I am trying to devise an argument against Kantian ethics, but I would like some feedback before I get into it because I don't want to end up just attacking a strawman.

First, I utilize Bernard Williams' internal reasons thesis:

"The internal reasons thesis is a view about how to read sentences of the form “A has reason to φ”. We can read such sentences as implying that “A has some motive which will be served or furthered by his φing” (1981: 101), so that, if there is no such motive, it will not be true that “A has reason to φ”. This is the internal interpretation of such sentences. We can also read sentences of the form “A has reason to φ” as not implying this, but as saying that A has reason to φ even if none of his motives will be served or furthered by his φing. This is the external interpretation of such sentences, on which, according to Williams, all such sentences are false.

So first I establish that all actions are for an internal reason, and so to say that "A has a reason to φ regardless of his motives" is entirely meaningless (though you must separate internal reason from moral demand). So, Kant said that if we only act in egoism, we cannot have free will - to which I respond that yes, technically if we only act in accordance to our desires, we cannot will what we will, so we do not have MAXIMAL AUTONOMY. BUT if any part of us can make these robotic prescribed algorithmic choices like the Kantian free will can, we also do not have free will, for then an alien force is in some way steering us and taking the autonomy from our will to power. Now, yes I realize that Kantian ethics is not entirely alienated from desires, but still the Kantian free will is capable of transcending egoistic compulsion. We really only identify with our own internal values. When you value another person, it is still YOUR value, so if you can operate in accordance to duty when you have no internal valued reason to do so, I would say that your will has lost its autonomy to act in accordance to egoism.

NOW although I do suggest a psychological egoism (IN A SENSE), I go on to reformat the debate of psychological egoism vs. altruism via utilizing a no-self theory (basically the Buddhist concept of anatta) and I say that we DO sincerely act for the sake of others, but we still do not act in a prescribed duty. So first of all, my ontology is a processual holism (everything is process rather than substance, the whole is greater than its parts - the universe is an interdependent whole) and I also posit a panpsychism (experience and aim is a fundamental part of everything). SO by taking "the self" out of the conclusion, and seeing everything is greatly interdependent, I believe to have come to the conclusion that compassion is actually a metaphysical grasping of reality as one - the fading of the ego boundaries. ALTHOUGH we genuinely act for other people, there is no real essential self, and so everything is still fundamentally egoistic in the sense that everything acts in interest of "itself" and others, but simply only because we see others as a part of "ourself" - so the only real "self" we can refer to is THE UNIVERSE as a whole, because nothing in the universe can be meaningfully referenced in abstraction from the whole.

So this argument is kind of two arguments really, but still they are both important to each other; so I wanted some feedback to see if this is all just rubbish, but it makes a lot of sense to me. In conclusion, if we have any sense of autonomous nature at all, we cannot act in mere prescribed duty, for this would just be a robotic algorithm. Instead, we should see compassion as something egoistically beneficial, because if there are no real self boundaries, this should entail that being kind to others has a beneficial value.

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    You do not seem to understand what autonomy means. It does not mean whim, it means acting in accordance with your natural attributes. No part of a Kantian generalization is 'robotic'. Robots do not have natural attributes other than obedience.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 21:20
  • The Kantian free will can act outside egoistic compulsion. I argue that anything outside of internal valued reasons are whim
    – Psychonaut
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 21:27
  • But there is a difference between egoistic compulsion and internal valued reason. The human value of being consistent or seeking fairness is not egoistic, but it is internal.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 21:30
  • But if an objective maxim were to be conditioned by an internally valued reason, it would be a subjective maxim, because you could formulate it as "I ought to do x in order to further my value of y"
    – Psychonaut
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 21:34
  • Not every kind of being, or every instance of a given kind of being is going to have the exact same internal structure. That does not mean that the consequences of those differences is subjective or egoistic. There can be objectively different constitutions expressed by objective values. The need to allow for autonomy goes away if objectivity means exactly the same thing for all beings. But that would require noumenal knowledge, access to some kind of reality that is really the same for everyone perceiving it.
    – user9166
    Commented Aug 24, 2017 at 21:36

1 Answer 1


Essentially your argument relies of a definition of free will which is quite deterministic. Despite his objections to it in metaphysics, Kant's ethics have a distinctly dualist feel with regards to free will. Kant distinctly changes his views on free will throughout his works ending up in Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone basically just saying we have free will because we just do. So you're not comparing like with like in describing this as an argument against Kant's ethics, but rather an alternative view based on a more deterministic view of free will. In the first critique you might have been right to describe Kant's use of reason as mechanistic since he directly equated it with deducing actions from law, but by the time of Religion Within the Limits of Reason Alone free will had become a much messier, poorly defined thing as Kant tried (with little success) to deal with the problems caused by his linking free will with the following of moral law, namely if one chooses not to follow moral law, does that then make one no longer responsible for one's actions?

By your second assertion you have departed from Kantian ethics altogether, again, there's nothing wrong with that, but I'm not sure how to comment on it as an argument against Kantian ethics. Kantian ethics is founded on the belief that egoistic actions are not a representation of free will for which Kant gives very little by way of justification. If you take that away, you just have a very different ethic.

With regards to the theory itself, whilst plausible, you would have to justify the existence of a considerable number of mental faculties which seem to be present entirely for us to assess the mental state of others and provide us with some negative stimuli associated with a negative conclusion. If you wish to believe that altruism results from an understanding that we are all one being then you need an explanation for, for example, Daniel Baston's experimental results which seemed to show entirely different neurological circuits being engaged when subjects imagined what another's pain was like to when subjects were asked to assess how they were feeling watching another person in pain.

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    Actually a defense of the freedom of the will for moral actions in conjunction with the deterministic nature of our knowledge of the material world is one of the antinomy's Kant presents in the 1st Critique... (the third one in fact). Moreover, this is at least in the view of man scholars the point of the critique to begin with.
    – virmaior
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 10:20
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    Yes, the point I was trying to make is that the OP seems to have morality derived from free-will, whereas Kant (in COPR) has free-will derived from morality (although later works do muddle the issue), hence they are not really comparing like with like in their argument. As a consequence I'm not sure this transpires to be really a question about Kant at all.
    – user22791
    Commented Sep 26, 2017 at 11:24
  • your criticism is to the point, but I am not sure about the point of your third paragraph. Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 14:31
  • @Nanhee Byrnes PhD The point there is that whilst such an holism may be conceivable, it would seem, from a physicalist perspective, unlikely that such very different responses are generated to 'self' and and 'other' if, in reality, we're motivated by the lack of such distinction. Aside from personal or religious preferences, I cannot quite see how such a theory might improve on the already existing intuitive sense that we are separate beings but ones for whom the emotional well-being of one affects that of the other. I'm not sure why an alternative is necessary.
    – user22791
    Commented Oct 26, 2017 at 15:39

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