Kant on Treating Humanity as an End-In-Itself


An observation of Tom Hill’s excerpt in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory on Kant’s approach to treating humanity as an end-in-itself. Specifically, how Kant’s moral philosophy influences Christianity.

It is evident that Christianity is rooted in the Holy Scriptures, thus all that it means to be a Christian is clear cut in the text. Although, there are many—including Kant—who have developed principles in regards to moral philosophy, that can indeed have an appropriation with Christianity.

Tom Hill, who compiled a section in The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory suggests that Kant had a formula for humanity, which proposed that humanity is treated in such a way, that can become an end-in-itself (Hill, 489).* In other words, humanity can become so self-absorbed, to the point of being an end-in-itself. These inclinations come about from the ruthless desire to pursue self. Humanity is, more often than not, consumed with itself. Hill notes that an end is usually something we strive for—but in Kantian terms—an end-in-itself is necessarily an end for every rational being: That is, its existence is an objective reason for doing or refraining from certain acts, independently of our inclinations (489).** I believe that this is the portion of Hill’s discussion that is most important in Christian appropriation because, according to Kant, this lifestyle will lead to destruction. If one is so consumed with self and the pursuit of self, how far can one get? Ultimately life will find itself to be an end-in-itself. There ought to be something greater.

In correlation to the Christian faith, Kant’s ideology suggests that believers ought not be bound to self-righteousness, rather, there must be someone who is righteous on another’s behalf. The righteous One is Christ Jesus, who has come to give purpose and meaning to all. An end-in-itself does not need to be one’s pursuit of self-sufficiency. Instead, an end-in-itself can indeed be an inherently good thing—as believers find themselves worthy—by way of the life, death, and resurrection of Christ Jesus. Rather than humanity being self-absorbed—Christ absorbs humanity in Himself—giving all who believe, new life.

*David Copp, ed., The Oxford Handbook of Ethical Theory, 1 edition. (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2007), 480-492.

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