It is this rational capacity for self-determination, or the autonomy of the will, that accounts for the intrinsic
value of persons; i.e., their status as ends-in-themselves. That is what ultimately generates the moral duty to
respect the autonomy of persons and to refrain from treating them as nothing more than means to our own ends.
It also explains the capacity for persons to confer value on things, which do not have value in and of
themselves, by identifying them as possible means in relation to their own self-determined ends.
This highlights the most significant difference between Kant’s deontological ethics and the views of both
Aristotle and Mill. Ethics, for Kant, is not a system of practical guidelines that we use for bringing about some
end that is not of our making. Our rational capacities are not simply tools for bringing about the happiness that
nature determines us to pursue. Nor are they valuable solely as means for calculating what the well-being of
society as a whole requires. Our rational capacities are what confers on each of us the value of an end-in-itself.
Ethics, for Kant, is a system of self-imposed constraints on the exercise of our rational capacities. It provides
guidelines for the work of setting ends for ourselves and, then, working out how it is that we are going to pursue
Kant’s focus on the autonomy of persons and his use of this view to account for the intrinsic moral value of
actions holds some appeal for many people. At the same time, the question about how we determine in any
given case what, specifically, is required in order to respect autonomy, the apparent rigidity of his view, and his
commitment to autonomy as the only intrinsic moral value, give some cause for concern about the view. In Unit
03 of the course, we will explore some alternatives and begin to decide for ourselves whether we think any of
those views is ultimately preferable to Kant’s and to the other theoretical approaches we have focused on thus
Which of the following claims, if true, would refute Kant's theory?
– People are not autonomous
No view of morality that held that people didn’t often act immorally, or that nobody lacked a good will, or that
lying wasn’t common could ever be considered a legitimate contender. None of these presents a problem for