Kant and Respect for Humanity:


In today’s post, I will be looking at the concept of Respect of Humanity from a “Kantian philosophy standpoint”. “Respect for Humanity” is one of the two pillars of the “Toyota Way”. Yoshio Ishizaka defined Toyota Way as – Toyota’s implicit knowledge put in statutory form in 2001 [1]. I have written about Respect for People many times in this blog before [2].

Immanuel Kant (1724 – 1804) is a giant in modern philosophy. Kant wrote about the Categorical Imperative in his 1785 book, Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals [3]. Kant defined the Categorical Imperative as a universal moral law or principle that must be followed at all times, no matter what the circumstance or what our natural inclinations or desires are. Our focus is on Kant’s second formulation of the Categorical Imperative;

Act so that you use humanity, as much in your own person as in the person of every other, always at the same time as end and never merely as means.’’

Kant viewed humans as rational beings and accordingly rational beings cannot be treated merely (solely) as a means to ends, but as ends themselves.  A rational person will not subject himself to be treated as a mere means to an end, thus it is only rational to treat others the same way, in a universal manner. This thinking is applicable to oneself as well. One of the examples that Kant gave to explain this concept, is of a man who does not try to develop his natural talent. The man in the example is content with where he is, and in Kant’s eyes this means that the man is not respecting himself. Kant said, it is not enough that the action does not conflict with humanity in our person as end in itself; it must also harmonize with it (humanity).

Kant used the term “menschlichkeit”, a German word to explain his ideas regarding humanity. He viewed humanity as possessing a “rational nature” [3]. Humanity, through which we have the rational capacities to set ends, use means to them, and organize them into a whole. And as a rational being, at the heart of this is the capacity for autonomy or the ability to self-govern. The word “autonomy” from Greek means autos = self, nomos = law. This ability for self-governing, morally forces us to view each other with respect.

The concept of Respect for People does not begin or end with “being nice” to others. From a Kantian standpoint, respect is about morality. Morality is not about consequences – what others would think about me, but about intentions – it is rational to be respectful to others. Kant does not have a problem with using a person as a means to an end. For example, when an operator comes to work, he is being used to produce a product (means to an end). Kant’s problem is when a person is used as a “mere means” to an end. If the operator is seen only as a pair of hands, and if his or her input is not valued, then he or she is being used as a “mere means”. This adds a dimensionality to the relationship with the operator. It goes both ways, from the manager to the operator and the operator to the manager. The operator in turn should not view the job as a mere paycheck.

From a Kantian perspective, Respect for People means to ensure that everybody is capable of being valuable. There are opportunities for development of talent, and in Kant’s words, a chance to harmonize with humanity. How does one increase the worth of an employee? You can increase their worth by developing the employee to understand the value in his work. You can increase their worth by training him to look for gaps between the ideal state and the current state. By understanding this gap, you can further develop him to take countermeasures and corrective actions to move closer to the ideal state. Ideally, the employee would now be able to train the employees underneath him. The employee is now at a stage to be making decisions and implementing improvements on his own. In other words, he is empowered.

Final Words:

Kant was ahead of his time with his thinking. Kant spent his entire life in his hometown (Königsberg, the then capital of Prussia), and is said to have never set his foot outside a 100 mile radius from his house. Most of his famous works came later in his life. He famously said that David Hume, the great Scottish philosopher, woke him up from his dogmatic slumber.  As I was reading upon Kant as part of my personal journey through philosophy, I came upon his Categorical Imperative and it struck me how much the second formulation aligned itself well with the Respect of Humanity theme of the Toyota Way.

There are many play-on-words with Kant’s name. One of my favorite memes is below:


I will finish with an anecdote about Kant.

Kant was a firm believer in rules. He had set a rule for himself to not smoke more than one pipe a day. Smoking was Kant’s time to think and reflect. As time went on, Kant wanted to spend more time smoking. However, he did not want to break his own rule. His way out was to get a larger pipe. It is said that as time went on, the size of the bowls of his pipes grew in size considerably.

Always keep on learning…

In case you missed it, my last post was Process Validation and the Problem of Induction:

[1] https://www.amazon.com/Toyota-Way-Sales-Marketing/dp/1926537084/ref=sr_1_1_twi_pap_2?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1494183905&sr=1-1&keywords=The+Toyota+Way+in+Sales+and+Marketing

[2] https://harishsnotebook.wordpress.com/?s=respect+for+people

[3] https://www.amazon.com/Groundwork-Metaphysics-Morals-Immanuel-Kant/dp/0300094868