Title: Duty Derives from Telos: The Teleology behind Kant s Categorical Imperative. Author: Micah Tillman

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1 Title: Duty Derives from Telos: The Teleology behind Kant s Categorical Imperative Author: Micah Tillman Word Count: 3,358 (3,448, including content notes) Abstract: This paper argues that Kant s view of duty depends upon a teleological understanding of the will. Specifically, this paper hypothesizes that Kant s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals is based upon two assumptions: (1) The good will is the telos of every will, and (2) All wills are numerically identical. The paper first argues that the hypothesis is plausible enough to be worth testing (by appealing not only to an ongoing scholarly tradition of reading Kant s ethics teleologically, but also to Kant s own statements regarding the will/practical reason). It then proceeds to test whether the hypothesis can explain the data provided by the Grounding s three main formulations of the categorical imperative.

2 Duty Derives from Telos: The Teleology behind Kant s Categorical Imperative Introduction Readers of Kant s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals 1 face a number of difficult questions. This paper will address only two: (1) Why does Kant think the categorical imperative expresses a duty? and (2) How can Kant think the various formulations of the categorical imperative articulate the same imperative? In response to these two questions, this paper proposes a hypothesis. The hypothesis is that Kant assumes two things about the will: (a) The telos 2 of every will is the good will, and (b) Every will is numerically identical with every other will. Having proposed this hypothesis, this paper proposes to test it. Does Kant indeed assume that the telos of every will is the good will, and that every will is numerically identical with every other? Perhaps Aquinas held the will to have a telos, one might say, but did Kant? And perhaps Averroes held some part of the mind to be numerically identical in all, but did Kant? 3 Why should we hypothesize that Kant assumed the will to have a telos and to be numerically identical in all? Hackett, 1993). 1 Immanuel Kant, Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. James Ellington, 3 rd ed., (Indianapolis: 2 The classical sense of telos is assumed here. See e.g., Francis Slade, On the Ontological Priority of Ends and Its Relevance to the Narrative Arts, in Beauty, Art, and the Polis, ed. Alice Ramos (Washington, DC: The Catholic University of America Press/American Maritain Association, 2000), End as a translation of telos means what a thing will be that has become fully determined in its being, the defined, the complete, a condition of perfection, completion, fulfillment. End, as telos, signifies a continuing state of perfectedness (Slade, Ontological Priority, 58). 3 On Kant and Averroes, see Philipp W. Rosemann Wandering in the Path of the Averroean System: Is Kant's Doctrine on the Bewußtsein überhaupt Averroistic?, American Catholic Philosophical Quarterly 73, no. l (winter 1999),

3 Before testing the proposed hypothesis, therefore, we must show that it is at least plausible enough to be worth testing. I. Plausibility of the Hypothesis a. The Teleological Tradition of Kant Scholarship Is it plausible to think of Kant s ethics in teleological terms at all? After a considerable period of neglect, writes Vincent Cooke in 1988, there is now a clear consensus on the part of Kant s interpreters on the centrality of the doctrine of teleology to Kant s view of ethics. 4 Cooke cites three books as evidence of this consensus: H.J. Paton s The Categorical Imperative, Keith Ward s The Development of Kant s View of Ethics, and Bruce Aune s Kant s Theory of Morals. 5 Paton, for example, writes this: There is... in Kant a further strain which may be described as Aristotelian or teleological. We have already met this in his view that reason in man must have a special function and a special end.... Perhaps the assumption that practical reason has a function or purpose and that the fulfilment of this function or purpose must be good is the root assumption of Kant s whole moral philosophy. 6 Where Kant is usually seen as propounding a deontological theory, Paton holds that Kant s ethics is in part, and perhaps most fundamentally, teleological. 754, n Vincent Cooke, Kantian Reflections on Freedom, The Review of Metaphysics 41, no. 4 (June, 1988): 5 H. J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative: A Study in Kant s Moral Philosophy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1948); Keith Ward, The Development of Kant s View of Ethics (New York: Humanities Press, 1972); Bruce Aune, Kant s Theory of Morals (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1979). 6 Paton, Imperative, II.10, 5,

