The Rational Human Condition 4, Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy–Section 1.0, Existential Kantian Ethics, and Section 1.1, Ethics, Morality, and EKE.

“The Human Condition,” by Thomas Whitaker/Prison Arts Coalition

THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION is a five-part, four-book series, including:

PART 1: Preface and General Introduction

PART 2: Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge

PART 3:  Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics

PART 4: Kantian Ethics and Human Existence: A Study in Moral Philosophy

PART 5:  Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise

Its author is ROBERT HANNA:




Section 1.0  What It Is

Section 1.1  Bounded in a Nutshell

Section 1.2  Rational Anthropology vs. Analytic Metaphysics, the Standard Picture, and Scientific Naturalism

Section 1.3  Philosophy and Its History: No Deep Difference

Section 1.4  Works of Philosophy vs. Philosophical Theories: Presentational Hylomorphism and Polymorphism

Section 1.5  Analytic Philosophy, Continental Philosophy, and Rational Anthropology

Section 1.6  What is a Rational Human Animal?

Section 1.7  An Important Worry and a Preliminary Reply

Section 1.8  The Biggest Windmills

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The Complete, Downloadable Text of THE RATIONAL HUMAN CONDITION, PART 2




A Note on References

1.  Introduction: Freedom, Life, and Persons’ Lives  

1.0 Natural Libertarianism and Minded Animalism

1.1 Incompatibilistic Compatibilism

1.2 Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity

1.3 The Central Claim of this Book, and Previews                                      

2.  Beyond Mechanism: The Dynamics of Life

2.0 Introduction

2.1 Immanent Structuralism

2.2 Natural Mechanism, Computability, and Anti-Mechanism

2.3 Kant’s Anti-Mechanism, Kantian Anti-Mechanism, Vitalism, and Emergentism

2.4 On the Representation of Life

2.5 Kantian Non-Conceptualism and the Dynamicist Model of Life

2.6 Inverted Life, Suspended Life, and Non-Local Life: How Life Does Not Strongly Supervene on the Physical, and Why

2.7 Conclusion                                                                                                 

3.  From Biology to Agency          

3.0 Introduction

3.1 Two-Dimensional Rational Normativity

3.2 Kant’s Biological Theory of Freedom

3.3 Practical-Freedom-in-Life: Kantian Non-Intellectualism

3.4 The Rationality of the Heart: Principled Authenticity

3.5 Conclusion                                                                                                  

4.  Neither/Nor: The Negative Case for Natural Libertarianism

4.0 Introduction                                                                                                               

4.1 The Intuitive Definition of Free Will

4.2 The Four Metaphysical Horsemen of the Apocalypse

4.3 The Three Standard Options, Natural Mechanism, and The Fourfold Knot of Free Agency

4.4 Three Arguments for Classical Incompatibilism, and In-the-Zone Compatibilism

4.5 Three Arguments for Local Incompatibilism with Respect to Natural Mechanism

4.6 Sympathy for the Devil: Compatibilism Reconsidered

4.7 Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death?

4.8 Too Hard to Live With: Strawson’s Basic Argument, Hard Determinism, and Hard Incompatibilism

4.9 Conclusion                                                                                                       

5.  Either/Or: Deep Freedom and Principled Authenticity          

5.0 Introduction

5.1 The Internal Structure of Deep Freedom

5.2 From Frankfurt Back to Kierkegaard: How to Have a Live Option, or Kierkegaardian Either/Or, Without Alternative Possibilities

5.3 Psychological Freedom, Deep Freedom, and Principled Authenticity

5.4 Conclusion                                                                                                       

6.  Minded Animalism I: What Real Persons Really Are

6.0 Introduction

6.1 From Deep Freedom to Real Persons

6.2 Real Persons

6.3 Necessary and Sufficient Conditions for Real Personhood

6.4 Conclusion                                                                                                       

7.  Minded Animalism II: From Parfit to Real Personal Identity          

7.0 Introduction

7.1 Parfit’s Theory: Six Basic Claims

7.2 Against and Beyond Parfit 1: Two Reasons, and The Minded Animalist Criterion of Personal Identity

7.3 Against and Beyond Parfit 2: Four More Reasons

7.4 Conclusion          

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1.  Introduction: Existential Kantian Ethics and the Nature of Morality                   

