Patrick Riley, "On the "Kantian" Foundations of Robert Paul Wolffs Anarchism," in J. Roland Pennock, & John W. Chapman, eds., Anarchism: Nomos XIX. New York: New York University Press, 1978.




In his In Defense of Anarchism what Robert Paul Wolff has done, while borrowing the "cloak" of Kant's "legitimacy," is to develop the notion that only a "unanimous direct democracy" in which everyone actually consents to everything is "legitimate" because only in such a scheme is everyone truly "autonomous" -- "autonomy" not being preserved, on this view, by "tacit" consent, representative government, and majoritarianism: in short, by Lockean politics.1 Wolffs political position, then, turns on the idea that autonomy is "the primary obligation of man"; that this autonomy can be politically preserved only in a unanimous direct democracy in which everyone "gives laws to himself; that, failing the creation of such a democracy, one must come down in favor of philosophical anarchism.2 This political theory might, Wolff says -- "if I may steal a title from Kant (and thus perhaps wrap myself in the cloak of his legitimacy)" -- be called Groundwork of the Metaphysics of the State.3

Now what is interesting here is that Robert Paul Wolff has turned "autonomy" into a substantive moral duty, into "the primary obligation of man," whereas Kant's argument (whose authority Wolff would like to "steal") is that unless one considers man, from a hypothetical "point of view," as if he were "autonomous," then none of his substantive moral duties -- summarized in the general notion of treating persons as "ends" -- would be conceivable. Kant holds, that is, that while the objective reality of autonomy cannot be demonstrated, it must nevertheless be presupposed as the conditio sine qua non of conceiving oneself as responsible, good, or just; that a being which could not conceive itself as an autonomous "moral cause" could never imagine itself responsible or good or just. Autonomy, then, for Kant is a necessary point of view, or a necessary hypothesis, in explaining the possibility of the common moral concepts which we actually use; but autonomy is not itself & substantive moral duty. It is rather the hypothetical condition of being able to conceive any duties.4 Since Kant would not say that we have a duty to be autonomous, he would not support Wolff's politics either; indeed, while Kant prefered "republicanism," he supported any legal order which creates a context for self-moraliza-tion by removing impediments to that process.5

It is perhaps serious enough that one borrow the "cloak" of Kant's legitimacy, only to subvert it; but even more serious is the problem of relating the common moral duties -- such as refraining from murder -- to Wolff's "primary obligation" of autonomy. Would one say, for example, that one acted "autonomously" by refraining from murder such that "refraining from murder" becomes an instance of "autonomous action"? Is the obligation, then, one of not murdering (simpliciter), or is it one of not violating one's own autonomy by murdering? That is, if the primary obligation of man is autonomy, "the refusal to be ruled," are all obligations ultimately "obligations to oneself? Along what lines, then, does one view "secondary" obligations to others? To say that everyone's autonomy is to be respected would take care of both "self-regarding" and "other-regarding" obligations; but this is not what Wolff argues -- though Kant of course does.6 Moreover, if one's "primary obligation" were to respect the autonomy of everyone, the anarchism which Wolff supports when "unanimous direct democracy" cannot be attained would not irresistibly follow: after all, one could say that respect for the autonomy of everyone necessitates a legal order insofar as "respect" is only an imperative rather than a fact; but if one's primary obligation is "autonomy, the refusal to be ruled," then anarchism appears to be more nearly inevitable, and perhaps more natural than "unanimous direct democracy" itself. Wolff may possibly think that having a "primary obligation" to be autonomous is equivalent to having an obligation to respect the autonomy of everyone, but this of course is not true. Thus he has not only transmogrified Kant, whose authority has been illegitimately borrowed; he has provided too convenient a foundation for his anarchism.

In what follows it will be argued that Robert Paul Wolffs treatment of autonomy as the "Kantian" primary obligation of man has the following consequences: (1) it leads to treating "autonomy" as a substantive duty, contrary both to Kant and to good sense; (2) this error leads to neglect of Kant's notion that the primary substantive moral duty of men is to treat other men as ends-in-themselves whose dignity ought to be respected7 (i.e., to respect others' autonomy, not just one's own); and (3) this initial error leads to the further misfortune of suggesting (or at least implying) that anarchism is a "Kantian" doctrine necessitated by "autonomy" qua "the refusal to be ruled" -- whereas in fact Kant argues that government is absolutely necessary to provide a context or environment within which one can pursue a good will (a will, that is, never to universalize maxims which would treat persons as mere means to arbitrary purposes8). Properly understood, Kantianism neither argues for "autonomy" as a substantive moral duty (still less as "the primary obligation of man"), nor urges that anarchism is necessitated by the "refusal to be ruled." It does indeed insist on moral autonomy (as the ground of the possibility of conceiving and having duties), but not just on one's own autonomy; nor does it ever argue that moral autonomy and government are incongruent. One cannot wrap the cloak of Kant's legitimacy around an anarchist argument which he would have thought illegitimate.


That Robert Paul Wolff has transmogrified and not just "applied" Kant's theory of autonomy is plain enough from an inspection of Kant's aims in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals.

Kant builds his moral philosophy on the notion of a good will as the only "unqualifiedly" good thing on earth:9 that is, on the notion of a kind of moral "causality," itself undetermined by natural causes, which is the source of man's freedom and responsibility. (The content with which the good will strives to harmonize when it "universalizes" the "maxims" of its action -- in Kant's case respect for the dignity of persons as "ends in themselves" -- will be taken up in Section III of this paper.) Since, however, Kant's claim in the Critique of Practical Reason that "the autonomy of the will is the sole principle of all moral laws"10 might appear to lend color to Wolff's "Kantian" claim that "the primary obligation of man is autonomy," it will be useful to look with some care at what Kant has to say about will, autonomy, and their relation to each other.

