that a brute is also characterized by being
incapable of second-order desires. This is perhaps not surprising since that
capacity is often taken as an important characteristic of being a person.35 But on
the account suggested here, this capacity for second-order desires must be
understood in the right way if we are to get a good picture of what it means to
be a person. (Generally speaking, the significance of second-order desires has
been overestimated and the attention regularly given them is probably largely due
to the tendency to think of desires as providing input into the process of
practical reasoning. Those cases where we do have second-order desires usually
have to do with failures of our first order-desires to track our reasoned
judgments. One might for instance judge that there is good reason to work on a
certain text but still find oneself quite unable to do so at times; in such cases our
reasons are tracked by second-order desires instead of first-order ones.)
The kind of normativity that we can sensibly speak of with respect to brutes is
very weak. Normativity in a robust sense requires more: in the case of beliefs it
requires the ability to distinguish between appearance and reality and not just the
mechanical ability to adapt to ‘discoveries’ about what is the case; in the case of
desires normativity in the robust sense can only be an issue in contexts where
there exists the possibility of distinguishing between that which is desired and
that which is desirable. Accordingly, while it is certainly true that we often, like
Parfit’s cat, simply do what we want to do, it would not be accurate to take this
as implying that we often act just like other animals.
In order to prepare the ground for what will follow in the coming chapters I
would now like to distinguish between three cognitive faculties characteristic of
persons. The delineation of these faculties forms the core of a metaphysics of
the person. Now, although Kant himself certainly has many things to say about

See Harry Frankfurt, ‘Freedom of the Will and the Concept of a Person’ in The Importance of

What We Care About (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1988).

the metaphysics of the person, he never presents a full-fledged theory of it and,
although the theory presented here draws heavily on Kant, I make no claim
about it being Kant’s theory: it is just a Kantian theory. I will go through these
three faculties one by one, but it is important to realize that they do not operate
in separation from each other. They form an organic system in the sense that if
you were to remove one you would change the nature of the others. Thus, while
Kant represents a faculty-oriented approach to the human mind, the faculties in
question are not so much neat little units but rather interdependent abilities, or
modes of operation, of the human mind as a whole.

(i) Understanding. This is the ability to relate to the world in a conceptually

informed way. The understanding is essentially tied to judgment in the sense that
it is about deeming something as something. To a certain extent, other animals
have something that might be called understanding as well and we can obviously
say of them that they believe certain things in the sense that this allows us to
make their behavior intelligible; but understanding in the full sense requires self-
consciousness or more precisely the ability to understand that one can
understand (or fail to understand). This being said, it should perhaps be pointed
out that the faculty that Hume calls reason is mostly like the faculty a Kantian
would call understanding, and it might also be conceded that since even brutes
can be taken to be in possession of understanding in a rudimentary sense, the
Humean theory of motivation is perhaps a fair model for making the behavior of
other animals intelligible.
As has been pointed out by many writers over the last few decades, most
ethical thinking is not neatly separated into a cognitive part (that simply seeks to
establish a description of the situation and the available alternatives) and one
normative (that applies some code of rules to the description),36 especially since
many of the concepts that we use in order to understand the situations that we
face are normative and there is no reason to assume that one can be fully
competent with these concepts without sharing in the evaluative outlook which
they express. Many of these concepts serve as what Elizabeth Anscombe has
called ‘stopping modals’,37 i.e. when we come to see a certain act as embodying
the feature in question they tend to close down the viability of that act. For

36 For some prominent examples, see Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good (London: Routledge
& Kegan Paul, 1970), John McDowell, ‘Virtue and Reason’ in Mind, Value, and Reality
(Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), and Martha Nussbaum, Love’s Knowledge
(Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1990).
37 ‘Rules, Rights and Promises’ and ‘On the Source of the Authority of the State’, Collected

Philosophical Papers, Vol. III: Ethics, Religion, and Politics.

instance, I might contemplate a certain act and then come to understand it as
being cruel and this understanding would, normally at least, be sufficient for
ruling out the act in question.
I will return to the question of the place that explicit thinking in terms of
moral principles has in the life of a moral agent, but even if it turns out that it
has a significant role to play, it is still quite clear that the vast amount of those
parts of our thinking that are ethically informed are such that it has only to do
with the understanding and that the understanding as a faculty involves both the
factual and the normative.

(ii) Imagination. When someone is stressing the importance of imagination with

respect to ethical matters, it is usually a question of emphasizing the role played
by imaginatively putting ourselves in other people’s shoes in order to better
grasp the way that our actions affect them. This is surely an important aspect of
moral deliberation, but the Kantian notion of ‘imagination’ [Einbildungskraft] is
more fundamental than that. It is a constructive faculty that gives us the ability to
think of something in its absence (although for Kant it is also a necessary
perquisite for the experience of that which is present).
For practical matters it is an ability of great significance. While self-awareness
is often stressed as the key human trait in terms of which we must understand
the central role of normativity in our lives,38 we should not underestimate the
role played by imagination. Normative ethics is essentially about ideals. To think
about how things ought to be clearly presupposes the ability to think of how
things might otherwise be. Those philosophers and others who, like Plato or
More, dreamed about utopias surely displayed it in abundance, but imagination is
essential even on a smaller scale. When we reason about how to act, we do so
from different sets of alternatives and the formulation of these alternatives
requires imagination. And yet, the role of imagination is rarely even mentioned in
works on practical deliberation, a fact that perhaps goes some way towards
explaining why such philosophical accounts tend to present a picture of the
agents as pushed rather than pulled towards acting as she does.

(iii) Reason. Although the importance of the understanding and the imagination
should not be underestimated, it is of course reason that is the central Kantian
faculty, and given that we have rejected the Humean conception of reason it
would seem that we should adopt a more substantial conception, one which
understands reason as a faculty that assesses and weighs together reasons for and
against believing and doing certain things. However, while this is fairly

38 Korsgaard, Sources of Normativity, Chapter 1

straightforward, it might still be wondered from where reason gets its material –
these reasons that it deals in, where do they come from? With respect to
practical reasoning, there was an obvious candidate for providing the material,
namely that reasons are grounded in our desires, but this idea had to be rejected.
It would therefore seem that we would need some form of externalist realism
about reasons and, as suggested in the previous chapter, the only plausible theory
that yields this is social constructivism. The reasons that we deal in are parts of
the social heritage passed down to us from all those agents who have reasoned,
behaved, believed, and desired within the bounds of the shared space of reasons
that they have constituted together.
However, as already pointed out, there is a problem with social constructivism
in that it would seem to make what we have reason to do into a merely
contingent matter; but while the concrete layout of the space of reasons within
which we are situated might be determined by the social setting in which we lead
our lives, this need not mean that everything about the space of reasons is purely
a social construction. More precisely, it might be the case that certain features are
necessary prerequisites for it to exist at all and that certain aspects of us as
persons are actually necessary if we are to be able to constitute a space of
reasons at all. To begin with, the practice of giving and taking reasons would
certainly be undermined if the beings participating in it were not answerable to
each other and as a minimal requirement of what it takes to be a person, there
would seem to be the inherent disposition to see a need to meet reasons with
reasons, i.e. if someone asks me for a reason that is always a pro tanto reason for
presenting him with one. This feature of beings of reason is perhaps the key to
the fact that morality has such a grip on us: our need to justify the way that we
behave to the persons that we affect by our actions rests not so much on their
bare ability to be affected as sentient beings, but on their ability to ask us why we
act as we do. Generally speaking, this is something that has been neglected by
Anglophone moral philosophers, usually since they have tended to neglect the
sociality of human existence.
The answerability of individual agents that is needed for the constitution of a
space of reasons within which they can relate to each other under the idea of
freedom would however seem to require a little more. To begin with, a
commitment to basic rules of logic should be in place. Thus, to point out
inconsistencies in the position of the other should precipitate a change in his
position: an inconsistency should always be at least a pro tanto reason for change.
Furthermore, something like a drive towards systematicity should also be in
place. The reason is that if the game of giving and taking reasons is to be able to
go on beyond the immediate things that can be said in favor or against some
individual thing, the matters that we reason about and the things we support

them with, must hang together. Of course, this game of giving and taking
reasons does not presuppose that we all share a coherent whole, but it does
presuppose that we tend towards this kind of coordination through
There is an additional feature that is perhaps the most important one for
Kant, namely the drive towards completeness and exhaustiveness, which means
that reason seeks final ends and ultimate causes. Indeed, one of the main points
of the first Critique is that, because of this, reason often makes us chase
phantoms, drawing us into lines of thought that only lead to puzzles and
paradoxes. This tendency is something that we should expect to find in a faculty
that deals in what gives support to things since once this dimension of ‘why-
questions’ is opened up there is always the question if the posing of why-
questions can be brought to an end somewhere. There is, of course, no
guarantee that reason will be satisfied in its search for final ends and ultimate
causes (and other founding elements), but it should also be noted that there are
many things that we find it obvious that one should believe in and things we find
it evident that one should desire, even if we cannot present any further reasons
for them. Such things play a constitutive role in the space of reasons in the sense
that we need some firm ground on which we can stand while questioning other
things. These things have a special status not in that they are immune to change,
but in that changing them involves broad changes of outlook rather than mere
piecemeal modifications.

Aside from being in possession of these cognitive faculties, we humans are still
beings that strive, beings of desire. One might of course say that desire
constitutes the animal side of our nature, since unlike faculties like reason and
imagination it is one that we share with the other animals. Does this mean that
we are a sort of mixed creature – half brute, half person? To a certain extent we
might say so, but then it is important to remember that in us these aspects are
not distinct parts. Thus, when Kant points out that ‘if man gives free rein to his
inclinations, he sinks lower than an animal because he then lives in a state of
disorder which does not exist among animals’ (LE 122-23), what he is drawing
our attention to is that we can never act just like the other animals and, again, the
reason is that when human beings desire something it involves, at least according
to this understanding of desire, taking a stand in the logical space of reasons.
Not that it must involve a conscious taking of such a stance, but the fact that any
object of a desire might be subjected to the tribunal of reason means that there is
a principled dimension to the desires of a person. This is reflected in the Kantian
talk about maxims. In doing a certain thing, given certain circumstances, a
person that is governed by reason is committing herself to doing the same thing,

given that she find herself in relevantly similar circumstances and given that she
does not discover that there was some feature in the original circumstances the
relevance of which she overlooked and that would have made a difference. The
principled dimension in human choice does not mean that we cannot change our
minds, but it does mean that we need some reason in order to change our minds.
This commitment can be understood as me laying down a law for future
situations and this is naturally an important precondition for the social
construction of a space of reasons within which we can relate to each other. If
there were no commitments of this kind, social life would be too haphazard for
such construction to take place. By being in this way, I live up to a minimal form
of accountability that is required for others to relate to me under the idea of
This kind of freedom is also of a kind that makes it intelligible to speak of the
person as being in possession of a will, in the Kantian sense of a faculty of
principles, and it allows us to see how there is something to Kant’s idea about
identifying the will with practical reason. It does, however, also mean that this
entity called ‘the will’ is not given a phenomenologically prominent place; but
then again, if we look at the moment of decision, it would be plainly false, at
least in a phenomenological sense, to say that there is something like ‘the will’ in
such a place. Indeed, it seems just as false to talk about the will as having such a
place as it would be to speak of desires as having it. Yet, although I rarely think
anything like ‘Now I decide to φ’ when choosing something, this does not mean
that there is not an element of self-awareness present at the moment of decision.
Indeed, what happens at the moment of willing seems to be an act of
identification with an object of desire within a certain situational setting and the
Kantian way of expressing this is that this act thus involves an implicit
endorsement of a certain maxim. It is this act of identification that turns a
maxim into a principle, and perhaps the simplest way to bring out the way in
which even seemingly singular choices can involve principles, is to think about
what would happen were we to face the same kind of situation another time.
Given that we responded in a certain way before, and provided we have not
learnt anything new that is applicable to situations of this kind, would we not see
our response in the former situation as impinging on the new one? The drive
towards consistency, inherent in a being governed by reason, would seem to
demand it. There is certainly always the possibility that we are principled about
not repeating ourselves, perhaps because we find it boring to act in the same way
over and over again, but then we would still be acting on a principle.
It might be objected that this kind of account still gives too prominent a place
to reason in our lives as agents. After all, it would seem that we often act ‘for no
reason at all’ and that this is something that we accept as quite natural. The

position outlined here does however not suggest that we always think in terms of
reasons or indeed that we in our back-pocket always have a set of positive
reasons for doing what we do, reasons that we can produce instantly when asked
to do so. Moreover, while we often do act in a spontaneous way it is quite clear
that ‘acting for no reason at all’ is not a phenomenon that is always acceptable if
people are to be able to relate to us as accountable individuals. Normally ‘acting
for no reason at all’ is sound when it concerns matters that are of little
importance, indeed acts where there is reason not to waste time by taking
principled stands with respect to them. In other cases, it would involve a serious
failure of reason.
Which failures are serious and which are not? By and large this is something
that depends on the socially constituted contents of the space of reasons (of
course, it will also be a question of the normal functioning of human beings,
although as such this has no normative relevance, it is just that if certain things
are biologically hardwired into us we will tend to socially constitute norms that
reflect these features). As a member of our community of reasoning, the person
that makes no normative distinctions between certain things owes us an account
of why he does not do so, an account that makes sense to us, or else we are
justified in seeing his failure to do so as a failure of reason. That ‘he simply felt
like it’ suffices in some cases, but not in all.
In addition to this, it should be pointed out that even if our principles in some
cases play no role in positively picking out certain actions, they can still be
operative as limiting conditions on what we do (indeed, this is probably the way
moral principles usually operate),39 i.e. they set certain bounds outlining a space
within which we can act for no reason at all. What all this means is that there is a
principled dimension in what kinds of acts are fitting to be done for ‘no reason
at all’ and which are not.

4.6 The Dualism of Practical Reason

Given the above, there are both conservative and subversive elements involved
in a community of reasoning: conservative, since we always already start from
pre-existing structures in the space of reasons in which we are situated;
subversive, since the right to question each other holds a critical potential
capable of undermining many, if not all at once, of the distinctions that structure
this space. Indeed, because of this inherent challengeability and the fact that it is

39 For an example of a contemporary Kantian who emphasizes this kind of role for moral
principles, see Barbara Herman, The Practice of Moral Judgment (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard
University Press, 1993).

more difficult to put forward challenges than to answer them, one might perhaps
even say that reason holds a directly destructive potential.40 But another, and
perhaps more positive, light in which this can be seen is that there is an
egalitarian tendency in reason,41 especially in the tendency to treat cases similarly,
i.e. we need some reason for making a distinction about how to treat things
rather than needing reasons not to make such a distinction. Thus, we should not
be surprised to see this egalitarian tendency at work in philosophers that try to
provide accounts of ethics that are in accordance with reason. For instance, in
his The Methods of Ethics, Henry Sidgwick presents three axioms, which according
to him provide the basis for consequentialism:42

(1) Prudence: ‘a smaller present good is not to be preferred to a greater future

good (allowing for difference of certainty).’
(2) Justice: ‘if a kind of conduct that it is right (or wrong) for me is not right (or
wrong) for some one else, it must be on the ground of some difference
between the two cases, other than the fact that I and he are different persons.’
(3) Rational Benevolence: ‘each one is morally bound to regard the good of any
other individual as much as his own, except in so far as he judges it to be less,
when impartially viewed, or less certainly knowable or attainable by him.’

It is clear that all three of these axioms rest on appeals to the need of reason to
find positive reasons for drawing normatively differentiating distinctions. And
most reasonable people, when confronted with Sidgwick’s axioms, will probably
feel sympathetic at least to the overall tendency of them (although, on closer
examination, one might certainly find that there must be something wrong with
them since they lead to conclusions that one cannot accept). One aspect that
Sidgwick’s mentions, ‘the fact that I and he are different persons’ is certainly an
operative reason in many deliberations and, thus, used to distinguish normatively
between people and similar thoughts may be used to distinguish between
different times in one’s own life; but if they are, they would seem to need

40 Cf. Bernard Williams’ worries about how reflection can destroy ethical knowledge, Ethics and
the Limits of Philosophy (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1985), Chapter 9.
41 Although, of course, in the real world, asymmetries in power bring about that certain persons

and groups are able to establish their challenges as ones to be taken seriously by everybody,
whereas others are marginalized. However, even there, reason as such still holds a subversive
and egalitarian potential.
42 The Method of Ethics, 7th ed. (London: Macmillan, 1907), pp. 379-382. To be precise, Sidgwick

was discussing utilitarianism, the classic form of consequentialism. The latter notion was not
even invented at the time he wrote, but in order to keep things simple I will still use it in
connection with him as well.

additional backing since it is not much of a reason merely to repeat the bare
prerequisite of drawing the distinction in the first place. And as already pointed
out ‘Because I felt like it’ is a response that runs counter to reason, at least when
concerning things of importance, such as sacrificing a greater future good in
favor of a smaller present. On the Humean story it is however wholly legitimate
to do so. Or as Hume himself puts it:

[’Tis not] contrary to reason to prefer even my own acknowledg’d lesser good to my
greater, and have a more ardent affection for the former than the latter. A trivial good
may, from certain circumstances, produce a desire superior to what arises from the
greatest and most valuable enjoyment; nor is there any thing more extraordinary in this,
than in mechanics to see one pound weight raise up a hundred by its advantage of its

But this is hardly the kind of agent that Sidgwick is worried about, for him the
crucial step does not lie in making us accept (1), but rather (3), and his strategy is
clearly to make us realize that since we already, in some form or other, accept (1)
and (2), we should also accept (3). However (3) does not follow logically from
(1) and (2); instead Sidgwick’s bet is that if we accept both (1) and (2) we will be
prone to accept (3), but I suspect that (3) is also something that we might find
independently appealing because of our inherent drive, as beings of reason,
towards the systematic. It provides us with a beautifully simple way of relating
due attention and human goods to each other. Sidgwick himself is certainly
struck by this quality of utilitarianism: ‘If we are not to systematize human
activities by taking Universal Happiness as their common end, on what other
principles are we to systematize them?’44 Given the inherent tendency of reason
towards systematization, this is certainly a question that the Kantian must take
Now, there are at least two persons who will be unlikely candidates for
accepting (3). The first is the true Humean agent; but this is a person who is in a
sense not even part of the discussion. He rejects (1). He just happens to have
certain desires and if he happens to think of certain means to satisfy them, it just
might happen that he acts in accordance with those means. There is nothing
normative about it. The second person is the ethical egoist, who accepts (1) and
(2), but rejects (3). The failure to reach him is something Sidgwick himself
acknowledges,45 but he is simply unable to find any arguments that would force
such a person to become a universalist. However, since both of these character

43 Treatise, p. 416.
44 Ibid., p. 406.
45 Ibid., p. 499.

types are perhaps rather the bogeymen of moral philosophy than actually
existing character types this might not strike us as a serious problem. The main
issue is instead with all us other people, who are initially drawn to both (1) and
(2), and who have at least a vague idea about how the morals that we adhere to
involve an important ideal of impartiality. But is that impartiality best captured
through something like (3)? That is the real question.
What the crucial step to (3) then hinges upon seems to be that we should
come to see a parallel between the intra-personal and the inter-personal.
Sidgwick suggests that in both cases what we have is a question of ‘considering
the relation of the integrant parts to the whole and to each other’ and that in
realizing that it is the same kind of procedure, we ‘obtain the self-evident
principle that the good of any one individual is of no more importance, from the
point of view (if I may say so) of the Universe, than the good of any other’.46
What Sidgwick does here, by emphasizing this parallel, is to establish a duality of
perspectives that one might take on one’s actions and, accordingly, he concludes
that there exists a dualism of practical reason (although he laments the
‘pretentious sound of this phrase’47) in the sense that there are two distinct
modes of reasoning about what to do, one prudential and one moral, and thus
also two senses in which the question ‘what ought I to do?’ can be taken.
As is well-known, Sidgwick thought his work a failure because he could not
dismiss of ethical egoism as a reasonable way of life, but the question is if this is
the important thing at stake here. What is probably more interesting is whether
Sidgwick has characterized the moral in a reasonable way and on this matter it
seems clearly to be the case that his way of setting up things does lead one to
view utilitarianism as a natural counterpart to egoism. Accordingly, if we want to
resist Sidgwick’s line of thought, there are two ways of doing it: either we reject
the whole idea of a dualism of practical reason or we accept that there is this
kind of dualism, but that his way of setting it up wrongly leads us to seeing
utilitarianism as the natural theory to encapsulate the ideal of impartiality
inherent in morality.
The second option is the one that I will try to pursue, but that will have to
wait until the final chapter. For now, I would like to say a few words about the
first option, one that Sidgwick himself certainly saw as a distinct possibility:

[I]n the earlier age of ethical thought which Greek philosophy represents, men
sometimes judged an act to be ‘good’ for the agent, even while recognizing that its
consequences would be on the whole painful to him, as (e.g.) a heroic exchange of a life

46Ibid., p. 382.
47‘Some Fundamental Ethical Controversies’ in Essays on Ethics and Method, ed. Marcus Singer
(Oxford: Clarendon Press, 2000), p. 43.

full of happiness for a painful death at the call of duty. I attribute this partly to a
confusion of thought between what it is reasonable for an individual to desire, when he
considers his own existence alone, and what he must recognize as reasonably to be
desired, when he takes the point of view of a larger whole: partly, again, to a faith deeply
rooted in the moral consciousness of mankind, that there cannot be really and ultimately
any conflict between the two kinds of reasonableness.48

For a modern reader, the way in which Aristotle and other Greek philosophers
subordinate morality to the larger matter of the good life might certainly seem
disturbing, but I do not think that the Greek approach can be brushed aside
quite as easily as Sidgwick seems to think. It is not at all obvious that
eudaimonism simply represents a lack of insight. To begin with, the dualistic
picture urged by Sidgwick, and most other modern philosophers, drives a wedge
between different modes of thinking in which the agent can involve herself, thus
leaving the agent in a somewhat schizophrenic state. But not only is it a wedge, it
is also a wedge that separates morality from the core being of the individual
agent, something which might be seen as alienating us from morality and thus
making morality into something that is inherently an enemy of our own pursuits.
Now, this form of critique is highly pertinent for our purposes since
Kantianism certainly is a dualistic theory and on the Kantian story morality does
seem to become, virtually by definition, something that is associated with a
burden, with having to go against one’s inclinations. Indeed, the very oughtness
of human morality is identified by Kant as having to do with the fact that we are
beings with inclinations; for a being with a holy will the moral law would not
appear as an imperative at all. This aspect of Kantianism was criticized already by
Hegel for alienating the concrete individual from her moral commitments. More
recently, many writers within that contemporary field of ethical inquiry that
might be loosely designated as ‘virtue ethical’ deplore the kind of split agent that
tends to be a standard picture of much modern moral philosophy. The first to
make this kind of charge was probably Elizabeth Anscombe,49 but writers like
Michael Stocker,50 Bernard Williams,51 and Michael Slote52 have also put forward
different variants in this family of objections. Of these, Williams is probably the
one who has been most influential, especially in his argument that the
fundamental question of ethics is the one Socrates puts in the Republic, namely
about how one ought to live, and where this is understood as an inclusive

48 The Methods of Ethics, pp. 404-5.

49 ‘Modern Moral Philosophy’.
50 ‘The Schizophrenia of Modern Ethical Theories’, The Journal of Philosophy 73 (1976).

51 Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, Chapters 1 and 10.