1.0  Existential Kantian Ethics

1.1  Ethics, Morality, and EKE

1.2  EKE versus Moral Relativism, Moral Skepticism, and Moral Particularism

1.3  EKE versus Egoism and Act Consequentialism

1.4  “The World of the Happy”: EKE versus Ethical Naturalism                                                                                                                       

1.41  The First Naturalistic Fallacy as Failed Logical Supervenience                      

1.42  The Second Naturalistic Fallacy as Failed Nomological Supervenience          

1.43  Three Possible Objections, and Six Replies          

1.5  Why, Deep in Your Heart, You are an Existential Kantian Ethicist       

2.  Living with Contradictions: Nonideal Kantian Ethical Theory                   

2.0  Introduction

2.1  The Skinny Logic and the Fat Semantics of Moral Principles in EKE

2.2  How to Solve the Universalizability and Rigorism Problems

2.3  How to Solve the Problem of Moral Dilemmas

2.4  Policy of Truth: The Murderer-at-the-Door Revisited

2.5  One Last Thing, By Way of Conclusion                                                                

3.  Neo-Persons and Non-Persons: The Morality of Abortion and Infanticide

3.0  Introduction

3.1  The Problem of Abortion and Infanticide, and The Neo-Person Thesis

3.2  The Neo-Person Thesis, Neo-Persons, and Non-Persons

3.3  A Five-Step Argument for The Neo-Person Thesis

3.4  A Critique of The Standard Approaches

3.5  Three Objections and Three Replies

3.6  Conclusion                                                                                                       

4.  What is it Like to be a Bat in Pain? The Morality of Our Treatment of Non-Human Animals              

4.0  Introduction

4.1  Real Persons and Different Species

4.2  Pain and Suffering

4.3  Moral Comparison

4.4  Kindness to Animals Revisited: Harming without Torture or Cruelty

4.5  Kindness to All Living Beings: Associate Membership in The Realm of Ends

4.6  Conclusion                                                                                                                   

5.  Trolleys, Bridges, Human Missiles, and Ponds: The Morality of Saving Lives

5.0  Introduction

5.1  Runaway Trolleys and Bridges: The Trolley Problem

5.2  Human Missiles and More Bridges: The Self-Defense Problem

5.3  Ponds, Vintage Sedans, and Envelopes: The Famine Relief Problem

5.4  Conclusion                                                                                                       

6.0  Rage Against the Dying of the Light: The Morality of One’s Own Death

6.0  Introduction

6.1  The Ambiguity of “Death”

6.2  Why Deaths is Not Lived Through

6.3  The Incoherence and Impossibility of Personal Immortality

6.4  Deaths is Neither a Bad Thing Nor a Good Thing for the One Who Dies—Yet Deathp Can Be Either a Good Thing or a Bad Thing for the One Who Dies                   

6.5  Untimely Deathsp and Why We Should Rage Against the Dying of the Light

6.6  The Morality of Euthanasia

6.7  The Morality of Self-Sacrifice

6.8  The Morality of Suicide

6.9  The Morality of One’s Own Accidental Deathp                                         

6.10  The Morality of One’s Own Natural Deathp

6.11  Conclusion


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For convenience, throughout the five-part four book series, The Rational Human Condition—comprising 1. the Preface and General Introduction, 2. Cognition, Content, and the A Priori, 3. Deep Freedom and Real Persons, 4. Kantian Ethics and Human Existence, and 5. Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism—I refer to Kant’s works infratextually in parentheses. The citations include both an abbreviation of the English title and the corresponding volume and page numbers in the standard “Akademie” edition of Kant’s works: Kants gesammelte Schriften, edited by the Königlich Preussischen (now Deutschen) Akademie der Wissenschaften (Berlin: G. Reimer [now de Gruyter], 1902-). I generally follow the standard English translations, but have occasionally modified them where appropriate. For references to the first Critique, I follow the common practice of giving page numbers from the A (1781) and B (1787) German editions only. Here is a list of the relevant abbreviations and English translations:

BL       “The Blomberg Logic.” In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Trans. J.M. Young. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992. Pp. 5-246.

C         Immanuel Kant: Correspondence, 1759-99. Trans. A. Zweig. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1999.

CPJ      Critique of the Power of Judgment. Trans. P. Guyer and E. Matthews. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2000.

CPR    Critique of Pure Reason. Trans. P. Guyer and A. Wood. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

CPrR   Critique of Practical Reason. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 139-271.

DiS      “Concerning the Ultimate Ground of the Differentiation of Directions in Space.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1992.  Pp. 365-372.

DSS     “Dreams of a Spirit-Seer Elucidated by Dreams of Metaphysics.” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Pp. 301-359.

EAT    “The End of All Things.” Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996. Pp. 221-231.

GMM  Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 43-108.

ID        “On the Form and Principles of the Sensible and Intelligible World (Inaugural Dissertation).” Trans. D. Walford and R. Meerbote. In Immanuel Kant: Theoretical Philosophy: 1755-1770. Pp. 373-416.

IUH     “Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Aim.” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Anthropology, History, and Eduction. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007. Pp. 107-120.

JL         “The Jäsche Logic.” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 519-640.

LE       Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Ethics. Trans. P. Heath. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1997.

MFNS Metaphysical Foundations of Natural Science. Trans. M. Friedman. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

MM     Metaphysics of Morals. Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 365-603.

OP       Immanuel Kant: Opus postumum. Trans.  E. Förster and M. Rosen. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1993.

OT       “What Does It Mean to Orient Oneself in Thinking?” Trans. A. Wood. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 7-18.

Prol     Prolegomena to Any Future Metaphysics. Trans. G. Hatfield. Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2004.

