Sophist Almanac


Michael Sandel - Justice ⑥ 11: Mind Your Motive / 12: The Supreme Principle of Morality



Lecture 11

Mind Your Motive


Michael Sandel: Now we turn to the hardest philosopher we’re going to read in this course, today we turn to Immanuel Kant who offers a different account of why we have a categorical duty to respect the dignity of persons and not to use people as means merely even for good ends. Kant excelled at the University of Konigsberg at the age of 16. At the age of 31 he got his first job as an unsalaried lecturer paid on commission, based on the number of students who showed up at his lectures. This is a sensible system that Harvard would do well to consider. Luckily for Kant, he was a popular lecturer, and also an industrious one, and so he eked out a meager living. It wasn't until he was 57 that he published his first major work, but it was worth the wait, the book was the Critique of Pure Reason. Perhaps the most important work, in all of modern philosophy, and a few years later, Kant wrote the Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals which we read in this course. I want to acknowledge even before we start that Kant is a difficult thinker, but it's important to try to figure out what he's saying, because what, what this book is about, is well it's about what the supreme principle of morality is, number one, and it's also it, it gives us an account, one of the most powerful accounts we have of what freedom really is. So let me start today, Kant rejects utilitarianism, he thinks that the individual person, all human beings have a certain dignity that commands our respect. The reason the individual is sacred or the bearer of rights, according to Kant, doesn't stem from the idea that we own ourselves but instead from the idea that we are all rational beings. We are all rational beings, which simply mean that we are beings who are capable of reason. We are also autonomist beings, which is to say that we are beings capable of acting and choosing freely. Now, this capacity for reason and freedom isn't the only capacity we have. We also have the capacity for pain and pleasure, for suffering and satisfaction. Kant admits the utilitarians were half right, of course we seek to avoid pain and we like pleasure, Kant doesn't deny this, what he does deny is Benton's claim that pain and pleasure are our sovereign masters. He thinks that's wrong, Kant thinks that it's our rational capacity that makes us distinctive, that makes us special, that makes us apart from and above mere animal existence. It makes us something more than just physical creatures with appetites. Now, we often think of freedom as simply consisting in doing what we want or in the absence of obstacles to getting what we want, that’s one way of thinking about freedom. But this isn’t Kant’s idea of freedom, Kant has a more stringent demanding notion of what it means to be free, and though it’s stringent and demanding, if you think it through it's actually pretty persuasive. Kant reasons as follows, when we, like animals, seek after pleasure or the satisfaction of our desires or the avoidance of pain, when we do that we aren’t really acting freely. Why not? We’re really acting as the slaves of those appetites and impulses. I didn't choose this particular hunger or that particular appetite, and so when I act to satisfy it, I’m just acting according to natural necessity. And for Kant, freedom is the opposite of necessity. There was an advertising slogan for the soft drink Sprite a few years ago. The slogan was “Obey your thirst.” There, there's a Kantian insight buried in that Sprite advertising slogan. That in the way is Kant’s point, when you go for Sprite or Pepsi, you’re really, you might think that you're choosing freely Sprite versus Pepsi, but you’re actually obeying something, a thirst, or maybe a desire, manufactured or massaged by advertising. You’re obeying a prompting that you yourself haven't chosen or created. And here, it's worth noticing Kant’s especially demanding idea of freedom. What way of acting, how can my will be determined if not by the promptings of nature or my hunger or my appetite or my desires? Kant’s answer, to act freely is to act autonomously and to act autonomously is to act according to a law that I give myself, not according to the physical laws of nature, or to laws of cause-and-effect, which include my desire to eat, or to drink or to choose this food and a restaurant over that. Now, what is the opposite? What is the opposite of autonomy? For Kant, he invents a special term to describe the opposite of autonomy. Heteronomy is the opposite of autonomy. When I act heteronomously I'm acting towards an inclination or desire that I haven't chosen for myself, so freedom is autonomy is the specially stringent idea that Kant insists on. Now, why is autonomy the opposite of acting heteronomously or according to the dictates of nature? Kant’s point is that nature is governed by laws, laws of cause-and-effect for example, suppose you drop a billiard ball, it falls to the ground, we wouldn't say the billiard ball is acting freely. Why not? It's acting according to the law of nature, according to laws of cause and effect, the law of gravity. And just as he has an unusually demanding and stringent conception of freedom, freedom as autonomy, he also has a demanding conception of morality. To act freely, is not to choose the best means to a given end, it's to choose the end itself for its own sake. And that’s something that human beings can do and that billiard balls can’t. In so far as we act on inclination or pursue pleasure we act as means to the realization of ends given outside us, we are instruments rather than authors of the purposes we pursue, that are the heteronymous determination of the will. On the other hand, in so far as we act autonomously, according to a law we give ourselves, we do something for its own sake as an end in itself. When we act autonomously we cease to be instruments to purposes given outside us. We become, or we can come to think of ourselves as ends in ourselves. This capacity to act freely, Kant tells us, is what gives human life its special dignity. Respecting human dignity means regarding persons not just as means but also as ends in themselves and this is why it’s wrong to use people for the sake of other people’s well being or happiness. This is the real