52 From Morality to Virtue (New York: Oxford University Press, 1992).

question under which both moral and other aspects are to be weighed together
as components of the good life. While Williams does not believe that one can
produce some neat theory about wherein the human good lies the approach he
favors is thus still an eudaimonist one.
Nevertheless, even if Hegelians and virtue ethicists are right in drawing our
attention to the way in which the Kantian picture (and Sidgwick’s as well) does
precipitate a split in the agent, there does seem to be something to be said for
the Kantian picture, at least in so far as it captures our common sense thinking
of the matter better than Aristotelianism does. One might of course respond by
saying something like ‘the worse for common sense’, arguing that it is still an
unsound attitude which is given expression by the Kantian picture. But such an
argument seems to presuppose a firm footing in something that lies outside of
common sense, a ‘something’ that it is difficult to see exactly what it would be.
Accordingly, there is one type of answer to the worry about ethical
schizophrenia that is easy to make, but which might perhaps not do much to
convince those who deplore our modern age, namely that we do, as a brute
matter of fact, live in a culture where ideas about an inherent conflict between
morality and self-interest are so deeply ingrained that there is simply no way
back; we are stuck with these ideas and will be so for a long time – all that a
moral theorist can do is to work from these ideas. This is not all that can be said
in favor of the dualist model, although perhaps in the end the kind of appeals to
our moral sentiments that can be made in favor of the dualist model do still fall
back on the bare fact that we live in a culture in which this model is deeply
While a unification of one’s concerns might be an attractive ideal, the
eudaimonist purchases this unity at the cost of homogenizing our concerns.
Instead of the conflict between prudence and morality, eudaimonism gives us a
conflict between a crude egoism and an enlightened one. Take for instance an
action of helping another person. While it might be true that there is something
disagreeable about portraying such an act as a burden, it is not at all clear that
eudaimonism is a superior theory since while there is certainly something
beautiful about the person who acts generously and benevolently and where this
behavior flows naturally and effortlessly from her, the problem is that when
people do not behave in such a way our criticism of them, if it is to be sound,
would on the eudaimonist account amount to giving them cues about how to
achieve more happiness. Take a classic example like the one used by Stocker,
where a person visits a hospitalized friend out of duty, and where Stocker tries to
convince us that theories like Kantianism are unable to account for the way that
this kind of motivation is repugnant to us. However, imagine instead a person
who has a hospitalized friend and who does not visit him. Suppose that someone

said to him something like this: ‘Look, you have known Smith for twenty years
now and he does not have many friends or relatives, surely you should visit him
now that he is lying there all alone.’ – can the ‘should’ in this really be
understood as anything but moral? Surely, it cannot be the same ‘should’ that
one can find in a statement like this: ‘You should want to visit Smith because if
you do not you are defective as a friend and then you are lacking one of the
constituents of a good life’.
Of course, the eudaimonist might respond that any other ‘should’ than of the
latter kind is impotent, but to this it must be replied that it is better for it to be
impotent than potent in that way. The split that is involved in the dualist model is
actually rooted in the fact that the Other is a being distinct from me and those
theories that seek to remove this split will also end up not taking seriously the
ethical alterity of the Other.53 True, if we take such a thing as friendship, it might
be correct that an overly moralistic way of thinking about one’s friendships
might spoil them, but this does not mean that a distinct form of morality cannot
be essential for sound friendships, ones where we do things for the sake of the
Other in a deep sense and not just on the surface level of occurrent thought.
We can conclude, then, that the dualist model is after all to be preferred,
although it should perhaps be pointed out that Kant is not altogether as
unqualifiedly dualistic as Sidgwick. Kant differs somewhat from Sidgwick in that
while he certainly separates morality and happiness, he still integrates both of
them in his vision of the highest good for the individual agent. In Sidgwick, the
good for the agent simply consists in her happiness and that is the end of it. Is
this enough for Kant’s theory to become unattractively eudaimonist? I do not
think so since even if the moral is subsumed as a component of the highest good
it is still clear that, within this compound, the distinction between the prudential
and the moral is still operative and the prudential is subordinated to the moral. If

53 This problem is clearly visible in Aristotle’s theory of friendship, according to which the ideal
friend ‘is related to his friend as he is to himself, since the friend is another himself’ (NE
1166a31-33), the idea being that if the other person is like oneself (and under ideal condition
this means: is virtuous just like oneself), one can by analogy extend the love one feels for
oneself to a love for the other, thus making the friend into something like a mirror in which I
can admire the very qualities already possessed by myself. In the Aristotelian approach there is
nothing like the sense of loyalty that grows from a shared personal history and it is difficult to
see how one can make sense of that phenomenon without accepting that mutual obligations,
albeit highly particular obligations grounded in concrete relations, have an important role to
play in constituting real friendships. In fact, even when have drifted apart, perhaps by growing
too dissimilar, we usually feel that we are to a certain extent bound to honor previous
friendships in some respects, and this too is something the Aristotelian will have difficulties
making sense of.

we imagine a person who succeeds well with the prudential part of the highest
good and is criticized for not being moral, this criticism cannot be framed in
terms of a prudential ‘ought’ – in fact, the very notion of the highest good is one
that makes sense only from a moral perspective. It is an encapsulation of the way
that the moral person is to view his own pursuit of happiness, namely that the
value of his happiness is conditioned on him also leading a morally acceptable
On the Kantian story that is to be laid out in the next two chapters, prudence
and morality represent two modes of systematizing our concerns and activities,
one with respect to one’s own individual life and one with respect to the fact that
we are a number of beings all trying to lead good lives within the context of a
shared social space; the idea of the highest good then represents a way of
systematizing these two strands into a whole.

5. The Ideal of Happiness

There is, however, one end that can be presupposed as actual in all rational
beings (so far as they are dependent beings to whom imperatives apply);
and thus there is one purpose which they not only can have, but which we
can assume with certainty that they all do have by natural necessity – the
purpose, namely, of happiness.
– Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, 415

There is a family of concepts that all have to do with a similar subject matter,
namely that of the human good: happiness, well-being, welfare, flourishing, and
eudaimonia. While it is certainly possible to draw distinctions between these, I
will not do so here. Instead, I will simply use ‘happiness’, much because this is
the notion mainly used in the Kantian tradition. By itself this is perhaps not a
conclusive ground for me to use it too, but when it just so happens that it is also
the notion normally employed in everyday talk as well, it is difficult not to treat it
as the default option.
This being said, it should still be pointed out that in this case the choice of
terminology is perhaps not as innocent as one might like. At least as we use it
now, ‘happiness’ has a distinctly subjective slant and if one uses it in a
philosophical investigation, will one not rig the discussion so that anything but a
subjectivist type of theory will seem peculiar? Take ‘flourishing’ as a contrast –
does it not have a much more objectivist ‘feel’ about it? This problem about
terminology is one that I readily admit, but since I am going to attempt to
formulate a subjectivist theory anyway, it does on the other hand seem
appropriate to use a notion that has a strong subjective tone. Yet, since I do not
want to commit myself to any specific theory already at this point, it is perhaps
best to proceed from a somewhat loose characterization of happiness, namely
that it has to do with what makes one’s life go well. If nothing else, this is a quite
common view among philosophers today and, as such, it seems like a fair
In what follows, I will begin by reviewing some of the most commonly held
positions on the question of what makes our lives go well. There are good
reasons why all of them are to be deemed unsatisfactory and I therefore then
turn to the explication of a Kantian alternative. After considering what kind of
role such an approach allots to the notion of happiness, I end this chapter by

discussing the question of why we should be moral given that morality is
understood as something that can require of us that we sacrifice our own

5.1 Standard Positions and Standard Problems

Of course, the question of wherein happiness lies has been discussed by
philosophers since antiquity. The fact that there has been such an overwhelming
amount of writing on the matter creates a need for distinguishing between at
least some main categories of theories about happiness. Ideally, such a
categorization should proceed in accordance with some principle, thereby
yielding a clear and exhaustive partitioning of the field, but as a simple matter of
fact, there is no such commonly accepted categorization. Rather, the standard
way of classifying theories about happiness is to distinguish between the
following three theories: objective list theories, hedonism, and desire theories. As
will become evident I am not really happy with this tripartioning, but before
going into that, I will say a few words about the three standard contenders,
briefly outlining them and indicating their main flaws. To a certain extent, the
order in which I present them is quasi-historical and there is something of a
dialectical movement within this order.

(i) Objective List Theories. The idea here is simply that there is a plurality of things
that make our lives go well, whether we want these things or not. For instance, at
one place, Aristotle gives the following list of the constituent parts of happiness:
‘good birth, plenty of friends, good friends, wealth, good children, plenty of
children, a happy old age, also such bodily excellences as health, beauty, strength,
large stature, athletic powers, together with fame, honour, good luck, and
excellence.’1 Other lists are of course possible; an example of a more modern
one is the one presented by James Griffin: (a) accomplishment, (b) the
components of human existence (which includes such things as autonomy of
choice, working limbs and senses, freedom from great pain and anxiety, and
political liberty), (c) understanding, (d) enjoyment, and (e) deep personal

1 Rhetoric, 1360b19-24. Since Aristotle provides this list in the Rhetoric rather than the Ethics it
might be wondered whether he means it seriously as a list of the constituents of the good life or
whether he is just listing the kind of things people generally think of as such. Yet even if the
latter is the case, Aristotle’s general methodological bent when it comes to ethical matters
should probably allow us to feel justified in using this passage to draw at least some
rudimentary conclusions about the stuff that is supposed to go into that balanced compound he
seems to envisage eudaimonia as consisting in (at least in his treatment of the matter in Book I
of the Nicomachean Ethics).

relations.2 Perhaps Griffin’s list strikes us as more plausible than Aristotle’s, if
nothing else it is formulated in a more systematic way; but what both of them do
is still to provide us with lists of things that few of us would say no to.
The problem is just that simply because something is fine in the sense that we
would not say no to it, it need not be an integral part of what happiness consists
in. Friends, health, and good luck might all be very nice, but the point is that it
might seem as if the order of explanation has been reversed. Could it not be the
case that the reason why such items belong on any reasonable list of important
goods is that it so very hard to think of circumstances where people would not
want them? But if a person does not, pace Aristotle, want to have children, nor,
pace Griffin, care a whit about understanding, what are our grounds for saying
that they should want these things and that having them would make them
better off? It might therefore seem reasonable that some kind of endorsement
constraint is put on the goods that are supposed to contribute to a person’s
happiness: if a person does not in any way care about some alleged good, then
the possession of that something cannot be anything that makes his life go well.
If we take the above remark just as it stands, a hybrid version of the objective
list theory might naturally suggest itself, namely one that presents us with a list of
things that are capable of making our lives go well, but that only do so when
they are endorsed by the person leading the life in question. Nevertheless, while
such a hybrid version of objective list theory would clearly take care of a certain
range of counter-examples, the two components of such a theory would sit
rather uneasily together. If one really starts to take seriously our power to shape
the list of things constitutive of our happiness, why not take it seriously in a
positive way as well? If we are granted the power to render certain things non-
constitutive of our happiness by not caring about them, why should we not be
granted the power to make certain things constitutive of our happiness by caring
for them?
Before closing up this section about objective list theory, it is perhaps
appropriate to say a few words about a tension between two kinds of approaches
that are contained within it. The first consists of the simple list theories, which
are simply attempts to narrow down the list of things that we intuitively find
inherently important for the quality of our lives. Griffin is an example of this.
The second approach consists of what might be called human nature theories,
which start with an account of human nature and then deduce a list of goods
from it. This will usually result in a perfectionist theory of happiness. Aristotle is
an example of this, at least when it comes to essential goods like the activity of
the rational part of the soul.

2 Well-Being (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986), p. 67.

On the whole, I would say that representatives of the first approach will have
little to say with a straight face against those who complaint about how objective
list theories do not take seriously what persons themselves feel about the matter
of their own happiness. What these philosophers do is after all simply to take
their own views about what makes lives go well, appeal to these views as
grounded in ‘our’ intuitions, and then claim universality for them. If someone
asks why some particular philosopher’s taste should be taken as authoritative, it
is difficult to see what the response could be. The adherents of the second
approach at least have something to say: since our nature is not up to us, why
should we expect that the things that constitute our happiness are? However,
they do also take on a rather difficult argumentative burden since such a theory
seems to require a robustly teleological view of human nature. This is however a
type of view that has little credibility today. Even if, as argued in Chapter 3,
teleological models might have a certain use in understanding human action, it is
difficult to see how such legitimate uses could be stretched to the point where
they can ground an account of human happiness.

(ii) Hedonism. This is the view that happiness consists in pleasure (or perhaps the
excess of pleasure over pain, but I will keep things simple by just focusing on the
positive component of happiness). It is a strikingly simple view and although I
cannot claim to really know anything certain about the matter, I suspect that
while objective list theories might capture much of the way in which we actually
behave, i.e. we tend to pursue a host of goods, hedonism is a position that most
people tend to entertain rather early on when they start to think philosophically
about the nature of happiness.
Unlike classical conceptions of happiness, where what we would call morality
is often understood as a component of human flourishing and where,
accordingly, we cannot flourish without being moral, hedonism is essentially an
amoral conception of the human good. In fact, hedonism might even make it
hard to see why we should be moral at all, since it construes what lies in our self-
interest so very narrowly; and this kind of problem is even further aggravated if
what one might call prudential hedonism is coupled with psychological
hedonism (as was the case with Bentham and Mill).3 The main question for now
is however whether hedonism is sound as a theory of what makes lives go well.

3 According to psychological hedonism, pleasure and pain are the only basic incentives for
action. Thus, in order for me to do something there must be some promise of either pleasure
achieved or pain avoided attached to this action. The problem with such a theory is, of course,
that even moral behavior must be motivated in the same manner. Mill certainly saw this
problem and since he did not let go of his psychological hedonism, he drew the conclusion that

If the general problem with objective list theories is that they view happiness
as essentially disconnected from what the individual feels about the matter, the
problem with hedonism is that it severs the way my life is going from the way
things are really going for me in the world. According to hedonism, it does not
matter whether we fail or succeed in the world, as long as we feel pleasure. Now,
of course, we all generally find displeasure in failure (and when we do find
pleasure in it, it is usually because we have through this particular failure
succeeded in some other sense); but, according to hedonism, as long as we think
that we succeed, everything would be alright. Thus, a hedonist does not seem to
have any resources with which to make sense of the way we tend to value an
authentic over an inauthentic existence. This well-known example attempts to
illustrate the problem:

Suppose there were an experience machine that would give you any experience you
desired. Superduper neuropsychologists could stimulate your brain so that you would
think and feel you were writing a great novel, or making a friend, or reading an
interesting book. All the time you would be floating in a tank, with electrodes attached to
your brain. Should you plug into machine for life, preprogramming your life’s
experiences? 4

If you were a hedonist, the answer would seem to be a resounding ‘yes’. Still,
most of us would probably hesitate about submitting ourselves to this kind of
existence. A problem with this particular example is however that perhaps our
hesitation might very well partly be due to the fact that the scenario as such is so
unbelievable. Nevertheless, even though our intuitive response might be
somewhat tainted by such concerns, it is hardly exhausted by them. Leaving
science fiction aside, there are certain phenomena in our world that might be
considered as real-life experience machines. For instance, some states of religious
belief can lend a subject a form of harmonious tranquility that makes him more
or less immune to how he fares in the world.5 Yet, such tranquility might be
bought at the cost of succumbing to a blind faith in religious authority. Say that
one learns of a sect whose members all walk through life in a state of blissful
stillness, but where the path to this blessed state is one best characterized as an
especially thorough form of brain-washing; we can also assume that from the

if morality is to get a grip on us there must be sanctions, external or internal, maintaining it. The
reason why Mill was reluctant to let go of his psychological hedonism was, of course, that his
‘proof’ of utilitarianism rested on it.
4 Robert Nozick, Anarchy, State, and Utopia (New York: Basic Books, 1974), p. 42.

5 This suggestion was made by Peter Sandøe in a talk he delivered at the Philosophical Society,

Lund University, on September 25, 2000.

point of view we presently occupy we can clearly see that the tenets which make
up this religion are wholly unfounded, a confused hopscotch of ideas. Of course,
once we become immersed in the sect, we would firmly believe in both the truth
and the profound depth of these tenets. Would one, if offered membership in
this sect, take the offer? I suppose that although perhaps some would, most
would not. To some extent this can be explained by how we always already have
different commitments that we would have to let go of in order to join the sect
or which, at the very least, would as a simple matter of fact not be important to
us after we have gone through the initiation procedure; thus, we would tend to
decline an offer like this out of a sense of responsibility towards such pre-
commitments. Yet, while that would certainly be part of the truth, I strongly
suspect that even among those that have very few commitments, only a small
number would accept the offer. The hedonist might perhaps say that this is
simply a matter of prejudice, but the simple truth is that it is because we find that
to lead a life based on a lie is to lead a life that is at least prima facie bad. Certainly,
some of us would perhaps choose a fake fantasy over dreary reality, especially if
reality became dreary beyond a certain level. Yet the essential point against
hedonism is not that it would advocate such a choice, but rather that it makes us
unable to say that in a choice between a real life and a virtual one in which we
would accomplish the same things, the real one is superior. This flaw is all that it
takes for hedonism to be false. However, it is not the only reason why we should
reject it.
Hedonism does have another drawback, one that is perhaps even more
serious than the former. If pleasure is the one thing that constitutes happiness,
then all other things that we regard as goods can only have an instrumental
value. This point can be understood in two ways. The first is that of the so-called
‘paradox of hedonism’: the person who takes an instrumental attitude towards
other things than pleasure will get less pleasure than the person who does not.
Since the hedonist will not take the concrete objects of pursuit as seriously (after
all, they are merely means to getting pleasure), they will not engage him in a way
that can give real pleasure. Now, while I do regard this as a valid point in the
sense that it is probably correct as an empirical generalization, I think that it is
only a symptom of a much deeper failure. Still, in order to appreciate this, we
might do well to look at how a sophisticated hedonist would respond to ‘the
paradox of hedonism’. What should be noted is that this argument does not
direct itself against hedonism as a theory of the human good, but rather against
hedonism as a principle of living, i.e. when we put hedonism into practice, that
practice will tend towards self-defeat. But, the sophisticated hedonist will say,
that only means that the wise hedonist will not use hedonism as such a principle;
at most, he will in some cool hour of reflection think somewhat about what

constitutes happiness, but otherwise he will simply throw himself into the whirl
of life taking his pleasure without thinking much about it.
This kind of response brings us to the second version of the above complaint,
namely that hedonism operates with an impoverished view of the nature of
pleasure. It treats pleasure as something that we simply ‘feel’, but that misses one
of the most significant forms of enjoyment that we have, namely what
Wladyslaw Tatarkiewicz has called life-satisfaction,6 that elated state of mind that
we have when we have a sense of our life going well. This is a form of pleasure
that involves judgments about the quality of one’s life. What this means is that
an important part of what can make our lives pleasant rests not only on the fact
that we have a variety of desires that we pursue, but that we have implicit
conceptions of happiness according to which we can judge the way our lives are
going. Of course, few of us will have a fully worked-out conception of
happiness, but that is not necessary for us to make rough judgments about the
way our lives are going – for that we need only rough conceptions of happiness.
It is very hard to see how these conceptions could be thoroughly hedonistic and
if they are not then it might certainly be asked what the relation is between them
and the good of pleasure. The hedonist would have to say that these conceptions
are useful fictions, but what is the ground for privileging pleasure over the goods
already contained within the subject’s own implicit conception of happiness?
Additionally, once we allow that a certain kind of pleasure, or enjoyment,
involves a judgmental component, we might start wondering whether this is not
the case with many other forms of pleasure as well. This would suggest that
while hedonists have been right in identifying the centrality of pleasure, they
have still gotten things backwards: rather than being the only thing that is good
for us, pleasure is often a response to the things that are good for us.7

(iii) Desire Theories. Given the way hedonism is prone to yield peculiar results on
matters involving how we really fare in the world, it is not strange that this next
theory represents an attempted solution to such problems. The basic idea is that
it is the fulfillment of our desires that makes our lives go well. Whether we speak
about passions, inclinations, wants, preferences, or desires matters little – what is
important is that what we have here is a kind of theory that involves both a
subjective element, since our happiness depends on some kind of mental pro-
attitudes, and an objective element, since the actual realization of our happiness
depends on how things fare in the world.

6 Analysis of Happiness, trans. Edward Rothert & Danuta Zielińskn (The Hague: Martinus
Nijhoff, 1976), Chapter 1.
7 Cf. Elijah Millgram, Practical Induction (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1997).

The problem with the desire theory is just that we have such a vast variety of
desires, especially since they must here be understood in the broad sense that
includes mere wishes, so that if the theory is not restricted in some way there will
simply be far too many things that can be conducive to my happiness. Since I do
after all desire them it might very well be the case that I find it good if they are
realized, but there is a significant difference between me finding something good
and it contributing to making my life go well. One standard example is the
following one:8 I meet a stranger on a train and she tells me about a terrible
disease from which she suffers. Being gripped with sympathy for her plight, I
consequently form a desire that she will some day be cured of her disease. I then
continue with my life and one day, without me ever knowing it, the stranger is
cured, which is of course fine (although it is rather the case that I desire it
because it would be fine than that it is fine partially because I desire it), but does
it make my life go any better? This form of objection seems fatal to the desire
account, unless some way can be found to narrow down the kind of preferences
that are allowed to count as being directly relevant for our happiness. One way
of doing it is to say that only the satisfaction of internal preferences, i.e.
preferences where oneself is in some way featured in the object of the
preference, has prudential value. But while this certainly takes care of some cases,
like the one about the woman on the train, it is difficult to see how it would take
care of all cases where I get what I desire without there being any plausible way
of construing it as an increase in my level of happiness. I might, for instance,
have quite a lot of trivial preferences concerning myself, ones that are not
instrumental since they are more like whims: it does not seem to be the case that
the satisfaction of such desires merely makes my life go a little better, rather they
have no relevance for the way my life is going.
There is more. One of the advantages of desire theories is that they seem to
be able to incorporate much of what is attractive about the other two theories.
For instance, most of us clearly think that such things as friends are part of
having a good life and given that we have such preferences, they will be. Most of
us find pleasure very important and given that we do so the attaining of pleasure
will count as satisfying an important desire. Yet, while the desire theory certainly
allows prudential value to be intimately associated with such things as friendship,
philosophy, and understanding, it is according to it actually not these things
themselves that are the constituents of our happiness. While having friends will
in a sense make me better off, it is actually the fact that my desire for having
friends is fulfilled that has prudential value. But do I not desire having friends at
least partly because I think that they make me better off? It would seem that the

8 Parfit, Reasons and Persons, p. 494.

desire theory gets things the wrong way around. In fact, according to it, the
important thing is just that we have a manageable set of desires, not really which
desires we have. For instance, from time to time we do think about branching
out our interests, about trying new things. Given that the desire theory is correct
the right measure for such choices would seem to be the expected amount of
desire fulfillment – and that does not fit especially well with the way that we
reason in such circumstances. And even if we do not think about adding more
desires to the ones we already have, the desire theory implies that one way of
becoming better off would be simply to adopt some preferences that are easily
The conclusion, then, is that while the desire theory might, at first sight, seem
like a promising alternative to the two preceding approaches, it suffers from
flaws serious enough to warrant its dismissal. Having said this much, I might
however add that the position that I will finally advocate here probably lies
closer to desire theory than to any of the other two. Before I turn to my attempt
at formulating a Kantian account of happiness, I would however like to say a few
words about some problems shared by all three of the standard contenders. To
understand these problems will hopefully help us in constructing a more
satisfactory account of happiness.

5.2 Happiness: Subjectivism vs. Objectivism

Although the three standard positions outlined and criticized in section 5.1 are
often referred to as theories, one might certainly question whether they are really
appropriately understood as such. The reason is that, with the possible exception
of human nature theories, they cannot be said to approach the matter of
happiness in any greater depth: they simply try to name some items. Perhaps one
might be tempted at first glance to think that at least the second and third
alternatives are theories in some more substantial sense than the first one, but
this would be a mistake, albeit one that it is perhaps easy to fall prey to. The real
difference is that the last two are monist positions and the first a pluralist one.
The mere fact that something is a form of monism does not make it more of a
theory, it just means that we have a shorter list. It therefore seems doubtful
whether the label ‘theory’ should be applied to any of these three. We should
demand something more than a bare list of goods, even if it is a list containing
just one good, in order for something to count as a theory. Rather, these three
positions are conceptions of the human good. What a theory about happiness
should do is something more: it should make sense of what it is about being a
person that constitutes there being such a thing as one’s life going well (or bad,
depending on how things turn out).