PP       “Toward Perpetual Peace.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 317-351.

Rel       Religion within the Boundaries of Mere Reason. Trans. A. Wood and G. Di Giovanni. In Immanuel Kant: Religion and Rational Theology. Pp. 57-215.

RTL     “On a Supposed Right to Lie from Philanthropy.” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 611-615.

VL       “The Vienna Logic,” Trans. J.M. Young. In Immanuel Kant: Lectures on Logic. Pp. 251-377.

WE      “An Answer to the Question: ‘What is Enlightenment?’” Trans. M. Gregor. In Immanuel Kant: Practical Philosophy. Pp. 17-22.



CHAPTER 1  Introduction: Existential Kantian Ethics  and the Nature of Morality

It is impossible to think of anything at all in the world, or even beyond it, that could be considered good without limitation except a good will….  A good will is good not because of what it effects or accomplishes, because of its fitness to attain some proposed end, but only because of its volition, that is, it is good in  itself and, regarded for itself, is to be valued incomparably higher than all that could be brought about by it in favor of some inclination and indeed, if you will, of the sum of all inclinations….  In the natural constitution of an organized being, that is, one constituted purposively for life, we assume as a principle that there will be found in it no instrument for some end other than what is also most appropriate to that end and best adapted to it. Now in a being that has reason and a will, if the proper end of nature were its preservation, its welfare, in a word its happiness, then nature would have hit upon a very bad arrangement in selecting the reason of the creature to carry out this purpose….  Since reason is not sufficiently competent to guide the will surely with regard to its objects and the satisfaction of all our needs (which it to some extent even multiplies)—an end to which an implanted natural instinct would have  led much more certainly; and since reason is nevertheless given to us as a practical faculty, that is, as one that is to influence the will; then, where nature has everywhere else gone to work purposively in distributing its capacities, the true vocation of reason must be to produce a will that is good, not perhaps as a means to other purposes, but good in itself, for which reason was absolutely necessary. This will need not, because of this, be the sole and complete good, but it still must be the highest good and the condition of every other [good], even of all demands for happiness.

                                                                                    –I. Kant (GMM 4: 393-396)

Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing …. [T]he person who in truth wills only one thing can will only the good, and the person who wills only one thing when he wills the good can will only the good in truth.

                                                                                    –S. Kierkegaard[i]

Section 1.0  Existential Kantian Ethics

The version of Kantian ethics that I develop in this book is “existential” in four senses of that much-used (and much-abused) term. First, it is a specifically anthropocentric, humane version of Kantian ethics, that takes philosophical anthropology fully seriously for the purposes of ethical theory, and not as an inessential add-on or mere elaboration.[ii] Second, it is a non-reductively naturalistic and organicist[iii] Kantian ethics, in that it is fully embedded in the complex dynamic, purposively biological, neurobiological lives of rational human animals or real human persons, even though the guiding principles of choice and action in those lives are categorical, non-instrumental imperatives. Third, it is an applied and situated Kantian ethics, in that it is specifically intended to apply to real-life, real-world, “human, all too human” moral issues under thoroughly nonideal natural and social conditions. And fourth, it is a Kantian ethics that is significantly informed by writings in the post-Kantian tradition of philosophical and literary Existentialism—as well, of course, as being significantly informed by recent and contemporary ethical theory.

It might already surprise you that a Kantian ethics could be “existential” in any of those senses, much less in all four of them. Indeed, the fundamental problems with classical Kantian ethics are generally supposed also to be fourfold, as follows—

(i) its excessive formalism,

(ii) its rigorism (that is, the overstrictness, overgeneralization, and overextension of its moral rules),

(iii) its lack of direct engagement with actual human beings, their actual psychological motivations, and their actual historical situations, and

(iv) its extreme moral rationalism.

And looking at it from the other, classical Kantian side, one might also wonder how an existential version of Kantian ethics could ever manage to avoid committing the naturalistic fallacy, according to which facts about moral obligation are strictly determined by sense experiential and/or contingent natural (including physical, chemical, biological/evolutionary, neurobiological, or sociobiological) facts, thereby fallaciously reducing the ought to the is?[iv]

So what precisely is it that sets existential Kantian ethics, aka EKE, apart from other ethical theories, including other recent and contemporary versions of Kantian ethics,[v] yet still manages to preserve the unshakeable integrity of classical Kantian absolute, nondenumerably infinite, intrinsic, objective values, as well as the super-strong normative force of the Categorical Imperative and the other classical Kantian a priori moral principles? In order to answer this question, I will need to say something in an introductory way about the distinction between ethics and morality, and also about the nature of a specifically existential Kantian approach to them both.