reason, Kant says, that utilitarianism goes wrong. This is the reason it’s important to respect the dignity of persons and to uphold their rights. So, even if there are cases, remember John Stuart Mill said well in the long run if we uphold justice and respect the dignity of persons we will maximize human happiness. What would Kant’s answer be to that? What would his answer be? Even if that were true, even if the calculus worked out that way, even if you shouldn’t through the Christians to the lions because in the long run fear will spread, the overall utility will decline. The utilitarian would be upholding justice and rights and respect for persons for the wrong reasons, for purely contingent reasons, for an instrumental reason. It would still be using people, even where the calculus works out for the best in the long run, it would still be using people as means rather than respecting them as ends in themselves. So, that’s Kant’s idea of freedom as autonomy and you can begin to see how it’s connected to his idea of morality but we still have to answer one more question; what gives an act it’s moral worth in the first place? If it can’t be directed at utility or satisfying wants and desires, what gives an action it’s moral worth? This leads us from Kant’s demanding idea of freedoms to his demanding idea of morality. What does Kant say? What makes an action morally worthy consists not in the consequences or in the results that flow from it. What makes an action morally worthy has to do with the motive, with the quality of the will, with the intention for which the act is done. What matters is the motive and the motive must be of a certain kind, so the moral worth of an action depends on the motive for which it’s done and the important thing is that the person do the right thing for the right reason. A good will isn’t good because of what it effects of accomplishes, Kant writes, it’s good in itself. Even if by its utmost effort the good will accomplishes nothing it would still shine like a jewel for its own sake as something which has its full value in itself. So for any action to be morally good, it’s not enough that it conform to the moral law, it must also be done for the sake of the moral law. The idea is that the motive confers the moral worth on an action and the only kind of motive that can confer moral worth on an action is the motive of duty. Well what’s the opposite of doing something out of a sense of duty because it’s right? Well for Kant the opposite would be all of those motives having to do with our inclinations, and inclinations refer to all of our desires, all of our contingently given wants, preferences, impulses and alike. Only actions done for the sake of the moral law, for the sake of duty, only these actions have moral worth. Now, I want to see what you think about this idea, but first let’s consider a few examples. Kant begins with an example of a shop keeper, he wants to bring out the intuition and make plausible the idea that what confers moral worth on an action is that it be done because it’s right. He says suppose there is a shop keeper and an inexperienced customer comes in , the shop keeper knows that he could give the customer the wrong change, could short change the customer and get away with it, at least that customer wouldn’t’ know. But the shop keeper none the less says “well if I short change this customer word may get out, my reputation would be damaged and I would lose business, so I won’t short change this customer.” The shop keeper does nothing wrong, he gives the correct change, but does his action have moral worth? Kant says no, it doesn’t have moral worth because the shop keeper only did the right thing for the wrong reason, out of self interest. That’ a pretty straight forward case. Then he takes another case, the case of suicide. He says we have a duty to preserve ourselves. Now for most people, who love life, we have multiple reasons for not taking our own lives. So the only way we can really tell, the only we can isolate the operative motive for someone who doesn’t take his or her life is to think, to imagine someone who is miserable and who despite having an absolutely miserable life, none the less recognizes the duty to preserve one self and so does not commit suicide. That’s the force of the example is to bring out the motive that matters and the motive that matters for morality is doing the right thing for the sake of duty. Let me just give you a couple of other examples. The Better Business Bureau, what’s their, their slogan, the slogan of the Better Business Bureau “Honesty is the best policy.” It’s also the most profitable, this is the Better Business Bureau’s full page ad in the New York Times. Honesty it’s as important as any other asset because a business that deals in truth, openness and fair value cannot help but do well, come join us and profit from it. What would Kant say about the moral worth of the honest dealings of members of the Better Business Bureau, what would he say? That here’s a perfect example that if this is the reason that these companies deal honestly with their customers, their action lacks moral worth. This is Kant’s point. Or a couple of years ago at the University of Maryland there was a problem with cheating and so they initiated an honor system and they created a program with local merchants that if you signed the honor pledge, a pledge not to cheat you would get discounts of 10 to 25 percent at local shops. Well what would you think of someone motivated, to uphold an honor code with the hope of discounts? It’s the same as Kant’s shop keeper. The point is, what matters is the quality of the will, the character of the motive and the relevant motive to morality can only be the motive of duty, not the motive of inclination. And when I act out of duty, when I resist as my motive for acting, inclinations or self-interest, even sympathy and altruism, only then am I acting freely, only then am I acting autonomously, only then is my will not determined or governed by external considerations that’s the link between Kant’s idea of freedom and morality. Now I want to pause here to see if all of this is clear or if you have some questions or puzzles, they can be questions of clarification or they can be challenges, if you want to challenge this idea that only the motive of duty confers moral worth on the action. What do you think? Yes.