The key stand to be taken here is between subjectivism and objectivism. This
is a point that has recently been made by L. W. Sumner whose view of this
distinction is that ‘a theory treats welfare [i.e. what I call “happiness”] as
subjective if it makes it depend, at least in part, on some (actual or hypothetical)
attitude on the part of the welfare subject.’9 This kind of view does however cast
the net somewhat too wide since there are at least two important senses in which
happiness can be subjective according to it.10 The first is that those things which
constitute happiness, what might perhaps be called happy-making features, are
subjective in the sense that they are things which involve mental states. Both
pleasure and desire satisfaction are subjective in this sense (although desire
satisfaction per se is not a mental state, it is still something that essentially
involves a mental state). This would mean that objective list theories are the only
objectivist theories (they might certainly have some mental states on their
menus, but that is not enough for them to qualify even as partly subjective since
as long as they have a single item that is not connected to a mental state, they
deny that there is an inherent connection between happiness and the subjective).
The second way in which happiness can be understood to be subjective is
considerably stronger. According to it all three of the ‘theories’ of happiness
considered above are objectivist positions since they are all attempts to settle the
issue of which items constitute happiness for all subjects, irrespective of what
the subjects themselves think about the matter. Is this classification of them as
philosophical cousins far-fetched? It is certainly clear that when one glances at
these three varieties one might be tempted to say that the first one is an
objectivist theory and the other two are subjectivist ones, and it might thus seem
counter-intuitive to claim that they are nevertheless objectivist theories all three
of them. But in fact, I would say that it is this second sense of subjectivism that
is the important one: true subjectivism about happiness leaves it up to the
individual subject to say what constitutes her happiness. If subjectivism in this
second, and more radical, sense is correct then the extent to which the
philosopher can say anything substantive about what makes us happy is
drastically lessened; what we can do is just to attempt to identify the formal
features of the way in which an individual’s happiness is defined: the exact
content will involve a vast amount of contingent facts about that person, facts
about which the philosopher has precious little to say except perhaps as an
armchair psychologist. Now, if we take this second sense of ‘subjectivism’ as the
important one, the characterization of objective list theory given above is

9 Welfare, Happiness, and Ethics (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1996), p. 38.

10 In distinguishing between these two I have benefited much from Toni Rønnow-Rasmussen,
‘L. W. Sumner’s Account of Welfare’, forthcoming in the Proceedings of the III SEFA Congress.

somewhat misleading since the ‘whether we want these things or not’-clause is
just as applicable to hedonism and desire fulfillment theory. Granted, it is more
difficult to conceive of situations where we do not want pleasure or having our
desires fulfilled – in fact, it is impossible to imagine a human being that does not
generally want these things. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to think of cases
where we do not want some particular instance of pleasure or to have some
particular desire fulfilled, and that is enough to establish the point being made
here. It is also quite clear that we might desire certain things that by themselves
do not involve mental states and which can be said to make us happy. If we try
to base, say, hedonism in the fact that we all desire pleasure in a way that
grounds its status as a happy-making feature (which would leave us with a theory
that is subjective in both of the above senses), we must also show that there are
no other things that we can desire in this way; otherwise hedonism cannot be a
correct understanding of where happiness lies.
These observations open a possibility for desire theorists to modify their
account of happiness by re-conceiving the relation between desires and
prudential value. Instead of saying that what has value is the satisfaction of our
desires, we can say that what has value is the objects of our desires.11 Thus, if I
desire pleasure, then it is pleasure that is valuable, not the satisfaction of my
desire for pleasure. If I desire having friends, then my friends are what is of
value, not the satisfaction of my desire for them. I find this approach
phenomenologically more satisfying. However, it should be noticed that this
move changes the desire theory in a radical way, from a substantial theory about
which things actually have prudential value, to a formal one about how
prudential values are constituted. It should also be pointed out that while desires
could generally be understood as playing a necessary role in the constitution of
values simpliciter (although as argued in Chapter 3 they do probably not play such
a role in any straightforward way), what we are concerned with here is a specific
form of value, namely that which makes up our happiness. For instance, I and
many others might desire that Venice be saved from being consumed by the sea.
Let us assume that for most of us this is just an idle desire, we do not make
saving Venice into one of our life projects. It does not seem unreasonable to say
that the fact that we are many people who desire that Venice be saved in some
way adds to making the saving of Venice into a good thing. Even if one were
some kind of objectivist who regards the saving of Venice as valuable
irrespective of what anyone thinks about the matter, one would still probably say
that if many people desire the saving of Venice, it would add to the value of

11In a more general way, this kind of move is advocated by Wlodek Rabinowicz in ‘Value
Based on Preferences: On Two Interpretations of Preference Utilitarianism’.

accomplishing this. However, if Venice were indeed saved, it would hardly be
appropriate to say that we were made happier because of it. Of course, we might
take pleasure in the fact that Venice was saved and this pleasure should probably
be counted as adding to our happiness, but the bare fact of Venice being saved
does not seem to make our lives go better. Had it been one’s life project, things
might have been different since there is a quite reasonable sense in which one’s
life goes well when one succeeds in one’s life projects; but then the prudential
value that can lie in saving Venice does not have to do with the actual object of
one’s life-project, but with the fact that it is a life-project that has been realized
(even if the value of saving Venice was the rationale for having that specific life-
project). Accordingly, it would seem that many of the things that we feel can be
connected to prudential value are such that the inclusion into our lives of these
things by themselves will not make our lives go better – and thus the move to an
object interpretation of the desire theory would not seem to be a general solution
to the problems faced by the desire theory.
While one might certainly grant that there are a few obvious constraints that
might be put on desires that can be said to constitute happiness-making-ness in
their objects, there is still something disorderly about the way that a person’s
happiness is constituted according to this theory. The alternative desire theory
shares with the original one the implication that when considering a certain
course of action where an individual’s own personal happiness is at stake the
correct procedure, irrespective of the manner in which she might actually
deliberate, is a form of intra-personal democracy. This means that while the
alternative desire theory is subjectivist in a much more radical way than either
hedonism or the original desire theory, there is still a sense in which they are all
three not as radically subjectivist as can be. They are subjectivist at a micro-level,
in the sense that the buildings-blocks of happiness that they identify are tied to
subjective states, but they are objectivist at a macro-level, in the sense that when
it comes to overall judgments about people’s happiness, the subjects themselves
do not have any kind of prerogative in determining this. They can perhaps be
granted a certain degree of epistemic privilege in the sense that the subject might
often be highly qualified in judging matters of fact having to do with her
happiness; but as for normative overall judgments about the way her life is going,
she has no privileged say at all.
In fact, although different versions of these theories might give widely
divergent answers as to which lives are worth living and which are not, they
share the structural feature that it is possible that we as outside observers might
come to a different conclusion than the person who lives the life in question and
that we can be right in doing so. Of course, this does not automatically yield the
result that we sometimes should kill persons for their own sake in spite of the

fact that they themselves find their lives worth living. Nevertheless, is does open
up this result as a live possibility when we move on to further inquiry into the
nature of morality. If we adopt a consequentialist morality this kind of take on
happiness might quite possibly yield the result that in certain circumstances we
will be under an obligation to kill people despite of the fact that they themselves
find their lives worth living. Not only do I find that such a result would be
completely unacceptable, it is actually so repugnant that there is reason to think
that there must be something wrong not just with a theory that actually gives us
this result but also with one that opens up for it, i.e. there must be something
wrong with theories of happiness that do not in some sense give the individual a
stronger authority in matters concerning her happiness than what is the case with
the theories we have considered so far.
While such potential implications are disturbing, the basic problem here is
more fundamental than having to do with some possible consequences in the
theoretical long run: it has to do with the relation between the agent and her
interests. Even if we understand ‘interests’ broadly so that it can include both
subjective items like pleasure and desire fulfillment and objective items like
health and friendships, these theories tend to reduce the agent to a simple
executive that is to do her best to pursue a heap of interests – or to put it starkly:
these theories conceive of the individual as the slave of her interests, rather than
as their master. This is actually a feature shared by all those approaches to
happiness that are directed towards listing items on a micro-level and it is an
aspect of standard philosophical theories about happiness that does not accord
well with the, albeit limited, freedom that we usually associate with global
judgments concerning how our lives are going. It is, to a certain extent, up to us
to say how well our lives are going. The reason why I add these caveats, ‘albeit
limited’ and ‘to a certain extent’ is that when we judge about matters like these
we have to draw on the evaluative resources available to us. As already argued,
we occupy a socially constituted space of reasons and values and the concrete
ways in which this space is shaped certainly constrains us in our capacity for
making intelligible value judgments. Even if there is a certain freedom of
judgment when it comes to determining our happiness, this is still a freedom that
is firmly anchored in our concrete circumstances. Thus, it is quite reasonable to
say that certain judgments made by an individual simply do not make sense and I
do not want to say that there is any absolute agent prerogative in the sense that
whatever the agent says about her own happiness is the final word; rather I
would like to put it like this: there cannot be any final word without the agent
having had her say in a reasoned way. The latter is what adherents of the
standard theories must deny. What we need is a theory that allows the global
judgments of the agent to play a constitutive role in matters of her happiness.

To some extent the approach advocated here is an anti-theory of happiness
and it is perhaps more often embraced within political philosophy where it can
be used as a premise in arguing for a liberal society (since there is no single
objectively valid conception of happiness, the government should not have the
happiness of its subjects as its aim, but rather to uphold a framework within
which each subject can pursue her happiness as she understands it). Some might
perhaps see the desire theory as fitting this kind of liberal model (and of the
theories considered above it is certainly the one most fully in line with the liberal
position), but while it leaves the subject a certain freedom to decide the contents
of her happiness, in the sense that it leaves her the freedom to desire different
things, it does not really leave her the freedom to decide her happiness in a
reasoned way that directly concerns precisely her happiness and not just specific
items of desire. Thus, it disregards the difference made by the subject’s own
judgments about her happiness. It can certainly take them into account insofar as
they too constitute desires, but they would still simply be some desires among
many others and there is nothing in the desire theory that makes it reasonable to
say why these judgments (or as the desire theorist would put it: second-order
desires) should have more than one vote each in the assembly of desires.12 While
democracy might be a sound system on an inter-personal level, one in which the
wants of many subjects are aggregated, it is hardly suitable for the intra-personal
case. As John MacKenzie has put it, ‘what we really seek to satisfy is not our
desires but ourselves.’13 We are not simply the executives of the assembly of desires,
as subjects we are something above and beyond our desires – not that our
desires are not pivotally important in defining who we are, but they do not
define us in the sense that we are but the sum of our desires. We might for
instance have some desires with which we do not at all identify and what such
acts of non-identification, and perhaps even of disassociation, imply is not just
that the desires in question will tend to be outvoted by our other desires, but that
when it comes to normatively guided choice, they do not have any vote at all.
What this means is that what a bona fide subjectivist approach to happiness will
do is to place a strong emphasis not just on the subject’s desires, but on her
conception of happiness, i.e. the standard according to which she judges whether
her life is going well or bad and to which extent it is doing so. None of the
standard theories in the contemporary philosophical literature is subjectivist in
this sense, although there are individual theoreticians who are. L. W. Sumner’s
position is an example of a theory that is subjectivist in this way, although it is a

12 Cf. Gary Watson’s well-known criticism of Frankfurt’s emphasis on second-order desires,

‘Free Agency’ in Gary Watson (ed.), Free Will (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982).
13 A Manual of Ethics, 4th Ed. (London: W. B. Clive, 1904), p. 231.

more complex view since it involves both a notion of happiness and a notion of
welfare, happiness being understood as life-satisfaction and welfare as authentic,
i.e. informed and autonomous, happiness.14 It is however a theory that makes
happiness (or what Sumner would call ‘welfare’ since this is the more inclusive
notion in his theory) too much of a felt quality. Of course, life-satisfaction is
certainly not just a matter of what we feel since it is something that inherently
involves judgment, but even so there is something too ephemeral about
happiness in this sense. After all, when we judge that we are happy would we not
want to say that we can actually discover, when thinking about the matter, just
how good our lives are: it can strike us as an insight. Yet, on Sumner’s theory, it
is the judgment that our lives are going well that constitutes our happiness and
this would seem to amount to putting the cart before the horse.
Since none of the theories considered this far has proven to be satisfactory,
we are clearly in need of some additional candidates and I will now turn to
consider if such a theory can be constructed from the writings of Kant.

5.3 Towards a Kantian Account of Happiness

At least two things are clear when it comes to Kant’s writings on happiness: the
first is that ‘happiness’ is a notion he uses frequently, the second that he nowhere
presents a comprehensive theory of happiness. Accordingly, ‘happiness’ is
characterized, in a sense, by both its omnipresence and its virtual absence in
Kant. This is much due to something that must be constantly kept in mind when
considering Kant on happiness, namely that when he writes about happiness his
purpose is generally negative, or as Thomas E. Hill, Jr. puts it: ‘[m]uch of his work
in ethics in fact seems devoted to putting happiness in its place.’15 Since he wants
to paint a picture of morality that does not have happiness as a keystone, his
main objective when writing about happiness is simply to portray it as a
bewildering mess of contingencies. In doing so he does however tend to neglect
a distinction that he otherwise takes very seriously, namely the one between form
and content. Even if there is messiness with respect to the contents of
happiness, there might be interesting things to say about the formal features of
happiness. These might not be enough to ground a complete system of ethics,
but they still deserve to be investigated if we want to achieve a fuller
understanding of the ethical domain as a whole.

14 Ibid., Chapter 6.
15 ‘Happiness and Human Flourishing in Kant’s Ethics’ in Ellen Frankel Paul, Fred D. Miller,
Jr., and Jeffrey Paul (eds.), Human Flourishing (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999), p.

If we consider such formal aspects, it is clear that Kant is some kind of
subjectivist about happiness and despite the unsystematic nature of his work on
the matter, there are a number of themes that recur in his writings; and although
it is quite hopeless to try to identify something like ‘Kant’s theory of happiness’,
there is still enough of a thematic coherence for constructing a Kantian theory of
happiness by drawing on material from Kant. This is what I will attempt to do
here and there are four themes that should be especially emphasized:

(i) Happiness is connected to our desires. We are beings of desire and it is quite clear
that there are many passages in Kant that suggest that he is simply a fairly
indiscriminate desire theorist about happiness; he says, for instance, that
‘happiness is the satisfaction of all our desires’ (CPR A806/B834) or that ‘in this
Idea of happiness all inclinations are combined into a sum total’ (G 399). Then
again, Kant does have a tendency, especially in his early Critical writings to take a
view on the relation between desire and reason as simply standing in opposition
to each other, a kind of view that should be rejected. As pointed out in the
preceding chapter, the fact that we are also beings of reason does not so much
mean that we can go against our desires (although it does mean that we might at
times go against certain unmotivated desires), but that in general our desires are,
if not determined by reason, then at least situated in the logical space of reasons.
Now, it has often been noted that as reflexive beings we might contemplate our
desires and we might even form second-order desires, i.e. desires about desires
(and, of course, one could also imagine cases where we come to form third-order
desires, i.e. desires concerning our second-order desire, and so on). Generally,
the relevance of this phenomenon has been both overestimated and
misunderstood by philosophers. Overestimated, because we rarely think in terms
of what we desire but in terms of desirable objects, objects the pursuit of which
there might be reasons for and against. Misunderstood, because while higher-
order desires certainly presuppose reflexivity, they are normally based in the
seeing of reasons for or against some striving that we cannot help having.16

16Things might however at times be more complex than this. Take for instance sexual desire.
People normally have first-order sexual desires, and although these are probably not thoroughly
reasoned, they are usually still responsive to certain types of features and thus not altogether
without a principled dimension. Towards these desires they might then have second-order
desires, such as shame, which might be residues of their upbringing and not anything that is
supported by reasons that these persons accept. In such cases, the higher level does not stand
for a more reasoned approach. However, I would suggest that the normal thing in such cases
would be to have third-order desires against these second-order desires, i.e. such persons wish
to be rid of their sense of shame on account of there being no rational ground for it. This
example thus suggests that while higher-order desires need not be more reasoned than their

That we are beings of reason does however mean more than that our desires
are situated in the logical space of reasons. As such beings we strive towards
imposing order on what is disordered and surely one such area where there is
never any complete order is our desires. Even if we are beings of reason, the
complexities of our lives far outrun our cognitive capacities and even if our
desires are normally reasoned it is just naïve to believe that our desires could ever
be perfectly ordered.17 Accordingly, seen purely from the standpoint of reason,
our desires might seem a nuisance and one might perhaps even sometimes think
that things would be better were one to be relieved of them altogether. Kant
certainly gives voice to such thoughts: ‘Inclinations themselves, as sources of
needs, are so far from having an absolute value to make them desirable for their
own sake that it must rather be the universal wish of every rational being to be
wholly free from them’ (G 428). This is, of course, rather harshly put. Even if
our desires, the whole sprawling and incalculable immensity of them, make our
lives difficult, they do also form the material without which we would find little
point in living – or perhaps even: without which the question about a point in
living would not even be meaningful. Life without desires would equal death.
Even if such a form of existence would be possible it would be so far removed
from us that our concept of life would not be applicable to it; and where we, by
some miraculous occurrence to change into such a form of existence there
would be so much lost that one would have to say that we had died. It is simply
a fact of life that living is about striving towards things.
But what about the striving of reason to systematize? There are clearly some
materials here to work with. We have a fairly good conception of what is
involved in leading a human life and the very fact that we ask ourselves so
effortlessly wherein happiness consists shows that this conception is one which

lower counterparts, we might still expect highest-order desires to be such that they track the
reasons that we see regarding the matter in question.
17 It might be objected that we must distinguish between our desires not being fully ordered and

us not knowing exactly how they are ordered. Even if the immensity of a human being’s mass of
desires is such that we will in actuality never know how they are ordered, this does not preclude
there being such an order that we would under ideal circumstances be able to find out. But
while there certainly is this kind of distinction to be made, it is surely not an interesting one: our
desires are indeterminate in the sense that we rarely have clear-cut conceptions of what we want
and how much we want it – at times we are forced by circumstances to make things more clear,
but in such cases there is always an element of invention, not just mere discovery. Thus, even if
we were able to take a time-out from our lives and be transported to another universe where we
could spend the better part of an eternity answering questions about a variety of lotteries, such
a procedure would not lay bare an order of desires that was already there, rather it would
partially construct such an order and thus make us into different persons than we were before.

lends itself well to be understood in terms of degrees of success. Likewise, the
fact that philosophers come up with answers to the question, albeit not quite as
effortlessly as the question is put, shows that we do have the ability to formulate
systematic conceptions of happiness. Now, the candidates considered above are
thought to be valid for all human beings, but reason is in fact faced with a much
more pressing task than formulating a solution to a common human problem;
my faculty of reason is faced with the facts of my life, my wishes, my hopes, my
longings. I cannot but live, and faced with this fact, reason cannot but be
impelled towards systematizing these matters; and the form that this drive takes
is as a drive towards a conception of happiness.
As already pointed out, our desires are not be understood as blind forces of
nature; rather, on the view adopted here, the objects of our desires are under
normal conditions located in the logical space of reasons, they are things about
which one can speak meaningfully for or against and they can be put in relation
to other such objects. Yet, this does not mean that I automatically have a perfect
and reasoned picture of what would constitute success in living. The fact that the
space of reasons is socially constituted through an immense number of processes
ensures that it is never ordered in a perfect fashion and that it is constantly
evolving; while there are some things that stand firm given the way that we are
positioned now, few if any things are for ever in this kind of space. What this
does however also mean is that, depending on the concrete space of reasons in
which I partake, there will be certain default goods that are obvious building
blocks of a good life. If I am in touch with the space of reasons in which I am
partaking, then these are goods that I will desire, that I will strive towards
realizing in my life. What objective list theorists tend to do is simply to list some
of these default goods and if they list different goods then that is probably just
because they are situated differently. That they are often so assured in what they
are doing is nothing to be surprised at since default goods are characterized
precisely by the way that they seem so obviously good. The fault that unites all
objective list theorists is simply that they do not see what they are doing.
The default goods provide a starting material around which one can formulate
a conception of happiness. Depending on the circumstances under which we live
there are then a number of different things that can make sense as filling out the
blanks left by their dominant presence. In fitting things together, in seeing how
certain things make sense in the context of our lives, we are engaged in activities
of reasoning. However, while reason has this role to play, it should be pointed
out that it is still restricted by the resources of the concrete space of reasons in
which one, as an individual agent, is situated. In many questions there are simply
no answers to be found, since for those answers to exist they would have to be
socially constituted; and yet we have to live our lives now – we cannot wait for

an endless discourse coming to a close. Thus, reason alone cannot formulate a
conception of happiness that is a sufficient response to the needs that I as a
concrete individual have of getting a navigational bearing in my life.

(ii) Happiness is an ideal of the imagination (G 418). For Kant there is an important
distinction between something being an ideal of the imagination and being an
ideal of reason. An ideal of the imagination is something that rests purely on
empirical grounds and happiness is such an ideal. That all the elements which
belong to a conception of happiness are without exception empirical has the
consequence that ‘although every man wants to attain happiness, he can never
say definitely and in unison with himself what it really is that he wants and wills’
(G 418). I have of course just stressed the way that our conceptions of happiness
are reasoned; does not this clash with Kant’s own views? There is certainly a
tension here, but Kant too sees how our conceptions of happiness are not mere
sacks of desires and that there is an important constructivist element at work
here. In fact, for him, this constructivist element is an important reason why
happiness is so ill-fitting to provide the cornerstone for an ethical theory:

The conception of happiness is not one which man abstracts more or less from his
instincts and so derives from his animal nature. It is, on the contrary, a mere idea of a
state, and one to which he seeks to make his actual state of being adequate under purely
empirical conditions – an impossible task. He projects this idea himself, and, thanks to
his understanding and its complicated relations with imagination and sense, projects it in
such different ways, and even alters his conception so often, that were nature a complete
slave to his elective will, it would nevertheless be utterly unable to adopt any definite,
universal and fixed law by which to accommodate itself to this fluctuating conception
and so bring itself into accord with the end that each individual arbitrarily sets before
himself. (CJ 430)

If we look past the somewhat pessimistic tone of this passage, it should be quite
clear that Kant’s position is a strongly subjectivist one; his subjectivism is so
stark that one might wonder whether, if our conceptions of happiness are such
whims of the imagination, they deserve to be taken seriously at all. In fact, does
not a Kantian position come close to the kind of vulgar subjectivism that simply
says that whatever the subject herself thinks is the contents of her happiness,
that is what constitutes her happiness? Yes and no. There are no universal and
yet substantive constraints on just what might be part of a person’s conception
of happiness, but this does not mean that the concrete individual is completely
free. That happiness is an ideal of the imagination does not for any concrete
individual mean that it can be just about anything. One’s imagination might of
course sometimes run wild, and there might also be differences between

different persons as to how far their imaginative reach goes, but there is a
difference between something being a vision of the imagination and something
being an ideal of the imagination. While the former is something that can be a
mere fancy, the latter is something that is operative within our practical thinking,
it is something that provides us with a compass in our lives and, above all, this
means that we must be able to take it seriously; if we are integrated into a
concrete space of reasons, this is something that is constrained by the default
goods recognized by those partaking in that space of reasons. Thus, when I
argued earlier that there are always gaps that cannot be filled by reason alone,
what we should see is that it is up to our imagination to fill these gaps, but also
that in so doing our imagination is still constrained by those things that can
clearly be recognized by our reason. For instance, many of the default goods are
such that they can be had in different quantities and at different times in our
lives; while there are many established protocols for how to (roughly) balance
these things, there is still significant room for the play of imagination in deciding
exactly how to do it. When Kant says that our conceptions of happiness
fluctuate over time, we should remember that these fluctuations rarely concern
the default goods, but have to do rather with how we perpetually tend to invent
new ways of weaving these goods together.
What kinds of things, then, might be included in a conception of happiness?
Clearly, they are things that we must be able to come to possess in some sense of
the word, although obviously it cannot, at least not primarily, be in the physical
sense of possession, i.e. the sense in which we might possess material objects.
Since the notion of ‘life’ is of central importance here, another option does
naturally suggest itself: one mode of possession is to stand in a relation to
something so that it is incorporated into one’s life, it becomes part of the
narrative structure and flow of one’s life. Thus, the things that can be included in
one’s conception of happiness are such they have the capacity to become parts
of one’s life in this sense.
Finally, it must be made clear that even with the combined efforts of reason
and imagination, the conceptions of happiness that we live by are still vague; but
as Aristotle puts it in his well-known methodological remark: ‘the educated
person seeks exactness in each area to the extent that the nature of the subject
allows’18 – since the materials we have to work with in formulating conceptions
of happiness are vague, the end result cannot be expected to be anything but
vague. A person with an incredibly precise conception of happiness would not
be an exceptionally wise person, but a lunatic.

