Originally published in September 30, 2016
Doing the wrong thing is, for most of us, pretty mundane. It’s not usurping political power or stealing millions of dollars. It’s nervously joining in the chorus of laughs for your co-worker’s bigoted joke or lying about your politics to appease your family at Thanksgiving dinner. We ‘go along to get along’ in defiance of what we really value or believe because we don’t want any trouble. Immanuel Kant calls this sort of excessively deferential attitude servility. Rather than downgrading the values and commitments of others, servility involves downgrading your own values and commitments relative to those of others. The servile person is thus the mirror image of the conventional, self-interested immoralist found in Plato, Hobbes and Hume. Instead of stepping on whomever is in his way to get what he wants, the servile person is, in Kant’s words, someone who ‘makes himself a worm’ and thus ‘cannot complain afterwards if people step on him’.
Kant thinks that your basic moral obligation is to not treat humanity as a mere means. When you make a lying promise that you’ll pay back a loan or threaten someone unless he hands over his wallet, you’re treating your victim as a mere means. You’re using him like a tool that exists only to serve your purposes, not respecting him as a person who has value in himself.
The article is here.