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Volume 51 • Number 3

July 2014



May I Treat a Collective as a Mere Means?

by Bill Wringe

impermissible to treat humanity merely as a means to an end. The formulation of the categorical imperative in which Kant expresses this prohibition—the so-called formula of humanity—is widely held to be among the more plausible and contentful of Kant's various formulations of the categorical imperative. Furthermore, while Kant's prohibition on treating others as a means—what I shall call, following Samuel Kerstein, the "Mere Means Principle," or MMP for short—may not exhaust the full content of the Kantian duty to respect rational nature as an end in itself, MMP has formed the basis of many of the most plausible attempts to show how we might derive some substantive moral content from the formula of humanity. To understand MMP, we need to know two things: what counts as treating something as a means, and which beings we are precluded from treating in this way. Many recent discussions of MMP have concentrated on the first question. Here I shall be mostly concerned with the second. I shall argue that if we understand the scope of MMP in the way that many Kant commentators suggest, Kantians are committed to an implausible view about our moral relationship to collective agents: the view that we may not treat collective agents as mere means, even in situations where this would not involve treating any individual agent as a mere means.

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ISSN: 2152-1123