18 NE 1094b24-25.

(iii) Happiness is something we necessarily pursue. We have now seen that according to
the Kantian picture of happiness, it is something very indeterminate. Yet, fuzzy
as this kind of ideal of the imagination might be, it is still in abstracto something
that we necessarily want. This is something that Kant himself repeats over and
over again (and one of those formulations stands as the motto for this chapter).
At times he just seems to take it as a brute empirical fact that this is simply the
way we do behave, but it would be wrong to assume that this is all there is to it.
As Thomas Nagel has so aptly put it when discussing prudence: ‘We do not
merely like the idea of our own future happiness.’19
There is of course a simple way of accounting for this phenomenon: since our
happiness necessarily has to do with things that we want, we want our happiness
as a whole on account of it consisting of individual things that we want. Yet,
does this really capture the way that we care about happiness? No, and the
reason is that this kind of view does not make sense of the way in which
happiness figures as an ideal in our lives. An alternative suggestion would be that
it is precisely on account of the fact that the ideal of happiness stands as
something that gives us a navigational bearing in our lives, as something that
orders and partially systematizes our strivings, that we as beings of reason
necessarily embrace it. As such a being it would be absurd to say of happiness
that it is merely something that it would be fun to have, it is something without
which we could not find our way through life and it cannot be this kind of
guiding light without us necessarily pursuing it.

(iv) Happiness involves enjoyment. As already pointed out, for Kant the most
important feature about happiness is its lack of philosophical substance, that it is
not fit to build an ethical theory on. Sometimes this lack of substance is
expressed in terms of how happiness is a matter of unwieldy desires; sometimes
in how it has to do with whims of the imagination, and sometimes in how it
involves the fickle state of pleasure, e.g. when he speaks of happiness as ‘the
greatest aggregate of the pleasures of life, taking duration as well as number into
account’ (CJ 208). Now, while one can at times perhaps think of Kant as a
hedonist, at least he sounds like one at times, I do not think that would really be
fair since his views are such that he integrates pleasure with desire and judgment
in a way that makes it hard to label him as a hedonist (whether in the prudential
or psychological sense):

Life is the faculty of a being by which it acts according to the laws of the faculty of desire.
The faculty of desire is the faculty such a being has of causing, through its ideas, the reality

19 The Possibility of Altruism, p. 45.

of the objects of these ideas. Pleasure is the idea of the agreement of an object or an
action with the subjective conditions of life, i.e., with the faculty through which an idea
causes the reality of its object (or the direction of the energies of a subject to such an
action as will produce the object). (CPrR 9n)

As is it stands, this is surely a somewhat too intellectual picture of pleasure; but

this passage still shows how Kant is not alien to the idea that pleasure can go
together with making judgments, more precisely the judgment that a desire has
been fulfilled. Since one’s conception of happiness is an object that we strive to
realize, and which can be at least partially realized, there should be room in the
Kantian picture for a form of pleasure that is similar to the life-satisfaction that
Sumner builds his theory on. Indeed, there are places in Kant that suggests the
centrality of such an element, for instance when he says that ‘happiness is a
rational being’s consciousness of the agreeableness of life which without
interruption accompanies his whole existence’ (CPrR 22).
Is there room for an emphasis on the importance of such life-satisfaction
within the framework elaborated here? My suggestion would be that life-
satisfaction is something we always aim at and, thus, something that is always
included in one’s conception of happiness. The goal of life-satisfaction is, of
course, a meta-goal that presupposes that we have a conception of happiness to
begin with and it might perhaps therefore be seen as strange that such a goal can
be included in one’s conception of happiness. But I would say that it is a goal
that is not included in one’s conception of happiness in the same way as other
goals, it is one that lies inherent in having a conception of happiness at all. The
having of a conception of happiness is something we acquire as we move from
being, when very young, creatures with just brute impulses to being agents who
lead lives and who care about the way our lives will fare – is this not something
that is difficult to make sense of except as involving coming to want to be
satisfied with the way our lives go? It is just that what one wants is not the
feeling of satisfaction per se, but to be able to judge that one’s life is going well
(an act of judgment that is inherently agreeable).
I would also say that this is a goal that serves to structure one’s conception of
happiness in the sense that even if one does not have an algorithm to determine
when one should feel satisfied with one’s life there will certainly be some basic
goods that one understands as the things that one must achieve in order to be
satisfied with one’s life as going well – not perfect, but at least well enough. Yet
even if life-satisfaction is very important, both as a good to be achieved and in
being involved in structuring our conceptions of happiness, it must be
remembered that one’s life can still go well without one feeling life-satisfaction,
although given the way it is going it will be even better if one feels that too.

To sum up, then: Happiness consists in the realization of our conceptions of
happiness. These are ideals of the imagination that are formulated in response to
the fact that we are striving towards a variety of things together with our
awareness of leading lives within which these strivings take place, lives which we
can judge as going more or less well. Although formally it is we ourselves as
individuals that constitute these conceptions of happiness we do so from
materials that are available to us in the concrete space of reasons within which
we strive and lead our lives and in reality our freedom to articulate conceptions
of happiness is thus very much limited.

5.4 The Role of Happiness in Deliberation

There is an interesting line of objection that strikes at the core of the stark
contrast between morality and the pursuit of happiness that is painted by
philosophers like Butler, Kant, and Sidgwick (and which I have adhered to here);
it is an objection that has been suggested by Thomas Scanlon20 and which directs
itself to the prevalent tendency among many philosophers to understand the
pursuit of happiness as a fundamental feature of human beings. Scanlon notes
how there are two basic levels of practical thinking where the ideal of happiness
might play a key role. To begin with, there is the level of everyday thinking and
acting, all the minute little choices that go to make up the vast majority of
decisions that we have to make throughout our lives; but there is also the level of
comprehensive thinking about one’s life, a level that concerns choices which will
in obvious ways determine the courses our lives will take, e.g. what career to
pursue and whether or not to be a parent. According to Scanlon, these kinds of
choices are not such that we make them with an eye towards our happiness. The
point here is not that we would make a false statement if, when pressed on the
matter, we would acknowledge that the choices we make are ones that contribute
to our happiness. The point is rather that it would be construed to say these things.
When we deliberate about what we are to do, the boundary between matters of
happiness and other concerns is blurred; while we might tend to do things that
we would say contribute to our happiness, there are usually many other different
reasons why we pursue the things we do and from the individual’s point of view
it would be highly artificial to keep these sharply distinct.
To a certain extent, Scanlon is making a phenomenological point that is
clearly valid: the idea of our happiness rarely features in our deliberations and
perhaps we would even view with some suspicion a person for whom it did –

20What We Owe to Each Other, pp. 126-33. Scanlon uses ‘well-being’ rather than ‘happiness’, but
that makes no difference for the argument pursued here.

and not just for the obvious reason that we might fear that such a person would
have the kind of instrumental attitude towards us that would make us unable to
really trust her as a friend; we would probably also feel that she would suffer
from a somewhat neurotic relation to her own life. Yet, plausible as this is, it
might perhaps be wondered whether it is not at the same time quite beside the
point. We do not dwell on the obvious. Those things that we know well are
second nature to us and there is no need to make them explicit by reciting them;
and yet nonetheless these things can very well form the basis of the way we act.
It seems unreasonable to demand that our conceptions of happiness feature
prominently in the foreground of our deliberations.
Even so, we might like to demand something of an alleged basis for acting.
Scanlon suggests that if happiness is to be said to matter in our deliberations it
should at least constitute a distinct ‘sphere of compensation’,21 i.e. something
within which gains and losses can be weighed against each other and our
alternatives evaluated with respect to the net balance of happiness they would
yield; but there is nothing in our experience as agents that suggests that there are
occurring any calculations of the net balance of happiness, certainly not explicitly
and even to claim that we do so implicitly seems rather far-fetched. However,
even if it might be true that we do not think in terms of our happiness when
deliberating about what to do, is it not a rather striking fact that were we to be
pressed on the matter, when having decided to do something, we could probably
say without giving it much thought whether success in our undertakings would
be something that makes us better off? What this suggests is that if there is
anything deeply flawed with the picture against which Scanlon turns, then it is
rather its tendency to understand happiness as constituted through the net
balance of a number of ‘building blocks’ than its tendency to see the ideal of
happiness as an important factor in our lives. But there really is nothing in the
notion of a conception of happiness that implies that we must carry with us an
algorithm of happiness (if it did then Scanlon would surely be correct in his
criticism); instead, the balancing that is relevant here is much more complex and
probably has important holistic elements, i.e. the value of different parts of our
lives are affected by how they fit together.22 The kind of act involved in judging
how actions and events affect the quality of our lives is better understood as akin
to aesthetic appreciation than as some form of quasi-mathematical operation.
Nevertheless, given the importance the Kantian grants our conceptions of
happiness, it might seem like somewhat of an embarrassment that few of us have

21Ibid., p. 127.
22I argue this point more fully in ‘Good Lives: Parts and Wholes’, American Philosophical Quarterly
38 (2001).

anything remotely resembling a comprehensive conception of happiness. In fact,
as already suggested we would probably view with skepticism any person who
had formulated a definitive list of things that were supposed to constitute a
conception of happiness. After all, if to be governed by reason is to be driven
towards systematization, should we not have more fully worked out conceptions
of happiness than we actually do? Or to put it somewhat differently, if we are
beings of reason in a Kantian sense, would we not try getting our conceptions of
happiness completely explicit? The simple answer to this kind of question is that
even beings governed by reason need not be naïve. Even if there is a drive
towards systematicity, it is plainly clear that this drive can never be fulfilled since
our happiness concerns empirical matters of an immense complexity and the
lives that we try to lead are full of contingencies and unexpected twists and turns.
To try to think out in advance a conception of happiness that can be used as a
complete map throughout one’s life would be mere folly and not just because
there is so much information that we happen not to possess but also because
there is some information that we cannot possess in advance: many of the things
that become part of our lives are such that we must encounter them first-hand
and respond to them in actuality to know how they make us feel and think and
what kind of evaluative significance they can have in our lives.23 There might
certainly be some variation between different persons, but overall our
conceptions of happiness cannot but be vague. To a certain extent, we have to
make them up as we go along. Still, this does not mean that our conceptions of
happiness are simply tracking our choices and discoveries. What one’s
conception of happiness does is to delineate what might be called, borrowing a
notion from Barbara Herman, a ‘deliberative field’.24 When we deliberate, certain
things seem important, others do not; certain things are live possibilities, others
are not; certain things seem valuable, others do not. This structuring effect is the
most important role played by our conceptions of happiness.
Now, if we consider Scanlon’s suggestion about different modes of thinking
then, even if we accept a Kantian model according to which our conceptions of
happiness operate in a structuring way rather than as ‘distinct spheres of
compensation’, there does still seem to be room to distinguish between two
basic kinds of choice which have bearing on matters of happiness.25 First, we

23 Cf. Elijah Millgram, Practical Induction.

24 ‘Making Room for Character’ in Stephen Engstrom and Jennifer Whiting (eds.), Aristotle,
Kant, and the Stoics: Rethinking Happiness and Duty (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1996).
25 Cf. Charles Taylor’s distinction between weak and strong evaluation, ‘What is Human Agency?’

in Human Agency and Language: Philosophical Papers 1 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press,
1985), pp. 18-20.

have choices that are intra-parametrical, i.e. they take place within one’s usual
deliberative field. Trivial choices clearly fall within this category, but so might
some choices that we clearly recognize as key decisions in shaping our lives.
Second, there are choices that are parametrical, i.e. they concern changes in the
structure of one’s deliberative field. What this means is that they involve changes
in one’s evaluative outlook. For instance, one’s deliberative field might
previously have been structured in a largely materialist way, with choices being
evaluated insofar as they contribute to increasing one’s wealth or advancing
one’s career, but then one might come to appreciate other more spiritual matters
such as friendship and contemplation. Such changes in one’s outlook are akin to
Gestalt shifts in our seeing of things; but just because they are radical, they need
not be unsupported. We often have certain fundamental goods that we value and
which are such that if they fall, nothing but a radical change can take place. They
are also such that we can hardly come to see them as ungrounded without
coming to see some other goods as having fundamental status. This is something
that we rarely do, but when we do so, we are usually able to cite reasons for what
was wrong with our previously cherished fundamental goods. Accordingly, even
in this second mode of thinking it is clear that our conceptions of happiness are
very much involved in what takes place, while it is still perfectly natural that they
need not always figure in the foreground of our thinking.
I have been discussing the role of happiness in deliberation and, in fact, on
the account given here its main role lies precisely in our deliberations. Since it is
something that necessarily fluctuates and will be constantly revised throughout
our lives, it is not robust enough to build an ethical theory on. ‘Happiness’ is an
ideal which is primarily important in the here and now of deliberation and even
if we might at times step back and try to view our lives sub specie aeternitatis, this
perspective is not really useful when it comes to assessing our lives. What we
have is rather a series of perspectives from those points where we stand at the
concrete times when we are thinking about things that affect our happiness. Yet,
does not this downplaying of the ideal of happiness put in jeopardy one aspect
of our thinking on these matters, namely the way that we sometimes experience
ourselves as making discoveries about where our happiness really lies, discoveries
that cast the previous parts of our lives in a wholly new light? The answer to this
is that there is a mixture of discovery and invention at work here; for instance, as
partaking in certain concrete spaces of reasons there are certain default goods
that we cannot fail to recognize without in some way being alienated from the
space of reasons in question; when we come to recognize some such good then
there is a very real sense in which we can justifiably feel that we have discovered
something. Additionally, even when it comes to those parts of our conceptions
of happiness that involve invention, such as the way that we balance and weave

together different goods and narrative threads, there is the possibility to invent
ourselves in ways that are much more imaginatively alluring and intellectually
elegant than what we had before. Even if reason does not impel us to absurd
forms of systematization, there is still a certain satisfaction of reason in things
coming to fit together better than before and I think that those times when we
do feel that we have made progress in the way we understand our lives are often
precisely when things fall in place in ways that make them fit better together.

5.5 Why be Moral?

When commenting on Sidgwick in the previous chapter I noted that he himself
ended his magnum opus by acknowledging his own failure; and in his eyes the
failure in question did not lie in his theory of happiness (even though it was
deeply flawed) or in his theory of morality (even though it too was deeply
flawed), but in his inability to give some decisive reason for why we should be
moral. This problem that troubled Sidgwick is one that already Plato gave a
dramatic formulation of in the Republic when he had Glaucon tell the tale about
the ring of Gyges: if a person were to be given the power of turning himself
invisible and thus be able to commit crimes with impunity, what could we then
say to convince him to walk the narrow path?
This kind of problem, often summarized in the question ‘Why be moral?’, has
been a perennial one in moral philosophy, although its meaningfulness has not
gone unchallenged. For instance, in a well-known argument, H. A. Prichard26
claimed that it was in fact an illegitimate question. Prichard’s point was that there
are only two ways of answering the question. The first was to give a moral
answer, like ‘...because it is your duty’, but that will not do since the person who
is asking the question wants a reason to be moral, not just to hear yet again that
he ‘should’. The second way is to actually give him a reason that gets its force
from without morality, for instance that it lies in his own self-interest to be
moral; but then, even if we succeed in convincing him, we have not really turned
him into a moral person, we have merely taught him a new way to realize his
own self-interest. The question is thus unanswerable and Prichard’s conclusion is
that we should just take our obligations as a fact and that is the end of it.
But while Prichard simply assumes that a non-moral response to this kind of
question must be phrased in terms of prudential gains, there are other ways of
approaching it, ways that do not perhaps so much answer the question as try to
find some additional fault beyond mere moral vice with the person who does not

26‘Does Moral Philosophy Rest on a Mistake?’ in Moral Obligation (Oxford: Clarendon Press,

act in accordance with morality. The two prime candidates for such attempts at
getting at the amoralist is either to show that he is irrational, in some sense of the
word, or unfree, in some sense of the word. Indeed, Kant’s main attempt at
grappling with this kind of question is of the latter kind, namely when he in the
Groundwork identifies the Categorical Imperative as the law of the free will. His
idea in the Groundwork that autonomy requires acting on the Categorical
Imperative would seem to have the implication that either we act in accordance
with the Categorical Imperative or we are just driftwood on the river of natural
causation. However, as noted in Chapter 3, this kind of position is deeply
problematic since it would seem to result in the position that we are only
accountable for our actions when we act morally and otherwise not.
Clearly, this is a most unattractive position and Kant himself does move away
from it in the second Critique and even further so in the Religion, where he
introduces his doctrine of radical evil, which in many ways brings his approach
close to an existentialist one. It should be made clear right away that by evil
being radical, Kant does not mean what it might sound like. He is not making
the point that there is a special kind of immoral depth to which certain
diabolically ruthless individuals, like Hitler, Stalin, or Pol Pot, sink – rather he is
making the point that in human beings the capacity for evil is ineradicable:
however much we strive, however much good we do, our capacity for evil always
remain with us as our constant companion. Evil in this sense is ineradicable
precisely because we are free. Additionally, it should be pointed out that evil for
Kant is not a matter of performing certain particularly nasty deeds, but rather of
subordinating morality to one’s pursuit of happiness, i.e. of making morality into
something that one simply lives up to as long as it does not interfere with one’s
pursuit of happiness. In short, the pursuit of happiness is then made the limiting
condition of morality rather than, as it should be, vice versa.
In this discussion of evil, Kant introduces the notion of Gesinnung, which is
usually translated by ‘disposition’ (which is perhaps not an ideal choice of word
since today it is hardly a philosophically innocent concept). The simplest way to
understand what disposition is about is to see it as a kind of overarching maxim.
It is the underlying principle of one’s life. According to Kant, there are only two
humanly possible alternatives: the principle of happiness and the principle of
morality. What distinguishes them is simply the order of priority assigned to
these two aspects. Either we are moral within the bounds of our pursuit of
happiness (which is really to not be moral at all) or we pursue our happiness
within the bounds of morality. Between these two, there is a free choice. This
theory is clearly a product of Kant’s tendency to understand our phenomenal
behavior as the result of a single noumenal choice, a choice that lies beyond
space and time. Such ideas do however belong to the kind of two-world

metaphysics that Kant succumbs to at times, but which is still a stance that we
should, as argued in Chapter 3, steer clear from in favor of a perspectival
understanding of the fundamental Kantian dualities.
Even if we do not think in terms of noumenal choices, it is quite clear that we
can think about our past histories in terms of how we have conditioned morality
and happiness on each other. And here we see an important part of the doctrine
of radical evil: when we start thinking about our lives and the principles that
underlie them it is inevitable that we will find that we have not always acted on
the principle of morality, we have at times sacrificed morality for the sake of our
happiness. We might of course have done so more or less, but we have all done
so. The perspectival approach does however suggest that we can look at the
matter from two directions, the first having to do with analyzing our motivations
at the time of acting, i.e. in terms of our operative reasons, the second having to
do with whether we were justified in acting as we did.
While our operative reasons are something that we can try to ascertain in a
detached way, the question of whether certain reasons are justifying reasons is
one which we cannot approach in a similarly detached way since in the here and
now of normative evaluation we see reasons in the light of our present evaluative
outlook. What this means is that if we are thinking about our dispositions in a
way that includes both of these modes, and even if we primarily focus on the
first one we are never able to simply turn the second one off, we are not merely
involved in a statistical exercise where we count our moral lapses, but also always
a first-order evaluative one (and in the perspectival model this evaluative point
of view is the aspect that corresponds to the noumenal choice in the two-world
metaphysics): do we think that we were justified in doing as we did or not? In
that moment of reflection, the moral disposition lies in one’s principled stance
towards one’s prior mistakes and one’s future possible ones – evil is radical in
the sense that we always carry with us a legacy of immorality, but it is not radical
in the sense that we cannot in the here and now of reflection take a principled
stance against it. In that moment of reflection we can also, given that we take the
moral stand, look forward towards our pursuits with the view that we will be
worthy of the happiness that we hopefully will achieve. Now, even if we do not
do so explicitly we can still be said to do it through the way that we actually
behave and many of our concrete processes of reasoning presuppose one of
these principles, of morality or happiness, as a backgrounding condition of their
intelligibility, in the sense that we always reason from at least some basic orders
of priority and there is none more basic than this. But because of their
fundamental nature, the ‘choice’ we make between them cannot but be radical
and, thus, something which we cannot demand of philosophy that it should be
able to provide us with a guide to.

On a concluding note, it might however be wondered whether the kind of
drastic questions considered above are not misleading in the sense that they
seem to be related to a kind of solipsistic anxiety that might make sense in the
study chamber, but which is far removed from everyday life. Not that questions
like ‘Why should I be moral?’ or ‘Why should I care about others?’ logically
follow from questions like ‘Do other people have minds?’ or ‘Is there an external
world?’, nor vice versa, but they are similar in the sense that they seem to push
matters to a point where it starts getting difficult to see how such qualms could
be eased at all and perhaps the bare fact that we are able to formulate such
questions should not be taken as an indication of them being meaningful
philosophical questions. Of course, Kant himself was no stranger to the idea that
reason might often lead simply into cobwebs of confusion: reason allows us to
ask certain questions and then we simply set out to answer them, when perhaps
we would do best in thinking about the questions that we put instead. In the
debate concerning other minds, there is an oft-quoted phrase by Wittgenstein
that holds an important insight: ‘My attitude towards him is an attitude towards a
soul. I am not of the opinion that he has a soul.’27 The point in that case is that it
is not all that clear what it would mean to doubt that the other has a mind. We
have certain modes of relating to people and then we might, when we
philosophize, obviously construct opinions which these modes of relating can be
said to presuppose. But the founding elements here are hardly such opinions, but
rather simply these practices and modes of relating to other people; and just as
we are being said to believe in the existence of other minds on account of the
way we behave, we cannot be said to suffer from disbelief in this matter other
than on account of the way we behave, i.e. the only real form of coming to have
disbelief here would be to go through a deep change of attitude towards others
and not some mere philosophical change of opinion. In a similar vein, when we
philosophize about morals it is all too easy to forget just how pervasively moral
we already are and how this morality is fundamentally a way of relating to other
people rather than a set of beliefs that we choose to act on from time to time.
The drastic kind of questions that tend to preoccupy moral philosophers, like
‘Why should I be moral?’ or ‘Why should I care about the happiness of others?’,
are questions we ask ourselves not before entering human society, but after we
already are moral (or immoral), after we already have come to care about others
(or disregard them). This means that we are not very likely to suddenly go on an
amoralist rampage if we made the philosophical discovery that there is nothing
more to morality than, for instance, a set of customs that we have been brought

27Philosophical Investigations, trans. G. E. M. Anscombe (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1953), p.


up to act in accordance with. Given that we have been brought up that way, we
will have internalized these customs into firm habits and as such, we cannot
simply rid ourselves of them. Nevertheless, these are still questions variants of
which may come to worry us even in the midst of life and it might certainly be a
source of discomfort to find oneself stuck with habits that severely restrict one’s
choices and which there is not any deeper point to.
However, the kind of worry alluded to above, is perhaps not best
conceptualized in the way of Plato and those who have followed him. Most of us
are not self-serving egoists that constantly keep asking ‘What’s in it for me?’
Ethical ideals are something that we are already prepared to sacrifice much for;
sometimes people are even prepared to lay down their lives for them. It would
therefore be nice to know that such sacrifices are not in vain, that they are not
merely done for the sake of an illusion, even if it is an illusion that one cannot
shake. This kind of moral doubt is probably best interpreted as an existential
doubt, reminiscent of what religious people can experience. It is a doubt that is
not merely directed towards future actions, as would a doubt about the
instrumental rationality of being moral, but which has more to do with the sense
of meaning that one’s life has to oneself. Both the religious and the moral person
have behind them personal histories of certain behavior and their firm
convictions have shaped their lives in ways that weave together into a whole the
momentary, and otherwise disparate, fragments that constitute their lives. To
start doubting one’s moral or religious convictions is then not merely a question
of doubting what one should do now, it is to question whether that sense of
wholeness, which has given meaning to one’s past actions, has been based on a
lie. To be deeply moral can therefore be seen on an analogy with being
religious,28 it is to have faith in morality as a guiding light in one’s life, to have a
belief in Good as something real. Moreover, even if we do not lead lives where
we sacrifice our selfish interests for the sake of being moral, there is still a
minimal level of moral behavior that we codify in our laws. We enforce those
laws. That would be something with which we could feel more comfortable if we
knew that those laws were just in a sense that goes beyond the bleak view on
justice taken by, say, Thrasymachus.29

28This analogy can be found in Iris Murdoch’s Metaphysics as a Guide to Morals (London: Chatto
& Windus, 1992), Chapter 16.
29 This, then, is what I say justice is, the same in all cities, the advantage of the established rule.

