Austrian Constructivism (or, What Was Kant’s Formula of Humanity, Really?)

Kant tells us that we are to treat persons always as ends in themselves, and never merely as means. That dictum is both opaque — this is not a turn of phrase that wears its sense on its literal sleeve — and obscurely motivated: is there any reason to do as Kant says, or is the demand merely high-minded piousness?

To address those concerns, I will consider an argument advanced by the so-called Austrian economists against socialist central planning. I will show how it can be extended and adapted into an argument whose conclusion matches a widespread reading of Kant’s Formula of Humanity, and on which it makes sense as a social strategy. I will wrap up by suggesting an interpretation of the concept of a person, and I will indicate limits to deriving substantive guidelines for action from the Kantian dictum.