Amadi: Yeah, I actually have two questions of clarification. Umm the first is there seems to be an aspects of this that makes it sort of ahh self-defeating in that once you’re conscious of umm what morality is you can sort of alter your motive to achieve that end of morality and second

Michael Sandel: Give me, give me an example of what you have in mind

Amadi: The shop keeper example, if he decides that he wants to give the person the money umm to do the right thing, and he decides that’s his motive to do so umm because he wants to be moral then isn’t that sort if defeating trying to umm isn’t that sort of defeating the purity of his action? If, if, if morality is determined by his motive, his motive is, his motive is to act morally.

Michael Sandel: I see. So you're imagining a case not of the purely selfish calculating shop keeper, but of one who says, well he may consider shortchanging the customer but then he says not well my reputation my suffer if word gets out, but instead he says actually I would like to be the kind of honest person who gives the right change to customers simply because it’s the right thing to do.

Amadi: Or simply because I want to be moral.

Michael Sandel: Because I want to be moral, I want to be a good person and so I’m going to conform all my actions to what morality requires. It’s a subtle point, it’s a good question. Kant does acknowledge, you’re pressing Kant on an important point here. Kant does say there has to be some incentive to obey the moral law, it can’t be a self-interested incentive, that would defeat it by definition. So he speaks of a different kind of incentive from an inclination, he speaks of reverence for the moral law. So if that shop keeper says I want to develop a, a reverence for the moral law and so I’m going to, and so I’m going to do the right thing. Then I think he's there, he’s there as far as Kant’s concerned because he’s formed his motive, his will is conforming to the moral law once he sees the importance of it, so it would count. It would count.

Amadi: All right, then secondly, very quickly umm what stops morality from becoming completely objective in this point

Michael Sandel: What stops morality from becoming subjective

Amadi: Subjective, yeah, like how can, if there’s, if morally, if morality is completely determined by your morals then how can you apply this or how can it be enforced?

Michael Sandel: All right, that’s also a great question. What’s your name?

Student: My name’s Amadi.

Michael Sandel: Amadi. All right. If acting morally means acting according to a moral law out of duty and if it’s also to act freely in the sense of autonomously, it must mean that I’m acting according to a law that I give myself, that's what it means to act of autonomously. Amadi is right about that but that does raise a really interesting question. If acting autonomously means acting according to a law I give myself, that's how I escape the chain of cause-and-effect and the laws of nature. What’s to guarantee that the law I give myself, when I'm acting out of duty, is the same as the law that Amadi is giving himself and that each of you gives yourselves? Well, here’s the question. How many moral laws, from Kant’s point of view, are there in this room? Are there a 1000? Or is there one? He thinks there's one. Which in a way does go back to this question, all right what is the moral law? What does it tell us? So what guarantees, it sounds like it, to act autonomously is to act according to one's conscience, according to a law one gives one's self. But what guarantees that if we all exercise our reason we will come up with one in the same moral law? That’s what Amadi wants to know.

