I will put aside any question of possible imprecision of the formulations, I will assume that the Kant's intentions can be understood intuitively reasonably precisely.
Kant gives two forms of the categorical imperative:
- Behave in such a way that a reasonable generalization of your action to a universal rule will lead to a benefit to a generic person under this universal rule.
- Always treat others as ends and not means.
Kant then claims that 1 is equivalent to 2. Is this correct?
Suppose there were a class of people who liked to be ends. Suppose these people, under certain special circumstances, would like to be treated as objects, for example, as tables. They enjoy being tables, and have tablecloths and wine glasses put on their backs, it does them no harm, and they enjoy the experience, and talk about the experience with joy and regard.
Under these circumstances, knowing that you too might want to be a table at some point, would it be ok to treat these people as means and not ends, at least temporarily?
Is there a precise sense in which 1 and 2 are equivalent, as they seem completely different to me.
Perhaps the answer is that by respecting the wish to be means, not ends, you are treating the people as ends, not means. But then it becomes very difficult to actually determine when you are acting correctly according to imperative 2.
To give a more realistic precise examples, here are some things that are ok under 1 and not ok under 2:
- purchasing blood plasma from a poor, willing donor.
- lying to someone about something painful (like whether this person has cancer, or whether she is attractive in that dress, etc).
- prostitution, dwarf tossing, and other superficially exploitative professions.
In general, I find that formulation 2 is the ethical intuition people are comfortable with (seeing as all three points above are objectionable to a lot of people), and the claim that formulation 2 is equivalent to formulation 1 I think is essentially unfounded.
Can someone who knows Kant better explain?