The following places seem unambiguous: “ is thus the ground of the dignity of the human and of every rational nature” (436,6); and: “the dignity of humanity consists precisely in this capacity for universal legislation, although with the proviso that it is at the same time itself subject to this legislation” (440,10); or: “the will of one rational being must always at the same time be regarded as universally condition in order to be a member in the realm of ends: “Such a realm of ends would actually be brought about through maxims, the rule of which is prescribed by the categorical imperatives of all rational beings, One can have dignity as a king, a teacher, a mathematician, and so on.
We do not dispute this, of course; we do not mean to say that in all possible contexts ‘dignity’ means the same as ‘absolute inner value’.
For Kant uses the term ‘autonomy’ not only for the human being and its capacity for a practically-good will, but also for the property of the noumenally-good will, just considered by duty, then we consider ourselves as belonging to the world of sense and yet at the same time to the world of understanding” (453,14, o.e.).
Thus the free will is the noumenal will, and autonomy is its property; and in some contexts, this will is The concept of ‘autonomy’ is strongly related to the concepts of ‘end in itself’ and ‘rational nature’, and yet it in GMS II Kant says very little about what exactly an ‘end in itself’ is and what ‘rational nature’ means., Kant famously distinguishes between animality, humanity, and personality, and it has been a recurring misinterpretation to ascribe to Kant the position that humanity as the ability to set ends is what deserves respect.
Here, in our context, when we speak of dignity we mean the dignity of a being it has due to its autonomy, and we have seen already that it is strongly related to other terms such as ‘end in itself’, ‘nouemenal will’, ‘autonomy’, and so on.
To prepare our interpretation of Kant’s ground-thesis, let us now look at dignity more specifically.Our claim is not that everyone who defends the standard reading will agree with our interpretation of those key terms; but this interpretation certainly implies at least one version of the standard reading. As a moral faculty, it gives the law (the CI) for imperfect beings and, by means of moral feelings, it is also a motivating force.Every human being has such a will, even if he or she acts morally bad.After all, the difference between the right and the good has been central to many ethical debates, and it will be helpful to see that an alleged proponent of ethical formalism is much closer to a deep value theory than is often thought.Put in a nutshell, Kant’s argument is that the very idea of a categorically (morally) commanding norm presupposes the ground.These terms, in turn, are related to the term ‘dignity’, because autonomous beings are ends in themselves; and since ends in themselves have dignity, autonomous beings have dignity.But is it really the noumenal (‘autonomous’) will that grounds dignity?For imperfect beings, to act morally (to act with a practically-good will) means to act from duty.The noumenally-good will that is manifest in a person without (active) sensual hindrances is what Kant calls the ‘holy will’; it only belongs to God and other holy (infinite) beings.It is also quite obvious from this lecture that a being is not an end in itself simply because it is rational and capable of setting ends: “If rational beings alone can be ends in themselves, they cannot be so because they have reason, but because they have freedom. – Through reason the human being could produce in accordance with universal laws of nature, without freedom, what the animal produces through instinct” (Fey: 1321–1322).Only if a rational being is free in the positive sense that this freedom is “a law for itself” (Fey: 1322) is such a being an end in itself and possess value: “The inner worth of the human being rests upon his freedom, upon the fact that he has a will of his own” (Fey: 1319).