Since the established rule is surely stronger, anyone who reasons correctly will conclude that the
just is the same everywhere, namely, the advantage of the stronger.’, The Republic, trans. G. M.
A. Grube, rev. C. D. C. Reeve, in Complete Works, ed. John M. Cooper, (Indianapolis: Hackett
Publishing, 1997), 338E.

If the question ‘Why be moral?’ is taken in this more modest sense, then it
seems as if there is a third way to answer it: ‘Because Good exists and this is
why’. In fact, it is in this sense that the question is important, because it is if we
take the question in this manner that we fill a genuine need in answering it. The
purely self-interested rational amoralist does not exist anyway. He is merely a
figment of the imagination, albeit a philosophical one. The idea behind trying to
address him might be that, since he is supposedly the most difficult person to
win over, if I can produce arguments that would have an effect on him, I have
arguments that will have an effect on anyone. But is this a sound idea? Is it not
reasonable to suspect that answers that will be satisfactory to the amoralist will
be wholly unsatisfactory to the moral person? Why would we want that result?
Accordingly, the objective of the moral theorist should not be to show that we
must be moral on pain of irrationality, unfreedom, or unhappiness, it is to show
how the moral life is a reasonable one, to make sense of it in a way that does not
subvert it. Rather than trying to show that the amoralist is unreasonable, we
should try to show that the truly moral person is not.

6. Morality as a Limiting Condition

[A]s beings endowed with reason and freedom, happiness is far from being
first, nor indeed is it unconditionally an object of our maxims; rather this
object is worthiness to be happy, i.e., the agreement of all our maxims with the
moral law. That this is objectively the condition whereby alone the wish for
happiness can square with legislative reason – therein consists the whole
precept of morality; and the moral cast of mind consists in the disposition
to harbor no wish except on these terms.
– Religion within the Limits of Reason Alone, 41-2n

Having considered the matter of personal happiness and the relation between
happiness and morality, we now turn to morality itself. I have already given some
reasons why we should have an understanding of morality that recognizes a
dualism of practical reason, the main problem with eudaimonism being that even
if adherents of this approach have to a large extent been correct in pointing out
the way in which many impartial models of morality fail to do justice to the
personal and partial bonds that play such an important role in our lives,
eudaimonism itself ultimately perverts these relationships by not doing justice to
the ethical alterity of the Other, instead reducing her to nothing but a
component of my happiness.
The two principal contenders among those theories that stress impartiality,
and thus also the two approaches that have been the two principal targets of
criticism in contemporary eudaimonism, are Kantianism and consequentialism.
While theorists in both these camps might try to overcome the dualism of
practical reason in different ways, both of these approaches still build on a
contrast between the perspective of self-concern and the impartial perspective of
morality. In this chapter, I will do two main things. First, I will discuss
consequentialism and try to show why it is an unsatisfactory model for
conceptualizing the impartiality that characterizes the moral stance. Second, I
will try to develop an understanding of Kantian ethics that gives us a reasonable
way of thinking about the place of impartiality in our lives and also say a few
words about how Kantian morality should be understood in terms of the role
that the Categorical Imperative and moral principles should play in our lives; or
to put it somewhat differently: how we should understand what is involved in
leading a moral life.

6.1 Consequentialism: Impartiality as Impersonality
Traditional Western morality is clearly not consequentialist, and yet some people
steeped in the Western tradition still seem to find consequentialism obviously
correct. In fact, consequentialism seems to be a position that people are drawn
to when they begin to think philosophically about morality, similar to how they
tend to be drawn to hedonism when they start to think philosophically about the
human good (and if they are prone to both tendencies they become classical
utilitarians). Fred Feldman expresses this powerful allure of consequentialism
well when stating his moral credo in one succinct sentence: ‘For as long as I
remember, it has seemed obvious to me that our fundamental moral obligation is
to do the best we can – to make the world as good as we can make it.’1 One
could perhaps put it somewhat differently, for instance by saying that it is
obvious that it is always better to create a greater good than a lesser, but the
basic point would still be the same. When seeing things in this way it becomes
virtually impossible to understand how one could not be a consequentialist.
There might certainly be a whole range of issues left before reaching a
satisfactory version of consequentialism, but that it is some kind of
consequentialism that will be the correct moral theory is as clear as can be.
Samuel Scheffler has traced this seductiveness of consequentialism to the
standard understanding of rationality as maximization. What we have, then, are
two rational stances: egoism as maximizing in the interest of oneself and
morality, which is supposed to embody some kind of impartiality, as maximizing
in the interest of all.2 Any attempt at finding some middle ground runs the risk
of getting caught in what Scheffler calls ‘a kind of normative squeeze’3 between
these two positions, i.e. it will have to defend its rationality against both of them.
Scheffler’s way of putting matters also makes it understandable why, even if the
ethical egoist is a piece of philosophical fiction, consequentialists still tend to
take him seriously and see it as important to win him over to the side of
morality: he is in a way also a consequentialist – not in the usual sense in which
consequentialism is understood as embracing interpersonal impartiality, but the
kind of egoist that tends to figure in these contexts is one who is characterized
by an intrapersonal impartiality, i.e. he lives by the same standard of rationality

1 Utilitarianism, Hedonism, and Desert (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1997), p. 1.

2 Rawls also notes this parallel and sees it as important in leading people to a consequentialist
stance: ‘The most natural way, then, of arriving at utilitarianism (although not, of course, the
only way of doing so) is to adopt for society as a whole the principle of rational choice for one
man.’ A Theory of Justice, p. 19.
3 ‘Agent-Centred Restrictions, Rationality, and the Virtues’ in Samuel Scheffler (ed.),

Consequentialism and its Critics (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1988), p. 252.

with respect to his own interests, being their executive rather than their master,
as does the (moral) consequentialist with respect to the interest of all.
Consequentialism as I discuss it here is however a theory that embraces the
agent-neutrality of reasons and values (or goods) and that has a straightforward
view on the relation between these: values (or goods) are translatable into
reasons having to do with promotion, i.e. that something is valuable can be
understood as giving us reason to promote it. The agent-neutrality means that if
something is a value or reason for someone, then it is a value or reason for
everyone. Thus, when I qua agent face the world looking for reasons to act, I will
draw on a pool of reasons that we as agents all have in common. In this pool, all
reasons are equal in that only their weights will matter directly. My actual position
in the world will matter indirectly in that it affects which reasons apply to me in
the sense that I will be able to act on some of them more easily than on others.
On the whole, however, the way I am justified to act will be determined by the
total balance of reasons. Consequentialism can thus be characterized as a form
of deontic monism, i.e. a moral theory that issues a single demand on us: that we
should act so that overall outcomes become as good as possible. What I would
like to suggest here is that the line of thought that lies behind this picture does
not so much make reasonable that I come to understand myself as being hooked
up to a common pool of reasons, but to me being disconnected from the realm
of justifying reasons altogether.
While it certainly seems true that some kind of impartiality is essential to
morality, it should be made clear that the consequentialist move towards
impartiality involves an appeal to a specific understanding of impartiality, a
depersonalized one. I am being told to dislodge myself from my subjective point
of view and take an objective stance. It will then be obvious that I am really not
more important than anyone else is; and with this insight in mind, I am supposed
to turn to making the world as good as possible. In attempting to characterize
this manner of thinking Rawls has remarked that it ‘mistakes impersonality for
impartiality.’4 That it actually is a mistake to understand impartiality as
impersonality is naturally something the consequentialist would not agree with,
but if we can agree on the fact that morality involves impartiality as an essential
component then we should also be able to agree on the suggestion that if we
wish to decide between consequentialism and Kantianism as moral theories, a
key factor in doing this is to determine which of these theories that provides us
with the most satisfactory understanding of impartiality.

4 A Theory of Justice, p. 190. Rawls discusses classical utilitarianism, but the point he makes is
valid against other forms of consequentialism as well. His argument is that this mistake leads to
a failure in taking the separateness of persons seriously.

Even if the above suggestion is a reasonable one, there is for the task set in
this section still one significant problem which there is really no way of solving
adequately. Just as there are many different versions of Kantian ethics, and a
consequentialist would be hard-pressed to find a generic argument that would
defeat them all, there are a number of different forms of consequentialism and
one cannot expect to find one argument that will strike at them all. Yet, there is
hardly room here for any extensive discussion of all different varieties of
consequentialism. The two consequentialists that I will focus on are Sidgwick
and Parfit, two thinkers who lie fairly close to each other (Parfit is probably best
understood as a continuant of Sidgwick), and while there are perhaps others who
are more technically sophisticated than these two, I still think that they are
philosophers in whom the powerful allure of consequentialism makes itself felt
and my main reason for focusing on them is that in arguing against them one
might perhaps exorcise that seductiveness of consequentialism which still comes
to possess so many philosophers.
Let us begin with Sidgwick. Take his Axiom of Rational Benevolence: ‘each one is
morally bound to regard the good of any other individual as much as his own,
except in so far as he judges it to be less, when impartially viewed, or less
certainly knowable or attainable by him.’ Even if one accepts this, there are
clearly two very different ways of drawing one’s lesson from it. The first is the
one Sidgwick himself intended, namely that the good of the other is just as
important as my good in the sense that they are both important. The second is
that what we have here is the kind of equality of importance that lies in there
being no importance at all involved, i.e. from the point of view of the universe
we are both of no significance. Sidgwick wants to move us into accepting his
view by placing us in a position where we cannot find any reason to discriminate
between ourselves and others, but for that to be a meaningful exercise we have
to do it from a perspective from which reasons make sense to begin with –
otherwise it would be like placing us in a dark room and taking the fact that we
cannot distinguish between red and blue as a proof of there being no difference
between them.
Accordingly, what I would like to be shown first is that it makes sense at all to
speak about such a thing as ‘importance’ from the point of view of the universe,
the view from nowhere, or whatever we wish to call the impersonal take on the
world that consequentialists understand as the essence of impartiality. This
detached mode of seeing the world and the people inhabiting it is like in that
scene in The Third Man where Holly Martins and Harry Lime ride in a cab on the
Ferris wheel and Harry, who is giving a small speech defending his actions,
draws on the physical distance created to the people below, commenting ‘Look
down there. Would you feel any pity if one of those dots stopped moving

forever?’ The answer to this question is of course that if you look at these people
in that way, you would not. It should be said that Harry is not reaching the kind
of heights required for taking the point of view of the universe; he is still very
much committed to his own pursuit of happiness in general and his own lethally
fraudulent schemes in particular. He continues: ‘If I offered you 20,000 pounds
for every dot that stopped moving, would you really, old man, tell me to keep my
money? Or would you calculate how many dots you could afford to spare?’
Harry is what Nagel has characterized as a practical solipsist, or at least very
close to being one. He does not really argue with Holly Martins; what he
provides is something that sounds like an argument but he is not submitting
himself to the scrutiny of reason that is essential to real argument, and the
antidote is not that he should fully embrace the point of view of the universe;
had he done that he would simply have seen himself as being nothing but a dot
as well. From that perspective, human beings certainly are nothing but dots
moving about for an infinitesimally short while. Do they matter? Given this take
on the world it is difficult not only to see that they do but also how they even
could matter. From the point of view of the universe there simply are no reasons
at all and this is why Sidgwick’s way of putting the matter is deceptive; he asks
for a reason that tells against his conclusion and that makes the ensuing silence
imply that his conclusion is correct. But the silence is just the silence of
nothingness and if it says us anything, then it is simply this: from the point of
view of the universe there are no reasons, no differences in importance, no
oughts, no normativity.5 If we fail to see this, it is just because we are like Harry

5 Wlodek Rabinowicz makes the same kind of point in ‘Value Based on Preferences’ (p. 19) and
the participant model he there puts forward as a version of preference utilitarianism is one that
recommends ‘not a detached objectivity but a universalized subjectivity’ (p. 4). Another
representative of such an alternative approach is the utilitarianism of Richard Hare, see for
instance Moral Thinking (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1981), especially Chapters 5-7. Through an
analysis of the language of morals Hare tries to push us into a method of moral deliberation
which has us putting ourselves in the positions of the ones affected by our actions, a process
which if done correctly will lead us to incorporating their preferences into our own original set.
Rather than taking the stance of a detached arbitrator, I will internalize the conflict of interests
that might exist between me and others, and the inter-personal will become intra-personal.
Now, although sympathetic identification with others does seem to have a place in morality I
find Hare’s vacuum-cleaner account of it highly implausible, even as an ideal only fully
attainable by archangels. If I identify myself with another, I might definitely learn things, but I
do not just suck up all his preferences and internalize them. The intelligibility of our
preferences depends on the way that they are situated in the context of our projects, plans,
tastes, and lives in general and it is unreasonable to think that we can simply internalize any
given preference in a way that makes it stand on an equal footing with those preferences that
are properly our own – unless, of course, we are supposed to have a detached relation to our

Lime in failing to fully take the impersonal point of view (although we certainly
fail in a more sympathetic way).
However, should we not be charitable to Sidgwick? After all, is it not merely a
figure of speech to talk about ‘the point of view of the universe’? Yet, true as this
may be, I find that what we have here is a very revealing figure of speech. The
whole point of the consequentialist enterprise is that I should come to look at
myself as nobody special, as just one individual among a multitude of others.
Viewing myself in such a detached way, I see only a whirl of physical and mental
events that, to the extent that I succeed in such a shift of perspective, are
without meaning or value. What this means is that if we take the outside
perspective and really get into it, not only will we not see the Axiom of Rational
Benevolence as self-evident we will not see the Axiom of Prudence as such either. Of
course, even if we realize this we will in actuality still embrace both morality and
prudence, but then that is just because when we leave the study chamber we are,
somewhat like Hume, able to shrug our shoulders and go on to socialize with
our friends and compatriots.
Even if the above criticism of Sidgwick would be unfair it does of course
remain a fact that he himself regarded his position as a failure – not because he
thought himself unable to show how consequentialism is the correct
conceptualization of impartiality in the practical sphere, but because he was
unable to show us why we should be impartial rather than partial. If we move on
to contemporary moral philosophy, the same kind of problem is still taken
seriously by moral philosophers and the main example of a consequentialist who
follows in Sidgwick’s footsteps is probably Derek Parfit. What he tries to do,
through considerations of personal identity, is to show how insubstantial the
distinction between ‘me’ and ‘others’ really is. Parfit argues for a reductionist view
on personal identity according to which personal identity over time consists in
nothing more than psychological continuity and/or connectedness, i.e. there is
no essential ‘me’ that is imbued in a person and stays the same over the whole
course of a person’s life. If this is correct, then there does not seem to be any
definitive difference between my future self and other selves; and since I attach
importance to my future self, should I not in the name of consistency attach
importance to other selves?
There is no place here to rehearse all the details of Parfit’s discussion of
personal identity; suffice to say that he presumes that if personal identity is to be

own preferences, but then we are back at square one. Accordingly, although this model can
seem attractive, it remains to be seen how it could be elaborated without simply reintroducing
an ideal of impartiality as impersonality. Hare has tried and failed, while Rabinowicz has not yet
presented any picture of how the participant model is supposed to really work.

as robust as common sense takes it to be then there must be some deep
metaphysical fact about us that persists through time, whether it be a Cartesian
ego or something else, but since there is nothing philosophically credible that fits
this bill we are forced to conclude that common sense is in error. Sidgwick’s
failure was due to the fact that on his account there was a sharp line between my
good and the good of others, but if we take away the distinctness of the
individual person then the difference between my good and the good of others
no longer has the same meaning. In a way, Parfit thus relocates the dualism of
practical reason: instead of it being about the difference between the standpoint
of prudent egoism and that of interpersonal impartiality, it becomes about the
difference between the standpoint of the fleeting now and interpersonal
Parfit is clearly a revisionary metaphysician and a radical one at that: the
picture he is attacking is not just some localized cultural phenomenon, it is a
view that has probably been held in some form by most human beings since
human beings started to think in terms of reasons for acting. This is something
he is well aware of, although he does not find himself totally without allies:
‘Nagel once claimed that it is psychologically impossible to believe the
Reductionist View. Buddha claimed that, though this is very hard, it is possible. I
find Buddha’s claim to be true.’6 I would however suggest that the reason why
we are at least somewhat moved by Parfit’s line of argument to begin with it is
probably due precisely to the fact that we never abandon the commonsensical
view of the self. For when Parfit draws the parallel between prudence and
morality, there are of course two consistent positions to take: on the one hand,
the one that we will tend towards, namely that the good of others matters in the
same way as our own good; on the other hand, the view that our own good at
other points of time matters just as little, i.e. not at all, as the good of others. The
fact that we do care so deeply about our own future good means that we are
psychologically unable to see the second alternative as a live one; but that is just us
being unable to really believe in the Reductionist view of the self.
Although I am inclined to side with Nagel on the psychological issue, my
immediate concern is with what follows from the Reductionist View. Buddha
was not a consequentialist. The lesson he was trying to teach was not that we
should try to satisfy the desires of others as well as our own, but that we should
try to extinguish our own. Parfit’s view is that since one does not really exist as
an individual, one does not matter more than others do. Buddha’s view was that
since one does not really exist as an individual, nothing (in this world at least)
really matters. Of course, these views do not contradict each other: if nothing

6 Ibid., p. 280.

really matters, then I do not matter more than others do. Now, I tend to believe
that Buddha was the one who saw the real implications of the Reductionist View
on the self. Parfit states that on his view

[i]t becomes more plausible, when thinking morally, to focus less upon the person, the
subject of experiences, and instead to focus more upon the experiences themselves. It
becomes more plausible to claim that, just as we are right to ignore whether people come
from same or different nations, we are right to ignore whether experiences come within
the same or different lives.7

Parfit assumes that certain experiences will be grounding justifying reasons for
acting, but such reasons do not just float around essentially disjointed from
persons. Were I to stretch my mind to see the world in the way that Parfit here
envisions it, then what I see are just experiences. No values. No justifying
reasons. Just an immense whirl of beliefs and desires, totally without point or
meaning. It amounts to momentarily achieving something like satori, the state
Zen Buddhists strive after, a transcendence of existence through a detachment
grounded in realizing that although things happen, they do not matter. It is quite
possible that one can find some kind of spiritual tranquility in such a view on the
world. But the justification of consequentialist morality? That is considerably
more doubtful.
Thus, Parfit shares a common problem with Sidgwick in that both their
approaches are negative: they try to show that we have no reason to be biased
towards ourselves; but they fail to show that we have any reason to act at all.
Parfit does bring up the problem that it is ‘sometimes claimed that, unlike rocks
or stars, there cannot be objective moral values’8 and he provides a somewhat
peculiar refutation of the skeptic:

Suppose that, unless I move, I shall be killed by a falling rock, and that what I most want
is to survive. Do I have a reason to move? It is undeniable that I do. This claim would
have been accepted in all civilizations, at all times. This claim is true.

After all, the Reductionist View of personal identity has hardly been accepted in
all civilizations, at all times, so it is a bit difficult to see what gives Parfit the right
to lean on common sense when he takes himself to have shown how deeply

7 Ibid., p. 341. It should be noted that Parfit really expresses himself very cautiously. He never
claims that he has given some absolute grounding of consequentialism; the Reductionist View
simply makes a consequentialist stance more plausible. However, since we will tend to be
consequentialists to the extent that we draw the implications of this view to its limits, what I
will discuss here is such an extreme interpretation.
8 Ibid., p. 452.

misguided common sense is in a matter so fundamental to questions about our
agency as the nature of the self. Instead, we should say that the reason why the
skeptic does not find any moral values or reasons is that he looks for them in the
wrong places. He looks for them in the same way that Parfit looks for ‘the
further fact’ that is to give substance to personal identity over time. He wants
them to be there just like rocks and stars are there; but if we play that game, then
the skeptic will win. Stars and rocks are impersonal, justifying reasons are not.
I fully agree with Parfit that there is no deep metaphysical fact that ties
together the individual at different times to an identical person. Rather the
conception of self that underlies common sense is a construct; but, as we have
already seen, the fact that something is a construct does not mean that it is not
real, it just means that it is not there in the same way that rocks and stars are.
What is more, this particular construct is not just one that we happen to have. If
a conception of happiness is necessary for us in order to have the kind of
normative navigational bearing that allows us to participate in the space of
reasons, then the view of oneself as persisting through time is a necessary
postulate: a backgrounding belief that I must have in order to formulate an
intelligible conception of happiness.9 And if I believe in this self and all my peers
believe in this self (one might perhaps think that strictly speaking they must only
believe in their own selves but they cannot have this conception of self without
regarding it as a universal), then this self exists as a social fact and it persists
through time. There is no deep metaphysical fact about George Bush, Jr. that
makes him the 43rd President of the United States, but he nevertheless is just
that. And there is no deep metaphysical fact about me that persists through time,
but I nevertheless persist. And if we can devise ingenious thought experiments,
e.g. about teletransportation accidents, where we find it difficult to say in what
sense the afflicted person persists, that simply has no relevance. In the everyday
practices through which we constitute ourselves as beings persisting through
time we are not in the business of constructing selves for victims of
teletransportation accidents, we are in the business of constructing selves for the
form of agency that we exercise here and now.

9 Korsgaard pursues a similar argument in ‘Personal Identity and the Unity of Agency: A
Kantian Response to Parfit’ in Creating the Kingdom of Ends, although it is framed in more general
terms of planning rather than conceptions of happiness. Marya Schechtman also makes a
similar point in The Constitution of Selves (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1996), p. 101, where
she suggests that one cannot be a person at all without having a narrative self-conception,
which of course presupposes an underlying idea of a persisting subject of this narrative.

