Kant's second formulation of the Categorical Imperative states that

"Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never merely as a means to an end, but always at the same time as an end."

This formulation is derived from the primary formulation by adding another premise that "humanity is an end in itself".

Moreover according to Kant, ensuring humanity is an end in itself is the same as ensuring that the freedom of choice of one person in choosing and accomplishing their ends remains unrestricted from the actions of another thing such as inclinations/actions of a person etc.

Can it not be argued, hence, that Kantian deontological ethics is just a subset of consequentialist models which aim to maximize autonomy?

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    There's a way of reading Kant's ethics in the manner you suggest -- I don't think it's the best way per se. (I think there was a similar question on the SE several years ago but I'm not finding it on a simple search).
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 1:09
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    Is this relevant to your question philosophy.stackexchange.com/questions/36431/… ?
    – virmaior
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 9:42
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    Consequentialism, by definition, bases action on its consequences, Kant's ethics, instead, focuses on its intrinsic worth, like autonomy, consequences be damned. He famously prohibits lying to a murderer at the door to save the victim, so even if he is interpreted as calling for maximizing autonomy, his ethics is distinctly anti-consequentialist. And it is doubtful that he can be so interpreted considering his emphasis on following absolute rules (like the absolute prohibition on lying), rather than deriving them from a principle in specific circumstances.
    – Conifold
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 22:01
  • It would be hard to take, for instance the absolute prohibition of lying as fitting any consequentialist formulation. Even if you are reasoning only about intended or ideal consequences, there are certainly times when one could have the best consequences by taking advantage of some people, even if your goal is to maximize overall autonomy. The maximization function would have to be something like a boolean 'and'. You either have or have not regarded the autonomy of each individual involved. The only way to 'maximize' that is to assign every role a 'bit' for a value and have no zeroes.
    – user9166
    Commented Dec 25, 2018 at 1:58

1 Answer 1


I'm inclined to say that for Kant the autonomy of the will, 'the property of the will by which it is a law to itself' (Groundwork, M. Gregor tr., Cambridge, 2012: 47), is an intrinsic, non-scalar property. It does not admit of degrees that might be maximised; nor can its occurrence be maximised.

The only action I can take in respect to the will of another is to respect its autonomy. Respect is also non-scalar; I respect the autonomy of your will or I don't.

I can't see how, along any of these dimensions, autonomy can be maximised.

  • Okay for that consider the thought experiment. Say I have almost all the riches in the world and all comfort in the world. Now it would be tempting to just give in to my comforts and not hone any of my talents. For that I consider the maxim: "If somebody have all the comfort in the world, he can sit idle and not hone any of their skills." Now the first formulation themselves don't cause a contradiction since for one acquiring all riches is very unlikely and even if one does, it isn't much of a problem for them then to give into the inclinations and just remain idle. Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 12:29
  • However, then the autonomy of his future self is restricted and it can only be increased if the person himself hone his skills and give more variation in the career paths that his future self can take. Consequently, in such a manner, the Humanity formulation requires him to hone his skills by requiring that his future self's and hence the humanity's autonomy should be maximised. Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 12:31
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    How can a non-scalar property, which one simply has or has not, be maximised ?
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 12:53
  • I don't think Autonomy is non-scalar. If we use the Kantian definition of Autonomy that's the choice of someone to choose their own ends, then the restriction on their possible ends can be used to define a measure on Autonomy. Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 13:15
  • We either have autonomy or we don't - it doesn't come in degrees.
    – Geoffrey Thomas
    Commented Dec 24, 2018 at 13:19

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