The history of the free-will controversy is notoriously thorny (and often acrimonious), but it is at least arguable that Kant was able to avoid most of the confusions over the notion of will which had introduced a degree of incoherence into the "voluntarist" tradition (as he inherited it from Hobbes, Locke, and Rousseau)11 by defining the will as "a faculty of determining oneself to action in accordance with the conception of certain laws," as "a kind of causality belonging to living beings insofar as they are rational."12 A being that is capable of acting according to the conception of laws, Kant suggests, is an intelligent or rational being, and "the causality of such a being according to this conception of laws is his will."13 And freedom, he argues, is the capacity of this will qua causality to be "efficient" -- to produce (so to speak) moral "effects" -- independent of "foreign causes" determining that will.14 The will, then, according to Kant, is a kind of "noumenal" or intelligent causality which is itself independent of natural causality, and a being possessed of this kind of "causality" is autonomous.

Setting aside for the moment all the difficulties involved in this position -- the fact, for example, that freedom and will are only "necessary hypotheses" which explain our (merely) practical conviction that something could and ought to have been done by us, though it was not done, because we are in part noumenal beings belonging to a "world of intelligence" who can produce moral effects through our free "causality";15 that such a noumenal world may be only a point of view (but not a "constitutive" principle of "theoretical" reason) which we are obliged to adopt in order to explain our notions of freedom and duty16 -- waiving all this for present purposes, it seems that if Kant can make this concept of will intelligible and plausible, he is also able to avoid the reduction of will to Hobbesian "appetite" or to a Lockean "uneasiness of desire."17 For Kant's definition of will insists on consciousness (on understanding the conception of a law), on determining oneself independent of external causes (such as sensations). On this view a notion such as moral responsibility at least begins to become intelligible: after all, if one is the "free cause" of something of whose character he was conscious, the "effect" can reasonably be imputed to him; whereas if his will is simply the "last appetite in deliberation" (in the manner of Hobbes), then he may be the efficient cause of an effect, but not (as it were) the moral cause of it.18 By insisting on will as the undetermined causality of a rational being who understands the conception of the laws according to which he acts (whereas objects in physical nature indeed act according to laws, but not according to the conception of them), Kant is able to rescue a rational foundation for a distinction between morality and psychology -- a distinction without which, in Kant's view, "autonomy" would be unintelligible.

One uses the word "rescue" in this connection because Nietzsche once said of Kant that he is "in the end an underhanded Christian";19 by this he meant that Kant had attempted to salvage the doctrines of free will, responsibility, autonomy, and the like, in an "underhanded" way -- that is, by making those notions necessary but hypothetical. There is a certain truth in this charge, once one brackets out the elements of accusation and malice. For Kant does begin with what he takes to be the ordinary moral conceptions with which everyone operates ("criticism can and must begin with pure practical laws and their actual existence"),20 and suggests that he is supplying, not "new" moral principles, but simple a "transcendental deduction" of common moral concepts -- that is, an explanation of how those concepts are in principle possible, as distinguished from pleasure, utility, or legality.21 In the explanation of the possibility of moral ideas, Kant does not feel entitled to use traditional ideas of freedom, will, and autonomy in traditional ways, as if those ideas were unproblematical and "constitutive" principles of theoretical reason having the same status as the principles of empiricism. As he says in the Groundwork, "freedom is only an idea of reason, and its objective reality in itself is doubtful; while nature is a concept of the understanding which proves, and must necessarily prove, its reality in examples of experience."22 Since, however, if the idea of a free will as a noumenal or intelligent casuality is given up all morality will become "empirical," Kant argues that

. . . for practical purposes the narrow footpath of freedom is the only one on which it is possible to make use of reason in our conduct. . . . Philosophy must then assume that no real contradiction will be found between freedom and physical necessity of the same human actions, for it cannot give up the conception of nature any more than that of freedom.23

Kant, then, proposes to rescue a nonempirical, non-"patholog-ical" morality -- in which men have autonomy because they shape their own conduct according to rules which they understand, and do not simply have Hobbesian "last appetites" which are determined by a causal chain the first link of which is in the hand of God24 -- by preserving some traditional moral ideas in a hypothetical form. His best-known version of this is to be found in the incomparable Part III of the Groundwork, where, after defining the will in terms of autonomy -- that is, in terms of its capacity to give laws to itself, undetermined by "phenomenal" causes -- Kant begins to introduce his hypothetical qualifications. Every being which "cannot act except under the idea of freedom," he says, is "in a practical point of view" really free, just as if a "theoretically conclusive" proof of free will were possible.25 This freedom cannot be proved to be "actually a property of ourselves or of human nature," but it must be presupposed "if we would conceive a being as rational and conscious of its causality in respect of its actions, that is, as endowed with a will."26

If a rational being is to be possessed of a "causality" which is itself not causally determined, Kant urges, one must draw a distinction between "a world of sense and the world of understanding." With respect to "mere perception and receptivity of sensations," he argues, one must count himself as belonging to the "world of sense"; but insofar as he is capable of initiating rational "pure activity," he must count himself as belonging to "the intellectual world."27

A rational being . . . has two points of view from which he can regard himself, and recognize laws of the exercise of his faculties . . . first, so far as he belongs to the world of sense, he finds himself subject to the laws of nature (heteronomy); secondly, as belonging to the intelligible world, under laws which, being independent of nature, have their foundation not in experience but in reason alone [autonomy].28

If one belonged solely to the world of understanding, Kant goes on, then all of his actions would conform to the principle of "autonomy of the free will"; if one were solely a creature of sense, then only a will determined by desires and inclinations would be possible. (Here one should take careful note of the phrase, "autonomy of the free will": autonomy is a hypothetical "property" or "attribute" of a free will, not a substantive moral duty.) Since beings such as men, who are partly rational, recognize themselves as "subject to the law of the world of understanding, that is, to reason," this law is an imperative for them. A semirational being has duties because his will ought to (and could) conform to reason, but is affected (though not determined) by desire and inclination. What makes categorical imperatives of morality possible, Kant insists, is that the idea of freedom "makes me a member of an intelligible world, in consequence of which, if I were nothing else, all my actions would conform to the autonomy of the will; but as I at the same time intuit myself as a member of the world of sense, they ought so conform." 29

