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The Formulation of Humanity

The Formulation of Humanity

Author: Glenn Kuehn

Determine permissibility for a maxim using the Formulation of Humanity

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Video Transcription

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Hello, I'm Glenn, and this is the ethics tutorial on the formulation of humanity for Kantian deontology. A couple of things to keep in mind and the key term for this tutorial before we get to the content-- keep in mind Kantian deontology-- for Kant, how permissibility is determined and its relationship to categorical imperative. Also keep in mind the definition of a maxim as the motive for an action.

A couple of quick examples of maxim and actions would be-- in order to satisfy my sweet tooth, I will eat ice cream-- maxim. Eating the ice cream is the action. Maxim-- in order to not hurt anyone's feelings, I will lie about not liking them and say I do like them. And then the action would be lying.

In this tutorial, we will be covering the formulation of humanity. We'll explain how it works and then how to use it. The formulation of humanity is like the formulation of universal law in that both of them must coincide with the dictates of the categorical imperative. The difference is that the formulation of humanity is a method of affirming the intrinsic worth of the rational nature of human beings. By abiding by this, we are preserving the inherent value of our humanness.

And so some things to keep in mind, again, are that, for Kant, the maxim or the mode of the action is where the ethical value is judged, not the consequences. And the value of the maxim then will be whether or not it preserves a good will and the value of humanity.

So in explaining the formulation of humanity, there are some general steps to follow, like there were for the formulation of universal law. And this one also does involve universality. So first, again, we identify the maxim of the action and we put it in the form of a statement that says I should do X or I ought to do X because of this. Then we test that maxim.

But this time, we tested by consulting a sense of humanness or of humanity, of respect for humanity. And I ask myself, can I honestly and rationally and realistically believe that humanity as such is being respected for having inherent value if I act upon this maxim or this motive? You see, for Kant, he really believed that human beings have value simply for being alive as rational beings, not for what they necessarily can do, not for outcomes or for purposes.

But because I'm alive, as a rational being, I have inherent value. I have intrinsic value. And that value must be respected in me and in you so long as that you're rational, which is probably the case since you're watching these tutorials. So all beings who are capable of being moral agents are necessarily rational and their humanity must be respected. So if the humanity is respected, the action is permissible. If it is not being respected, then it is impermissible. And remember again, consequences are irrelevant.

Now although Kant doesn't necessarily state this explicitly, a much simpler way of stating everything I just stated would be a form of the golden rule. Take that as you will. However, Kant did say that ethics also does need to be separate from religion. So I don't mean to imply that there is the Christian base for this. There isn't. But the directive of the golden rule is very similar to the directive of the formulation of humanity. That's it.

Now before we get to a specific example, another note needs to be made. And that is how do we determine whether or not we are respecting humanity or are disrespecting humanity? Well, Kant says one way of doing this is to see whether or not we're treating another, either as an individual or as a whole or humanity as such, as a mere means or if we're treating them as an end.

A means is something that you use, right? OK, so eating is a means to satisfying hunger. It's a method of doing something. And Kant says, well, we treat people as means all the time and that's probably OK in many circumstances. We can use someone for a purpose, so long as they agreed to it and we're not violating their humanity, right? What he's really concerned about is using someone as a mere means. I mean, really treating them not as fully human, treating them more as an object or a thing just to be used, rather than respecting them for being a person.

Ideally, we want to treat them as an end in itself, as they're a goal, they're not a means to anything else. We're not using them, we are respecting them in person or as a concept. We realize that they have inherent value and other people are not mine to treat in any way that I wish. For example, someone as a means, which is OK, would be Walmart paying someone to be a cashier. They're using this person for the method of sustaining the business, but they're being compensated for their time and they're doing so willingly.

Using someone as a mere means, which would be impermissible, is me using a friend as a footstool. I'm treating the friend as a piece of furniture only. I'm not respecting them as a person, I'm not respecting their humanity. And so that wouldn't be allowed. I would be treating them as a mere means.

So when we use the formulation of humanity, we follow the same pattern as when we use the formulation of universal law. We first identify the maxim, we put it to the test of universalizability, and then we show whether or not that leads to treating a person, either as an individual or humanity as a whole, as a mere means or as an end. And so we're going to look at both a permissible and impermissible result.

First, impermissible-- the situation is not keeping a promise, basically, not keeping a promise when I said I would. This would undercut, says Kant, the value of the person I'm making the promise to. And I would be treating them as a mere means to my desired result.

Let's look at the maxim. The maxim would be, whenever it is to my advantage, I will make a promise without the intention of keeping it. I would be using them, therefore, to get what I want without taking their humanity into account. And I would be disrespecting them.

For a permissible result, same pattern. Identify the maxim, test it to universalizability, and show that it is something that we can abide by. Let's just say it's keeping a promise, instead of the previous example of not keeping a promise. By keeping a promise, I will be respecting the person's humanity and freedom to act as a moral agent.

The maxim is whenever I am communicating with another rational human being-- this doesn't count for my cat-- this doesn't count for frogs and it doesn't count for dolphins, sorry. It also doesn't count for infants, but that's another issue. Whenever I'm communicating with another rational human being, and I make a promise, I will keep that promise in order to preserve respect for humanity. This is permissible. This is an affirmation of the intrinsic and inherent worth that we all have because we are rational human beings who can act as moral agents.

So this shows how the formulation of humanity is a test of the categorical imperative of a maxim of our actions. In this tutorial, we have looked at the formulation of humanity. We have explained it and we have shown how to use it as a test for the maxims of our actions.

Notes on “The Formulation of Humanity”

(00:00 – 00:55) Introduction, Things to :Remember, and Key Term

(00:56 – 01:07) Content of Tutorial

(01:08 – 02:04) Maxims and the Formulation of Humanity

(02:05 – 04:26) The Formulation of Humanity

(04:27 – 06:38) Means vs. “Mere” Means

(06:39 – 09:02) Using the Formulation of Humanity

(09:03 – 09:19) Summary

Terms to Know

The situation-specific principle of an action that an agent upholds by acting in that way