There seems to be a clear notion of "taking into consideration" the humanity of others in the Formula of Humanity.

  • "Every rational being exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means for arbitrary use by this or that will: he must in all his actions... always be viewed at the same time as an end."

It would seem that Kant enjoins respect for human beings as what is fundamental to ethics (a point easily accepted) however, I struggle to see how this might align with certain conceptions of justice. For instance criminal sentences that are disproportionately harsh in order to deter prospective offenders (marijuana legislation in Bali). In this instance, doesn't the prisoner become 'instrumental' in meeting ends that seek to be optimific for the broader society, i.e. Deterring people from trafficking illicit drugs.

Would such laws be immoral in a Kantian sense? Is it as simple as a Utilitarian moral attitude being expressed in such laws, or does something further stand in opposition to Kant in this case?


1 Answer 1


I think your question turns out to be confused. Obviously, there are conceptions of justice that are incompatible with Kant's ethics. But I think the example you raise won't pass muster on this count.

If I'm understanding you correctly, you argue:

(1) Kant says we should treat people as ends and not mere ends
(2) Harsh penalties for drug traffickers further a policy and not people
Ergo, (C2) this is immoral since it is not treating people as ends

There are two main problems with this argument.

As a historical note, Kant's moral philosophy is not wholly captured by a single formulation of the categorical imperative in the Groundwork. Kant also wrote and published a volume called Metaphysics of Morals which subdivides into the "Metaphysics of Right" and "Metaphysics of Morals". You also need to consider what Kant thinks in Religion within the bounds of reason alone (which is a work primarily of moral philosophy).

The issue that happens which undermines the suggestion you are making is that Kant was opposed to all forms of what he would call drunkenness (as distinct from drinking). Kant has no problem with imposing harsh penalties on these sorts of cases. All of this highlights a problem with what you capture under the term policy.

viz., isn't the policy meant to further humanity, as in the good of people, on some level?

In other words, if we unpack the term policy as humanity:

(1) Kant says we should treat people as ends and not mere ends
(2') Harsh penalties for drug traffickers further humanity
(C1) this treats people as means
Ergo, (C2) this is immoral

But this too is invalid -- because Kant does not say we can never treat people as ends. Instead, it is that we can never treat people as mere ends. Thus, this fails to be problem for Kantian philosophy.

  • Thank you so much. That was exquisitely worded and very helpful. Jun 6, 2014 at 14:31

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