(This marks the fifth of eleven “meetings” of our virtual reading group on Derek Parfit’s Climbing the Mountain—see here for further details. Next week, we will discuss Chapter 7 of the June 7th version of the manuscript, which can be found here.)
In his Formula of Humanity, Kant tells us that “every rational being…must always be regarded as an end…and is an object of respect.” But, as Parfit points out, this requirement to respect all persons doesn’t tell us how we ought to act. In the narrow sense of ‘respect’ (where only acts such as those that are degrading, defamatory, or contemptuous count as being incompatible with respecting persons), we can act wrongly without treating people in ways that are incompatible with respect for them. “But Kant’s formula is intended to cover all wrong acts” (p. 117). So, Kant must have the in the wider sense of ‘respect’ in mind, where all wrong acts are necessarily incompatible with respect for persons. But, in this wider sense, Kant’s requirement to respect all persons tells us only that we must not act wrongly, which isn’t useful or informative.