Section 1.1  Ethics, Morality, and EKE

As Hegel in the 19th century  and also many more recent or contemporary philosophers—perhaps most notably, in the 1970s, Bernard Williams—have correctly noted, it is illuminating to distinguish between “ethics” (aka Sittlichkeit) and “morality” (aka Moralität).[vi] Ethics is the larger, more encompassing domain of values, especially including the highest good(s), and morality, the domain of rules, principles, strict normative laws, permissions, and obligations, is only a proper part of it. On Williams’s account, strikingly, morality is “the peculiar institution,” alluding of course to John C. Calhoun’s notorious description of the American system of slavery prior to the Civil War.[vii] By ironically applying this morally uncomplimentary label to morality itelf, Williams means that it is nothing but a socially constructed, life-denying, normatively shallow, inherently oppressive, inhumane, and self-perpetuating formal sub-system of rule-mongering within our real, fully meaningful, “thick,” multi-textured, and all-encompassing “human, all too human” ethical life.[viii] Similar critical, skeptical thoughts about morality have been developed by Nietzsche, Michel Foucault, and John Mackie.[ix]

But on my sharply different understanding of the ethics vs. morality distinction, morality is the essence of ethics. Our ethical life is indeed real, fully meaningful, “thick,” multi-textured, “human, all too human,” and all-encompassing ethical life. But morality is its all-enabling core. So according to existential Kantian ethics, morality is a proper part of ethics only in the very special sense in which, for an Aristotelian essentialist theory of the whole-part relation, the essential structures of wholes are proper parts of them.[x] In this sense, the proper part structurally guides and pervades the whole.

On my understanding, ethics, with morality as its guiding and pervasive structural essence, is all about what I call rational minded animals and rational normativity. But I also need to say what I mean by these terms.

By a minded animal, as I have noted in the other books in The Rational Human Condition series, I mean any living organism with inherent capacities for

(i) consciousness, that is, a capacity for embodied subjective experience,

(ii) intentionality, that is, a capacity for conscious mental representation and mental directedness to objects, events, processes, facts, acts, other animals, or the subject herself (so in general, a capacity for mental directedness to intentional targets), and also for

(iii) caring, that is, a capacity for conscious affect, desiring, and emotion, whether directed to objects, events, processes, facts, acts, other animals, or the subject herself.

And as I have also noted in those other books, over and above consciousness, intentionality, and caring, in some minded animals, there is also a further inherent capacity for

(iv) rationality, that is., a capacity for self-conscious thinking according to principles and with responsiveness to reasons, hence poised for justification, whether logical thinking (including inference and theory-construction) or practical thinking (including deliberation and decision-making).

Rational minded animals are also the same as what, in those other books, I call real persons.[xi]

By rational normativity, in turn, I mean this irreducible two-part fact:

(i) that all rational minded animals or real persons have aims, commitments, ends, goals, ideals, and values—hence, as rational animals, they are also teleological animals, and

(ii) that these rational minded animals or real persons naturally treat their aims, commitments, ends, goals, ideals, and values—hence, as rational and teleological animals, they naturally treat these telic targets

(iia) as rules, principles, or laws for guiding theoretical inquiry and  practical enterprises,

(iib) as reasons for justifying beliefs and intentional actions, and also

(iic) as standards for critical evaluation and judgment.

Furthermore, rational normativity in this sense can be

either (i) instrumental, that is, conditional, hypothetical, desired for the sake of some further desired end, pragmatic, prudential, or consequence-based,

or (ii) non-instrumental, that is, unconditional, categorical, desired for its own sake as an end-in-itself, non-pragmatic, non-prudential, and obtaining no-matter-what-the-consequences.

As such, norms provide reasons for belief, cognition, knowledge, and intentional action, and categorical norms provide categorical or overriding reasons for belief and intentional action. Moreover, categorical norms are fully consistent with norms that are instrumental, conditional, desired for the sake of other ends, pragmatic, prudential, and obtaining only in virtue of good consequences. Nevertheless, categorical norms are also strictly underdetermined by all other sorts of norms, and therefore cannot be assimilated to or replaced by those other sorts of norms. Finally, cutting across all these notions, there are also two importantly distinct kinds of rational normative standards:

(i) minimal or nonideal standards, which specify a “low-bar” set of goals, targets, rules, principles, or laws, below which normatively evaluable activity cannot and does not occur at all, and which therefore jointly constitute a qualifying level of normativity, and

(ii) maximal or ideal standards, which necessarily include and presuppose the (satisfaction of the) minimal, non-ideal, or low-bar standards, but also specify a further “high-bar” set of goals, targets, rules, principles, or laws, below which normatively evaluable activity indeed occurs, but is always more or less imperfect, and in certain relevant respects, bad activity, and above which more or less perfected, and in the relevant respects, fully good activity occurs, and which therefore jointly constitute a perfectionist level of normativity.

From all this, I infer four things.

First, all rational normativity includes both low-bar or qualifying standards and also high-bar or perfectionist standards.

Second, the satisfaction of the high-bar standards necessarily requires the satisfaction of the low-bar standards.

Third, the satisfaction of the low-bar standards is not in itself sufficient for the satisfaction of the high-bar standards.

And finally, fourth, failing to satisfy the high-bar standards is not in itself sufficient for failing to satisfy the low-bar standards.

