“Never merely as a means”

Lately, I’ve been thinking about Kant. His second formulation of the categorical imperative, to be specific.

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

At first glance (if your first glance is not in the context of a tome of Kant’s dense writing), it sounds almost sweet. Peace and love, guys, everybody matters, treat everybody with dignity, … and other such hippie talk. I suppose in a way it is, but then, I haven’t studied the categorical imperative very closely – we spent no more than a day of class on it in my 19th century philosophy course. Of course, Kant wanted his moral theory to be perfectly logical – wanted moral action to be required by logic itself – not gushy and emotional. Emotion-based morals are pretty tough to defend as universal. šŸ˜‰

I do know that philosophers, by and large, tend to write exactly what they mean – if only you can figure out what it is they’ve written. That in itself is the source of much of the debate over any particularly well-known philosopher’s arguments. So, I can’t help but notice that while Kant could have written something briefer, like “…treat other people as ends, never merely as means,” he didn’t. Instead of the brief phrase “other people” (or simply “people”), he wrote “humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other.” He will have meant something by the word “humanity” that “people” doesn’t convey.

The question I can’t figure an answer to is what that would be. Some characteristic quality or property shared by (but perhaps not limited to??) humans, it seems. But what, and what is the effect of this “humanity” being the end in itself, rather than individuals possessed of it?

I need to go back through my ethical theory textbook – perhaps the full passage on the CI is there. Meanwhile, thoughts welcome.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s