contradiction once you try to combine it with the universalized version that all rational agents must, by a law of nature, lie when doing so gets them what they want. Here is one way of seeing how this might work: If I conceive of a world in which everyone by nature must try to deceive people any time this will get them what they want, I am conceiving of a world in which no practice of giving one’s word could ever arise and, because this is a law of nature, we can assume that it is widely known that no such practice could exist. So I am conceiving of a world in which everyone knows that no practice of giving one’s word exists. My
maxim, however, is to make a deceptive promise in order to get needed money. And it is a necessary means of doing this that a practice of taking the word of others exists, so that someone might take my word and I take advantage of their doing so. Thus, in trying to conceive of my maxim in a world in which no one ever takes anyone’s word in such circumstances, and knows this about one another, I am trying to conceive of this: A world in which no practice of giving one’s word exists, but also, at the very same time, a world in which just such a practice does exist, for me to make use of in my maxim. It is a world containing my promise and a world in which there can be no promises. Hence, it is inconceivable that I could sincerely act on my maxim in a world in which my maxim is a universal law of nature. Since it is inconceivable that these two things could exist together, I am forbidden ever to act on the maxim of lying to get money. By contrast with the maxim of the lying promise, we can easily conceive of adopting a maxim of refusing to develop any of our talents in a world in which that maxim is a universal law of nature. It would undoubtedly be a world more primitive than our own, but pursuing such a policy is still conceivable in it. However, it is not, Kant argues, possible to rationally will this maxim in such a world. The argument for why this is so, however, is not obvious, and some of Kant’s thinking seems hardly convincing: Insofar as we are rational, he says, we already necessarily will that all of our talents and abilities be developed. Hence, although I can conceive of a talentless world, I cannot rationally will that it come about, given that I already will, insofar as I am rational, that I develop all of my own. Yet, given limitations on our time, energy and interest, it is
difficult to see how full rationality requires us to aim to fully develop literally all of our talents. Indeed, it seems to require much less, a judicious picking and choosing among one’s abilities. Further, all that is required to show that I cannot will a talentless world is that, insofar as I am rational, I necessarily will that some talents in me be developed, not the dubious claim that I rationally will that they all be developed. Moreover, suppose rationality did require me to aim at developing all of my talents. Then, there seems to be no need to go further in the CI procedure to show that refusing to develop talents is immoral. Given
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- Spring '11