Collectively, this is what I call The Two-Dimensional Conception of Rational Normativity.

Against the backdrop of those conceptions of rational minded animals, or real persons, and rational normativity, I want to say that a specifically existential ethics is all about the aims, commitments, goals, ideals, values or ends of the lives of rational and also specifically human minded animals, or real and also specifically human persons, in a thoroughly nonideal natural and social world. In such a world, as essentially finite, “human, all too human” animals, living lives that include our own inevitable deaths as a necessary limit, each one of our lives is a fundamental project that consists in a search for individual and collective meaning and purpose. Finding ourselves in such a world, already and always embarked on such a fundamental project, we are naturally presented with values or ends. We naturally desire those ends. Then we freely pursue those ends by looking for the means to them. And then we freely choose those means in order to realize those ends. If this is done well, and if we also have good luck, then we achieve happiness. But if not, then not—and yet we are already and always embarked on that rational human fundamental project. For a meaningful and purposeful life is not necessarily a happy life, at least in the ordinary sense, or senses, of “happiness.”

But what is happiness? It seems unexceptionably true, and commonsensical, to say that real human personal happiness is a coherent combination of good experiences, material well-being, salient social status, good work, good play, and good personal relationships. That is what we commonly call “living the good life.” If the pursuit of happiness in that sense is done badly, or even if we choose and do things well but are merely unfortunate and unlucky, then we suffer and are unhappy. But an unhappy life is not necessarily a bad life. A real human personal life with various ends and means embedded in it, and structuring it, whether it ultimately leads to happiness or to unhappiness, is a life that is meaningful and purposeful to that extent.

According to existential Kantian ethics, as I have said, morality is the essence of ethics. More specifically, however, according to existential Kantian ethics, morality is about what real human persons ought to choose and do (the obligatory), what we ought not to choose and do (the impermissible), and what it is acceptable for us to choose and do even if it is not obligatory (the permissible). What we ought to choose and do is our duty. Hence, according to existential Kantian ethics, all morality is inherently “deontological,” or concerned with duties.[xii]

The moral notion of duty, however, as existential Kantian ethics conceives it, needs to be elaborated further in two important ways, in order to avoid two corresponding classical and also commonplace-contemporary misunderstandings of that notion.

First, duty is not impersonal. On the contrary, duty as conceived by existential Kantian ethics is an intensely personal matter, both on the side of the real human person who is a moral agent and also on the side of those real human persons whose lives are inextricably connected, for better or worse, with that of the moral agent. As W.D. Ross very aptly puts it, in criticizing G.E. Moore’s version of Utilitarianism:

The essential defect of the ‘ideal utilitarian’ theory is that it ignores, or at least fails to do full justice to, the highly personal character of duty. If the only duty is to produce the maximum of good, the question of who is to have the good—whether it is myself, or my benefactor, or a person to whom I have made a promise to confer that good on him, or a mere fellow man to whom I stand in no such special relation—should make no difference to my having a duty to produce that good. But we are all sure that it makes a vast difference.[xiii]

Ross is wrong, of course, that this is a knock-down criticism of Utilitarianism. It is quite possible to be a Utilitarian and also take various personal, psychological facts to be amongst the utility-maximizing facts.[xiv] But he is nevertheless absolutely right about what I will call the human face of duty, according to existential Kantian ethics. So existential Kantian ethics is deontology with a human face.

Second, and perhaps even more importantly, duty does not entail any fundamental resistance to human desires. On the contrary, duty as conceived by existential Kantian ethics is the result of choosing and acting on the basis of our deepest and most fundamental desire, the second-order desire for what I call moral self-transcendence, namely the desire to be moved by first-order effective desires that are non-hedonistic, non-self-interested, non-selfish, and non-consequentialistic, for the sake of the Categorical Imperative, and for the sake of the absolute, non-denumerably infinite, intrinsic, objective value, or dignity, of real persons (see also chapter 2 below). Otherwise put, according to existential Kantian ethics, doing one’s duty—that is, choosing or acting on the second-order desire for moral self-transcendence—is the same as choosing or acting from the fundamental moral emotion Kant calls “respect” (Achtung):

Duty is the necessity of an action done from respect for the moral law. (GMM 4: 400)

Choosing or acting from the second-order desire for moral self-transcendence, or respect, sometimes involves overriding and/or suppressing hedonistic, self-interested, selfish, or consequentialistic first-order desires. But this is only in order to satisfy our deepest and most fundamental desire, namely the desire for moral self-transcendence. And in any case, it is perfectly possible to do one’s duty and also satisfy hedonistic, self-interested, selfish, or consequentialistic first-order desires, provided that the following subjunctive conditional or counterfactual is true:

We would still have done our duty in that actual act-context even if our hedonistic, self-interested, selfish, or consequentialistic first-order desires had not been satisfied in that context, by virtue of the second-order desire for moral self-transcendence, that is, by virtue of the fundamental moral emotion of respect.

