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I understand that psychological egoism is the idea that everyone will always act in their own interest.

I gather that human dignity is the cornerstone of Kantian ethics.

I am kinda seriously leaning toward the idea that everyone only ever acts in order to maximize their own dignity and never anyone else's. Not that only dignity matters, or that one cannot treat another with dignity, but that it is a given that, psychologically speaking, everyone chooses their own dignity over anyone else's.

  1. Does that make sense?
  2. What would you call it?
  3. And what would you call the denial of it?

A few points. First off, it seems fairly obvious that you can "maximize", though perhaps that word is clumsy (suggesting that our dignity gets bigger rather than is met more fully), an absolute good, like dignity, by repeatedly performing your duties. So it's not obvious, for me, that the question "has nothing to do with Kant's use of dignity".

If performing my duties is always to respect my humanity, as well as yours, but not every duty is for someone else (see section 6 here) that's one (unconvincing) reason to suppose that human dignity is always foremost my own.

It makes sense, unless of course you can show that a purely rational observance of the moral law, the categorical imperative, just does put other people's dignity before your own.


I'm not sure if you could call it "Kantian egoism", a term which exists, sardonically, in the literature (Allison Hills). This states that "you are rationally required to treat humanity in your own person as an end, never merely a means" (p105, The Beloved Self, 2010). However, if that egoism exists and is a perfect duty, then given these cannot admit of conflict, it seems to meet the thesis in the question.

I infer that because if there is no rational duty to put someone else's dignity before my own, then how can their dignity, the other person's, exist? In which case, how can I respect your humanity?

  • is there something Kant has written that you can cite as justification for what you're gathering? – Mr. Kennedy Nov 11 '16 at 3:32
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    Kantian dignity is absolute (as it is e.g. in the German constitutional law). There is no "maximising" of it. Either it is respected, or not. Apart from that, there are perfect and imperfect duties against both oneself and others in kantian ethics because of that. You may find your view defended in Ayn Rand's books, though. There, some kind of rational egoism is established. – Philip Klöcking Nov 11 '16 at 3:47
  • Maybe I'm not understanding your view, but this sounds like a version of psychological egoism. As Philip points out, this has nothing to do with Kant's use of dignity. If your view was that we want to maximize dignity irrespective of the holder, then you'd have a form dignity-maximizing consequentialism. If your view is that we each agent wants to maximize dignity that is close to them (including not just themselves but others), then you'd have a two parameter consequentialism. But it sounds like you're describing an egoism. – virmaior Nov 11 '16 at 5:35
  • Reading the article, you seem to mix up what is called there 'humanity as a positive end in the second sense', i.e. something that has to be cultivated and furthered, and 'humanity as a negative end', i.e. something that is a boundary in our persue of ends. Dignity is not the very same as humanity in both senses, it is only humanity in the second - negative - sense, as may easily be shown by the fact that Kant speaks of dignity as absolute worth beyond relative comparison and furthering e.g. one's own talents as becoming human in a fuller sense, which ultimately includes relative comparison. – Philip Klöcking Nov 11 '16 at 13:57
  • I think you're misunderstanding Philip's comment. I don't think he said dignity cannot be maximized or seen as a good that can. I think he said Kant does not see morality as about "maximizing dignity. (the distinction being that his point is about Kant interpretation rather than about moral thought more broadly whereas your claim seems to be about what we could do in moral thought ) – virmaior Nov 13 '16 at 9:24

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