The Lying Promise
-The Lying Promise. The maxim: “Whenever I believe myself short of money, I will
borrow money and promise to pay it back, though I know that this will never be done.”
The problem: Promises would be made impossible.
-Arguments showing that a violation of each of the four (sorts of)
duties will also violate the Categorical Imperative.
"In order to illustrate his philosophy, Kant uses four examples of what he considers immoral conduct
throughout the categorical imperative"
CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE 1 AND 2
(C1) Universal Law. Act only in accordance with that maxim through which you can at the
same time will that it become a universal law.
(C2) Law of Nature. Act as if the maxim of your action were to become by your will a
universal law of nature.
(C1) and (C2) give us a practical test: only a universalizable maxim can
be a moral law—that is, a maxim (intention or policy) has to be such that (a) everyone could
adopt it; (b) we could wish everyone to act upon it; (c) no contradiction results from universal
adoption and action
Procedure for determining whether a proposed action violates CI1:
(1) Formulate the maxim:
I am to do x in circumstances y in order to bring about z.
I am to lie on a loan application when I am in severe financial difficulty and there is no other
way to obtain funds, in order to ease the strain on my finances.
(2) Generalize the maxim into a law of nature:
Everyone always does x in circumstances y in order to bring about z.
Everyone always lies on a loan application when he is in severe financial difficulty and there is
no other way to obtain funds, in order to ease the strain on his finances.
(3) Figure out the perturbed social world (PSW), that is, what the world would be like if this
law of nature were added to existing laws of nature and things had a chance to reach
equilibrium. Note: assume that after the adjustment to equilibrium the new law is common
knowledge -- everyone knows that it is true, everyone knows that everyone knows, etc.
Q1: Could I rationally act on my maxim in the PSW?
This is the “Contradiction in Conception Test”
Q2: Could I rationally choose the PSW as one in which I would be a member?
This is the “Contradiction in the Will Test” The Kantian evaluation rule is this: we must be able to answer yes to both questions for the
maxim to be acceptable. If we get a no answer to either, we must reject the maxim and try to find
another one on which to act.
The deceitful promise (Kant’s 2nd example)
This is the example we have been using in spelling out the procedure. The maxim fails
because I must answer "no" to the first question: I could not rationally act on the maxim
in the PSW. There are two reasons Kant states for this: (1) promising and (2) the end to
be attained by it would be impossible, since no one would believe what was promised
him but would laugh at all such utterances as being vain pretenses. Lying on a loan
application would not get us anywhere in a world where everyone always lied when
under similar circumstances.
The second part of the test is the "contradiction in the will test." It catches those maxims
whose existence as a universal law of nature is conceivable without contradiction, but
which cannot be willed to be such without contradiction. The next example is supposed
to illustrate a failure of this test.
KANT'S LYING PROMISE EXAMPLE - Willing a Universal Law Form
Willing a Universal Law Form of the Categorical Imperative: "Act only according to that maxim
whereby you can at the same time will that it should become a universal law. (Kant in Solomon
and Martin, 290 and in Solomon and Greene, 279)."
Kant's second example about keeping promises (the lying promise) involves borrowing money
and promising to pay it back even though one knows one can never do so (Kant in Solomon and
Martin, 291 )
Maxim: "When I believe myself to be in need of money, I will borrow money and promise to pay
it back, although I know that I never can do so (Kant in Solomon and Martin, 291 )."
Universalized Maxim: Whenever anyone is in want of money, they will borrow money and
promise to repay it, although they never can do so. Or, more generally, ". ...anyone believing
himself to be in difficulty could promise whatever he pleases with the intention of not keeping
it...(Kant in Solomon and Martin, 291)".
Not Rational: The promise itself would become impossible. Promising and truth-telling would
become meaningless. The universalized maxim is logically inconsistent, self-defeating. Note:
For Kant the negative consequences are not relevant.
Perfect Duty: Therefore, one has a perfect, rigid duty not to make a lying promise. Parallel Examples - Examples that create a perfect duty such as stealing, cheating, etc.
CATEGORICAL IMPERATIVE 3
 Kant argues that moral agents have intrinsic worth as the sorts of beings capable of acting
rightly; hence they have to be treated with dignity, and they cannot be used instrumentally. He
reformulates the Categorical Imperative along these lines as follows:
(C3) Ends in Themselves. Act in such a way that you always treat humanity, whether in your
own person or in the person of any other, never simply as a means but always at the
same time as an end [in itself].
Intuitively, Kant wants to prohibit us from (merely) „using‟ one another—as we might say, from
depersonalizing or even from dehumanizing others by treating them as mere means to other
ends. Think of manipulation, enslavement, backstabbing, exploitation, and so on.
 Kant holds that (C3) is equivalent to (C1) and (C2), but we won‟t worry about the details.
Instead, let‟s see how he recasts his famous four examples in light of (C3):
• The Lying Promise. Someone who makes a lying promise is using the person to whom he
lies as a mere means to acquire the money he needs.
Not surprisingly, Kant thinks (C3) renders the same results as (C1) and (C2). What‟s interesting
is that some of the cases seem much more plausible given one formulation rather than another
of the Categorical Imperative.
 The root idea here is what Kant calls autonomy—the moral agent as someone who is a
„selflegislating‟ being, who stands under moral laws (universal laws) by his or her own choice.
To do otherwise is to be guilty of „heteronymy‟: shufﬂing off moral responsibility to another, as
when “I was just following orders!” Each of us, Kant holds, is responsible for his or her own