Do we always act on maxims?

S.R. Nyholm

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)
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It is commonly thought that on Kant’s view of action, ‘everyone always acts on maxims.’ Call this the ‘descriptive reading.’ This reading faces two important problems: first, the idea that people always act on maxims offends against common sense: it clashes with our ordinary ideas about human agency. Second, there are various passages in which Kant says that it is ‘rare’ and ‘admirable’ to firmly adhere to a set of basic principles that we adopt for ourselves. This article offers an alternative: the ‘normative reading.’ On this reading, it is a normative ideal to adopt and act on maxims: it is one of the things Kant thinks we would do if our reason were fully in control of our decision-making.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)233-255
Number of pages23
JournalKantian Review
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jun 2017


  • Kant
  • Maxims
  • Common sense
  • Action
  • Reason
  • normativity
  • character
  • agency
  • maxims
  • action
  • basic principles


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