Or in other words, in that actual context, the second-order desire for moral self-transcendence would have volitionally guaranteed that we structurally mobilized our effective first-order desires in such a way as to do our duty in that context, no matter what our other first-order or higher-order desires were in that context. So doing our duty is perfectly consistent with our enjoying doing it, as Ross also very aptly points out:

The sense of duty tends to be described as the sense that one should do certain acts, though on other grounds (for example, on the ground of their painfulness) one wants not to do them. But “the sense of duty” really means that we ought to do certain acts, whether or not on other grounds we desire to do them, and no matter with what intensity we may desire, on other grounds, not to do them. One of the effects of the forming of a habit of dutiful action is that any natural repugnance one may have to dutiful acts on other grounds trends to diminish. If we form a habit of early rising, for example, it becomes easier, and less unpleasant, to rise early.[xv]

The thesis that all morality is deontological, or concerned with duties, should also not be understood in such a way as to exclude moral concern with the good character of real human persons (aka “virtues”), or the good results of their choices and acts (aka “good consequences”). And in that sense, a deontological ethics can be smoothly compatible with central elements of virtue ethics and consequentialism. Nevertheless, choice and action can be obligatory, impermissible, and permissible in two sharply different ways:

either (i) restrictedly, conditionally, and as a means to some other end—which is hypothetical, instrumental obligation,

or (ii) strictly, unconditionally, and as an end-in-itself—which is categorical, non-instrumental obligation.

The morality of good character, aka virtue ethics, and the morality of good results, aka consequentialism, both fall under the umbrella of instrumental obligation, whereby we are required to choose and act certain things as means or tools in order to produce or realize various other good things—for example, virtuous character traits or beneficial consequences—as ends-in-themselves. By contrast, morality as it is understood by existential Kantian ethics takes the obligatoriness, impermissibility, and permissibility of choice and action to be fundamentally and primarily non-instrumental, and only derivatively and secondarily instrumental.

That which is an end-in-itself has its goodness or positive value inherently or intrinsically. For example, all those things that can make us happy—enjoying pleasant or otherwise satisfying experiences and pastimes; being healthy; being physically attractive; making lots of money; possessing lots of property, portable or otherwise; being a big fish in an appropriately-sized pond; earning the genuine admiration and respect of others; pursuing and completing significant aesthetic, artistic, or intellectual projects; creating and sustaining companionate, erotic love relationships; creating and sustaining friendships; belonging to a mutually supportive family; having a family of one’s own and successfully raising children, and so-on—are ends-in-themselves and have their positive values intrinsically. Such ends-in-themselves can sometimes also be used as means to other ends, however. In other words, they are only relatively and not absolutely ends-in-themselves, because their objective value can also be treated as extrinsic and dependently relational.

But that which is a strict, unconditional end-in-itself has its positive value absolutely intrinsically and objectively. This is the Highest or Supreme Good—the most important thing in the world, and also even, as Kant says, “beyond the world” (GMM 4: 393). According to existential Kantian ethics, nondenumerably infinite, absolute, intrinsic, objective value exists, and therefore the Highest or Supreme Good also exists, in the form of an innately specified online capacity for what I call principled authenticity. Principled authenticity is what Kant himself called “the good will” (GMM 4: 393-394), when it is also fully fused with what Kierkegaard called “purity of heart.” Otherwise put, it is an essentially embodied good will, that is, a good will that can really and truly be achieved, at least in part and to some degree, only by real human persons living in this thoroughly nonideal natural and social world. Principled authenticity, in turn, to the extent that it is activated and realized even only partially and to some degree, literally embodies and adequately expresses the essence of our rational “human, all too human” nature.

Derek Parfit remarked that “Kant is sometimes thought of as a cold, dry, rationalist. But he is really an emotional extremist.”[xvi] In my opinion, Parfit was absolutely correct about that, although not in precisely the way Parfit intended. In his passion for the moral law within himself—“[t]wo things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and reverence, the more often and more steadily one reflects on them: the starry heavens above me and the moral law within me” (CPrR 5: 161)—Kant himself sometimes goes too far and becomes a purist in the pejorative sense: passionately formalistic and rigoristic, to the point of moral error. But the right corrective for Kant’s own emotional extremism, is not, as Parfit thought, Henry Sidgwick’s instrumental-rational emotional minimalism, but instead Kierkegaard’s sharply distinct kind of non-instrumental-rational emotional extremism—in three words, purity of heart. The corrective fusion of Kant’s emotional extremism with Kierkegaard’s emotional extremism yields the notion of autonomous wholeheartedness, or principled authenticity, and this corrective fusion constitutes, in my opinion, precisely the right kind of emotional extremism that is needed for morality.

According to existential Kantian ethics, the Highest or Supreme Good is really and truly in the real world, precisely because and just to the extent that rational human animals or real human persons are living in the real world, for better or worse. Now objective values, generally, are in the real world just because what I call “minded animals” are living in the real world. But absolute, nondenumerably infinite, intrinsic, objective values are our specifically real human personal gift to the real world, and also—tragically—our curse upon the real world, to the extent that we mostly miserably fail to live up to those very values, and very often wickedly choose to ignore them or act contrary to them.