Kant ends his treatment of the "groundwork" of morality, however, by reaffirming the hypothetical (though necessary) character of a "world of understanding," of freedom, of a faculty of willing -- a "world" in which men necessarily take themselves to be "autonomous." The conception of an intelligible or noumenal world is, he grants, only a "point of view which reason finds itself compelled to take outside the appearances [of the phenomenal world] in order to conceive itself as practical."30 Freedom, too, is "a mere idea" which holds good "only as a necessary hypothesis of reason in a being that believes itself conscious of a will."31 (Here, indeed, despite this cautiousness, Kant is going farther than in the Critique of Pure Reason, where he dares affirm only that freedom is not in principle impossible or contradictory, once one draws a distinction between a noumenal and a phenomenal world.)32 But sometimes, as in the preface to the Metaphysics of Morals, he is willing to be less cautious, to say that in practice freedom and will prove their reality.

In the practical exercise of reason . . . the concept of freedom proves its reality through practical basis principles. As laws of a causality of pure reason, these principles determine the will independently of all empirical conditions . . . and prove the existence in us of a pure will in which moral concepts and laws have their origin.33

And the autonomous will, of course, is precisely that which determines itself through "practical basic principles . . . independently of all empirical conditions."

Now it seems clear enough that in his discussion of "autonomy," Kant has not treated that moral quality either as the "primary obligation" of man or as "the refusal to be ruled" -- except perhaps in the wholly nonpolitical sense that the autonomous man refuses to be "ruled" by his own inclinations (which would constitute "heteronomy"). The autonomous being is one who refuses to allow himself to be determined by his "phenomenal" character, who shapes his own conduct in terms of what "practical reason" demands. But this autonomous being, qua free, rational moral agent, does not display his autonomy by "refusing to be ruled": he displays it in conforming his will to the dictates of practical reason. And for Kant practical reason points out an "end" quite other than a mere "refusal to be ruled" -- namely, respect for the dignity of persons as ends-in-themselves. (Therefore in Kant one "gives" the moral law to himself only in the sense that one recognizes it and makes it the motive of his action. One does not "give" it in a quasi-existentialist sense of "creating" what was not "there.")34

Since respect for persons as "ends" constitutes the content of Kantian ethics -- Hegel and J. S. Mill to the contrary notwithstanding 35 -- one must now turn to the "ends" of Kant's moral philosophy, to the question of what the categorical imperative demands. One may think the notion of persons as "ends" unintelligible, or incoherent, or (at best) vague, but one cannot represent as Kantian a moral-political theory which leaves this notion out of account; still less can one substitute the "primary obligation" of refusing to be ruled for respect for the dignity of persons as ends-in-themselves.


The best-known version of Kant's argument that persons are ends-in-themselves is probably the one which comprises the whole middle section of the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (though, as will be shown in Section V, it is an argument which Robert Paul Wolff finds "difficult" and not persuasive). Kant begins with an argument about two kinds of ends: "relative" ones and "objective" ones. Ends generally, he urges, serve the will as the "objective ground of its self-determination": the arbitrary ends which a rational being proposes to himself "at pleasure" are only relative, since these ends change as his desires and interests change; but if there exists "something whose existence has in itself an absolute worth," something which, as an end-in-itself, can be a "source of definite laws," then this end could be the "source of a possible categorical imperative."36 These reflections lead Kant to the claim that "man and generally any rational being exists as an end in himself, not merely as a means to be arbitrarily used by this or that will, but . . . must be always regarded at the same time as an end."37

Kant begins to try to make good this claim by saying that if there is to be a categorical imperative, it must be one which "being drawn from the conception of that which is necessarily an end for everyone because it is an end in itself, constitutes an objective principle of the will." This principle, he goes on, must be built on the notion that "[a] rational nature exists as an end in itself."38 Kant's proof of this is, strictly speaking, "intersubjective" rather than "objective": men necessarily (he says) conceive their own existence as an end-in-itself, but every other rational being regards its existence in the same way, "so that it is at the same time an objective principle from which as a supreme practical law all laws of the will must be capable of being deduced."39 In view of this Kant reformulates the categorical imperative (which in its original version had insisted only on willing one's maxims as "universal" laws)40 to read: "so act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only."41 (Even at this point, plainly enough, Wolff would have difficulty in representing as "Kantian" the notion that autonomy qua "the refusal to be ruled" is the primary obligation of man.)

After adducing a few examples, Kant goes on to say that the idea of men as ends-in-themselves is not merely derived from "experience" because it does not "present humanity" as an arbitrary and contingent end (self-proposed "at pleasure") which may or may not be adopted, but as the "supreme limiting condition of all our subjective ends."42 He then introduces, however, a distinction between "objective" and "subjective" principles, which probably accounts for Wolffs ability to replace "objective ends" with "autonomy, the refusal to be ruled" as the "content" of Kant's ethics:

The objective principle of all practical legislation lies ... in the rule and its form of universality which makes it capable of being a law . . . ; but the subjective principle is in the end; now by the second principle, the subject of all ends is each rational being inasmuch as it is an end in itself. Hence follows the third practical principle of the will . . . the idea of the will of every rational being as a universally legislative will. 43

This formulation appears to put the "objective principle" above the "subjective" one; since, however, it is the "subjective" end (men as ends-in-themselves) which provides universal maxims with a nonarbitrary "content," the "subjective" element of this formulation is essential if one is not to leave "ends" out of Kant's ethics and fall back on something else -- for example, autonomy as the "primary obligation" of man. This difficulty, however, will be returned to shortly.

Kant next relates his argument to what he had said about the will. The reformulated categorical imperative is a "law of one's own giving," a law legislated by one's own will, but not in terms of a mere "interest" such as happiness. The moral laws to which a man is "subject," he urges, are given by his own will -- a will which, however, is "designed by nature to give universal laws." A will which determines itself by laws which recognize objective ends is autonomous, Kant says, while one which makes merely contingent ends the maxims of its action is heteronomous.44 (Here, as is evident, "autonomy" is defined in terms of willing a certain kind of end-namely, respect for persons as ends -- and not in terms of refusing to be ruled.)

