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October 14, 2005


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I'm no Kant scholar, but I thought that the idea was that the conjunction of using someone while refusing to take their status as an end in themselves was what was wrong. So there is one two part test as I read Kant. I suspect that this is related to his consequentialism. If not worrying about the ends of others was intrinsically wrong, then one would be required always to worry about how other people were faring. Admittedly two principles might allow this to be trumped by the not-using principle, but since I think it is clear that the no-using principle is not general principle against using people but rather one which restricts using unless one *also* treats those one uses as ends in themselves, it isn't obvious how or why that version of the other principle would override the requirement always to treat another as an end.

I actually think this is the part of Kant that comes the closest to working, but I'm still no Kantian. So I'm sure others (Robert?) will have more reliable info on this.

I hesitate to claim any sort of expertise, as I don't have an extensive background in Kant, let alone from the German, but I had intuitively understood the two as halves of one thought. Means vs ends seems an automatic dialectical pairing, where to every end belongs the several means available to achieve that end, be they necessary or merely sufficient. Subjectively, X is either an end, or a means to that end.

People are rational beings; Kant sets great store by rational beings. Inanimate objects may be mere means, non-rational animals may be mere means, but to treat a rational being as a mere means is, by way of the categorical imperative, to deny the right to be treated as anything other than a means. If you are not morally obliged to respect the ends of another rational being, no other rational being is morally obliged to respct your ends. All rational beings become mere means. The only CI-consistent way of achieving one's ends is to respect the ends of every other rational being. As we cannot know another's subjective ends -- but we must treat them as though their ends are equal to our own -- despite the fact that another rational being may be necessary to the process of achieving an end, we are morally obligated to respect the sovereignty of every rational being to receive their assistance toward our end. So rational beings synthesize means and ends, and the achievement of any end becomes contingent upon that sovereignty, the respect of that end-in-itself nature.

I guess I have always read Kant as Parfit does, more or less. 'Using rational nature as a mere means' is nothing more nor less than 'not treating it as an end it itself'. 'Treating something as an end in itself' is the primary notion here; when you use something as a means and don't also do that, you're treating it as a mere means. There's nothing more to it. But I could be wrong.

As I understand it, the distinction between perfect versus imperfect duties on the second formulation concerns two differrent ways you can fail to treat something as an end in itself. There is a difference between 'not treating as an end in itself' when it means 'acting in a way that *conflicts* with that status' versus when it means 'acting in a way that does not *harmonize* or *positively agree with* that status. (OK, that's foggy. So think here of not using a large, beautiful diamond as a plug for your sink (conflicts with its value) versus failing to polish it, put it on display, etc. (does not 'positively agree with' that value) Something like that.)

I think the second, 'positively agree with its status as end in itself' idea *can*, as Mark suggests, be read as offering an openning for a consequentialist (see, for instance, David Cummisky's reading of it). But I think that requires the idea that you must think that it requires maximizing.

Let me add that, although on your reconstruction Michael, Parfit thinks there's only one overarching duty, Parfit himself talks as if there's a lot more ground covered under this formula. In any case, apparently he thinks the only true bit of Kant here is that we must not *regard* people as mere means or things, and must also *regard* them as ends in themselves, neither of which helps to tell us what we must *do*. Or that's my reading of him.

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