How can I prove all these claims to you, or to a skeptic? My demonstration of these substantive metaphysical theses is neither deductive nor inductive, but instead ostensive, abductive, transcendental, and neo-rationalistic. That is, my demonstration is via appeals to moral phenomenology, via appeals to inference-to-the-best-explanation, involving both transcendental arguments and also transcendental explanations, and via rational intuition.[xvii] It is only by pointing to ourselves as actual living examples, and then by deploying a robust background metaphysical theory of our nature as free and real human persons inherently capable of cognitive and practical agency, that I can make a sound transcendental inference, based on primitive rational insights, to existential Kantian ethics’s being the best overall explanation of morality. If this transcendental inference is indeed sound, however, then morality is not only about what we have good or contingently sufficient practical reasons to choose and do (hypothetical, instrumental obligation), but more particularly morality is about what we have right or necessarily sufficient—“overriding”—practical reasons to choose and do (categorical, non-instrumental obligation).

Morality according to existential Kantian ethics, then, insofar as it is ineluctably embedded, as essential, in the fully meaningful and all-encompassing value-domain of ethics that it inherently governs and structures, is specifically about the highest or supreme values, ideals, and normative standards of real human persons—that is, the highest or supreme ends-in-themselves, and the highest or supreme practical reasons of rational human life. It is also about the obligations and principles of choice and conduct that flow from these highest or supreme values, which thereby in turn constitute a set of low-bar, minimal, or nonideal standards of rational normativity to go along with the corresponding high-bar, maximal, or ideal standards. A real human personal life with the highest or supreme ends-in-themselves, practical reasons, obligations, and principles structurally immanent within it, and also fully incorporated into it, according to The Two-Dimensional Conception of Rational Normativity, is a life that is fully meaningful, and a morally good life.

The very best kind of real human personal life would, in turn, be at once fully meaningful, morally good, and also deeply happy in that this full meaningfulness and happiness are related to one another as the jointly constitutive essential form (or immanent structure) and prime matter (or vital stuffing) of one and the same human life. That is what Kant calls “the sole and complete good” (GMM 4: 396).  The sole and complete good is also an intersubjective social and political good, containing a full and rich elaboration of the “Realm of Ends” formulation of the Categorical Imperative (GMM 4: 433-436), later also called the “ethical community” in Religion Within the Boundaries of Mere Reason (Rel 6: 96-100). So in Kant’s own philosophy, just as in existential Kantian ethics, morality and ethics achieve their ultimate completion in religion and politics.[xviii]

But all happiness, whether deep happiness or non-deep happiness—that is, happiness that is not immanently structured by morality, whether it is in fact immoral happiness, or else just a shallow happiness that merely conforms to morality and is only extrinsically related to it—requires good luck, and good luck by its very nature is in short supply. Shallow happiness, for example, has moral value, but not moral worth. So according to existential Kantian ethics, if push comes to shove, then a life including morality and full meaningfulness but also filled with unhappiness due to sheer bad luck still morally exceeds a life of shallow happiness.

Please do not misunderstand me. Of course I think that shallow happiness, in its place, is perfectly fine and massively preferable to misery, other things being equal. I like and indeed often crave shallow happiness as much as the next person, and it would be sheer condescension and sanctimoniousness on my part to be too critical of it. Moreover, it would be a truly good thing—although, in certain crucial respects, it would also be inherently limited in its goodness—if any or all of the people in the world who are suffering could instead enjoy lives of even shallow happiness. But at the same time it is true that we ourselves can do substantially better than shallow happiness; that we profoundly want more than merely shallow happiness not only for ourselves but also for those we truly love and for any other persons whose welfare we seriously care about, which should be everyone; and above all that as real human persons, we possess an innately specified capacity to recognize this Highest or Supreme Good (namely, “the good will” in Kant’s sense), and also to desire it wholeheartedly (namely, with “purity of heart” in Kierkegaard’s sense). This is the innately specified capacity for principled authenticity.

Indeed, as I argued in Deep Freedom and Real Persons,[xix] deep happiness is most fully realized in what Kant calls Selbstzufriedenheit or self-fulfillment—the actual, active, subjectively experienced, and phenomenologically self-validating achievement of principled authenticity, at least partially and to some degree (CPr 5: 117-119). And this sublime experience remains really possible in a thoroughly unlucky and (in the shallow sense) unhappy life. All the awful, brute actual facts will remain exactly the same; but you can still radically change your attitude towards those facts, and thereby change your life. I am thinking particularly here of Rilke’s cathartic appreciation of the archaic torso of Apollo; of Camus’s Sisyphus; and also of what I have called Wittgenstein’s “Mystical Compatibilism” in the Tractatus.[xx] The possibility of existential Kantian self-fulfillment in the face of sheer bad luck, sharply contrasts with Aristotelian happiness or “flourishing” (eudaimonia), which, as Aristotle famously points out in book I of the Nicomachean Ethics, necessarily requires good luck. In this sense, in my opinion, existential Kantian ethics is much more closely attuned to the realities of real human personal life in a nonideal natural and social world, than Aristotelian ethics is. In chapter 2 below, I will carefully spell out the semi-technical sense in which the actual natural and social world in which we live, move, and have our being, is not merely nonideal, but in fact thoroughly nonideal.