The idea of the will as universally legislative (in terms of objective ends) leads, Kant then suggests, to the concept of a "kingdom of ends." This "kingdom" or "realm" he defines as "a systematic union of rational beings by common objective laws." In language reminiscent of Rousseau, Kant argues that a rational being belongs to such a kingdom as a member when he is subject to its laws, and that he belongs to it as a "sovereign" when, "while giving laws, he is not subject to the will of any other." He goes on to show that in such a kingdom of ends, which is only an "ideal," everything has either a value or a dignity; whatever has mere value can be replaced by something of equivalent value, but that which is the condition of anything else's having a value -- that is, man -- has dignity.45

Following this Kant sums up his whole argument in a way which it is essential to examine, since it shows clearly why his critics (and even quasi-followers such as Wolff) have not always seen that Kantian ethics does involve an "end." All of the formulations of the categorical imperative, Kant insists, "are at bottom only so many formulae of the very same law." All maxims which follow the categorical imperative, he says, are characterized by

1. A form, consisting in universality; and in this view the formula of the moral imperative is expressed thus, that the maxims must be so chosen as if they were to serve as universal laws of nature.

2. A matter, namely, an end, and here the formula says that the rational being, as it is . . . an end in itself, must in every maxim serve as the condition limiting all merely relative and arbitrary ends.

3. A complete characterization of all maxims by means of that formula, namely, that all maxims ought, by their own legislation, to harmonize with a possible kingdom of ends.46

Now the problem here is obvious: what Kant calls a "matter" in Part II. is at other times called "subjective"; and immediately below the very passage just quoted he says that while it is better to start from the "formula" of the categorical imperative (the principle of universality), it is "useful" to consider the other factors as well (that is, the matter or "end" of a maxim, and the complete characterization of all maxims) in order to bring the moral law "nearer to intuition." There are problems, then, in Kant, if one regards even objective ends-in-themselves as something introduced into the "higher" notion of formal universality merely in order to "gain entrance" for morality, intuitively conceived. And Kant himself sometimes seems to invite this, above all in the Critique of Practical Reason, where he insists that the moral law is simply formal and "abstracts as a determining principle from all matter -- that is to say, from every object of volition."47 (Given this, one can understand why Wolff might want to leave man qua "end" out of account, since an "end" would seem to be an "object of volition.") Since, however, Kant also insists on the notion of an "independently existing end" which one must "never act against," on the "dignity of man as a rational creature,"48 it is at least possible that the three elements of a moral maxim -- the (universal) form, the matter (or end), and the "complete characterization" -- are all necessary, and no one of them sufficient (e.g., the form alone). This interpretation, though far from irresistible, is supported by an important passage from Kant's Tugendlehre:

Since there are free actions, there must also be ends to which, as objects, those actions are directed. But among these ends there must be some which are at the same time (i.e., by their very concept) duties. For if there were no such ends, and since no action can be without an end, all ends for practical reason would always be valid only as means to other ends, and a categorical imperative would be impossible. Thus the doctrine of morals would be destroyed.49

If this is the case -- and it is Kant himself who is saying that morality would be destroyed if there were no objective ends to serve as the "object" of the categorical imperative -- and if what is "subjective" in a maxim (the end) is not inferior to what is "objective" (the form), but is only a different and essential aspect of a completely characterized maxim, then Kant's moral philosophy is only somewhat problematical, but neither the piece of arid formalism that Hegel said it was nor a system in which autonomy constitutes the "end" of morality. Even though Kant's proof of the validity of an objective end-in-itself in the Groundwork is intersubjective rather than (as he hoped) objective -- since it rests on everyone's having the same view of himself as an ultimate end -- the argument is at least persuasive, if not as decisive as Kant may have imagined. H. J, Paton, in his splendid The Categorical Imperative, has perhaps given Kant's position its most forceful expression. After granting that Kant, in speaking of the idea of an end-in-itself, is "manifestly extending the meaning of the word 'end,' " Paton goes on to say that

An objective and absolute end could not be a product of our will; for no mere product of our will can have absolute value. An end in itself must therefore be a self-existent end, not something to be produced by us. Since it has absolute value, we know already what it must be -- namely, a good will. This good or rational will Kant takes to be present in every rational agent, and . . . hence . . . every rational agent as such, must be said to exist as an end in itself.50

This interpretation gains additional force when one notes that Kant says, in the Groundwork, that it is the fitness of a person's maxims for universal legislation which "distinguishes him as an end in itself," which gives him dignity as a willing sovereign in a kingdom of ends.51 This serves to relate the good will (which was initially defined simply as an undetermined faculty of willing universally) to the notions of "dignity" and of "objective end": the good will has dignity because it is capable of willing the objective end, that is, the dignity of men as "independently existing" ends. Dignity is then both something the will has, and something it respects in its volitions.

It is not, however, only in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals that Kant tries to defend the notion of an end which is not derived from inclination, happiness, or utility. Indeed, his most subtle and imaginative defense of the idea of men as ends-in-themselves -- a defense which shows plainly that for Kant autonomy qua the refusal to be ruled is not the "end" which gives us a "primary obligation" -- is to be found in the Critique of Judgment. In Part II of this remarkable work, which is concerned (inter alia) with the possibility of purposiveness in an apparently "mechanical" world, with showing that while purposiveness cannot be shown actually to exist in a way that satisfies the "determinant" judgment, it can at least be presupposed by human "reflective" judgment in its effort to make the world intelligible to itself, Kant urges that while the "purposes" of things in the natural world (e.g., the "purposes" of plants or animals) are imputed by us to those things (which certainly cannot themselves conceive purposes), man is the ultimate purpose of creation on earth because "he is the only being upon it who can form a concept of purposes, and who can by his reason make out of an aggregate of purposively formed things a system of purposes."52