6.2 Reasoning and Immanent Detachment
When Parfit states that ‘our reasons for acting should become more impersonal,’10
he is pointing in the wrong direction. Since he is talking about justifying reasons,
what his way of thinking will lead to is not the establishment of true morality but
the death of morality. If we are to ground morality, what we can hope for is the
existence of categorical reasons, reasons that apply to us simply qua agents. These
are however reasons that will have to be grasped, just as the unity of one’s life is
grasped, from the inside of the agent’s perspective on the world. The reason why
almost everyone agrees with Parfit that he would have a justifying reason to
move were he about to be crushed by a falling rock is precisely that we think of
this matter in the deeply subjective way which characterizes us as agents. From
the subjective point of view my operative reasons are, under normal
circumstances, understood by me as justifying reasons, while from the objective
point of view they are at best factors in a causal chain that can serve to explain
my behavior. I suspect that most philosophers, at least in the Anglophone
tradition, would agree that if I look at my life sub specie aeternitatis, it has no real
meaning. It is puzzling why many of them still insist that values and justifying
reasons can be seen as real from such a point of view; or to take it from a
different angle: whereas most of them would not say that this is the perspective
from which to consider the meaning of one’s life, many of them still seem to
think that it is the perspective from which to consider values and justifying
reasons. Of course, we should not abandon the idea that morality essentially
involves impartiality, but it would seem that we must find some alternative
manner of conceptualizing this impartiality, one that allows us to understand the
detachment necessarily involved in impartiality in a way that does not turn it into
something that disconnects us from the human life-world in which we as agents
Now, let us consider for a while Nagel’s notion of the practical solipsist. This
kind of individual is someone whose reasons for doing things are always
anchored in himself in the sense that he cannot see a reason for doing something
for the sake of the other without being able to trace this reason to something
that involves his own conception of happiness. Of course, just like standard
solipsism, this is a philosophical construction – although while the standard
solipsist is best seen as altogether a philosophical piece of fiction, the practical
solipsist is probably an ideal type that at least some people approach. While there
is a clearly an obvious sense in which even the practical solipsist recognizes the
reality of the Other (i.e. in the sense that the standard solipsist is thought not to

10 Ibid., p. 443.

recognize it: as an other mind) the Nagelian parallel suggests that there still is
some sense in which the practical solipsist does not recognize the reality of the
Other; in what sense can this be?
One answer that suggests itself given the terminology favored here is that she
fails to relate to the Other’s pursuit of happiness in the way that she relates to
her own, but that would still be a way of expressing things that lies too close to
the consequentialist model. There is an inherent asymmetry between my
happiness and the happiness of the Other; an asymmetry that shows itself in that
my deliberations about my happiness are prudential while my deliberations about
the happiness of the Other are moral. The reason for this is that my conception
of happiness is a backgrounding feature of my agency, something that I have to
have if I am to be an agent at all. To be sure, we might conceive of a form of
detachment that involves the individual stepping back from his own conception
of happiness, viewing it as an anatomist, perhaps asking himself: ‘what reason
have I to pursue these things?’ – but this is something to which there can be no
answer since without one’s conception of happiness one loses one’s normative
bearing and would not have anything that gives one a sense of place in the space
of reasons. This kind of ‘stepping back’ is not an achievement of clarity about
one’s agency; it is a form of practical suicide.11 The reason for this is that since
the space of reasons is socially constituted, and thus a human creation, one must
be an involved participant in human affairs to be able to partake in it and one
cannot be thus involved without having a conception of happiness, i.e. at least
some rough backgrounding idea about what it would mean to fare well or ill
through this participation. This does not mean that all reasons must be
understood in terms of self-interest, just that for the space of reasons to be a
meaningful space for us to lead our lives within, we must have a stake in the
goings-on that constitute it.
As argued above, the move to a point of view of the universe does not
provide the kind of complementary stance to our everyday behavior that one
might have hoped for. It gives us an image of one form of detachment, what
might be called a transcendent detachment, though it is hardly the kind of
detachment that makes morality intelligible; but I would suggest that there is
another form of detachment, one that in fact comes so natural to us that we
hardly think of it as a form of detachment at all. It is the kind of detachment that
is involved in our practices of giving and taking reasons. When we do so in a
thoroughly involved way we partake in these practices in a mode of being that is
best characterized as a form of self-abandonment: we reason together and though

11I borrow the notion of ‘practical suicide’ from Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity, pp. 161-

we might all have our own ideas about where we want the argument to lead we
still follow the path plotted by the interchanging of reasons between us. The
reasons that we give and take are not objective, i.e. they are not independent of
what we all actually take as reasons, but they are intersubjectively valid in the
sense that the way that I am placed in the space of reasons means that I am
committed to making certain moves in response to certain other moves. I do not
have the power to single-handedly determine what will count as good reasons in
the situations that I come to face.
Since this submission of the individual to a detached mode of reasoning is
something that is always based in a relation to an Other, we could actually say
that the fabric of the space of reasons is built on a minimally ethical component,
namely that we are answerable to each other. Indeed, if we look at it in the
abstract, we could even say that the very existence of a space of reasons
presupposes a mutual recognition of the right to question each other. What this
means is that justifying ourselves to others is something that comes natural to us;
it is not like anything that requires the presence of some contingent desire that
we want to do it. What we are dealing with here is a mode of relating to others
that involves a form of detachment that might be called immanent detachment.
Now, I will not suggest that a commitment to full-fledged morality can be
derived as rationally binding from this minimal ethics of the space of reasons,
but I would like to suggest that the kind of relation to the Other which it
involves can be used to conceptualize the impartiality involved in morality in a
better way than the consequentialist alternative.
Since the world we live in is as it is – a world in which the ways we live and
pursue our happiness always take up some social space that could have been
used by others in pursuing their happiness – we exist in an inevitable state of
competition over social space. And if we at times are not involved in actual
competition we are at least always in a state of potential competition. The
constant clashes and crossings of our paths will involve us in countless local
games of giving and taking reasons: one person asking the other why she is
doing as does and this other responding with some reason that justifies her local
actions. There is of course nothing preventing us from simply answering with
something in the style of ‘Because I feel like it’, but it is a fact about us that we
tend not to. Rather we cite precedents and other circumstances that speak in our
favor. We certainly often try to justify precisely the way we feel like behaving,
and in a loose sense we then have an instrumental attitude to our search for
reasons, but we still tend to give reasons in ways that allow others a possibility of
countering our justifications with reasons speaking against them. There is
nothing peculiar about this behavior because, in the end, if we do not take
reasons cited by others seriously, we cannot take the goods that are included in

our conceptions of happiness seriously either since these goods are constituted
in the same way as the reasons that we are giving and taking in defending our
courses of action. Not that it would be psychologically impossible to have a
bifurcated thinking that involved a split between these two, but the natural mode
of being for us is to take seriously reasons and goods in both of these spheres.
Given that we are always already involved in these local practices of defending
ourselves it would seem that we can intelligibly ask ourselves, and indeed given
the drive towards systematicity that characterizes reason as such it is a natural
question, if there is a way to justify ourselves not just to the concrete Other
engaged in her particular projects but to the abstract Other, the fellow human
being sharing the same social space and pursuing her happiness within it. Indeed,
we might even be led to think about what it would mean to justify ourselves to
Others as a collective, i.e. what it would mean to pursue my happiness in a way
that I can understand as justified in relation to all those other human beings who
as fellow occupants of the space of reasons have the right to question me in my
local doings. This question is one posed in a state of immanent detachment, but
at the same time also at the highest level of abstractness at which I, as a practical
being, can consider this form of question. And given the materials available at
such a level of abstractness there is in fact not much that we could say since the
contents of the space of reasons are constituted in the concrete.
But this is where I would suggest that Kantian ethics provides us with a
model that makes sense as an answer to the abstract Other, namely that I can
claim that I live according to a standard that might be called impartiality as
universalizability. What this means is that even if I will in actuality act in ways that
hamper your pursuit of happiness (and we will still have a lot of local arguments
about such crossing of our paths), the principles according to which I live are
still such that I could will them as universal laws governing the social space that
we share. Then, what you as a fellow being of reason must at least grant me is
that I am consistent in my principles in the sense that I can embrace the idea of
you and everybody else living according to the same principles: I am not making
an exception of myself. That this answer involves an appeal to consistency is
important. Since we are not dealing with an actual argument between me and the
Other, then if I am to be able to view my answer as constituting a good reason in
the eyes of this abstract Other, it cannot appeal to any contingent values to
which she adheres; it must appeal to something which is incumbent on her as a
being of reason, and to value consistency is precisely one aspect that is a
necessary component of being in the possession of reason as such. Thus, that
morality makes us worthy of happiness is to be understood as another way of
expressing the idea that if we pursue our happiness according to the standard of
universalizability we can do so in a way that we can see as justifiable at the most

abstract level at which we can justify ourselves to others. At its essential baseline,
morality is not about making the world the best possible place (although we
might certainly strive to do so); it is a limiting condition on our pursuit of
As already noted, I do not regard the above as an argument that would move
the practical solipsist, either as a philosophical abstraction or in more concrete
instantiations like Harry Lime, towards adopting a moral behavior. Nevertheless,
it does show us that consequentialism is not alone in providing us with a
conception of impartiality and that if we search for a wide reflective equilibrium
that allows for an understanding of common sense morality that fits with a
reasonable metaphysics of the person, then Kantianism is an attractive
alternative. At this stage, it might perhaps be objected that the argument here has
been unfair to consequentialism since as a counterpart to a coherentist
Kantianism aiming only at a descriptive metaphysics of the person it has taken a
foundationalist consequentialism with a much more ambitious metaphysical
agenda. That the picture provided by Parfit is not an attractive way of
conceptualizing our agency in general or morality in particular need not be an
objection to someone who just claims that the beauty of consequentialism is
simply that it gives us a very lean way of providing a coherent picture of
morality. Such a consequentialist could accept that common sense involves a
conception of morality as a limiting condition on our happiness, but then claim
that this is precisely the kind of practical modus vivendi that consequentialism will
recommend since the consequences will be the best if this is the way we behave,
pursuing our happiness within the bounds of certain basic restrictions. Yet, the
bare fact that consequentialism will issue recommendations that fall in line with
common sense can hardly amount to a good reason for adopting it if it at a deep
level misconstrues the very structure of morality. And it does. One effect of the
conceptualization of morality that consequentialism embodies at the deep level is
that certain conflicts that we commonsensically do not regard as moral issues or
conflicts are construed as such. We can see this by considering a few examples.12
Take such a thing as deliberating about whether to take an insurance: in the
short run I lose money that I could have used for considerably more entertaining
things, but in the long run it might save me from landing in a very precarious
situation. We have no problem in conceiving of this kind of choice as a conflict
between my present self and my future self or in saying that it would be

12 And it is naturally the case with all these examples that depending on what values and
methods a specific form of consequentialism embraces it will or will not be affected by these
specific examples; but since all they do is to exemplify a structural feature of consequentialism it
would be possible to construct similar examples for different forms of consequentialism.

imprudent of me not take the insurance, but from a consequentialist perspective
we have a moral conflict between my present self and my future self. We naturally
all agree that planning one’s life is all very well; but in turning this into a moral
matter, rather than being simply a matter of prudence, consequentialism falls
prey to such a flagrant peculiarity that it can only be taken to show a deep
structural flaw in it. Or take this example: if I have a choice between eating a
somewhat expensive but delicious dish of food and a slightly cheaper but
considerably less tasty one, then we would probably say that I would be acting
stupidly in choosing the cheaper dish when there is such a great culinary
difference between the two. We might perhaps even stretch things a little and
contend that I am acting irrationally if I do so. Yet, consequentialism stretches
things even further: according to it, I am acting morally wrong if I choose the
cheaper dish. This is just one example; the fact is that, on the consequentialist
picture, morality invades the intrapersonal sphere in a way that runs very much
counter to the deep structure of common sense. Or take this example: we are
walking together on a chilly day and while I have a sweater that warms me, you
do not. For a moment, I consider borrowing you my sweater but then I realize
that a frail person like myself would probably feel the chill much more and that
the sweater does me more good. So I keep the sweater. Even if consequentialism
need not demand of me that I actually think of this as a morally right action, it
nevertheless is a morally right action according to it and if I borrowed you the
sweater my action would be morally wrong – certainly not the greatest of wrongs,
but still a moral wrong.
Given the above, it seems reasonable to draw the conclusion that even if
consequentialism can issue in practical recommendations that fall in line with
common sense, it does still stand at a disadvantage. After all, there might be a
theory that also issues such commonsensical practical recommendations, but
which in addition to this is in accordance with common sense at the deep
structural level as well. If there is such a theory, and obviously I think that there
is at least one, it seems difficult to avoid the conclusion that we should adopt it
instead. What we need to do now is to make this theory a little more concrete,
although the nature of this work will naturally not allow more than a brief
elaboration of a rough outline.

6.3 Impartiality as Universalizability

In the preceding section, I argued that the Kantian way of accounting for the
relation between self and others is superior compared to the consequentialist
one. Yet, while I briefly characterized the Kantian position as ‘impartiality as
universalizability’ and said a few words about why it provides us with a

reasonable way of conceptualizing morality, it remained obscure which role this
ideal is supposed to play in our lives and what it would mean more concretely to
lead one’s life according to it. Before continuing on to consider these matters, it
is perhaps best to go back to the original source for a while. In the Groundwork,
Kant presents his readers with the idea of a supreme principle of morality, which
he calls the Categorical Imperative, and he then proceeds to present us with a
series of formulations of it, the main ones being the following three:

The Formula of Universal Law (FUL): Act only on that maxim through which you
can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. (G 421)

The Formula of Humanity (FH): Act in such a way that you always treat humanity,
whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a
means, but always at the same time as an end. (G 429)

The Formula of the Kingdom of Ends (FKE): Act on the maxims of a member who
makes universal laws for a merely possible kingdom of ends. (G 439)

In considering the relation between these, Kant suggests that the FUL is
oriented towards form, the FH towards matter, i.e. ends, and that the FKE is
supposed to provide us with an idea, the Kingdom of Ends, through which we
can weave these two together. This gives some indication of what he is after,
although things are made more complex by the fact that not only does Kant
provide us with these formulations, and a few derivatives and variants like the
Formula of the Law of Nature13 and the Formula of Autonomy,14 he also
manages to express the three main formulae in slightly different ways at different
places. The interpreter of Kant is thus faced with a considerable task; but for
present purposes, what we need is rather to see how these three main
formulations should be understood within the kind of approach elaborated here
rather than within Kant’s own. Since I have already indicated how the FUL fits
into the picture, what about the other two?

13 ‘Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of
nature.’ (G 421)
14 To act under ‘…the Idea of the will of every rational being as a will which makes universal

law’ (G 431) or to act so ‘that the will can regard itself as at the same time making universal law
by means of its maxim.’ (G 434). Exegetically it is possible to regard the FKE as a variant of the
Formula of Autonomy although from a philosophical point of view it is preferable to see the
FKE as the third formulation intended to weave together the FUL and the FH since the idea of
a Kingdom of Ends brings together these in a better way, cf. H. J. Paton, The Categorical
Imperative (London: Hutchinson & Co.), p. 185.

If we begin with the FH, it can be seen as an expression of the need to justify
oneself to others (and indeed to oneself as well). The moral mode of relating
towards others involves treating them not just as stepping stones on the road to
one’s own happiness, but as beings to whom one owes justification for the ways
in which one behaves. Thus, in a sense, the FH is an expression of the very
impulse that leads towards the FUL and rather than being a variation of the FUL
it can be understood as a formulation of, to borrow an expression from Scanlon,
‘what we owe to each other’ as social beings. This also means that while the FUL
might (hopefully) be used to derive certain concrete precepts about how we are
to behave, the FH is more like an expression of a light in which we should view
the Other – and it is not the kind of instrumental light exemplified by the
attitude of Harry Lime towards his fellow human beings, but one which involves
a recognition of their equality with us in the space of reasons (i.e. equality in the
sense that as authentic participants in the space of reasons we follow the path
that our arguments lead us on and we are all equal in being dominated by our
arguments). If something resembling practical solipsism is really a problem in the
actual world, I would say that is on the collective rather than the individual level.
In fact, if we look historically at the matter, the greatest problems of systematic
wrong-doing have to do with different forms of exclusion, i.e. while we
recognize roughly the same concrete limiting conditions (not to kill, not to lie,
etc.) on our pursuit of happiness, people have at times tended to see these
limitations as applicable not to all human beings but only to a certain group,
presumably one to which we ourselves happen to belong. Members of other
groups then become the kind of entities to whom one does not owe any
justifications for the ways in which one acts with respect to them.
Movements away from such exclusionary stances are probably what most
people today would point to when asked to exemplify ways in which moral
progress has been made, e.g. that we have moved away from the exclusionary
modes of thought that underpinned slavery as an institution. The subordination
of women is a less radical example of such exclusion, although significantly more
pervasive and trenchant. Foreigners of different varieties have through all times
tended to be treated as not fully ‘one of us’ and thus not given the kind of moral
regard that has been reserved for those perceived as our peers. It would be too
strong to say that racists, sexists, and others who share this exclusionary mode of
relating to humanity are always irrational. But there is something in their position
that is not in accordance with reason: they exclude certain others from the class
of those beings to whom one owes justifications, in spite of the fact that these
persons share in that very capacity in virtue of which we are owed justifications,
namely reason. Since this egalitarian element in the Kantian position is not
captured as well by the FUL, and since it is nevertheless an essential element in

the ethical mode of relating to others, the FH is a formulation that should be
retained in the theory and which complements the FUL.
If we move on to the FKE it is clear that there is a sense in which we are
already living in a kingdom of ends to the extent that it is we as human beings
who collectively constitute the space of reasons within which we find the ends
that guide us in our ways, somewhat like the stars guiding sailors across a vast
ocean. Yet, of course, the Kingdom of Ends that Kant is speaking of is an
ideality: it is something that has never been concretely realized, and probably
never will be. The ideal that the FKE represents is an ideal of social harmony,
something which can be seen more clearly in one of the alternative formulations:
‘All maxims as proceeding from our own making of law ought to harmonize
with a possible kingdom of ends as a kingdom of nature’ (G 436). It is an ideal
that stands for a world where we truly relate to each other as beings of reason, a
world where we each pursue our happiness within the bounds of the FUL and
with the kind of attitude towards our fellow human beings that is embodied in
the FH.
Now, if we look beyond the exact ways in which these three formulations are
to be understood within the context of the general framework elaborated here, it
still stands as reasonably clear that on the account I am suggesting, it is the FUL
that is the most important formulation – something which I think is only fair
enough since it is the formula Kant first reasons his way towards from his
considerations concerning the good will and the value of acting on duty. It is also
the formula that gives one the most immediate sense of being a principle that
can be applied in concrete ways rather than just standing as a lofty expression of
some noble humanist ideal. This being said, the way that the FUL should actually
be used is still, over two centuries after the Groundwork was published, a matter
of debate. That it is some kind of universalizability test is quite clear, but just
what is it that is to be universalizable? This might perhaps seem like a somewhat
silly question since Kant’s answer to it is one of the most well-known parts of his
moral philosophy; it is even included in his formulation of the FUL. The
problem is just that when you look more closely at the matter it is quite possible
that you will get a feeling that his answer consists more in providing us with a
concept than with an explanation.
The crucial concept here is of course that of a ‘maxim’ and according to Kant
this is a name for a ‘subjective principle of action’ (G 421n), a definition that
leaves fairly much open to interpretation; but although there might be a host of
problems concerning this notion, I would say that the main issue here is this:
what kind of level are maxims supposed to be located at? Are they to be
identified with principled counterparts to highly specific intentions or with

general underlying principles by which, as Onora O’Neill has put it,15 ‘the agent
orchestrates his numerous more specific intentions’? Or are we supposed to
think of them as being capable of having different degrees of generality and
being situated in a hierarchy of maxims, ranging from the specific intentions
underlying concrete actions to the fundamental disposition of one’s character?
Of course, there is no room here for any extensive discussion of this matter;
but it must also be remembered that before even attempting to approach it, one
should be clear about what one is after: is it to ascertain ‘what Kant really meant’
or is it to elaborate a reasonable Kantian position? This work falls squarely
within the latter category – even if it is still very interesting to try to understand
what such a brilliant Kantian as Kant himself had to say. Accordingly, without
going into the matter too far, I would like to briefly comment on some of the
things that might be said for and against the various stances on maxims as
interpretations of how Kant conceived of them.
If we begin with the narrow interpretation, it would seem that most of Kant’s
concrete examples are of a kind that fits with it: we are faced with an agent
contemplating a certain course of action and then asked to consider a
generalized counterpart to the specific intention that would underlie such
behavior. At the same time, if we take this seriously, it would seem that we
would get a test that is extremely sensitive to the way that the maxim under
consideration is formulated. This is not the problem that with enough ingenuity
an agent can always formulate a universalizable maxim for the action that he
wants to do (this kind of creative freedom is not available to the agent, the
maxim to be considered is the one he actually is about to act on16). Rather the
problem is this: there are many concrete courses of action that we would
commonsensically regard as instantiating the same type of action and as such
they share in the moral quality of this action-type. But if different agents
understand their behavior slightly differently, then it might very well be the case
that in some such situations the action in question would be acceptable on
account of the underlying maxim passing the test, while in others it would be
unacceptable since the underlying maxim is not universalizable. This is certainly
a result that one might embrace, perhaps even applaud on account of its

15 ‘Kant after Virtue’ in Constructions of Reason: Explorations of Kant’s Practical Philosophy

(Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1989), p. 151. This is a text where O’Neill is
interpreting Kant; she has however since then also elaborated her own version of Kantian
ethics and it is already from the outset framed in terms of basic principles rather than maxims,
see her Towards Justice and Virtue: A Constructive Account of Practical Reasoning (Cambridge:
Cambridge University Press, 1996).
16 This point is made persuasively by Onora O’Neill (Nell) in Acting on Principle: An Essay on

Kantian Ethics (New York: Columbia University Press, 1975), Chapter 3.

sensitivity to the particular circumstances of concrete actions, but it does not
accord well with common sense and it is difficult to see that it is a result that
Kant himself would embrace. After, all the FUL is formulated in a work that is
supposed to lay the ground for a coming metaphysics of morals, a systematic
catalogue of the duties that are incumbent on us as moral agents. If the FUL is
really to be understood as establishing a form of particularist morality then it is
difficult to see why Kant envisaged such a metaphysics of morals at all (or,
indeed, why he went on to produce one). There is also an additional worry that is
related to the above, namely that with this interpretation the number of
occasions that are open to the universalizability test becomes immense; and with
this comes the possibility that there will exist many maxims that we intuitively
find quite acceptable, perhaps even praiseworthy, but that do not pass the test.
This is a perennial problem for any form of Kantian ethics that does not simply
abandon the ideal of universalizability in favor of talk about rights or other
notions; anti-Kantians of all ages have relished in putting forwards shrewdly
constructed puzzle maxims that together with the FUL make behavior that is
obviously morally innocent into something forbidden (or behavior that is
obviously wrong into something acceptable).
If we move on to the broad interpretation, this is probably not one that
strikes the reader quite as easily, but there are still a few things that can be said in
favor of it. As already pointed out, it would seem to result in a role for the test
that lies closer to what Kant is after. For even if the Kant of the Groundwork at
times sounds as if he is interested in providing us with a Big Principle that we are
supposed to consult in everyday life, it is striking that when he moves on to write
the work that Groundwork is supposed to lay the ground for, namely the
Metaphysics of Morals, what he seems interested in is actually to say something
general about the way that we should behave in a number of important spheres
of human activity.17 Yet, while the broad interpretation would leave us with a
more manageable test, it does face a few difficulties. The most obvious one is of
course that Kant’s examples tend to be much more situational than they should
be if this line of interpretation were correct; but the most significant
philosophical problem is probably that if we want to restrict the notion of
maxims, we would like some principled ground for drawing the necessary

17 It is also striking to what extent Kant already knows what he wants to say about these
different matters and how haphazardly he uses his moral theory in underpinning what he
already is certain of – but this is perhaps something that one should not be too surprised by
given that he has so clearly professed his belief that we already know what to do; the snippets
of theory present in this later work can thus be seen rather as ways of hammering in what we
already, perhaps sometimes reluctantly, know in our hearts.

distinction between maxims and principled counterparts to our specific
intentions. Clearly, no such ground exists in Kant and while O’Neill certainly
points to a class of principles that we can recognize ourselves as having, more is
needed. While many of our specific intentions are perhaps contextual in a way
that allows us to say that they are orchestrated by more general principles, many
other specific intentions have a principled nature in the sense that they by
themselves represent what we find best to do in that kind of circumstances. This
same kind of difficulty will plague all variants of the broad interpretation or,
indeed, all attempts to formulate a Kantian ethics that makes use of something
like the FUL and try to rely on a broad view of what it is to be tested in terms of
Given the above difficulties there is perhaps one alternative interpretation that
naturally suggests itself, namely a hierarchical interpretation. Henry Allison is a
representative of this view.18 We could then accept that there are broad maxims,
which might perhaps even form a suitable subject matter for a metaphysics of
morals, and we could do so in a way that does not require us to make artificial
distinctions since we can simply accept that generality comes in different degrees,
and thus we do not need to draw any strict distinctions establishing differences
in kind. We could also make sense of Kant’s choice of examples: these refer to
the level of narrow maxims, which are also supposed to be eligible for the test.
The best of both worlds? Aside from the exegetical problem that if this really
was what Kant intended he could certainly have made it somewhat more clear, the
risk here would seem to be that we end up with a theory that suffers the
drawbacks of both the narrow and the broad interpretation. We get the problem
with different maxims underlying what we commonsensically regard as the same
kind of action and we get the problem with the immense number of maxims
(even more so since on this view there are even more maxims to be considered).
Additionally, if the notion of a hierarchy is to have any substance, then can we
really escape the burden of providing some principled ground for the way that
such hierarchies are divided into levels?
It would seem that, whichever view we take, there are no shortcuts here. We
need to do philosophical work before we get a manageable role for the FUL to
play. And while exegetical concerns are not altogether beside the point, they do
still play a secondary role in the kind of investigation pursued here; thus it would
seem that we should move on to more general concerns in order to settle the
question of how the universalizability test should be understood to have a place
in our lives. In order to do this, I would like to situate this question within the
context of a debate that has been going on for the last few decades concerning

18 Kant’s Theory of Freedom (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990), Chapter 5.

the role of moral principles, or even moral theory, in our lives. If there is a role
which they are properly, and for reasons independent of the Kantian enterprise
as such, seen as having, then it would seem that if we wish to develop a tenable
form of Kantian ethics we should choose the kind of understanding of maxims
that fits with this picture and then do the required philosophical work of making
it more precise.

