A Defense and Development of the Volitional Self-Contradiction Interpretation

Philosophia 51 (2):505-524 (2023)
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Kant’s Formula of Universal Law (FUL) is generally believed to require you to act only on the basis of maxims that you can will without contradiction to become universal laws. In “Contradiction and Kant’s Formula of Universal Law” (2017), I have proposed to read the FUL instead as requiring that, for any maxim on which you act, you can will two things simultaneously, without volitional self-contradiction: (1) willing the maxim as your own action principle and (2) willing that it become a universal law. In the present essay, I reply to comments by Mark Timmons, Michael Walschots, Paola Romero, and Stefano Lo Re. In response to their comments concerning the application of the FUL, I expand the interpretive framework of the Volitional Self-Contradiction Interpretation. I argue that Kant also constructs the diagnostic volitional self-contradiction as a contradiction between (1) willing a tested maxim to become a universal law and (2) willing what humans, qua finite rational beings, necessarily will, namely the means to their actual and possible future ends. I also clarify how the two ways in which Kant specifies the test are related. Furthermore, I clarify the relation between the Volitional Self-Contradiction interpretation and other interpretations of the FUL, in particular the ‘Practical Contradiction’ and ‘Logical Contradiction’ interpretations, as well as its difference from the Golden Rule. I also address the objection that the volitional self-contradiction is superfluous, clarify the relation between the Formula of Universal Law and the Formula of the Law of Nature, and explain why the will of an immoral agent does not contain a volitional self-contradiction of the type at issue.

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Pauline Kleingeld
University of Groningen


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