[i] S. Kierkegaard, “Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing,” in The Essential Kierkegaard, trans. H. Hong and E. Hong (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2000), p. 271.

[ii] See also, for example, R. Louden, Kant’s Impure Ethics: From Rational Beings to Human Beings (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000); R. Louden, Kant’s Human Being: Essays on His Theory of Human Nature (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011); and P. Frierson, What is the Human Being? (London: Routledge, 2013).

[iii] See R. Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons: A Study in Metaphysics, esp. chs. 1-2.

[iv] See G.E.. Moore, Principia Ethica (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1903), esp. pp. 40, 58, and 73. See also section 1.4 below.

[v] See, for example, O. O’Neill, Constructions of Reason (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1989); T. Hill, Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant’s Moral Theory (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press 1992); B. Herman, The Practice of Moral Judgment (Cambridge, MA: Harvard Univ. Press, 1993); M. Baron, Kantian Ethics (Almost) without Apology (Ithaca, NY: Cornell Univ. Press, 1995); C. Korsgaard, Creating the Kingdom of Ends (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996);  C. Korsgaard, The Sources of Normativity (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1996); R. Audi, The Good in the Right (Princeton, NJ: Princeton Univ. Press, 2004); A. Wood, Kantian Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 2007); C. Korsgaard, Self-Constitution: Agency, Identity, and Integrity (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2009); D. Parfit, On What Matters (2 vols., Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2011); and R. Audi, Means, Ends, and Persons (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015).

[vi] See, for example, B. Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy (London: Fontana, 1985); and B. Williams, Morality: An Introduction to Ethics (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1972). The ethics vs. morality =  Sittlichkeit vs. Moralität contrast has also had some impact in contemporary philosophy. For example, essentially the same distinction is replicated in the titles and basic  topics of the first two divisions of Russ Shafer-Landau’s widely-used and influential Fundamentals of Ethics (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015): “The Good Life” and “Normative Ethics: Doing the Right Thing,” which sets it interestingly apart from the erstwhile bog-standard tripartite division of moral philosophy into meta-ethics, normative ethics, and applied ethics.

[vii] See J.C. Calhoun, “Speech on the Reception of Abolition Petitions: Revised Report,” U.S. Senate (Feb. 6, 1837), at Wake Forest University. Available online at URL = <>.

[viii] Williams, Ethics and the Limits of Philosophy, ch. 10.

[ix] See, for example, F. Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1966); F. Nietzsche, The Genealogy of Morals and Ecce Homo, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York: Vintage, 1967), pp. 13-163; M. Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the New Prison, trans. A. Sheridan (New York: Vintage, 1975); M. Foucault, The Order of Things (New York: Vintage, 1973), ch. 9; and J.L. Mackie, Ethics: Inventing Right and Wrong (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977).

[x] See. for example, K. Koslicki, The Structure of Objects (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2007).

[xi] See Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons, esp. chs. 6-7.

[xii] See, for example, L. Alexander and M. Moore, “Deontological Ethics,”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), E. Zalta (ed.), URL = <>.

[xiii] W.D. Ross, The Right and the Good (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1930/2002), p. 22.

[xiv] See, for example, S. Scheffler, Human Morality (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1993).

[xv] Ross, The Right and the Good, p. 158.

[xvi] Parfit, On What Matters, vol. 1, p. xliv.

[xvii] See R. Hanna, Cognition, Content, and the A Priori: A Study in the Philosophy of Mind and Knowledge (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2015), section 4.7, and chs. 6-8.

[xviii] See R. Hanna, “If God’s Existence is Unprovable, Then is Everything Permitted? Kant, Radical Agnosticism, and Morality,” DIAMETROS 39 (2014): 26-69; R. Hanna, “Radical Enlightenment: Existential Kantian Cosmopolitan Anarchism, With a Concluding Quasi-Federalist Postscipt,” in D. Heidemann and K. Stoppenbrink (eds.), Join, Or Die: Philosophical Foundations of Federalism (Berlin: De Gruyter, 2016), pp. 63-90; R. Hanna, “Exiting the State and Debunking the State of Nature,” Con-Textos Kantianos 5 (2017), available online at URL =<>; R. Hanna, “Why the Better Angels of Our Nature Must Hate the State,” Con-Textos Kantianos 6 (2017), available online at URL = <>; and R. Hanna, Kant, Agnosticism, and Anarchism: A Theological-Political Treatise.

[xix] Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons, chs. 3 and 5.

[xx] See Hanna, Deep Freedom and Real Persons, ch. 4.


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