Testing Kantian Maxims

Steven Sverdlik

in Motive and Rightness

Published in print February 2011 | ISBN: 9780199594948
Published online May 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191725401 | DOI:
Testing Kantian Maxims

Show Summary Details


One version of Kant's Categorical Imperative—the Formula of Universal Law—speaks of testing an agent's ‘maxim’ for moral permissibility. A maxim is a truncated piece of practical reasoning that incorporates the motive of an action. So testing maxims for permissibility could in principle show that motives are relevant deontically. The logical relations of the results of testing maxims and the deontic status of actions are explained. The difference between strongly and weakly wrong‐making motives is explained, as is the difference between strongly and weakly obligation‐making motives. Korsgaard's Practical Contradiction Interpretation of the Formula is presented. The maxims needed for the purposes of running the test sometimes modify the motives that agents actually act on. An example of an action motivated by racism is tested for permissibility. Surprisingly, it passes the test, rather than failing it. This represents a problem for Kantianism. Some comparisons with consequentialism are made.

Keywords: Kant; Christine Korsgaard; Formula of Universal Law; motives; Categorical Imperative; Practical Contradiction Interpretation; racism; maxim; consequentialism; moral permissibility

Chapter.  12494 words. 

Subjects: Moral Philosophy

Full text: subscription required

How to subscribe Recommend to my Librarian

Buy this work at Oxford University Press »

Users without a subscription are not able to see the full content. Please, subscribe or login to access all content.