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Do we Always Act on Maxims?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 May 2017

Sven Nyholm
Affiliation:
Eindhoven University of Technology
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Abstract

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 we would do if our reason were fully in control of our decision-making.

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© Kantian Review 2017 

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