4 Furthermore: The second author on Cooke s list, Keith Ward, writes the following. I shall try to show... how the interpretation of Kant s ethics in teleological terms not only illuminates, but is necessary to render intelligible, Kant s treatment of these issues [namely, the nature of the supreme principle of morality and the application of the principle to provide specific duties ]. 7 [Kant] always held that the pursuit of morality would be senseless if it was not aimed at the realisation of one s natural perfections in a harmonious community. His main ethical concern was with human fulfilment and the conditions of its attainment. 8 Ward argues, in other words, that we not only need to see Kant s ethics as being teleological, but that Kant himself saw ethics as being senseless without teleology. Where Paton gives us permission to call Kant s thinking Aristotelian, Ward presents Kant in such a way that it becomes difficult to avoid labeling him Aristotelian. The third author on Cooke s list, Bruce Aune, writes that the fundamental weakness of Kant s moral theory lies in its appeal to the teleological system of nature in which things have certain natural functions or purposes. 9 Where Paton admits Kant s teleology, and Ward celebrates it, Aune laments it. Aune is joined in this by an author that Cooke could have cited, but did not cite: Patrick Hutchings. In Kant on Absolute Value, Hutchings writes: Kant seems to be saying that good will... is the absolute good teleologically. He seems to be maintaining that the production of this particular good will is reason s end. 10 Kant, Hutchings says, has committed himself falsely to the idea that reason s telos is the development of a good will (a mistake Hutchings calls bizarre ) Ward, Development, 7.1, Ibid., 6.4, Aune, Theory of Morals, Patrick Hutchings, Kant on Absolute Value (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1972), 99. 3

5 Thomas Auxter, a second author whom Cooke could have cited, also sees Kantian ethics as too often focused on developing a good will. In Kant s Moral Teleology, 12 Auxter writes: I argue... that an exclusive emphasis on the good will does violence to Kant s moral philosophy and even works against the kind of moral order that would emerge if the teleological dimensions of his theory were appreciated and taken seriously. 13 Auxter wishes to promote what he sees as the outwardly-focused, social activist side of Kantian teleology, rather than what he sees as the inwardly-focused, personal virtue aspect of Kant s thought 14 Though few students in Intro to Philosophy may ever hear of it, therefore, there is a farfrom-cohesive tradition in the secondary literature of admitting, and even thematizing, certain teleological aspects of Kant s ethics. 15 In light of this tradition, I would argue that it is at least plausible to see Kant s ethics as being teleological in some sense. We now turn to the question of how plausible the hypothesis might be that Kant specifically assumed the will to have a telos. 11 Ibid., Thomas Auxter, Kant s Moral Teleology (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1982). 13 Ibid., Ibid., For more recent works, see, e.g., Paul Guyer, Kant on Freedom, Law, and Happiness (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2000); Peter Byrne, Kant on God (Burlington, VT: Ashgate Publishing Co., 2007); Jens Timmermann, Kant s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals: A Commentary (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007); Scott Stapleford, On the Contradiction in Conception Test of the Categorical Imperative, South African Journal of Philosophy 26, no. 3 (2007):

6 b. The Good Will Is the Telos of All Wills Kant writes: [I]nasmuch as reason has been imparted to us as a practical faculty,... its true function must be to produce a will which is not merely good as a means to some further end, but is good in itself. 16 In commenting on this passage, Hutchings says, the good will... is the absolute good teleologically. [T]he production of this particular good will, in fact, is reason s end. 17 Reason has a telos, in other words, and this telos is the production of the good will. Reason and will are not two separate things for Kant, however. Reason, so far as it influences or determines action, 18 is practical reason, and the will is but another name for practical reason. 19 Moreover, practical reason and theoretical reason are the same power manifested in different ways. 20 In other words, (a) the will is practical reason, (b) practical reason and theoretical reason are the same power, and thus (c) the will and theoretical reason are the same power. Theoretical reason is the same power as the will, manifested in [a] different [way]. The will and reason are one. Rather than saying that the telos of reason is to produce the good will, therefore, it would be more accurate to say that the telos of reason is to become the good will. The good will is not a product of reason, so much as it is what reason might become. However, even this is not quite 16 Kant, Grounding, 9 (Ak. 396). 17 Hutchings, Absolute Value, 65 (see also 99). 18 Paton, Imperative, II.8, 3, See ibid., Ibid., 79. 5

7 right. For Kant, Hutchings says, nature has already endowed each of us with a potential good will or reason that we must bring into action. 21 Paton adds: Nevertheless and this is a fundamental conviction of Kant a good will is present in every man, however much it may be overlaid by selfishness, and however little it may be manifested in action. 22 The practical reason in each of us already is the good will, in some sense, but does not necessarily manifest this fact. In producing or becoming the good will, therefore, reason simply begins to be in a fuller, more excellent way what it already is. Given the authority of Hutchings and Paton, therefore, the claim that Kant saw reason s telos as, being the good will in actuality that it already is in potentiality, begins to seem plausible. And since the will and reason are one for Kant, we could make the same claim about how Kant saw the will s telos. Thus, when this paper hypothesizes that Kant assumes the good will to be the telos of every will, it does so (it would seem) with at least some plausibility. c. Every Will Is Numerically Identical with Every Other Will Ward tells us that in the Opus Postumum, Kant makes three surprising identifications. First, Kant identifies practical reason with God. Second, Kant identifies both practical reason and God with our true self. Third, Kant identifies each true self with every other true self. 23 The true man and the true self are... identical with God and truly free, Ward reports, and therefore, practical reason our true self is somehow one in all men Hutchings, Absolute Value, Paton, Imperative, III.16, 5, Ward, Development, 10.1, , Ibid., 10.2,