6.4 Principles and Judgments

Before proceeding, let me begin with a clarification: when I write about moral
theories, what I have in mind are theories that say something about how we
ought to act. Such theories normally consist in a number of bridge principles that
link the empirical and the normative. Thus, a typical moral principle would name
an empirical property and attach a normative significance to it. It is important to
note that moral theories in this sense need not strive to radically purify or even
replace common sense morality, nor need they aim at making our lives as agents
easier by allowing us to deliberate in new ways. They can of course aim at all
these things and an important difference among moral theories is between what
might be called algorithmic theories and framework theories. The former are
attempts at providing a formula into which, given that we have an accurate
description of the situation at hand, we can feed the relevant features and then
get a recommendation about how to act. In such a theory, all applicable
normative considerations are taken care of at the level of the theory. Framework
theories, on the other hand, merely provide us with a set of principles with
which our actions are to accord. Depending on the exact content of these lists,
our behavior can be more or less regulated, but framework theories will not give
us a definitive guide to acting well; and in cases where there is conflict between
different principles, we will have to exercise our judgment and thus make a
choice about weighting that is in itself not regulated by any principle. However,
there is also another position, one that stands in contrast to both of these
accounts, and which is at least not a moral theory in the strict sense, namely what
can be called particularism or the anti-theoretical approach. According to it,
morality cannot be codified in the way that friends of moral theorizing seem to
believe; the role of judgment in our deliberations is too significant for moral
theories to be anything but crude and ultimately misleading generalizations.
I will now turn to discuss these three approaches. Since my own favored
approach is framework theory, I will proceed in a dialectical fashion, arguing that
both the algorithmic and the particularistic approaches are extreme positions that
should be rejected, then turning to consider why at least a certain version of the
framework approach can both provide a fruitful ground for a continued

discussion over moral theory and help to show why moral theory can have at
least a limited role to play in moral practice.

(i) Algorithmic theories. According to adherents of this brand of theory, true

morality can be completely codified. This means that we will be able to pack
down everything of a normative character into a set of rules or, ideally, one
supreme principle. The classic example is of course utilitarianism, but Kantian
ethics can also be understood as providing an algorithm for morally acceptable
action: simply feed the maxim of the action you are considering into the FUL
and you will learn whether it would be acceptable or not to act on it. If we opt
for the narrow interpretation of maxims, we will get a theory of this kind. It
should be noted that there is still left a certain space for the role of judgment in
both Kantian ethics, thus understood, and utilitarianism. The utilitarian will
probably have to grant that we must rely on our experience as agents in order,
for instance, to judge quantities of pleasure and pain – at least it is very difficult
to see how there could be any set of rules for accomplishing this vital task.
Moreover, the algorithmic Kantian will probably have to allow that we need
judgment to determine just what the maxim is for the action that we are
considering. None of these acts of judgment will however involve taking
normative stances in any substantial sense of the word.
This philosophical enterprise bent on articulating some kind of ethical
algorithm has been criticized by a number of particularists. Many of these
oppose standard moral theories mainly because of considerations pertaining to
moral psychology, but others see additional reasons for rejecting the kind of
approach that issues in the formulation of algorithmic theories. Among the
latter, two of the more prominent are John McDowell19 and Martha
Nussbaum.20 Of course, the works of both these and a number of similar-
minded writers contain a number of important nuances that I have no possibility
of doing justice to here and I will have to deal with their arguments somewhat
summarily (although hopefully not too much so). The main point that can be
made against algorithmic theories, and it is the point that McDowell and
Nussbaum try to hammer in, is that such theories grossly underestimate the role
played by context-sensitive judgment in moral decision-making. In Nussbaum’s

19 ‘Virtue and Reason’ in Mind, Value, and Reality (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press,
1998). McDowell’s argument has been picked up by others, most notably Jonathan Dancy,
Moral Reasons (Oxford: Blackwell Publishers, 1993), although Dancy’s arguments against moral
theory are largely by example.
20 ‘The Discernment of Perception’ in Love’s Knowledge (New York: Oxford University Press,


case this is done by emphasizing the overwhelming complexity and heterogeneity
of values that we encounter as agents, a complexity and heterogeneity that far
outruns our philosophical conceptualizations and thus means that we will
ultimately have to depend on our experience and imagination in order to come
to grips with the situations we face. McDowell’s criticism is of a more principled
nature, inspired as it is by Wittgensteinian considerations about rule-following.
In fact, McDowell understands his arguments as resulting in an uncodifiability
thesis about morality.21
If we begin with McDowell, there is a certain point about rule-following that
simply must be conceded and which certainly rules out the possibility of there
being a complete codification of moral action. It can probably be extracted from
Wittgenstein, but at any rate, it has already been stated in a very clear way by
Kant, when he considers how understanding is the faculty of rules and points
out its dependence on judgment on account of the fact that

[i]f it sought to give general instructions how we are to subsume under these rules, that
is, to distinguish whether something does or does not come under them, that could only
be by means of another rule. This in turn, for the very reason that it is a rule, again
demands guidance from judgment. And thus it appears that, though understanding is
capable of being instructed, and of being equipped with rules, judgment is a peculiar
talent which can be practiced only, and cannot be taught. (CPR A133/B172)

Yet, while this is a valid point, and in some ways an important one, it is in this
context still a trivial one. The adherent of an algorithmic theory can readily admit
that his favored principle needs judgment in order to be applied (I have already
given some examples of this need), but that does nothing to remove the fact that
the principle states all that there is to know about what kinds of features that
make actions right or wrong.
It must also be pointed out here that the invocation of Wittgenstein that
occurs in McDowell’s seminal ‘Virtue and Reason’ is not a move that can be
made without presupposing a great deal about the moral reality in which we live.
After all, the Wittgensteinian view on rule-following has to do with the
regularities that exist in language, a human artifice, not in mind-independent
reality. The meanings of words are socially constituted and this means that the
standards of correct application are socially constituted as well. Given this, it is
quite natural that rules of language cannot be understood as rails that stretch out
towards any future application and which can simply be followed single-
handedly by any individual language-user into new applications. If right and
wrong in usage is socially determined then nothing definitive can be said about

21 Ibid., pp. 58-9.

how a word should be applied in a new context until a relevant practice has
developed within the actual language community for that particular context.
Moreover, the meanings of words can of course change as the practices of the
language community change. Thus, in the case of language, the would-be
codifier is at best at an even pace with the language community and with all
likelihood actually a few steps behind. If standards of right and wrong in
morality were constituted as are standards of correct use of language, then
McDowell would surely be right to insist on an uncodifiability thesis. Even if one
where to encounter a society living like perfect utilitarians and was able to codify
their moral practices into the Principle of Utility, then it would still be the case
that they would dominate this codification rather than vice versa. Were they as a
moral community to encounter new contexts of choice and in these contexts
make judgments not subsumable under the Principle of Utility, then the codifiers
would have no ground for saying that these people were now all behaving
wrongly. The codification cannot lay out any definitive rails stretching beyond
the present. But if this is to be relevant, it presupposes that moral standards of
right and wrong are socially constituted. This is perhaps something that
McDowell believes, although the exact meaning of his brand of moral realism is
not one that there is room to attempt an articulation of here, but not all moral
theorists would agree with this picture. Indeed, algorithmic theorists are
probably the ones that would not agree with it. It might perhaps be retorted that
then they owe us an account of why we should believe in the existence of the
normative properties that they claim adhere to the empirical properties
mentioned in their Big Principles. Yet, this hardly amounts to the kind of
categorical rebuttal of algorithmic theories that one might have hoped for.
If we turn to the kind of arguments presented by Nussbaum, it is probably
the case that most adherents of algorithmic theory would agree with her and
other similar-minded critics that the moral world of common sense is very
complex. Where they depart company from these critics is in believing that this
complexity is a surface phenomenon and that things really are much more simple
at the fundamental level of which common sense morality is a distorted
reflection, a mere shadow on the wall of the cave in which we currently reside.
There is of course also the possibility that common sense morality is not even a
bad reflection of true morality, that it is utterly misguided, but this is not a
position that is, at least not as far as I am aware, embraced by any leading
adherent of the algorithmic approach. Indeed, it would be a peculiar position to
take, since it would mean that we would have to be able to reach True Morality
through some other path than that of purifying common sense morality. Even
consequentialists, who want to reject significant parts of ordinary morality, still
usually start from some aspects of it and then try to show how those features of

it that they want to reject are based on conceptual confusions or untenable
distinctions. What critics like Nussbaum fear is of course that this project of
purification removes far more than the stains: we are left with an impoverished
picture, one where values are homogenized in order to make them all fit into the
one Big Principle. One could also point to the obvious fact that while common
sense morality is certainly bewilderingly complex if we try to codify it, most
mature agents are still fairly good at applying it except in extreme or unusual
situations. The problems only begin when we start to do moral philosophy.
In the final analysis, there is hardly any knockdown argument available to
either the adherents or opponents of algorithmic theory. Both sides run a
considerable risk of simply begging the question against the other side. The
adherents simply presuppose that the possibility of codification is not only an
ideal of simplicity but also a criterion of validity, since those aspects of common
sense morality that they tend to reject are precisely those that do not live up to
the algorithmic ideal of codification. This problem can be seen in certain
concrete debates: e.g. when consequentialists criticize the doing/allowing and
intending/foreseeing distinctions22 they are to some extent criticizing common
sense morality; but to an even greater extent they are simply criticizing those
who try to conceptualize common sense morality in terms of these distinctions
and it might thus be wondered whether they are really attacking common sense
morality at all rather than simply a principled caricature of it. In everyday life, we
rarely think in terms of such distinctions and we certainly do not see them as
having the kind of stature that some non-consequentialist and consequentialist
theorists tend to ascribe to them. On the other hand, the opponents of
algorithmic theory at times seem to presuppose that just because there is such a
great complexity and heterogeneity on the level of moral experience, this is
something that the true picture of morality simply must accord with; given such
a view it certainly suffices to give a few examples of things that the algorithmic
theory under consideration does not, so to speak, do justice to. Yet, for the
adherent this simply begs the question.
In summing up, I would say that the mere possibility of particularism as a
philosophical position on morality poses a serious threat to algorithmic theories.
The basic problem of the algorithmic theorist is that he still relies on the validity
of some aspects of common sense morality, and then tries to repudiate other
aspects. This means that common sense morality is the default and that the
argumentative burden lies on the algorithmic theorist. What particularism does is
to present a fallback position for the adherent of common sense morality, one
from which the things that the algorithmic theorist says are inconsistencies in it

22 For a good example, see Shelly Kagan, The Limits of Morality (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989).

can simply be reinterpreted as precisely the kind of things that tend to appear as
peculiarities when you try to codify morality. Additionally, and unfortunately for
the algorithmic theorists, the general intuitions that they build their theories on,
e.g. that pleasure is good, are ones that we have less faith in as absolute truths
than we have about some particular judgments that such theories might very well
run counter to, e.g. that it is always wrong to torture infants solely for the sake of
pleasure no matter how great the quantities of the latter are.

(ii) Particularism. As already noted, this position is based in the idea that morality
cannot be codified into any substantive set of rules: the role of judgment is too
great. Yet, even if algorithmic theories tend to run counter to a host of
commonsensical moral intuitions, this does not automatically mean that
particularism is the way to go. Indeed, if we look at actual moral practice, it is
obvious that rules and principles play an important role. When we speak to each
other about moral matters, we tend to do so very much in terms of rules and
principles. Of course, the fact that rules and principles have some role to play
does not amount to an adequate defense of the project of moral theorizing, or of
the view that morality can be codified. The particularist point is not that we act
without reason, since we surely base our decisions on features in the situations
we face, but that we do not carry a self-contained bag of reasons with us into
each new situation and simply respond to those of these reasons that happen to
be activated by features in the situation. Rather, in the situation at hand certain
things strike us as salient features that demand certain ways of acting from us;
and although there might be vague generalizations that can be made about the
kinds of features that tend to strike us in certain ways, these generalizations are
always tracking our individual judgments rather than vice versa.
How does one argue against particularism? Just as was the case with
algorithmic theory, any substantial argument will probably run the risk of simply
begging the question. There is however one aspect of particularism, at least as it
has been formulated by Anglophone philosophers, that must be regarded as
questionable and which it actually shares with precisely those theories that
particularists tend to oppose so strongly. Rather than being diametrically
opposed, both moral theorists and anti-theorists in the Anglophone tradition
tend to share one key feature, namely what might be called methodological
individualism. However much philosophers in this tradition of thought might
speak well about the value of friendship and of being situated in a flourishing
community, it is still a fact about them that when it comes to providing a picture
of moral thought and decision-making, matters still boil down to the individual
agent who is able to single-handedly, armed with either his moral algorithm or
his practical wisdom, pronounce what is to be done. There are certainly

philosophers who deviate from this, discourse ethicists like Habermas being a
good example,23 but they have only a peripheral place in the Anglophone debate
on the role of rules and principles. And while there are ethical contract theorists
like David Gauthier24 and Thomas Scanlon, the sociality involved in their
respective theories is of an ideal character: it is an imagined sociality of the
individual subject (although it should be acknowledged that Scanlon is probably
the single philosopher, next to Kant, that the account of morality given here
draws most of its inspiration from).
Of course, the Wittgensteinian element in writers like McDowell points away
from methodological individualism, but in McDowell the break with the
tradition is not as clean as it should be since an Aristotelian valorization of the
powers of moral divination of the virtuous person is grafted to the
Wittgensteinian parts. In this mainstream tradition, theorists and anti-theorists
alike all envisage a state of being of the individual agent where she has reached a
point of full insight: in the case of algorithmic theories it is when she has realized
the fundamental truth about morality and in the case of particularists it is usually
when she has cultivated herself into possessing the virtues and practical wisdom.
Ordinary agents might perhaps manage without either, but when we confront
difficult moral problems, the answers that we are given are simple and
straightforward: consult the Big Principle (in the case of algorithmic theorists) or
consult the virtuous and practically wise person (in the case of particularists).
In reality, moral decisions are however something we make as social beings,
and not just in the sense that our decisions influence the welfare of our fellow
human beings, but also because in making moral decisions we are taking up
stances in a space of reasons that we share with them. This can be seen in what
is one of the most important, and yet so often neglected, features of moral life,
namely the way that we question the behavior of others. Too many moral
philosophers reason as if the only difficulty there is to being a moral agent is to
be able to decide what to do, when perhaps the greatest difficulty that we face is
what we should say to others about the way we behave. Even if, in a concrete
situation, they do not actually question us, we still carry with us the awareness
that what we do is something that is open to questioning and we deliberate and
decide in the light of this.

23 See Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1990) and
Justification and Application: Remarks on Discourse Ethics (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1993).
Habermas has a strong element of ideality in his theory, but the procedure of legitimating
norms that he advocates is still one that in the final analysis presupposes actual ethico-political
argument by an actual community working its way towards an actual consensus.
24 Morals by Agreement (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1986).

With this in mind it becomes easy to see why moral rules and principles play a
role that goes beyond that of a supporting stick for the morally infirm (such as
young people in the midst of being brought up or other non-virtuous people
unable to simply see what is right and wrong), the general is a necessary aspect of
moral argument and the impulse to frame one’s decisions in generalizable terms
should thus not be seen as a sign of moral immaturity but as an expression of
how one takes seriously the way in which one’s decisions are open to being
questioned by others; and the impulse towards moral theory can be understood
as a quite natural extension of this recognition. Of course, this is a movement
towards generalization that starts form the bottom and moves upwards in
abstractness whereas algorithmic theories have a top-down structure that can
hardly be seen as sound expression of this inherent tendency in actual moral
practice towards theory – but luckily there are other ways of doing moral theory
than the algorithmic approach.

(iii) Framework theories. The idea here is that morality can be codified into
substantive rules or principles, but that there is still a very real role to be played
by normative judgment. One way in which this can be understood is that while it
is possible to codify the considerations that play a role in moral decision-making,
i.e. to list those features which can function as moral reasons for or against doing
something, it is not possible to provide any fully explicable procedure of how
these features are to be weighed together. Although we can perhaps say a few
general things about the importance of certain features relative certain others, e.g.
that killing is a more serious wrong than stealing, our all-things-considered
judgments about what to do can in the end only by guided by our principles, not
determined by them.
For a good example of a standard framework theory one can turn to W. D.
Ross, who in The Right and the Good provides us with a list of six kinds of prima
facie duties,25 but no instructions about how, more exactly, we are to go about in
deciding when we are faced with a clash between two or more prima facie duties.
Not that he neglects the problem; it is just that he leaves it to the intuitive
powers of the individual agent to resolve moral conflicts. Ross is of course only
an example, though still an instructive one. As we can see, he too belongs to the
tradition of methodological individualism. That morality is a matter for us

25 The list contains the following types of duty: (i) those resting on one’s previous acts, (a)
duties of fidelity and (b) duties of reparation, (ii) duties of gratitude, (iii) duties of justice, (iv)
duties of beneficence, (v) duties of self-improvement, and (vi) duties of non-maleficence, The
Right and the Good (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930), p. 21. Ross does not claim completeness or
finality for this list, although it obviously represents his best effort to be exhaustive.

primarily because we are social beings, and that we deliberate and decide about
what to do in the light of what we are to be able to say to those who question us,
is something that does not gain any recognition in the theory provided by Ross.
Nevertheless, while this is true about Ross, it would not seem to be a feature that
must characterize framework theories. In fact, such moral philosophers like
Habermas and Scanlon, who both recognize the importance of the social
element, still provide approaches that are probably best understood as falling
within the category of framework theories; and among the three stances
considered in this section it would still seem that framework theory provides us
with our best hope of doing justice to this social element.
If we continue with Ross for a little while, there is an additional problem that
should be considered, namely that the kind of theory represented by him can be
criticized not just because there is something unreasoned about those intuitive
acts that resolve moral conflicts, but also because there is something unreasoned
about the items on his list of duties as well. By just providing a list of types of
action that are duties, albeit only prima facie so, he leaves us somewhat in the
lurch on just why we should care about these specific types of action. If we
compare the archetypal algorithmic theory, namely utilitarianism, with Ross, then
it is often noted that the two fall on opposite sides of the teleology/deontology
distinction as well. And though an algorithmic theory need not be teleological
(nor vice versa), it is difficult to see how at least simple framework theories can be
anything but deontological and it should therefore not be surprising if they are
vulnerable to a line of criticism that has been formulated against deontological
theories, namely that they incite a form of blind rule worship in agents.26 This
was in fact a criticism that was leveled against deontological theories already
when J. H. Muirhead formulated a proto-version of the distinction that he was
later to articulate as an opposition between teleology and deontology.27
Muirhead’s complaint was that deontological theories make the observance of
moral rules unintelligible because they do not provide us with any point in the
light of which such rules makes sense. The problem is not one easily evaded by
the deontologist since if he provides such a point, for instance by arguing that
the observance of these rules tends to realize certain values, then he has in effect
abandoned his deontology for teleology, or his framework theory for a
sophisticated algorithmic one. What we would like is some form of sophisticated
framework theory that provides us with a point in the light of which the
observance of the framework rules becomes intelligible, but which does not

26 Cf. J. J. C. Smart, ‘An Outline of a System of Utilitarian Ethics’ in J. J. C. Smart & Bernard
Williams, Utilitarianism: For & Against (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1973), p. 6.
27 The Elements of Ethics, 3rd Ed. (London: John Murray, 1910), Book II, Chapter II.

accomplish this by actually providing us with some Big Principle that in effect
replaces the framework. Now, it will probably come as no surprise that I would
like to suggest that Kantian ethics can be understood precisely as such a
sophisticated framework theory.
To begin with, if we take the broad view on maxims and are able to produce
some form of list of basic principles through the FUL, it is clear that while such
a framework theory involves an additional level compared with the model
provided by Ross, it is not a level that effectively replaces the principles; what we
get is rather a unified way of reaching those principles. More importantly, in the
Kantian model we are also given a point with adhering to the system of
principles, namely this: I am to adhere to the basic principles of morality because
by doing this I become worthy of achieving the happiness that I pursue.
Additionally, Kantian ethics provides a way of understanding the link between
this point and the actual principles that I am to adhere to, and it does this by
allowing us to see how the universalizability of my maxims, my basic principles,
is precisely something that involves the kind of recognition of my fellow human
beings that makes me worthy of happiness.
Accordingly, while Muirhead and others are surely correct in claiming that
there is something disturbing about a rule, principle, or law that is just handed to
us as something simply to be obeyed, they take a too narrow view on what the
point of obeying rules can be. Kantian ethics does not give us a point with our
framework of principles in the sense that they are shown to be productive of
something;28 rather it provides us with a spirit which these principles embody and
that makes it intelligible why one owes them one’s allegiance. Now, it might
perhaps be felt that this notion of the ‘spirit’ of a framework is a bit fuzzy, but
given the role that it plays, it need not be any more than it is. It might also be
noted that it is not a notion without precedent in Kant himself:

In every law, the action which it commands is conformable to the letter of the law, but
the disposition from which the action proceeds is the spirit of the law; the action itself is
the littera legis pragmaticae, the intention is the anima legis moralis. Pragmatic laws have no
spirit; they demand no disposition, only actions. Moral laws, however, have a spirit; they
demand disposition, and the action as such ought merely to be an expression of the
disposition. To perform an action, therefore, without a good disposition is to comply
with the letter of the law but not with its spirit. (LE 47)

28Although in a weak sense Kantian ethics can perhaps be said to be a teleological theory since
the point of the framework is understood in terms of realizing the value that consists in
worthiness to be happy. Yet, it can also be said to be a deontological theory since it is not the
actions recommended by it as such that are either productive or constitutive of the moral value
that we hopefully realize by being a certain kind of agent.

Given this distinction between the letter and the spirit of the law, we are also
provided with an alternative way of understanding the relation between the three
main formulations of the Categorical Imperative: The FUL give us the letter of
the law, the FH gives us an expression of the spirit of the law, and the amalgam
of the FKE gives us an image of the union of the two. Admittedly, this does not
accord with what Kant would understand with ‘the good disposition’ that
contains the spirit of the law, but if we understand morality as a response to the
right of the other to question us (and the ideal of universalizability as a way of
envisaging how a recognition of this right can be imbued in our behavior), then
it is not at all unreasonable to say that what the FH amounts to is precisely an
expression of the kind of mind-set that characterizes the morally good agent.
Indeed, this might go some way towards explaining why it is that readers new to
Kant often find the FH to be an immediately appealing formulation, while the
FUL and the FKE are often seen as more difficult to evaluate; the reason is
simply that the FH is a comparatively pure expression of the spirit that already
underlies common sense morality and thus also an expression of the kind of
spirit in accordance with which we ourselves act if we are already reasonably
good agents. Thus, unlike Ross who simply throws us a set of duties to which we
are to adhere, a sophisticated Kantian framework theory gives us a point with
the set of basic principles and provides us with a spirit that encapsulates the kind
of light in which we should see the world, the people who inhabit it, and the
situations that we come to face.