Now if Kant is right in believing that "lower" beings cannot conceive worth or purpose or final ends (let alone conceive of themselves as unconditioned ends), and that God is deduced out of the concept of moral perfection (rather than the reverse), then men as persons, as moral beings, will be the only "unconditioned" thing in nature, and will have to serve as ends-in-themselves if there is to be any such thing. This is why Kant can say, again in the Critique of Judgment, that it is not open to us, in the case of man as a moral agent, to ask the question, for what end does he exist? "His existence," Kant argues, "inherently involves the highest end."53 This is true, he grants, only if nature is considered as a teleological system, in which one mounts from things which are conditioned (caused) to that which is unconditioned: everything in a purposive nature is caused, except man as a noumenal being, for his will is an uncaused causality and hence "qualifies him to be a final end to which all of nature is teleologically subordinated."54 What this means is that for Kant not God but the moral law -- which only men can certainly know and (sometimes) follow -- is the "final cause" of creation considered as teleological; man would thus be an end-in-himself because he is the only being capable of conceiving and following the sole unconditioned end that can be known.

What is particularly impressive about this argument -- which is at once the most bold and the most persuasive of Kant's arguments about men as ends-in-themselves -- is that it is spun purely and simply out of the concept of purposiveness itself; that it relies on nothing more than asking what kind of concept "purpose" or "end" is, and who is able to conceive such a concept (and himself as the "subject" of the concept). It is the most beautifully economical argument one can imagine. And the reason that, in the end it is more persuasive than the argument of the Groundwork is that in that work Kant begins by arguing that a categorical imperative treating men as ends must be "drawn from the conception of that which is necessarily an end for everyone because it is an end in itself," but finishes by reversing the argument, such that the notion of men-as-ends is an end in itself because it is an end for everyone (since everyone conceives himself as an end). In the Groundwork, then, Kant's hoped-for "objective" principle is replaced by a kind of universal intersubjectivity. But in the Critique of Judgment, where the argument about men-as-ends arises directly out of the concept of an end, out of a consideration of what such a concept means and who could conceive it, Kant does not have to worry about universal intersubjectivity taking the place of objectivity -- except of course in the sense that judgments about purposiveness are "reflective" and not "determinant."

The arguments for objective ends in the Groundwork and (above all) in the Critique of Judgment are certainly the most impressive ones that Kant produces; it is worth pointing out, however -- particularly to those who would make autonomy a Kantian "primary obligation" -- that in other important works he at least alludes to these arguments. In the late Anthropology, for example, he declares that man is "his own last [final] end";55 and in Theory and Practice he reenforces the view that he is trying to exclude only "empirical" ends (but not all ends) from his moral philosophy when he says that "not every end is moral (that of personal happiness, for example, is not); the end must be an unselfish one." 56 Perhaps, in the end (so to speak), Kant's whole position on the question of man as an end-in-himself, problematical as it is, is best summed up in his Tugendlehre:

Man in the system of nature ... is a being of little significance and, along with the other animals, considered as products of the earth, has an ordinary value. . . .

But man as a person, i.e. as the subject of a morally practical reason, is exalted above all price. For as such a one (homo noumenon) he is not to be valued merely as a means to the ends of other people, or even to his own ends, but is to be prized as an end in himself.57

And this same Tugendlehre is of the greatest importance in showing that for Kant there are ends "which are at the same time (i.e., by their very concept) duties" -- those duty-giving ends being "one's own perfection and the happiness of others."58 While one cannot treat here Kant's detailed working out of these "ends which are duties," it is at least clear that neither of those dutiful ends involves "autonomy" qua "the refusal to be ruled" -- except, again, in the wholly nonpolitical sense that one's own perfection would require that one not permit himself to be "ruled" by his inclinations. And since for Kant there are duty-giving ends which relate to others -- here one thinks particularly of the duty to respect others and of the duty to promote "the happiness of others" -- a truly Kantian ethics cannot fall into the Wolffian dilemma of treating one's own autonomy as "the primary obligation of man"; hence on an authentically Kantian view obligations to others cannot be merely "secondary," or intelligible only in the light of refusing to be ruled. For nowhere does Kant say that "autonomy, the refusal to be ruled" is an "end which is at the same time a duty."


It should now be possible to treat quite briefly the claim made near the beginning of this paper -- namely, that "one could say that respect for the autonomy of everyone necessitates a legal order insofar as 'respect' is only an imperative rather than a fact." Now Kant, indeed, does say something very much like this; there is no trace of anarchism in his political and legal theory.

The reason that one has a duty, for Kant, to enter into what he calls a "juridical state of affairs," is that moral freedom involves both the "negative" freedom of the will from "determination by sensible impulses," and the "positive" freedom of a will which is determined by reason itself (i.e., to respect the dignity of persons as ends-in-themselves); negative freedom is thus instrumental to (or the condition of) positive freedom.59 If this is the case, and if "public legal justice" can remove or control some of the objects which can incline the human will to be shaped by "impulse" -- if politics can control, for instance, a fear of violence which might lead one to violate the categorical imperative -- then politics is supportive of morality because it advances negative freedom. This point is made best by Kant himself in the first Appendix to Eternal Peace: government, or public legal justice, he suggests, by putting an end to outbreaks of lawlessness, "genuinely makes it much easier for the moral capacities of men to develop into an immediate respect for right." For everyone believes, Kant goes on, that he would always conform his conduct to what is right if only he could be certain that everyone else would do likewise; and "the government in part guarantees this for him." By creating a coercive order of public legal justice, then, "a great step is taken toward morality (although this is still not the same as a moral step), towards a state where the concept of duty is recognized for its own sake."60

Kant reenforces these views -- none of which seems to involve an endorsement of anarchism -- in the Anthropology, in which he supplies what one might call a "psychology of government." The "mania for domination," he argues, "is intrinsically unjust and its manifestation provokes everyone to oppose it. Its origin, however, is fear of being dominated by others: it tries to avert this by getting a head start and dominating them."61 (Surely this is a perfect instance of the "asocial" side of "asocial sociability" which Kant describes in his Idea for a Universal History!)62 But domination, he goes on, "is a precarious and unjust means of using others for one's purposes: it is imprudent because it arouses their opposition, and it is unjust because it is contrary to freedom under law, to which everyone can lay claim."63 Government, which provides "freedom under law," can manage this psychology: it can alleviate our desire to dominate others (out of fear that they will dominate us) by creating a system of public legal justice in which only law is coercive; thus both the fact of domination and the fear of domination can be (at least) moderated by government. And this may make it more nearly possible to exercise a good will, to respect the dignity of others as "ends."