Here’s Kant’s answer, the reason that leads us to the law we give ourselves, as autonomous beings, is a reason, it’s a kind of practical reason, that we share as human beings. It's not idiosyncratic, the reason we need to respect the dignity of persons is that we’re all rational beings, we all have the capacity for reason and it's the exercise of that capacity for reason which exists undifferentiated in all of us that makes us worthy of dignity, all of us, and since it's the same capacity for reason, unqualified by particular autobiographies and life circumstances, it’s the same universal capacity for reason that delivers the moral law, it turns out that to act autonomously is to act according to a law we give ourselves, exercising our reason, but it’s the reason we share with everyone as rational beings. Not the particular reasons we had, given our upbringings, our particular values, our particular interests, it’s pure practical reason, in Kant’s terms, which legislates apriori regardless of any particular contingent or empirical ends. Well, what moral law would that kind of reason deliver? What is its content? To answer that question you have to read the groundwork and we’ll continue with that question next time.


Lecture 12

The Supreme Principle of Morality

Michael Sandel: For Kant, morally speaking, suicide is on a par with murder. It's on a par with murder because what we violate when we take a life, when we take someone's life, ours or somebody else's, we use that person, we use a rational being, we use humanity as a means and so we fail to respect humanity as an end.

Michael Sandel: Today we turn back to Kant before we do, remember this is the week by the end of which all of you will basically get Kant, figure out what he’s up to. You’re laughing, no, it will happen.

Kant’s groundwork is about two big questions, first, what is the supreme principle of morality? Second, how is freedom possible? Two big questions. Now, one way of making your way through this dense philosophical book is to bear in mind a set of oppositions or contrasts or dualisms that are related. Today I’d like to talk about them. Today we’re going to answer the question, what, according to Kant, is the supreme principle of morality? And in answering that question, in working our way up to Kant’s answer to that question, it will help to bear in mind three contrasts or dualisms that Kant sets out. The first, you remember, had to do with the motive according to which we act. And according to Kant, only one kind of motive is consistent with morality. The motive of duty, doing the right thing for the right reason. What other kind of motives are there? Kant sums them up in the category of inclination. Every time the motive for what we do is to satisfy a desire or a preference that we may have, to pursue some interest, we’re acting out of inclination. Now, let me pause to see, if in thinking about the question of the motive of duty, the good will, see if any of you has a question about that much of Kant’s claim. Or is everybody happy with this distinction? What do you think? Go ahead.

Student1: When you make that distinction between duty and inclination is there ever any moral action ever? I mean, you could always, kind of, probably find some kind of selfish, selfish motive, can’t you?

Michael Sandel: Maybe very often people do have self-interested motives when they act. Kant wouldn’t dispute that. But what Kant is saying, is that in so far as we act morally, that is, in so far as our actions have moral worth, what confers moral worth is precisely our capacity to rise above self interest and prudence and inclination, and to act out of duty. Some years ago I read about a spelling bee, and there was a young man who was declared the winner of the spelling bee. A kid named Andrew, thirteen years old. The winning word, the word that he was able to spell was echolalia. Does anyone know what echolalia is? What?

Student2: Some type of flower?

Michael Sandel: It’s not some type of flower, no. It means the tendency to repeat, as an echo, to repeat what you’ve heard. Anyhow, he, he misspelled it actually but the judges misheard him, they thought he had spelled it correctly and awarded him the championship of the National Spelling Bee and he went to the judges afterward and said actually I misspelled it, I don’t deserve the prize and he was regarded as a moral hero and he was written up in the New York Times “Misspeller is a Spelling Bee Hero.” There’s Andrew with his proud mother. And, but he was interviewed afterwards, listen to this, when he was interviewed afterwards, he said, quote, “The judges said I had a lot of integrity.” But then he added that part of his motive was, quote, “I didn’t want to feel like a slime.” Alright, what would Kant say? Go ahead.

Vosko: I guess it would depend on whether or not that was a marginal reason or the predominant reason in whether or not in, in why he decided to confess that he didn’t actually spell the word correctly.

Michael Sandel: Good and what’s your name?

Vosko: Vosko.

Michael Sandel: That’s very interesting. Is there anyone else who has a view about this? Does this show that Kant’s principle is too stringent, too demanding? What would Kant say about this? Yes.

Judith: Umm, I think that Kant actually says that, umm, this, the pure motivation that comes out of duty which gives the actually moral worth. So it’s like, for example, in this case, he might have more than one motive. He might have the motive of not feeling like a slime. And he might have the motive of, of doing the right thing for in and of itself out of duty. And so, while there’s more than one motivation going on there, does not mean that the action is devoid of moral worth. Just because he has one other motive. So, because the motive, which involves duty, is what gives it the moral worth.

Michael Sandel: Good. And what’s your name?

Judith: Judith.