6.5 Leading a Moral Life

Even if the argument in the preceding section is correct and Kantianism
provides us with a sophisticated framework theory, would it still not simply fall
into the tradition of methodological individualism that has been criticized above?
When considering this question, it is important to remember that Kantian ethics
is not intuitionist. In Ross, the methodological individualism is linked to a certain
picture of moral reality, one where moral features on both the general and the
particular level are something that we intuit (just how we do it is, of course, left
unexplained); but if we take the basic moral principles in a Kantian framework
theory, they are derived from the FUL, not from us simply ‘seeing’ that certain
features ground prima facie duties. Moreover, if we move on to the question of
what it is that will fill out the gaps left by the principles in the framework, the
Categorical Imperative does not as such contain anything that determines how
this should be done concretely.
Had we adopted the narrow interpretation of maxims, we would have had a
purely monological algorithmic theory; but while there is a monological element

even in the kind of sophisticated framework version of Kantian ethics elaborated
here (since the justification to the abstract Other that lies in the FUL is one
which requires no actual participation or answer from the Other), it still remains
to be determined in what way the gaps in the framework generated by the FUL
is to be filled in. The suggestion I would like to make is that if we take seriously
the spirit of the FH, understood as above, then we should also come to see that
to rely solely on the FUL would be to pervert the very practices in relation to
which the FUL stands as an abstract extension, namely our everyday practices of
justifying ourselves to others. Indeed, one reason for adopting the broad
interpretation is precisely that otherwise the FUL would in effect replace these
practices; were we able to rely simply on it, we would not need to go through the
dreary routine of real argument with real people – a philosopher’s dream,
perhaps, but hardly a sound ideal for persons living in a world of real people
rather than philosophical abstractions.
Even if the FUL should not be taken too far, it does still have an obvious and
legitimate role to play since, in actual practice, we cannot justify ourselves to all
those others whom we affect with our behavior. Accordingly, the most attractive
position would seem to be one that strikes a balance between these two modes
of justification, the moral stance towards others thus having these two poles: on
the one hand a general justification to the abstract Other of the basic principles
according to which one leads one’s life, on the other hand the serious and
involved participation in our local practices of justifying ourselves to concrete
others through giving and taking reasons and being prepared to go where the
argument leads us. Understood in this way, the Kantian approach does give due
regard to the social dimension of morality while still not leaving everything to
being simply a matter of actual moral argument.
The adoption of the broad interpretation still leaves us with the problem of
providing a principled ground for identifying maxims, but before proceeding
with this question I would like to note that if we leave exegesis aside there is
another way of understanding it. We can accept that maxims can be of different
generality, and that even specific intentions have principled counterparts that can
be called ‘maxims’, but still maintain that only a certain class of maxims are
eligible for the FUL test. Since we, as beings of reason, are characterized
precisely by the principled nature of our behavior this would seem to be a
preferable alternative and what we should thus say is that with the exception of a
few basic maxims, which still need to be identified in some way, our maxims
generally form the basis of our actual justificatory interactions with each other.
Indeed, it is this principled nature of our behavior that opens up the dimension
of answerability to the concrete Other: if nothing, in terms of specific actions, of
what we did in actual situations had a reach beyond the particular situation, it

would be difficult to see how we could argue with each other about these
Now, we still have to provide some method for identifying the maxims that
are eligible for the FUL test. It should be noted here that even if O’Neill’s
suggestion, that maxims (in our case: eligible maxims) are underlying principles
that orchestrate our specific intentions, could be developed in a satisfactory way,
it still falls somewhat short of what we need in order to elaborate a framework
theory proper. The reason is that even on this account it is very much up to the
individual subject what will count as fundamental maxims and what will not; but
if we are to understand Kantian ethics as a sophisticated framework theory, we
would like to be able to at least roughly list the basic principles to which we
should adhere, just as Kant gives us a rough list of our duties in the Metaphysics of
Morals. Indeed, in this late work, Kant does not start with what goes on in the
head of the individual agent, but rather goes through a number of spheres of
human activity and says something about how we should regulate our behavior
in each of these spheres. Accordingly, aside from the difference between broad
and narrow approaches, there is be room for distinguishing between Kantian
approaches that focus solely on the subjective side of action and ones that also
consider the objective side in the sense of the general circumstances within
which we act and from which we can ask the question of what maxims the agent
is acting on with respect to them.
The latter approach still views maxims as subjective principles of action, but
when it comes to identifying just which behavioral patterns of the agent that are
supposed to be considered in terms of maxims eligible for the universalizability
test it proceeds from a division into areas of action independent of the mind-set
of the individual agent. For instance, if we see sexuality as such a fundamental
sphere of human activity, then it does not matter whether the individual agent
regards it as important or not, or whether the agent has given much thought
about her behavior in this area or not; what we do is rather to identify what
maxim the agent is actually following in this area. This means that the status of
these maxims as being fundamental is not due to the fact that they are seen as
fundamental by the individual – they may or may not be, but it is not what
determines their status as such. What we have is rather a number of theory-
generated slots concerning certain matters and pertaining to which we are
interested in seeing what the individual fills these slots with (maxims are still
subjective principles of action).
This also means that if we choose an abstract enough level for the division
into areas within which we should consider the moral status of maxims, we will
be able to say in advance, without going into particularities concerning concrete
individual agents, roughly what the right kinds of maxims will look like. When

we then turn to consider the individual agent we can simply check whether he
accords with the list of principles that we have already reached. Indeed, if Kant’s
method in the Metaphysics of Morals is viable, he does actually provide us with a
rather longish, and somewhat prudish, list against which we can check our
behavior.29 However, apart from the fact that the system of morals elaborated in
that work seems to lie at a level where contingent features of the social space
within which Kant was situated had a significant impact on the resulting list of
duties, in choosing which spheres we should consider we must keep in mind that
they should be constituted in a way that makes the FUL applicable to them. This
is not the case with the areas considered by Kant in the Metaphysics of Morals and
because of this, he is forced to resort mostly to rather questionable invocations
of the FH. As argued above, the FH is surely a noble expression of the kind of
spirit that the Kantian understanding of human agency and sociality is imbued
with, but as a moral principle meant to derive substantive precepts about how
we should behave, it is simply too weak. If we want to rely on the FUL instead,
and we really do not have any choice in this matter, we should try to identify a
set of areas where there is some vital sphere of activity the very existence of
which is at stake if we consider the universalization of certain maxims.
The suggestion I would like to make here is that the most reasonable level for
us to focus on is that which has to do with the existential presuppositions of our
mode of being as pursuers of happiness in a shared space of reasons. Since the
idea advocated here is precisely that morality is a response to the fact that we
share a common world within which we are to pursue our individual projects
and that we necessarily limit our respective pursuits (and, of course, not just in
the way that we can actually block the execution of them, but also in the sense
that people have to take into account the possibility of someone blocking, or
attempting to block, their pursuits), it seems to be a reasonable standard that we
should not lead lives that are parasitical on others creating and maintaining the
space of reasons within which we pursue our happiness. Now, the exact contents
of such a list of presuppositions is a matter that could certainly be discussed at
great length, requiring a space not available here, but there is still some value in
offering at least a tentative list of items to consider. The primary object of
interest here is the fragility of the project of pursuing one’s happiness in a shared
space of reasons and the main mode in which this is manifested is in the fragility

29 In this work, Kant has two ways of structuring the system of morals that he delineates: the
first is through a formal categorization according to types of rights and duties, e.g. ‘perfect
duties to oneself’ (MM 421); the second is based in philosophical anthropology, e.g. ‘on defiling
oneself by lust’ (MM 424). Naturally, it is in the latter case that the contingencies of his day, and
of his personal attitudes, make themselves felt.

of the space of reasons – not in the sense that there is any actual threat to it,
since in real life there are few things that are as robust; but it is still robust in an
almost eerie way. The reason is, of course, that the entities that make up a
concrete space of reasons are socially constituted and thus exist because we
believe them to exist and because we have a variety of attitudes and behavioral
patterns with respect to them. These entities are robust since we are all so very
firmly held in place by our integration into the plural subject that constitutes
them, but they are still so very fragile since were this plural subject to dissolve,
the entities in question would disappear into thin air. Naturally, this ‘threat’ is not
anything we need to bother about in everyday life, but when we start to think
about the universalization of certain behavioral patterns it becomes a very real
threat indeed. Now, the two fundamental modes in which this fragility can be
understood to exist is that certain behavioral patterns can strike, first, at the very
individuals that make up the plural subject, and, second, at those patterns of
interaction that weave them together as a plural subject.

(1) Fragility due to human frailty

(a) Mortality: no matter how we conceive our conceptions of happiness we
can be killed and thus prevented in realizing them.
(b) Vulnerability: even without being killed we might be harmed and, as a
consequence, constrained or incapacitated from pursuing our projects
(c) Weakness: no matter how capable we are, we do still at times fall prey to
accidents, diseases, etc. and become dependent on the help of others.

(2) Fragility due to the frailty of the social fabric

(a) Communication: the constitution of a space of reasons within which we can
formulate a conception of happiness requires a functioning community of
reasoning and thus a system of linguistic communication.
(b) Argument: although any human community complex enough for a space
of reasons that allows us intelligibly to pursue happiness will have a
variety of practices involving coercion, the existence of a community of
reasoning still presupposes that the main mode of getting others to do
what one would like them to do is through argument rather than coercion
and manipulation.
(c) Maintenance: while we as individuals constitute our own conceptions of
happiness, the materials from which we do so are still constituted socially
and we are, accordingly, dependent on others doing their bit to create a
flourishing social space in which we have the possibility to exercise our
capacity for articulating and pursuing our conceptions of happiness.

What I would like to suggest is that the kind of appropriate principles that can be
formulated in correspondence to the areas listed above, principles which we
should have internalized as maxims in accordance with which we act as
individual agents, can also be understood to fall into two other categories. This
second categorization corresponds to the two ways in which Kant argues that a
given maxim can fail the universalizability test (G 424). The first, contradiction-
in-conception, is a form of failure that is due to the impossibility of a state where
the agent can act on the maxim while everyone else is also acting on the maxim.
Lying is a very clear example of this: if lying was universalized,30 the whole
institution of communication would break down and it would be impossible to
lie. In a similar way, non-argumentative modes of influencing others, like
manipulation and coercion, are such that they are parasitical on the existence of
the argumentative mode: if universalized they would lead to the breakdown of
the very practices which they presuppose as a background and, thus, such a state
is inconceivable. With regard to killing and harming it is perhaps less obvious
whether they fail the test as contradictions-in-conception, yet if we consider not
some abstract and purely imaginary state of the world, but rather the way that
the human life-world actually works, it is quite clear that if these patterns of
behavior were prevalent, the human life-world would collapse and not just into
some Hobbesian state-of-nature where human beings seem to be much like they
are now, only leading shorter, nastier, poorer, and more brutish lives, but in a
much more radical sense: there could not be enough of a sociality for there to be
a space of reasons within which we could have such a thing as human agency at
all – and without that we would not be the kind of beings that can be
understood as acting on maxims: ergo, while there might perhaps not be a
contradiction in conceiving of the state where everybody are killing or harming
each other, there is a contradiction in conceiving of the state where the agent is
acting on a maxim of killing or harming in a world where everyone is acting on
maxims of killing or harming.
If we turn to the two remaining items, I would say that they are examples of
the other manner, contradiction-in-the-will, in which maxims can fail the
universalizability test. The idea here is that while it is possible to conceive of the
state where the agent is acting on such maxims while everybody else are also

30 There is, of course, a problem here about what it means that maxims, especially at this level
of abstraction, are universalized. One might perhaps think that we should imagine a world as
close as possible to ours and then consider the maxims universalized in such a context, but
since we are here dealing with such generic maxims this is hardly a feasible method. Instead,
what we must do is to consider, in the abstract, what would be the case were such types of
action, as are under consideration, to be prevalent as patterns of behavior (for whatever reasons
that might be).

doing it, the agent can nevertheless not will such a state and thus not act on the
maxim as if he was making universal law through it. In both of the cases
considered here the thing that puts limits on what we could will has to do with
the fact that as agents we are bound to the pursuit of our happiness. If we had
been independent of each other in the sense that the successes of our respective
pursuits were something that we could be guaranteed, this would not have
constrained us; but as is quite evident, this is not the case. We are weak in the
sense that we are exposed to a number of risks, like diseases, natural disasters,
and accidents. Not that they beset us on a daily basis but we do all fall prey to
such unfortunate contingencies at a variety of times throughout our lives and
when we do so, we need the help of others to cope. Given this fact about our
existence we cannot will a state of the world where there is a universal disinterest
in how one’s fellow human beings fare.31 This is not to say that we cannot will a
world where everyone is primarily pursuing their own happiness, just that we
cannot will a world where people do not help each other in times of need or
distress. If we turn to the last of the items above, (2c), it is quite clear that we can
will a state where everyone is not striving their utmost to support and enrich the
social space within which they live. But if we consider the state that would follow
from a general disregard for the impact of our behavior on the social fabric, then
we must conclude that such a world would be a very much impoverished place
to live in; there might still be a space of reasons within which agency would be
meaningful, but it would be a contracted space within which we could not in any
substantive way exercise our agency in conceiving our happiness; thus it is a state
which we hardly can be understood as able to will.
Kant’s view is that these two ways of failing the test gives us two kinds of
duties, perfect and imperfect ones. The former are based in a contradiction-in-
conception and are stricter, while the latter are based in a contradiction-in-will
and are looser. One way of understanding this distinction is that whereas the
perfect duties involve certain types of action as being ruled out, imperfect duties
involve certain positive ends that we are to embrace, but the adherence to which
leaves us a certain room for choosing and acting on ways of fulfilling these
ends.32 Thus, for instance, that there is a perfect duty not to kill means that we

31 There is certainly a similarity between (1a-b) and (1c), but there is also good reason why they
should be understood as significantly different. Patterns of behavior that run into problems
having to do with (a) and (b), i.e. maxims of killing and harming, would create a state of enmity
that would destroy the possibility of the existence of a space of reasons as such, the problem
that can arise with respect to (c) is that certain patterns of behavior would create a state of
disinterest that would destroy the possibility of the existence of a flourishing space of reasons.
32 For a good discussion of this distinction, see Marcia Baron, Kantian Ethics Almost Without

Apology (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1995).

can know when looking at a specific action that it would be wrong of the agent
to do it on account of it being an act of killing. And that the duty of beneficence
is imperfect means that we cannot always know just from the fact that an agent
can help whether it would be wrong of the agent not to help. What is required of
the agent is that she embraces this end in a general way and if it is to be
meaningful to deem that this is the case a certain number of specific acts of
beneficence are clearly required (it might even be that some instances of need
represent such overwhelming emergencies that failure to assist in a single one of
them must mean that one has not truly embraced this end, but such cases are
certainly very rare); but the agent has some leeway in choosing the exact ways in
which she helps others.
As is probably already evident, I favor a somewhat conceptually leaner
Kantianism than that of Kant himself and I see no need to use the notion of
‘duty’ (especially since it is a somewhat outmoded notion anyway), but the
distinction that exists in Kant is still valid and we can thus distinguish between
two different kinds of principles to which a human agent should adhere and we
can also arrange the principles, corresponding to the six areas delineated above,
according to this additional distinction:

Principles of Means
(1) Not to kill
(2) Not to harm
(3) Not to lie
(4) Not to use non-argumentative modes of persuasion

Principles of Ends
(5) To help others in times of need or distress
(6) To support and enrich the social space within which one lives

Together these six principles constitute the core involved in leading a moral
life.33 Unlike the list of duties provided by Kant in the Metaphysics of Morals, this
list is abstract enough to allow for those cultural variations which are a necessary
consequence of the fact that the space of reasons within which one lives is
always a formation that builds on a host of historical contingencies; but they also

33 It might perhaps be felt that there are some glaring omissions on this list, such as the
obligation not to steal or the obligation to keep promises. Nevertheless, I would say that these
are acts that presuppose specific cultural contexts in which practices concerning promises and
property have evolved. If we happen to live under such circumstances, then to steal or break
promises will however fall under several of the items on the above list, e.g. (2), (3) and (6).

form a core in the sense that their content is not merely a matter of actual social
constitution; rather they are presuppositions of the kind of social constitution
that we are involved in as agents. Thus, while most reasons we act on have their
basis in arrangements that are in a deep sense arbitrary, these principles are not.
They are not grounded in reason in the sense that they can be derived from
reason; they are what must be the case if human beings are to be realized as
beings of reason and to exercise the kind of agency that is grounded in reason.
It should also be noted that even if the FUL is capable of generating this
framework of principles according to which we are to lead our lives, it has
nothing to say about most of our concrete moral actions. It gives us nothing
with which we can resolve moral conflicts or choose the best action in situations
where we have many good actions open to us. Nevertheless, the approach
developed here contains at least two components that help to flesh out the
skeletal framework generated by the FUL.

(i) Social standards and ideals. It is quite clear that morality as a system contains a
vast amount of very specific and concrete precepts. Many of these are rules the
exact content of which is wholly arbitrary, the point of them being rather that if
we all act on them, social life runs a little smoother. Some precepts might
perhaps even be called mere rules of etiquette, although etiquette is rarely
anything ‘mere’ since in its fundamentals it concerns politeness and respect for
others. And since the basic principles give us reason to adhere to social standards
(at least in cases where they are not morally problematic), we can legitimately say
that, on the level of specific actions, the framework here supports a modest
relativism. On this level of deliberating and arguing, we are to draw on our local
resources of reasoning and understanding rather than any application of a formal
test. Thus, to act according to the rule ‘give gifts, but accept no gifts in return’ is
not anything that is wrong on account of being non-universalizable; rather it is a
dubious piece of behavior since it falls out of line with the customs of gift-giving
that are prevalent in our social setting and it is wrong not to care about the
practices and institutions that build up and enrich the social space that we
inhabit. Of course, obedience to custom is only a guiding principle since by
themselves these customs have no absolute authority over us and if we think that
they curtail the flourishing of our social space or, even worse, that they violate
the integrity of some people, then we have reason to go against them.
Among our social standards, there is also a set of important features that
might be called standards of arbitration. These are hardly ever explicitly articulated,
but it is nevertheless the case that we do tend to agree about what the resolution
should roughly look like in most conflicts that can be understood as conflicts
between the basic principles. Since the above principles are derived from a

formal test that can only distinguish between the universalizable and the non-
universalizable, there is nothing in them that suggests the kind of weight they
should be accorded in concrete situations. This is something we will have to
develop local practices for handling (and we have already done so). On the
approach suggested here, this matter of weighting is thus not anything that the
theory should be expected to resolve. The theory only says something about the
parameters which any social space should accord with, but within these
parameters it is quite possible to have a number of different social spaces and
one way in which their respective structures might differ is that they can embody
different orders of priority within the set of basic principles – not that any of
them can be regarded as unimportant, but which of them is regarded as most
important, and in which circumstances our compliance with them can be
sacrificed in order to comply with some other of them, is a matter that can vary
between different social settings. No matter what they look like, these standards
of arbitration are still absolutely essential in our lives as moral agents: without
them we would be like persons trying to find their way in the world with only a
compass and no map.

(ii) The spirit of the FH. Although social standards and ideals, especially in terms of
standards of arbitration, are very useful, Kantianism, when understood as a
sophisticated framework theory, does also have the capacity to give us a sense
not only of the letter of morality but also its spirit. In a way, the FH can be
understood as a moral meta-principle that exists side by side with the principles
derived from the FUL. If we are true to its spirit we will tend to seek solutions
for moral quandaries through discussion with others rather than simply single-
handedly making some divinatory act of judgment (à la neo-Aristotelianism) or
some quasi-scientific act of moral calculation (à la consequentialism); the
Kantian approach suggested here thus allows us to make room for the social
element we found lacking in both algorithmic and particularistic theories.
Finally, although it should not be exaggerated, this component also provides
us with something that holds a certain critical potential. There might be many
instances, and even patterns, of behavior that are generally accepted in the
society within which one lives, patterns which are accepted by the majority of
people, but which nevertheless are at odds with the spirit imbued in the FH.
One example of such a practice might be a version of apartheid. Although it is
disputable, it would probably be possible to argue that such a system could at
least be compatible with the six principles, and even if it would certainly have an
inherent tendency towards the development of a number of sub-practices that
would involve violations of the six principles, what we at root feel so strongly
against in such a system is that the spirit of it runs so grossly counter to the spirit

of humanism – or to put it in a more Kantian way: it runs so grossly against the
spirit imbued in the FH and in the ideal of the Kingdom of Ends. And while a
pure Kingdom of Ends will never be implemented in this world, that does not
stop it from being an ideal form of sociality to which the space of reasons in
which we live hopefully will at least tend towards in its spirit.

6.6 Virtue and the Highest Good

When Onora O’Neill introduces the idea of understanding maxims as underlying
principles, she does so in response to the criticisms directed against Kantian
ethics by virtue theorists like Alasdair MacIntyre, and one of the key thoughts
behind her suggestion is that if we take a suitably broad view on maxims, then
the distance between Kantian ethics and virtue ethics is significantly lessened.34
If maxims are subjective principles of action and if we understand maxims as
broad principles, or at least claim that there are some such maxims and that
these broad maxims are the ones eligible for the FUL test, then to adhere to
such principles will involve taking stances that one cannot reasonably be
understood as having taken without having internalized the principles into the
basic structure of the fabric of one’s character.35
On the Kantian theory of ethics outlined here, O’Neill’s suggestion is still
very much to the point. (In fact, it is even more so than on her own account,
since her approach still leaves open that maxims can have a fairly low degree of
generality and concern matters with which we are not involved on a daily basis
throughout our lives.) What we have, then, is not a theory to turn to when
bewildered about what to do, in such cases we should rather turn to others
whose judgment we hold in regard and discuss the matter with them, but a
theory of what it means to be a moral person, namely to have internalized the
letter of morality in terms of the basic principles and to be imbued with the spirit
of morality, which involves taking seriously the need to justify ourselves to
others both in the abstract and the concrete. To be such a person is to be in
possession of virtue, in the Kantian sense, and while it is certainly possible for

34 In fact, in ‘Kant after Virtue’ she even contends that ‘Kant offers primarily an ethic of virtue
rather than an ethic of rules’ (p. 154), although in the Postscript prepared for the re-publication
of this essay in Constructions of Reason, she retracts this view, stating instead ‘that Kant offers an
ethic of principles, rather than one specifically of virtues, and that principles can be variously
embodied – both as virtues of individual characters or of institutions and also in practices and
even in decision procedures’ (p. 162).
35 One might certainly conceive of persons who just happen to act in accordance with these

principles but for other reasons, such as that it pays to do so, but then these persons are not
acting on these moral principles but rather on some other principles.

human beings to look at virtue as something wholly without value, from the
perspective of the moral person, virtue is something that is of unconditioned
value. Happiness does of course have its value too, but it is conditioned on the
possession of virtue. Yet, why focus on the perspective of the moral person
rather than that of the immoral one? Well, to begin with, everything that is of
value is of value from some perspective; and if we have to choose whose
perspective it is that we are to take as authoritative, the moral person or the
immoral one, then why should we choose the latter? As argued in Chapter 5, we
should seek no more than to makes sense of how the moral way of life is a
reasonable one.
As is well-known, Kant added to his account of the highest good both an idea
of proportionality and an idea of endless progression towards virtue. It might
perhaps be wondered whether something like that should not be done here as
well; but if we look at virtue, especially as understood here, then I find the idea
of virtue as coming in degrees highly dubious. At the very least, it would not
seem to come in degrees on a continuous scale stretching from the utterly base
to the morally perfect. To internalize the basic principles and to embrace the
spirit of morality is something that we either have done or not. To be sure, some
of us might adhere to these principles more strongly and be more imbued with
the spirit of morality than others, so certain differences of degree are clearly
possible, but there would still seem to be a certain ‘critical mass’ of moral fiber
that must be ingrained in the fabric of one’s character before it is meaningful to
speak about having virtue at all.
Accordingly, virtue is something that we attain at a certain level of character
development; and given that we have virtue, we can see ourselves as worthy of
the happiness that might come to us through our pursuits. But since virtue and
happiness are not anything that we possess in quantities that enable us to
measure them against each other, the deal is this: if we have virtue, we are
worthy of as much happiness as we are able and lucky enough to get. On this
understanding, worthiness to be happy is thus not anything that comes in
degrees: we either have it or we do not – which in this context simply means that
from the perspective of justifying ourselves to the abstract Other we are able to
either see ourselves as worthy of happiness or not. Within the moral sphere we
might certainly still be able to become better persons, but to see this as an
achievement worthy of striving towards is not something that can be based in a
reasonable longing to be more worthy of happiness; the reason why the
achievement of even greater virtue will appear in an attractive light to us is rather
that part of being a virtuous person is to have reached far enough in one’s
character development to have come to see virtue as something absolutely good
– and once we have reached that point, then that is just how we see things.

Now, finally, if we turn to consider our conceptions of happiness, then they
usually contain both very ideal elements, things that are objects of hope rather
than reasonable expectation, and more basic stuff. To achieve it all would be to
achieve bliss, but we rarely do, and even if we do, we tend to revise our
conceptions of happiness so that they come to include something else that we do
not possess. Yet if we achieve enough of the basic constituents of our
conceptions of happiness, the kind of constituents that are least variable to
revision anyway, then we can reasonably deem ourselves happy. If we succeed in
this while leading virtuous lives, then without having to wait for some
otherworldly perfection that never comes, we have achieved the highest good.
And that is a fine thing.


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