These passages alone should make it clear enough that Kant, far from being an "anarchist" in virtue of his theory of autonomy, thought government and law to be essential as a context or environment for morality; but a few additional lines from The Metaphysical Elements of Justice will make this plainer still. Indeed in that work he declares flatly that it can be said "of the juridical state of affairs that all men ought to enter into it if they ever could (even involuntarily) come into a relationship with one another that involves mutual rights." 64 So clear did this "ought" seem to Kant that he even permitted himself to say -- rather surprisingly -- that "everyone may use violent means to compel another to enter into a juridical state of society."65 And this is the case because "if legal justice perishes, then it is no longer worthwhile for men to remain alive on this earth."66 Now this is not anarchism; and, indeed, one could sooner accuse Kant of putting up with any kind of legal order which provided the most minimal "context" for morality, than of being a partisan of anarchism.67 The real question is not whether he was an anarchist -- very plainly he was not -- but whether he provided a political and legal theory adequate to serve as the instrument of (his own) morality. This question, however, cannot be pursued in a piece whose aim is simply to show that one cannot borrow the cloak of Kant's legitimacy as an ornament for Wolffs "groundwork."


It is only by conceiving autonomy as a substantive duty, as a "primary obligation" which requires that one "refuse to be ruled," that one could possibly represent a theory of anarchism based on autonomy as "Kantian." But this "Kantianism" vanishes when one unwraps the cloak of Kant's legitimacy from In Defense of Anarchism and sees that this conception is a misconception. Thus it is heartening to see that much of this misconception is either abandoned or moderated in Wolffs new and very instructive commentary on Kant's Groundwork, which he has entitled The Autonomy of Reason. With a refreshing and admirable candor which seems to be missing in the more dogmatic In Defense of Anarchism, Wolff says that "I find Kant's treatment of the principle of autonomy perplexing . . . my real problem is that . . . despite some very strong contrary indications, Kant turns out not to be saying what I personally want him to say."68 Now what Wolff "wants" Kant to do is to stick to a particular definition of autonomy which he put forward in the Groundwork -- a definition which Wolff takes to be "the classic explication of the concept of autonomy."69 Wolff begins by citing Kant himself: "The will is therefore not merely subject to the law, but is so subject that it must be considered as also making the law for itself and precisely on this account as first of all subject to the law (of which it can regard itself as the author)."70 And in his gloss on this passage Wolff urges that "the words which I have italicized in this passage are the heart of the concept of autonomy. From them, I believe, flow the most far-reaching consequences for politics as well as for ethics" -- consequences which he thinks the reader will find in In Defense of Anarchism, which he cites in a footnote.71 In representing the "Kantian" autonomous man as "making the law for himself -- a quasi-existentialist representation which leaves out of account the fact that Kant simply treated autonomy as a hypothetical "property" of a free will, and which ignores the fact that one cannot "make" moral law if it is already there (in the form of a duty to respect the dignity of others as ends-in-themselves) -- Wolff acknowledges that he is insisting on what (he thinks) Kant ought to have said, rather than on what Kant actually did say. For if one looks at the next part of "the classic explication" of autonomy, Wolff says, "it becomes clear that acting only on laws that one has given to oneself and being bound by them only because one has so given them is not at all what Kant has in mind!"72 Instead, he grants, the notion of autonomy, far from meaning simply "giving laws to oneself," seems merely to mean "legislating disinterestedly, that is to say, legislating independently of or in abstraction from the particular interests of the agent."73 And Wolff finds this "unsettling"74 -- which indeed it is, if one thinks of autonomy as a "primary obligation" and as a capacity to "make" law, but which it is not if autonomy is simply a hypothetical property of the will and involves nothing more than recognizing (and applying to oneself and others) the single "objective end" which is "also a duty."

Since he finds it "unsettling" that Kant fails to define autonomy in the way that he "wants," and since he holds that autonomy must be seen as a "primary obligation" which involves "making" law and "refusing to be ruled," Wolff professes to find "two incompatible doctrines" at the heart of Kant's moral philosophy:

On the one hand, he belives that there are objective, substantive, categorical moral principles which all rational agents . . . acknowledge and obey. If this is true, then the notion of self-legislation seems vacuous. On the other hand, he believes (I think correctly) that rational agents are bound to substantive policies only insofar as they have freely chosen those policies. But if this is true, then one must give up the belief in objective substantive principles and recognize that the substance or content of moral principles derives from collective agreements to freely chosen ends.

Now this extreme "contractarian" interpretation of Kant's ethics is simply insupportable; even if Kant is sometimes a quasi-contrac-tarian in his political theory, he is not in his moral philosophy.76 Kant never says, with Rousseau, that "the engagements which bind us to the social body are obligatory only because they are mutual";77 on the contrary, his notion that the "objective end" of respect for the dignity of persons as ends constitutes everyone's duty is aptly summarized in his claim that among laws "those to which an obligation can be recognized a priori by reason are natural laws"78 -- that is, not laws "made" by "collective agreements."

