Making Sense of Kant’s Formula of Universal Law: On Kleingeld’s Volitional Self-Contradiction Interpretation

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This article examines Pauline Kleingeld’s “volitional self-contradiction” (VSC) interpretation of Kant’s formula of universal law. It begins in §1 with an outline of Kleingeld’s interpretation and then proceeds in §2 to raise some worries about how the interpretation handles Kant’s egoism example. §3 considers VSC’s handling of the false promise example comparing it in §4 with the Logical/Causal Law (LCL) interpretation, which arguably does better than its VSC competitor in handling this example. §5 deploys the LCL interpretation to consider the related objections that the VSC interpretation is “superfluous” or at least “misguided” as a (formal) criterion of the permissibility of action on a maxim. These objections, it is argued, help reveal two distinct roles for contradictions in Kant’s applications of the formula of universal law – one for delivering moral judgments and one reflective of a formal coherence constraint on all deliberation having psychological significance for agents who contemplate violating duty. Disentangling these helps reveal some of the complexity in the use to which Kant puts the formula of universal law in his sample applications revealing the true significance of what Kleingeld refers to as volitional self-contradiction. In §6 is summary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)463-475
Number of pages13
JournalPhilosophia (United States)
Issue number2
StatePublished - Apr 2023


  • Egoism
  • False promising
  • Formula of universal law
  • Kant
  • Pauline Kleingeld

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Philosophy

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