Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant’s Moral Theory

Hill, T., Dignity and Practical Reason in Kant's Moral Theory, Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1992.

From a review:

This book brings together eleven papers on Kantian ethics which Thomas Hill wrote between 1971 and 1989. Nine of the eleven deal quite directly with the exegesis of Kantian texts on moral philosophy or the critical exposition of parts of Kantian moral theory. The tenth attempts to apply Kantian theory to a particularly difficult moral problem of a kind it has often been thought Kantian ethics could not handle: how to deal with terrorism and to make the kinds of life and death decisions this sometimes involves. The final paper, “Kantian Constructivism in Ethics,” is about Rawls as much as Kant, and reflects on the affinities between Rawls’s “constructivist” project in ethics and the Kantian roots of Rawls’s theory. If there is a point of focus for Hill’s interpretation of Kant, and I think there is, it is one suggested by the title Hill has given to his book. The basis of Kant’s ethics, in Hill’s view, is a certain conception of rational agency, which gives rise to a fundamental moral fact: that every rational agent possesses an absolute incomparable worth or dignity. The first essay introduces us to the conception of rational agency by exhibiting it in a largely nonmoral or premoral application, to hypothetical imperatives.

This has the function both of introducing us to the more general conception of radonal agency of which moral agency is an aspect, and of showing us what is distinctive about moral agency on Kant’s theory. A fuller account of Kant’s theory of practical reasoning, one stressing the distinctiveness of categorical imperatives, and the distinctiveness of the reasons attaching to them, is given later, in Essays 6 and 7. Meanwhile, Essays 2 and 3 deal, respectively, with the two of Kant’s formulations of the moral law which Hill thinks have the greatest theoretical power: the formula of humanity as an end in itself (which in another essay Hill also christens the “dignity principle”), and the formula of the kingdom of ends. Hill deemphasizes the formula of universal law; his version of Kantian theory is not one in which we spend our time formulating maxims, universalizing them, and testing the results for willability without contradiction.

Review by Allen W. Wood, in Journal of the History of Philosophy, Vol 32, No. 2