Michael Sandel: Well Judith, I think that your account, actually, is true to Kant. It’s fine to have sentiments and feelings that support doing the right thing, provided they don’t provide the reason for acting. So I think Judith, actually has mounted a pretty good defense of Kant on this question of the motive of duty. Thank you. Now, let’s go back to the three contrasts. It’s clear at least what Kant means when he says that, for an action to have moral worth, it must be done for the sake of duty, not out of inclination. But as we began to see last time, there’s a connection between Kant’s stringent notion of morality, and his specially demanding understanding of freedom. And that leads us to the second contrast, the link between morality and freedom. The second contrast describes two different ways that my will can be determined, autonomously and heteronomously. And according to Kant, I’m only free when my will is determined autonomously, which means what? According to a law that I give myself. We must be capable, if we’re capable of freedom as autonomy, we must be capable of acting according, not to a law that’s given or imposed on us, but according to a law we give ourselves. But where could such a law come from, a law that we give ourselves? Reason. If reason determines my will, then, the will becomes the power to choose independent of the dictates of nature or inclination or circumstance. So, connected with Kant’s demanding notions of morality and freedom, is a specially demanding notion of reason. Well how can reason determine the will? There are two ways, and this leads to the third contrast. Kant says, there are two different commands of reason, and a command of reason, Kant calls an imperative. An imperative is simply an ought. One kind of imperative, perhaps the most familiar kind, is a hypothetical imperative. Hypothetical comparatives use instrumental reason. If you want “X,” then do “Y.” It’s means-ends reasoning. If you want a good business reputation, then don’t shortchange your customers, word may get out. That’s a hypothetical imperative. "If the action would be good solely as a means to something else", Kant writes, "the imperative is hypothetical. If the action is represented as good in itself and therefore as necessary for a will which of itself accords with reason, then the imperative is categorical". That’s the difference between a categorical imperative and a hypothetical one. A categorical imperative commands categorically. Which just means without reference to or dependence on any further purpose. And so you see the connection among these three parallel contrasts. To be free in the sense of autonomous, requires that I act, not out of a hypothetical imperative, but out of a categorical imperative. And so you see, by these three contrasts, Kant reasons his way, brings us up to his derogation of the categorical imperative. Well this leaves us one big question, what is the categorical imperative? What is the supreme principle of morality? What does it command of us? Kant gives three versions, three formulations of the categorical imperative, I want to mention two, and then see what you think of them. The first version, the first formula he calls the formula of the universal law. Act only on that maxim, whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law, and by maxim, what does Kant mean? He means a rule that explains reason for what you’re doing. A principle. For example, promise keeping. Suppose I need money, I need $100, desperately, and I know I can’t pay it back anytime soon. I come to you and make you a promise, a false promise, one I know I can’t keep, “Please give me $100 today, lend me the money, I will repay you next week.” Is that consistent with the categorical imperative, that false promise? Kant says no. And the test, the way we can determine that the false promise is at odds with the categorical imperative is, try to universalize it. Universalize the maxim upon which you are about to act. If everybody made false promises when they needed money, then nobody would believe those promises, there would be no such thing as a promise, and so there would be a contradiction. The maxim universalized would undermine itself. That’s the test. That’s how we can know that the false promise is wrong. Well what about                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  the formula of the universal law? You find is persuasive? What do you think? Go ahead.

Tim: I have a question about the difference between categoricalism and a hypothesis that, ah, if you’re going to act…

Michael Sandel: Between, between categorical and hypothetical…

Tim: Yeah.

Michael Sandel: Imperatives.

Tim: Right. If you’re going to act, umm, with a categorical imperative so that the maxim doesn’t undermine itself, it sounds like, “I am going to do ‘X,’ because I want ‘Y.’ I am going to not lie in dire need because I want the world to function in such a way that promises are kept.

Michael Sandel: I don’t want to liquidate the practice of promises.

Tim: Right. It sounds like justifying a means by an ends.

Michael Sandel: It seems like an instance of consequentialist reasoning, you’re saying.

Tim: Right.

Michael Sandel: And what’s your name?

Tim: Tim.

