One of the most fundamental distinctions in Kant’s ethical thought is that between humanity [Menschenheit] – the capacity to set ends in general – and personality [Persönlichkeit] – the capacity to set moral ends, that is, to perform authentic moral actions. The exact definition of the two concepts and their competing ambition to be the source of normativity in Kant have been themes of fascinating confrontation between interpreters. Some believe that our capacity to set ends freely, that is humanity or rational nature, is the central value. Prominent in this line of thought are the interpretations by Christine Korsgaard and Allen Wood (Wood 1999, 2007; Korsgaard 1996a, 1996b, 2003). Others (Allison 2011; Caranti 2017, Geiger 2020) think that this deduction is both incorrect as an attempt to capture Kant’s argument and philosophically dubious in its own right. Kant had in mind that it is our capacity for moral behavior – personality – that establishes humans’ status as ends in themselves, thereby entitling and binding them to morality. On this interpretation, even when Kant suggests that it is humanity that is to be seen as an end in itself, what he really means is that it is humanity insofar as it also embodies the capacity for morality, that is, personality that does so. Thus, the second formula of the CI, “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” (Gr 4: 429) is to be read by paying attention to the fact that humanity appears “in your own person and in the person of any other” (Gr 4: 429). Similarly, one should keep in mind that already at the time of the Groundwork, what makes a rational being an end in itself is for Kant ‘morality, and humanity insofar as it is capable of morality” (Gr 4: 435). This chapter intends to take a fresh look at the debate. It argues, pace Korsgaard and Wood, that personality, not humanity, is the ground that Kant perceives as the basis of humans’ (and rational beings’) status as ends in themselves, and thus that personality, not humanity, is the source of moral normativity. It also argues that personality, at least on Kant’s mature theory, is a capacity that is not already contained in humanity or inferable from it. The chapter recognizes, however, that, particularly in a Kantian perspective, it is extremely difficult even to conceptualize the notion of humanity as not bound to that of personality. The central thought will be that since reason is perceived by those who possess it as the highest authority in their decision making, when this faculty suggests a moral end, no matter how costly from the point of view of happiness, treating its command as something we can disregard, as if it did not apply to the entities we take ourselves to be – namely, rational beings – borders on inconsistency. It thus defends a third way between the two readings by arguing that the notion of an agent endowed with rationality and yet either unable to recognize the validity of the moral law or able to do so while remaining either fully unmotivated or insufficiently motivated to act as morality requires is a) at odds with the way we conceive of ourselves (deliberators ultimately responding only to our reason) and b) oblivious of the fact that moral agency is nothing but an occurrence of ordinary end-setting (humanity) made special by the fact that the individual is supposed to find an overarching determining ground for action in the sheer recognition of the validity of the moral law. Given this goal, the chapter naturally falls into four main parts. The first two reconstruct Kant’s notions of humanity and personality staring from the account presented in Religion (1793) and moving backward to the use Kant makes of the concept of humanity in the Groundwork (1785). Expanding an argument presented elsewhere (Caranti 2017, 2019), the third part defends the thesis that the source of normativity for Kant is our capacity for morality (personality). In the fourth and last section, in a somewhat dialectical spirit, I give my own interpretation of why human beings can hardly be thought of as endowed merely with humanity but not personality, thereby perhaps vindicating the intuition behind the interpretation championed by Korsgaard and Wood.

On the distinction between humanity and personality in Kant

Luigi Caranti
2024-01-01

Abstract

One of the most fundamental distinctions in Kant’s ethical thought is that between humanity [Menschenheit] – the capacity to set ends in general – and personality [Persönlichkeit] – the capacity to set moral ends, that is, to perform authentic moral actions. The exact definition of the two concepts and their competing ambition to be the source of normativity in Kant have been themes of fascinating confrontation between interpreters. Some believe that our capacity to set ends freely, that is humanity or rational nature, is the central value. Prominent in this line of thought are the interpretations by Christine Korsgaard and Allen Wood (Wood 1999, 2007; Korsgaard 1996a, 1996b, 2003). Others (Allison 2011; Caranti 2017, Geiger 2020) think that this deduction is both incorrect as an attempt to capture Kant’s argument and philosophically dubious in its own right. Kant had in mind that it is our capacity for moral behavior – personality – that establishes humans’ status as ends in themselves, thereby entitling and binding them to morality. On this interpretation, even when Kant suggests that it is humanity that is to be seen as an end in itself, what he really means is that it is humanity insofar as it also embodies the capacity for morality, that is, personality that does so. Thus, the second formula of the CI, “So act that you use humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, always at the same time as an end, never merely as a means” (Gr 4: 429) is to be read by paying attention to the fact that humanity appears “in your own person and in the person of any other” (Gr 4: 429). Similarly, one should keep in mind that already at the time of the Groundwork, what makes a rational being an end in itself is for Kant ‘morality, and humanity insofar as it is capable of morality” (Gr 4: 435). This chapter intends to take a fresh look at the debate. It argues, pace Korsgaard and Wood, that personality, not humanity, is the ground that Kant perceives as the basis of humans’ (and rational beings’) status as ends in themselves, and thus that personality, not humanity, is the source of moral normativity. It also argues that personality, at least on Kant’s mature theory, is a capacity that is not already contained in humanity or inferable from it. The chapter recognizes, however, that, particularly in a Kantian perspective, it is extremely difficult even to conceptualize the notion of humanity as not bound to that of personality. The central thought will be that since reason is perceived by those who possess it as the highest authority in their decision making, when this faculty suggests a moral end, no matter how costly from the point of view of happiness, treating its command as something we can disregard, as if it did not apply to the entities we take ourselves to be – namely, rational beings – borders on inconsistency. It thus defends a third way between the two readings by arguing that the notion of an agent endowed with rationality and yet either unable to recognize the validity of the moral law or able to do so while remaining either fully unmotivated or insufficiently motivated to act as morality requires is a) at odds with the way we conceive of ourselves (deliberators ultimately responding only to our reason) and b) oblivious of the fact that moral agency is nothing but an occurrence of ordinary end-setting (humanity) made special by the fact that the individual is supposed to find an overarching determining ground for action in the sheer recognition of the validity of the moral law. Given this goal, the chapter naturally falls into four main parts. The first two reconstruct Kant’s notions of humanity and personality staring from the account presented in Religion (1793) and moving backward to the use Kant makes of the concept of humanity in the Groundwork (1785). Expanding an argument presented elsewhere (Caranti 2017, 2019), the third part defends the thesis that the source of normativity for Kant is our capacity for morality (personality). In the fourth and last section, in a somewhat dialectical spirit, I give my own interpretation of why human beings can hardly be thought of as endowed merely with humanity but not personality, thereby perhaps vindicating the intuition behind the interpretation championed by Korsgaard and Wood.
2024
978-1-032-52193-0
Kant, humanity, personality, autonomy, morality
File in questo prodotto:
Non ci sono file associati a questo prodotto.

I documenti in IRIS sono protetti da copyright e tutti i diritti sono riservati, salvo diversa indicazione.

Utilizza questo identificativo per citare o creare un link a questo documento: https://hdl.handle.net/20.500.11769/609030
Citazioni
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.pmc??? ND
  • Scopus ND
  • ???jsp.display-item.citation.isi??? ND
social impact