WHAT DO WE DO WHEN WE TREAT HUMANITY ACCEPTABLY AS A MEANS ?
When I buy something in a shop, I use the assistant as a means. When I purchase something on the internet, I use the seller as a means. When I ask someone to take me to hospital and they oblige, I use them as a means. Kant has no objection to this. You will already know this, I guess, but what conditions are met in this acceptable kind of use of others as means ?
Kant's injunction that we treat humanity as
an end, never simply as a means. Consider, first, what it might mean, literally, to treat humanity as a means. In accordance with FA [Formula of Autonomy : 'choose only in such a way that the maxims of your choice are also included as universal law in the same volition' : G 4: 440*], Kant conceives beings with the capacity of humanity as beings who are free to
adopt plans of action, maxims, and thereby set themselves to act in one
way or another, to achieve one or another purpose. But, any of us, from
time to time, may have an interest in how others act, and we may wish to
influence their choices and plans for the sake of our own ends or purposes. Think of that as using another's humanity- the capacity to set an
end - as a means, and notice that it is possible just because persons not
only have ends and plans, but are able, by 'self-legislation, to modify them
in light of further information or reflection. However, we do not use others simply as a means if we get them to behave as we wish by appealing to
their own reason, openly avowing our own purposes and seeking to coordinate with them in mutually satisfactory ways. Perhaps we offer to compensate them for their trouble, or try to find a way to achieve our
purposes jointly by working together. (William Nelson, 'Kant's Formula of Humanity', Mind, New Series, Vol. 117, No. 465 (Jan., 2008), 85-106 : 97.)
*McGregor translation. Paton expresses FA more concisely : 'So act that your will can regard itself at the same time as making universal law through its maxims' (H.J. Paton : The Moral Law, London : Hutchinson University Library, 1948, 33.)
WHAT DO WE DO WHEN WE TREAT HUMANITY UNACCEPTABLY SIMPLY AS A MEANS ?
'He used me !', I might say angrily when someone deceives me through feigned friendship to disclose information or to 'borrow' money he had no intention of returning. 'Sure he suckered up to her. He just used her to get promotion'.
'He spiked the guy's drink just to use him sexually'. What pulls these examples together as cases of using people simply as means ?
We use their humanity simply as a
means, on the other hand, if we get them to adopt plans they would not
otherwise have adopted by trickery, deception, or illegitimate threats.
The underlying idea here, I suggest, is that treating persons as ends is
a matter of treating the choices and plans they adopt free from these
kinds of manipulation - their values, if you will - as at least ceteris paribus worthy of pursuit, the ends they set as worth attaining. What it
forbids, at least in reasonably propitious circumstances, is manipulation by deceit and illegitimate coercion. And so, in our dealings with
others, we are to seek, so far as possible, voluntary accommodation in
which we can both achieve what we, in the end, choose. When we treat
others simply as means, we achieve our own ends by treating theirs with
indifference or worse. (William Nelson, 'Kant's Formula of Humanity', Mind, New Series, Vol. 117, No. 465 (Jan., 2008), 85-106 : 97.)
I. Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals, tr. M. Gregor, Cambridge : CUP, 2012.
H.J. Paton, The Moral Law [tr. of Groundwork], London : Hutchinson University Library, 1948.
William Nelson, 'Kant's Formula of Humanity', Mind, New Series, Vol. 117, No. 465 (Jan., 2008), 85-106 .