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Dean, Richard. The Value of Humanity in Kant's Moral Theory.

DEAN, Richard. The Value of Humanity in Kant's Moral Theory. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2006. x + 270 pp. Cloth, $99.00.--In this work, the author confronts the problem of an apparent discrepancy in Kant's Groundwork for the Metaphysics of Morals. On the one hand, Kant says that the only thing that is good without qualification and of unconditional worth is a good will (cf. 4:393). Only something that is good without qualification and of unconditional worth in itself, rather than as a means to something else, can be an end in itself (cf. 4:394). However, in Kant's discussion of the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative, he indicates alternatively that rational nature or the human being or every rational being or the person is an end in itself and of unconditional worth (cf. 4:428-9). Dean's interpretive solution to this problem is to posit that "humanity," as used by Kant in the second formulation of the Categorical Imperative is synonymous with a "good will". Humanity, he argues, refers not to a person, but to something in a person. Dean takes "humanity," rather than the person, as that which is an end in itself. He argues that Kant's "humanity" is not a collective noun for human beings but rather "rational nature," which, Dean holds, is not found in all human beings: for him, infants, very small children, and severely brain damaged human beings are not even minimally rational. Moreover, Kant allows that rational nature could be found in other, nonhuman beings. Nevertheless, "It]his idea of 'humanity' is not completely disconnected from the human species, since the 'rational nature' that Kant calls 'humanity' is the characteristic feature that distinguishes typical humans from all other beings that we know" (p. 5). This characteristic feature called "humanity" that is found in typical humans is understood by Dean to be thoroughly identical with a good will.

In Part 1, Dean differentiates his theory from what he calls the "minimalist" theories of other recent interpreters of "humanity" in Kant. He distinguishes three groups of "minimalist" theories: those that take "humanity" to mean the ability to set ends; those that take "humanity" to signify the ability to set ends plus some additional feature that varies from one commentator to another; and those that take "humanity" as the capacity to act morally. On Dean's interpretation, Kant's "humanity" signifies not only the foregoing, but also the actual commitment to act morally. The capacities enumerated above are indicators of the presence of rationality and will, but the commitment to act morally is what makes the will good.

Dean is aware that his thesis seems to lead to some highly repugnant results. First, it seems to be too moralistic; that is, it seems to require that one make a moral judgment about others' wills as good or not, before treating them as ends. Dean refutes this with Kant's doctrines of beneficence and humility: we cannot be certain about the goodness or not of another's will; we should therefore treat another as if he had a good will. In cases where it appears impossible that the will is good (such as in the case of a serial killer), one should still treat that person with respect, since treating any one human being with contempt would foster an attitude of contempt for all. Moreover, contemptuous treatment would not conduce to the redemption of one with a bad will. There are therefore good reasons for treating all minimally rational beings as if they have good wills.

The second objection that Dean foresees is that, because of weakness, most minimally rational beings will not always act according to maxims legislated by reason, but will rather give in to other inclinations at times. It would seem, then, that good wills are so rare that it is silly to treat everyone as if he had a good will. Dean argues, however, that even though one sometimes fails to act morally, one can retain the firm commitment to act morally (that is, a good will) as long as one does not deliberately decide to act against one's maxim of reason in favor of some other inclination.

In addition, Dean argues that his good-will reading of "humanity" does not give license to treat with contempt nonrational animals or human beings that lack (in his view) minimal rationality. One who has a good will would sympathize with pain in another being and thus refrain from inflicting it; and, in the cases involving humans, it would be difficult, as noted previously, to retain respect for most human beings while treating some with contempt.

Dean completes Part 1 by arguing, through an examination of Kant's texts on what is required when something is regarded as an end in itself, that his good will reading of the humanity formulation meshes better than other, minimalist readings with the import of these texts. In Part II of the work he then weaves this argument into the consideration of a wide range of problems. He examines how the humanity formulation, together with both the Kantian notion of the feeling of respect for the moral law and the kingdom of ends formulation of the Categorical Imperative when used as a constructivist device, can be employed to arrive at specific moral duties. He contests the idea that Kant's ethical theory leads to consequentialism, discusses the meaning of value in Kant, makes a case against animal rights theorists who object to assigning more value to rational beings than to nonrational beings, and distinguishes the use of the notions of autonomy and beneficence in bioethics from their use in Kant. There is, of course, much material in this ambitious undertaking that cannot be addressed in this forum.

While one might disagree with Dean's proposal of complete identity between good will and humanity in Kant, the value of the book is that it brings into high relief the problem of the relation between the two, as well as the intricate and far reaching ramifications of the various positions on the question. Behind all this, however, there lies the question of whether Dean (as well as the proponents of the "minimalist" theories that he opposes) are correct in taking humanity, rather than the human being or the person, as that to which Kant assigns absolute value and the dignity of being an end in itself. This is another point to which many may take exception.--Mary Veronica Sabelli, Saint John's Seminary, Brighton, Mass.
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Author:Sabelli, Mary Veronica
Publication:The Review of Metaphysics
Article Type:Book review
Date:Mar 1, 2009
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