8 Furthermore, Ward says, this doctrine... that God and practical reason are identical is implicit in many earlier works. 25 But if this is the case, then the identity of all wills is also implicit in many earlier works. After all, if (a) God and practical reason are one, and (b) there is but one God, then (c) there can be but one practical reason (i.e., but one will). The Grounding is an earlier work, relative to the Opus Postumum, and thus may be one of those in which the identity of all wills is implicit. Therefore, the hypothesis that Kant, in the Grounding, assumes that all wills are numerically identical would seem at least plausible enough to be worth testing. d. Summary The hypothesis of this paper is that Kant, in his Grounding, assumes two things: (1) The telos of every will is the good will, and (2) Every will is numerically identical with every other. Section 1 has attempted to show that this hypothesis is plausible enough to be worth testing. First, it argued for the plausibility of reading Kant s ethics teleologically. Second, it argued for the plausibility of the proposal that Kant assumed the good will to be the telos of all wills. Third, it argued for the plausibility of the proposal that Kant assumed every will to be numerically identical with every other. We now turn to the test of the hypothesis. II. Testing the Hypothesis Given space limitations, we will test the hypothesis on a small, but central subset of the data: the Grounding s three main Formulae of the categorical imperative. 25 Ibid. 7

9 a. Formula I In the following quotation, we find Formula I. 26 [T]here is only one categorical imperative and it is this: Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. 27 Formula I asks us whether our maxims can be universalized without contradiction. There are two kinds of contradiction that must be avoided. 28 First, a particular maxim might contradict itself if it were made a universal law. Second, the will might contradict itself if it willed that a particular maxim become a universal law. Avoiding these contradictions is the duty from which all others can be derived. 29 Thus, Formula I provides us with three related data that our hypothesis must explain. Datum 1: Kant believes that Formula I expresses a duty. That is, he believes that Formula I is binding upon us. Datum 2: Formula I says the will s maxims should apply to everyone. Datum 3: Formula I says that the will should not involve itself in contradictions. Datum 1. Why does Kant believe that Formula I expresses a duty? To answer this, we must first see that Formula I is an attempt to describe the good will. 30 Paton writes: Hutchings adds: An action is morally good because it is the manifestation of a good will, and the categorical imperative in enjoining morally good action in accordance with a universal law is enjoining that a good will as such should be manifested and not thwarted by mere inclination See Paton, Imperative, III Kant, Grounding 30 (Ak. 421). 28 Ibid., 32 (Ak. 424). 29 See ibid. (Ak ). 30 See Aune, Theory of Morals, 37 and Timmermann, Kant s Groundwork, 62 63, Paton, Imperative, III.16, 3,

10 The way to bring into action the potential good will or reason with which nature has already endowed me, is to ask the question which the categorical imperative sets before me. The categorical imperative is indeed, if anything is, the Form of good will 1 [i.e., good will as practical reason]. 32 Kant believes I am bound by Formula I, in other words, because it describes the good will, and the good will is the telos of each of my will. Formula I is, in essence, a description of what fulfilling my telos would look like. I am bound by Formula I because it describes my true self: the good will. I am bound by the categorical imperative because I am, as it were, tied to my telos. In failing to fulfill the categorical imperative, I fail to fulfill my telos, and thus I fail to be in full actuality what I am in essence. In failing to follow the categorical imperative, I fail to be true to myself, and thus, in some way, I fail to be. Datum 2. Why, however, must my maxims apply to everyone? In applying a maxim to any will, I necessarily apply that maxim to every will, since all wills are one and the same. If I apply a maxim to one will, but not to others, I would simultaneously apply a maxim to the will, and not apply that maxim the will. But this is absurd, and the good will would not involve itself in absurdity. Thus, it is the telos of every will to treat its maxims as universal (since the good will is the telos of every will). Datum 3. Why should my will not involve itself in contradictions? Consistency is binding upon my will because (a) the good will is self-consistent, and (b) the good will is the telos of my will. The good will is self-consistent because (i) as practical reason, it is bound by the Principle of Non-Contradiction, and (ii) being and one (or unity ) are convertible. 33 To be reasonable, the will must follow the PNC, and to be fully actual, it must be one with itself. A 32 Hutchings, Absolute Value, Cf., e.g., Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologica I, q. 11, a. 1. 9