Michael Sandel: Tim. Well Tim, John Stuart Mill agreed with you. He made this, he made this criticism of Kant. He said if I universalize the maxim and find that the whole practice of promise keeping would be destroyed, if universalized, I must be appealing, somehow, to consequences if that’s the reason not to tell a false promise. So, John Stuart Mill agreed with that criticism against Kant, but John Stuart Mill was wrong. You’re in good company though. You’re in good company, Tim. Kant is often read as Tim just read him, as appealing to consequences. The world would be worse off if everybody lied, because then no one could rely on anybody else’s word. Therefore, you shouldn’t lie. That’s not what Kant is saying exactly, although it’s easy to interpret him as saying that. I think what he’s saying is that this is the test, this is the test of whether the maxim corresponds with the categorical imperative, it isn’t exactly the reason. It’s not the reason. The reason you should universalize, to test your maxim, is to see whether you are privileging your particular needs and desires over everybody else’s. It’s a way of pointing to this feature, this demand of the categorical imperative that the reasons for your actions shouldn’t depend, or their justification, on your interests, your needs, your special circumstances being more important than somebody else’s. That I think is the moral intuition lying behind the universalization test. So let me spell out the second, Kant’s second version of the categorical, perhaps in a way that’s more intuitively accessible than the formula of universal law. It’s the formula of humanity as an end. Kant introduces the second version of the categorical imperative with the following line of argument. We can’t base the categorical imperative on any particular interests, purposes or ends because then it would be only relative to the person whose ends they were. But suppose there was something, whose existence has in itself, and absolute value. An end in itself. Then in it, and in it alone, would there be the ground of a possible categorical imperative. Well what is there that we can think of as having its end in itself? Kant’s answer is this, I say that man, and in general every rational being, exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will. And here Kant distinguishes between persons on the one hand and things on the other. Rational beings are persons. They don’t just have a relative value for us, but if anything has, they have an absolute value, and intrinsic value. That is, rational beings have dignity. They’re worthy of reverence and respect. This line of reasoning leads Kant to the second formulation of the categorical imperative, which is this, 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. So that’s the formula of humanity as an end. The idea that human beings, as rational beings, are ends in themselves, not open as a use merely to means. When I make a false promise to you, I’m using you as a means to my ends, to my desire for the $100. And so I’m failing to respect you. I’m failing to respect your dignity. I’m manipulating you. Now consider the example of the duty against suicide. Murder and suicide are at odds with the categorical imperative. Why? If I murder someone, I’m taking their life for some purpose, either because I’m a hired killer, or I’m in the throws of some great anger or passion, well I have some interest, some purpose that’s particular for the sake which I’m using them. As a means, murder violates the categorical imperative. For Kant, morally speaking, suicide is on a par with murder. It’s on a par with murder because what we violate when we take a life, when we take someone’s life, ours or somebody else’s, we use that person, we use a rational being, we use humanity as a means, and so we fail to respect humanity as an end. And that capacity for reason, that humanity that commands respect, that is the ground of dignity that humanity, that capacity for reason resides undifferentiated in all of us. And so I violate that dignity in my own person if I commit suicide, and in murder if I take somebody else’s life. From a moral point of view, they’re the same. And the reason they’re the same has to do with the universal character and ground of the moral law. The reason that we have to respect the dignity of other people has not to do with anything in particular about them. And so respect, Kantian respect is unlike love in this way. It’s unlike sympathy. It’s unlike solidarity or fellow feeling or altruism, because love and those other particular virtues or reasons for caring about other people have to do with who they are in particular. But respect for Kant, respect, is respect for humanity which is universal, for a rational capacity which is universal. And that’s why violating it in my own case is as objectionable as violating it in the case of any other. Questions or objections? Go ahead.

Patrick: I guess I’m somewhat worried about Kant’s, umm, statement that you cannot use a person as a means, because every person is an end in and of themselves, because it seems that, that everyday, in order to get something accomplished for that day, I must use myself as a means to some end. And I must use the people around me as a means to some end as well. For instance, suppose that, umm, I want to do well in a class, and I have to write a paper. I have to use myself as a means to write the paper. Suppose I want to buy something, food. I must go to the store and use the person working behind the counter as a means for me to purchase my food.

Michael Sandel: Right. That’s true. You do. What’s your name?

Patrick: Patrick.

Michael Sandel: Patrick, you’re not doing anything wrong. You’re not violating the categorical imperative when you use other people as means. That’s not objectionable, provided when we deal with other people, for the sake of advancing our projects and purposes and interests, which we all do, provided we treat them in a way that is consistent with respect for their dignity. And what it means to respect them, is given by the categorical imperative. Are you persuaded? Do you think that Kant has given a compelling account, a persuasive account of the supreme principle of morality? Reread the groundwork, and we’ll try to answer that question next time.

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