Kant: the intersection between Rand and Sartre (short preliminary sketch)

When we say that man chooses himself, we do mean that every one of us must choose himself; but by that we also mean that in choosing for himself he chooses for all men. For in effect, of all the actions a man may take in order to create himself as he wills to be, there is not one which is not creative, at the same time, of an image of man such as he believes he ought to be. ….I am thus responsible for myself and for all men, and I am creating a certain image of man as I would have him to be. In fashioning myself I fashion man.

J.P. Sartre, “Existentialism is a Humanism”

 

There is therefore but one categorical imperative, namely, this: Act only on that maxim whereby thou canst at the same time will that it should become a universal law. ….Act as if the maxim of thy action were to become by thy will a universal law of nature.

I. Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

 

So every living human being is an end in himself, not the means to the ends or the welfare of others….

A. Rand, The Virtue of Selfishness

 

So act as to treat humanity, whether in thine own person or in that of any other, in every case as an end withal, never as means only.

Kant, Groundwork of the Metaphysic of Morals

 

How remarkable that Sartre and Rand, despite their different politics, metaphysics, epistemology, and on and on, both end up reverting to Kant when it comes time to describe what, exactly, is the good that one should do.  Sartre says that by making a choice, I am in effect saying that this choice should be made by every human being; so when I choose monogamy or not, or choose a Christian trade union over a Communist one, I am choosing as every human ought to choose.  My actions are therefore of utmost seriousness; whenever I choose, I am to choose as if my principles were to become a universal law.

Rand justifies ethics on the personal satisfaction of the individual, which Kant would roundly reject.  Rand despises the existentialists, who (she claims) base their life-view on impulse rather than rationality.  But when it comes time to describe the content of Objectivist ethics, she falls back on the “second formulation” of the Categorical Imperative:  treat rational beings as ends in themselves, never as mere means to another end.  Neither a victim nor a victimizer be.

I’d like to follow up on this sometime.  How many other philosophers start out from how many different starting points, only to end up with some version of the Categorical Imperative?  And why should this be?  I suspect the common element is individual freedom, though this would need to be examined in detail.

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