11 good will is a self-consistent will a will that truly and fully exists a will that is not divided against itself. b. Formula II In the following quotation, we find Formula II. 34 The practical imperative will therefore be the following: Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means. 35 In support of Formula II, Kant tells us that every rational being necessarily thinks of [itself] as an end in itself. 36 Thus, we should treat everyone as an end in her- or himself, because everyone necessarily thinks of her- or himself as an end in her- or himself. Thus, we have two different data to be explained. Datum 4: We should treat ourselves in a way that is consistent with the way we necessarily think of ourselves. Datum 5: We should treat others in a way that is consistent with the way they necessarily think of themselves. Data 5 and 6. That we should treat ourselves in a way that is consistent with how we necessarily think of ourselves follows naturally from the identity of reason and will. Reason, whether practical or theoretical, is self-consistent insofar as it is truly rational. It would not take itself in thought to be an end in itself while taking itself in action to be a means merely (i.e., to not be an end in itself). It would not think one thing and will its opposite. Furthermore, all wills are identical. Therefore, (a) when my will takes itself to be an end in itself, it necessarily also takes your will to be an end in itself, and (b) when your will takes itself to be an end in itself, my will necessarily also takes your will to be an end in itself. Our 34 See Paton, Imperative, III Kant, Grounding, 36 (Ak. 429). 36 Ibid. 10

12 wills are one and the same. If my will then proceeded to treat your will as not being an end in itself, my will would contradict itself. Thus, Formula II amounts to a demand that our wills be self-consistent. It simply requires our wills to be the good will. Formula II, like Formula I, tells us our telos. c. Formula III In the following quotation, we find Formula III. 37 [T]here now follows the third practical principle of the will as the supreme condition of the will s conformity with universal practical reason, viz., the idea of the will of every rational being as a will that legislates universal law. According to this principle all maxims are rejected which are not consistent with the will s own legislation of universal law. The will is thus not merely subject to the law but is subject to the law in such a way that it must be regarded also as legislating for itself and only on this account as being subject to the law (of which it can regard itself as the author). 38 Formula III tells us that (a) the maxims I make should apply to everyone, (b) a maxim can only apply to anyone insofar as he or she applies it to him- or herself, and therefore (c) we should reject any maxim (i) that does not apply to everyone, and (ii) that everyone does not apply to him- or herself. Therefore, we must explain the following data. Datum 6: We should reject any maxim that does not apply to all wills. Datum 7: We should reject any maxim that not all wills apply to themselves. Datum 6. Why should we reject any maxim that does not apply to all wills? Since all wills are numerically identical, if a will applied a maxim to one will, but not to another, it would 37 See Paton, Imperative, III Kant, Grounding, 38 (Ak. 431). 11

13 be both applying that maxim to itself and not applying that maxim to itself. But the good will would not be inconsistent with itself in this way. Datum 7. Why should we reject any maxim that not all wills apply to themselves? If one will creates a maxim, all wills must create the same maxim, since all wills are numerically identical. To treat a maxim as coming from some wills, but not others, would be to treat a maxim both as coming from the will and as not coming from the will. But the good will would not involve itself in such absurdity. If the good will made and applied a maxim to itself, it would recognize that all wills make and apply that maxim to themselves, since all wills are one. Therefore, our duty to reject all maxims that do not apply to everyone, or that are not made by everyone, derives from the fact that the good will is the telos of every will. Formula III, like Formulae I and II, is simply telling us that we are bound to self-consistency by our telos. d. Summary The hypothesis of this paper is that Kant, in his Grounding, assumes two things: (1) the good will is the telos of every will, and (2) every will is numerically identical with every other will. In each of the three major formulations of the categorical imperative, we have found that this hypothesis fits the data remarkably well. This hypothesis can explain not only why Kant believes the three major Formulae to be binding duties, but also why Kant believes all three major Formulae express the same duty. The three major Formulae are binding duties for the following reason. The good will is the telos of every will, and the three major Formulae of the categorical imperative are 12

14 descriptions the good will. Thus, the three major Formulae of the categorical imperative are binding upon us (they are our duty) because they express our intrinsic and irrevocable telos. Furthermore, we have seen how each of the three major Formulae could be an expression of the same duty. Each amounts to the following claim: Every will is identical with every other will, and should act consistently in light of this fact. Conclusion This paper hypothesizes that Kant s Grounding is based on two assumptions: (1) every will has the good will as its telos, and (2) every will is numerically identical with every other will. The paper first attempted to show that this hypothesis was plausible enough to be worth testing, and then proceeded to test the hypothesis on the Grounding s three major Formulae of the categorical imperative. Given the success of this initial and limited test, it would seem that further testing is warranted. 13

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