The standard view of Kantianism has been that it firmly denies that the right is grounded in the good.
But recently it has become almost de riguer for Kantians to reject this priority of the right and embrace the good as the ground of obligation. For some (such as Guyer and Wood), the issue concerns mainly what Kant really thought. They have tried to find texts in which Kant asserts that the value of something, say humanity or the good will, somehow explains why it is necessary to avoid certain behavior. Others (such as Nagel and Herman), base their apostasy on views about practical reason, worrying that those who embrace Kantian principles have nowhere to go to explain why we should do what we ought unless there is some good that is realized or comes of it. But all in all, recent work among Kantians on this issue seems to me to amount to a rebellion against the standard picture. It is the latter that I’m mainly concerned about.
The catalyst igniting this rebellion has been Korsgaard. In early work, she embraced a view in which Kantianism required a special value, the good will or humanity, as a source of reasons to act. But she has since seemed to reject that earlier view. Now, especially in the Sources of Normativity, she embraces a less robustly ‘realist’ view of value. Practial reason ‘confers’ value on everything, including humanity and the good will.
I myself am, perhaps misguidedly, a reactionary on this. I think the standard Kantian picture, of some sort that Korsgaard likes of late, is so obviously right that I have difficulty seeing how this recent rebellion can be sustained. Against it is the idea that a necessary requirement — something you must do — is wholly inconsistent with the idea that the reason you must do it is that you will realize or produce some good. You can’t get a necessary requirement out of a value based theory. So if you think there are ethical absolutes — as do Kantians (I’m assuming) — then you can’t accept a value based theory of obligation.
That’s my knuckle-dragging Kantian view. But I’m not all that confident in this seemingly (to me) obvious view. What do you think? Should Kantians become teleologists?