Kantian Irrealism

Kantian ethics can at times appear to defend the position that there is a unique sort of value that plays a foundational role in morality. For instance, Kant’s most well known work in ethics, the Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals, begins by trying to establish that a good will is good ‘without qualification’ and then ends with a first statement of the fundamental principle that divides right from wrong, the Categorical Imperative.1 This presentation can make it seems as if Kant believes the authority carried by the Categorical Imperative is somehow supposed to be grounded in the value of a good will. Again, the humanity formulation of the Categorical Imperative, the formulation that tell us we must respect the humanity in ourselves and others by treating it as an end in itself, appears to allude to a special value possessed by some feature of persons, their humanity, and then explain the authority of moral obligation by way of that value.2 This extolling of the value of humanity and the dramatic refrain about the unique value of a good will both appear to portray Kant as telling us to notice the peculiar value that they possess and see that this value demands that we adjust our deliberation and actions. We appear to be told that the good will and humanity are bits of metaphysical glitter, jewels carrying their value around with them, and that this unique glitter is source of the authority of moral obligation.
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