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.
- Common sense
- basic principles