Wolff could not think that autonomy and "objective moral principles" constitute "two incompatible doctrines" in Kant unless he first defined autonomy in terms of making law and of refusing to be ruled; but that of course is what he has done. And as a result he has represented as an inconsistency in Kant a "problem" which arises wholly out of the fact that Kant fails to say (by Wolffs own admission) what he "wants" Kant to say. Hence the misrepresentation of Kant as a contractarian in moral philosophy who believed that "men are bound by substantive policies only insofar as and only because they have legislated those policies themselves." 79 (This is not only an inaccurate account of Kant's ethics; it is even an inaccurate account of his quasi-contractarian politics, which does sometimes rely on the "Idea of the original contract."80 It is an account which turns Kant into Rousseau.)

But it is "no accident" that Wolff is reduced to offering such a contractarian account of Kant's ethics; it is an inevitability, given Wolffs view of the (non)viability of the notion of "ends" in Kant's philosophy. "How," Wolff asks, "might Kant go about demonstrating the existence of an end in itself?" And the answer is that "strictly speaking, he offers no argument at all."81 After citing Kant's injunction to "act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means, but always at the same time as an end," Wolff observes that while Kant has "touched the very heart of morality," it is nonetheless "very difficult to tell what Kant means by the injunction to treat humanity as an end-in-itself."82 Now there is no doubt that this is problematical, and that one must look outside the Groundwork -- particularly to the Critique of Judgment -- in trying to decide what Kant means by an end-in-itself; nonetheless in The Autonomy of Reason Wolff succeeds in making persons qua ends not merely a "difficult" notion, but a virtually unintelligible one. At one point he says the following:

Presumably, what Kant means by treating humanity as an end-in-itself is that I must never fail to take account of the fact that I am dealing with rational moral agents rather than things. In short, I must keep in mind that they have purposes too. This in turn involves respecting their purposes, rather than ignoring them.

Now, however true this injunction may be -- and I believe it is the very bedrock of morality -- we are still without the substantive criterion that Kant seeks. For consider: either respecting the purposes of other moral agents means making their purposes my own, in which case I am implicated in their pursuit of immoral ends; or it means making their moral purposes my own, and I am left to discover a criterion for distinguishing good from bad purposes.83

But Kant does not suggest that we take others' purposes as our own; he argues that we should respect others as ends. And that will involve not treating them as mere means to some arbitrary purpose: that is, not killing or robbing or deceiving others with a view to pleasure or convenience. It is not only not difficult to make this intelligible, it is one of the more straightforward tasks in interpreting Kant. If, for example, on entering one's box at the theater, one slaps the attendant across the face with a view to demonstrating one's social "superiority," one is treating him as a means to a "relative" end; but if one simply permits him to perform his normal functions, one treats him "at the same time" as an end. Admittedly the notion of treating others as ends is often "negative" in Kant: it involves not killing, not robbing, not deceiving, and so forth.84 Even so, this is an intelligible moral "content," and one which is not so "difficult" that one needs to fall back on a contractarian interpretation of Kant, or to suggest that in Kantianism one might have to take others' immoral purposes as one's own.

Despite this "difficulty," The Autonomy of Reason is at least a wholly candid exposition of what Kant actually said -- coupled with suggestions about what he "ought" to have said. It constitutes an advance on In Defense of Anarchism because it separates the real Kant from a reconstructed and improved Kant. And if one fixes his attention on what Kant actually said, it turns out that autonomy is a hypothetical property of a free will, not a substantive moral duty; that there is thus -- at least on Kantian grounds -- no "primary obligation" to be autonomous, to "refuse to be ruled"; that since there is no obligation to refuse to be ruled -- to be an anarchist, when unanimous direct democracy is impossible -- there is in fact an obligation to recognize government and law as providers of a "context" within which a good will is more nearly possible; that for Kant the substantive moral duty which is not constituted by autonomy is constituted by the duty to respect others as ends-in-themselves; that in view of this all duties cannot be "duties to oneself." If, in short, one removes the cloak of Kant's legitimacy from Wolffs groundwork, one finds that that cloak does not profit from being draped around something else -- even a something else constructed by one who grants that Kant "correctly identified the principal problems of moral philosophy and . . . had some genuine insight into their solution."85


1. Robert Paul Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism (New York, 1970), pp. 21 ff.

2. Ibid., pp. 18-19, 2Iff.

3. Ibid., p. ix.

4. On this point cf., inter alia, the author's "On Kant as the Most Adequate of Social Contract Theorists," Political Theory (November 1973). In the present essay the author has drawn freely on this earlier work, particularly in sections II and III -- not so much because the earlier work is unsurpassable, but because the author cannot presently surpass it.

5. Kant, The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, trans., John Ladd (Indianapolis, 1965), pp. 75 ff. For a full treatment of this point, cf. Section IV of this essay.

6. Wolff, In Defense of Anarchism, pp. 12-19; Kant, Fundamental Principles of the Metaphysics of Morals, trans. Abbott (Indianapolis, 1949), pp. 45-46. (Hereafter the Abbott translation of the Grundlegung, will be cited as Groundwork, ed. Abbott, in order to bring Abbott's terminology into line with Wolff's. Obviously one can render Grundlegung as Groundwork, Fundamental Principles, or Foundations.)

7. In his new The Autonomy of Reason (New York, 1973), which is a commentary on Kant's Groundwork, Wolff makes it clear that he finds the notion of men as ends-in-themselves "difficult" (pp. 173 ff.). For a full treatment of this point, cf. Section V of this essay.

8. Cf. Section IV of this essay.

9. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, p. 11.

10. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. L. W. Beck (Indianapolis, 1956), p. 33.

11. Cf. the author's "How Coherent Is the Social Contract Tradition?" in Journal of the History of Ideas (September-December 1973); his "Will and Legitimacy in the Philosophy of Hobbes," in Political Studies (Oxford [December] 1973); his "Locke on 'Voluntary Agreement' and Political Power," in Western Political Quarterly (March 1976); and his "A Possible Explanation of Rousseau's General Will," American Political Science Review (March 1970).

12. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, pp. 44 and 63.

13. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Abbott (London, 1923), p. 222.

14. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, p. 63.

