Thursday, 17 June 2010

Humanity and Value

A little while ago I wrote a posting on the formula of humanity in which I traced the use of it, in preference to the formula of universal law, as indicative of a trend within the specific area of Kantian ethics, to present an opposition between teleological and deontological conceptions of ethics. The point I made there was that the resistance to the understanding of the formula of universal law as the key to the categorical imperative turned on variations of Hegel's argument for its alleged "empty formalism".

The nature of Kant's reference to humanity in the formula of humanity is itself less than obvious, however, as is evidenced by the different interpretations of it current at present. So, Allen Wood argues, most recently in his book Kantian Ethicsthat to treat humanity as an end in itself means to respect "the value of what makes it such an end". In understanding humanity in the formula of humanity as a value Wood implicitly aligns the comprehension of this formula with a classic kind of teleological view of ethics that sees ends as values that we must strive for. By contrast, Richard Dean, in his book-length study of the formula of humanity, The Value of Humanity in Kant's Moral Theory, argues that the formula of humanity involves no "brute claim about value" and that it rather commands us "to treat as an end in itself the kind of will that arouses the same deep moral feeling of Achtung as the moral law itself does" (137).

If Wood's view of the formula of humanity commits Kant to a deep claim about value and, along with such a claim, effectively ensures that it is the case that Kantian ethics is seen as a striving to realise certain values, the view of Dean, by contrast, treats the formula of humanity as another way of stating the moral law where this law is aligned carefully with the notion of the good will. So Dean's reading is one that is set against classic understandings of teleological ethics. In the next posting I will seek to clarify this discussion by setting out the ways in which the classic teleology/deontology dispute that is at work in the conflict between these two views of the formula of humanity can be shown to trade on very un-Kantian understandings of the idea of "ends" which create confusion over would could be meant by a teleological approach to ethics for a Kantian.

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