15. Ibid., pp. 63 ff.

16. Ibid.

17. Cf. the pieces on Hobbes and Locke mentioned in note 11 above.

18. Cf. the piece above on Hobbes mentioned in note 11.

19. Nietzsche, The Twilight of the Idols, in The Portable Nietzsche, trans. W. Kaufmann (New York, 1954), p. 484.

20. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, in The Philosophy of Kant, ed. C. J. Friedrich, (New York, 1949), p. 238.

21. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, pp. 5-8.

22. Ibid., p. 72.

23. Ibid., p. 73.

24. Hobbes, Leviathan, Ch. XXI: "Every act of man's will, and every desire, and inclination proceedeth from some cause, and that from another cause, in a continual chain, whose first link is in the hand of God the first of all causes." (Oakeshott ed., p. 138.)

25. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, pp. 64-65.

26. Ibid., p. 65.

27. Ibid., p. 68.

28. Ibid., p. 69.

29. Ibid., pp. 70-71.

30. Ibid., p. 75.

31. Ibid., p. 76.

32. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, in The Philosophy of Kant, ed. Friedrich, p. 241.

33. Kant, The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, p. 22.

34. This, however, is how Wolff interprets Kant in The Autonomy of Reason; see Section V of this essay.

35. Cf. the author's article mentioned in note 4 above.

36. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, p. 45.

37. Ibid.

38. Ibid., p. 46.

39. Ibid.

40. Ibid., pp. 19-21. The various "stages" and "transitions" within the Groundwork are extremely well explained by Wolff in The Autonomy of Reason, pp. 24 ff.

41. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, p. 46.

42. Ibid., p. 48.

43. Ibid.

44. Ibid., pp. 49-50.

45. Ibid., p. 50.

46. Ibid., p. 53.

47. Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, trans. Abbott, p. 204.

48. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, pp. 53-55.

49. Kant, Tugendlehre, trans. J. Ellington as The Metaphysical Principles of Virtue (Indianapolis, 1964), pp. 42-43. For a discriminating discussion of the question whether Kant's ethics is "deontological" or "teleologi-cal," see John Atwell, "Objective Ends in in Kant's Ethics," in the Archiv für Geschichte der Philosophie (Berlin, 1974), Band 56, Heft 2.

50. H.J. Paton, The Categorical Imperative (London, 1947), pp. 168-69.

51. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, p. 55.

52. Kant, Critique of Judgment, in The Philosophy of Kant, ed. Friedrich, pp. 348-49; cf. Kant's Uber den Gebrauch Teleologischer Prinzipien in der Philosophie, in Immanuel Kant: Werke in Sechs Bänden, ed. W. Weischedel (Wiesbaden, 1957), Vol. V, pp. 165 ff.

53. Ibid. (Judgment), p. 354.

54. Ibid.

55. Kant, Anthropologic in Pragmatischer Hinsicht, 3d ed. (Konigsberg 1820), Vorrede, p. iii: "Der Mensch . . . sein eigner letzter Zweck ist." (There is, finally, a fine translation of the Anthropology, done by Mary Gregor [the Hague, 1974]; cf. the author's review of this edition in Political Theory, 1976.)

56. Kant, On the Common Saying: "This May be True in Theory, but it does not Apply in Practice," in Kant's Political Writings, ed. H. Reiss (Cambridge, 1970), p. 65 n.

57. Kant, Tugendlehre, trans. Ellington, pp. 96-97.

58. Ibid., p. 43.

59. Kant, The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, p. 13.

60. Kant, Eternal Peace, in Kant's Political Writings, p. 121 n.

61. Kant, Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, trans. Gregor, p. 140.

62. Kant, Idea for a Universal History with a Cosmopolitan Purpose, in Kant's Political Writings, pp. 44-45.

63. Kant, Anthropology, p. 140.

64. Kant, The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, p. 70.

65. Ibid., pp. 76-77.

66. Ibid., p. 100.

67. On this point, cf. Kant's flat assertion in Eternal Peace that "any legal constitution, even if it is only in small measure lawful, is better than none at all, and the fate of a premature reform would be anarchy" (in Kant's Political Writings, p. 118 n). Here, as is evident, anarchism is not favorably treated by Kant.

68. Wolff, The Autonomy of Reason, p. 178.

69. Ibid.

70. Ibid.

71. Ibid.

72. Ibid. (The exclamation mark is Wolff's.)

73. Ibid., p. 179.

74. Ibid.,

75. Ibid., p. 181.

76. On this point cf. the author's article mentioned in note 4 above.

77. Rousseau, The Social Contract, in Political Writings, trans. F. Watkins (Edinburgh, 1953), p. 31.

78. Kant, The Metaphysical Elements of Justice, p. 26.

79. Wolff, The Autonomy of Reason, p. 181. Whether one should call this position contractarian or existentialist is not altogether clear.

80. Same as note 76 above.

81. Wolff, The Autonomy of Reason, p. 174.

82. Ibid., p. 175.

83. Ibid., pp. 175-76.

84. Groundwork, ed. Abbott, p. 54: "Since in the idea of a will that is absolutely good without being limited by any condition . . . we must abstract from every end to be effected (since this would make every will only relatively good), it follows that in this case the end must be conceived, not as an end to be effected, but as an independently existing end. Consequently it is conceived only negatively, that is, as that which we must never act against, and which, therefore, must never be regarded merely as means, but must in every volition be esteemed as an end likewise."

85. Wolff, The Autonomy of Reason, p. 4. In his article entitled "A Pseudo-Anarchist Belatedly Replies to Robert Paul Wolff" (The Journal of Critical Analysis [July 1972], Donald Stewart concedes too much when he speaks of the Kantian tradition which Wolff has made his own," but is on sound ground when he speaks of Wolffs "grudging defense" of anarchism (as something recommendable only when unanimous direct democracy cannot be attained). And Stewart's closing observation is striking: "Wolffs insistence . . . upon moral autonomy as the primary obligation of man commits him to something very much more radical than mere anarchism; it commits him ... to a morally aggressive state of nature from which there is no escape, [to a] bellum morale omnium contra omnes."